Worship as Community Drama | Pierre Hegy

Worship as Community Drama

The following is an excerpt from Worship as Community Drama by Pierre Hegy. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

A Sunday Mass at Notre Dame of Paris

Are worship services show-performances or prayers? To answer this question one has first to describe the performance accurately. Here is the video of what I saw (the Kyrie: 3:27 min):

and the description on page 51:
Was the singing a prayer or a concert? Let us focus on the Kyrie in order to avoid having to analyze each of the pieces sung by the choir. Three aspects of the performance led me to interpret it as a prayer rather than as a concert, namely, the attitude of the clergy, the quality of the singing, and the implicit message of the cameras. First, during the singing of the Kyrie, all the priests and acolytes turned toward the main altar. They did not sit down as if listening to a concert but they stood in reverence. Second, the quality of the singing was exceptionally high. Beauty is neither religious nor secular. Beauty is found in art, and beauty is also considered an attribute of God. A traditional poetic image of paradise is one of polyphony in harmonious unity. The impression one could get from listening to the singing at Notre Dame is one of reverence for a transcendent reality. Third, the message of the cameras was inescapable. At the mass with full choir, the first image during the Kyrie was a wide-angle shot from above showing the 60 to 80 priests and acolytes turned together toward the bronze altar, with the cardinal standing alone behind it, the whole assembly with the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher on the right side, and the comparatively small choir seen in the vastness of this sacred space. This was not the picture of a concert. The message of the camera was clear: the choir sang towards the altar as a prayer and not towards the assembly as a concert.

This description led to the conclusion on pages 60 and 61:

Conclusion: The Social Drama of French Elite Culture

[In his discussion of faith and culture] Cardinal Vingt-Trois used the word “culture” in the elitist sense of high culture, that of Mozart and Italian Renaissance art, not, tw5 for example, jazz, rock music, and pop art. This interpretation is different from that of the social sciences, where culture has been seen as belonging to all people, not just the upper classes, since the publication of Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture in 1934.
Several conclusions can be drawn at this point. The integration of faith and art in the liturgy is remarkable at Notre Dame, as is the perfect coordination of all the actors (clergy, choir, assembly). There is, however, no trickle-down effect because the liturgy is essentially a self-centered performance, with no ministry to the outside world. It is a good place for visitors, a place of enchantment for foreign and national tourists who can come and go as they please. Being the only Sunday mass broadcast throughout France, it offers an elitist model of worship with no alternatives for parishes that are less able to create such a synthesis of faith and art.

Here is the video of the entrance song with choreography at a Catholic black church on Pentecost day (1:45 min)

And here is the mystery play at the same church at the beginning of the Easter Mass at the same church (6:33 min):

These worship services are presented and discussed in chapter 8 entitled
“The Liturgical Imagination.”

Praise for Worship as Community Drama

“While organized Christianity has invested in the community dramas of congregations to maintain its ethic, the churches–especially the Roman Catholic Church—have measured success in terms of convention and conformance instead, and social scientists have conducted studies in terms of attendance and individual orthodoxy. Pierre Hegy measures it in terms of engaged community interaction. His research is sound while extant alternatives are not.”
—Anthony J. Blasi, Tennessee State University

“Pierre Hegy has produced a book, based on fine-grained sociological research, that every seminary professor (and others) should read … Hegy provides the actual workings of liturgy in real parishes, in real time, with real people that seminary professors can draw on to illustrate and unpack the practical/pastoral dimensions of their teachings .. We would all be wise to read it.”
—Michael McCallion, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

“Pierre Hegy brings his wealth of knowledge and wisdom to this insightful sociological analysis of worship styles and settings to challenge readers to reform worship in a way that focuses on the mystagogical. Hegy calls us all in the church to much needed reform.”
—David VonSchlichten, Seton Hill University

About the Author

Pierre Hegy

Pierre Hegy is professor emeritus at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. He taught for two years in Lima, Peru, and one year in Taipei, Taiwan. His main research interests are in the sociology of religion and church renewal. Most of this research was based on participant observation, which led him to investigate worship practices in many local churches–the topic of this book. He is also the author of Wake Up, Lazarus! On Catholic Renewal, and he is currently pursuing evaluation research in homiletics.

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