Worship and the new cosmology liturgical and theological challenges Vincie

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Title: Worship and the new cosmology liturgical and theological challenges

Author: Catherine Vincie

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This book is a beginning effort to look at the growing conversation between theologians and scientists, and to apply it to our liturgical life. Systematic theologians of the last twenty years have entered this dialogue with promising results. Theologies of creation, God, Christology, and Pneumatology are all receiving attention as we struggle to integrate the New Science of cosmology and quantum physics with our belief system.


Chapter 1 The Challenge of the New Cosmology

  • Cousins argues, on the verge of the emergence of a second Axial Period, which began with the Copernican revolution; the transformation of consciousness of our age is that from individual to global consciousness.
  • “Because of the close ties between cosmic and religious models, Cousins claims “this new experience of space will open new varieties of religious experience and give new meaning to cosmological symbols.
  • “What is a cosmology? In short, a cosmology is how human persons experience themselves in relation to the cosmos. It is the lens through which reality is viewed and interpreted. A cosmology tells you how things are in reality, what really matters, and provides the foundation for core values, belief systems, and moral norms. A cosmology gives a community meaning and purpose.”
  • “In the twentieth century, through the work of scientists like Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble, our perception of the world enlarged beyond the earth and our solar system to a much greater appreciation of the size and complexity of the universe.”
  • “Since Einstein and his theory of general relativity, we have come to realize that space, time, and mass are related and that the universe is expanding.”
  • “For Kuhn, a paradigm was “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community.” ”
  • “Kuhn suggests using the term “paradigm shift” to describe that movement from one set of theoretical rules and methods that no longer answer all the problems of normal science to a new set of rules and methods that are simply more successful than their competitors.”
  • “Advances in genetics, paleontology, cosmology, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, evolutionary biology, and particle physics have all contributed to a radically new way of seeing the world and our place within it. The result is a New Cosmology.”
  • “At the level of faith, belief, religious experience, ritual expression, and theological reflection, we are called to save what is the best of our tradition while revising and expanding our horizons in light of the epochal change of the second Axial Period.”
  • “Questions of Method Science and Religion”
  • “John Haught has clarified the situation by proposing four possible ways of relating the two fields. The summary which follows is based on his text Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation.1”
  • Conflict “Part of this conflict lies in the ability of science to demonstrate the truth of its ideas while religion cannot. Science can test to see if its theories are in fact “falsifiable,” but religious positions are “untestable.”
  • Contrast “In the contrast argument, science and religion are understood to operate in different arenas. Each has a distinct content and task, and it would not make any sense to compare the two.”
  • “Contemporary believers who conflate science and religious belief on the question of creation call such fusion “creation science.”
  • “the presuppositions of science (its “faith,” if you will).” “Haught argues that this is a philosophical view that he calls “scientism.” 1”
  • Contrast “it does not take into account the possibilities of science and religion actually cooperating with one another.”
  • Contact and Conversation “This position does not allow the two fields to simply coexist in isolated parallel columns, but seeks to relate one to the other.” “Perhaps the best way to understand the dynamic here is conversation. Each field preserves its identity, but the practitioners seek to remain in contact or relationship with each other. ”
  • Confirmation “religion would support or confirm science in its quest for truth or unifying knowledge. Religion would not unequivocally affirm or deny any particular scientific explanation of reality since these are constantly being modified and expanded, but it would support science’s effort to seek reality’s overall rationality. ”
  • “I am suggesting that contact and confirmation are the only reasonable ways consistent with Catholic epistemology to explore the relationship of science and religion. In addition to the relationship between science and religion, we also must address the relationship between theology and liturgy. ”
  • Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi “The original statement of the fifth-century author Prosper of Aquitaine is technically “ut legem credenda lex statuat supplicandi. It means explicitly “let the law of praying establish the law of believing,"
  • “In most recent references to the Latin phrase, what is meant is that the law of prayer is the foundation for the law of belief. ”
  • “Historically it can be shown that doctrine has shaped the church’s worship practice.”
  • “while we can acknowledge Kavanagh’s concern that liturgy is the primary place of the church’s encountering God and doing its corporate business in light of God’s offer of relationship, we also need to take into account that the liturgy is not the only place where the community encounters the Holy One; nor is liturgy the only place where reflection on faith happens. My interest is precisely at this point.”

Chapter 2 “The New Science and the Story of the Cosmos”

  • “In the pre-Axial Period cosmologies were found in myths and rituals or were expressed in art chiseled or drawn in rock caves or carved on human bodies in a process called scarification. ”
  • “In the first Axial Period, we find in Genesis two cosmological stories (Gen 1:1ff. and Gen 2:4ff.) for the Ancient Israelites that posit a Creator and the birth of creation at a given period of time some four to five thousand years ago. It was a fixed cosmology with the understanding that individual species including humankind were created complete at the origin of creation. ”
  • “the Ptolemaic universe held sway in the West until the Copernican Revolution in 1543. From our perspective in the twenty-first century, we can call it the “old cosmology.”
  • “For the first fifteen centuries, right through the medieval world, theology and cosmology were held as one living whole; there was no separation between the two.”

Excerpt From: Catherine Vincie, RSHM. “Worship and the New Cosmology: Liturgical and Theological Challenges.” iBooks.

  • “After the Copernican revolution this easy symbiosis between science and religion was lost and conflict between the two reigned. ”
  • The New Cosmology
    • “The cosmology of the last 150 years is what we may call mathematical or scientific cosmology
    • “Theologians are at the very beginning of integrating New Science and New Cosmology; our liturgies are farther back still, reflecting the cosmology of the biblical world and of the Ptolemaic cosmos.
  • The Cosmos as Narrative
    • “If theology is to take science seriously and learn from it for its own purposes, it needs to better appreciate what is now being discovered about the cosmos. The greater the appreciation of and wonder at the cosmos, the greater our appreciation of its Creator should be. ”
  • The Universe Story
    • “In a fraction of a second after there was nothing, space and time, mass, and energy expanded from an extremely compressed, hot, and dense state in an explosion of immense energy in what cosmologist Fred Hoyle would later name the “Big Bang.”
  • Earth’s Story
    • The formation of Earth 4.6 billion years ago and its evolution is no less fascinating and awe inspiring than the evolution of the cosmos as a whole.”
    • “Cynthia Stokes Brown says, “Only Earth has a size that produces a gravitational and electromagnetic balance, which allows a solid rock crust to form around a burning core. Only Earth has a position in respect to the sun . . . that establishes a temperature range in which complex molecules can form.”
    • “While there is still some debate about the particulars of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, there is widespread agreement on the idea of evolution itself,”

Excerpt From: Catherine Vincie, RSHM. “Worship and the New Cosmology: Liturgical and Theological Challenges.” iBooks.

    • “In what is called the anthropic principle, scientists tell us that had anything varied even the tiniest bit from the ways the universe actually unfolded, human life would not have evolved.”
  • The Human Story
    • The gradual emergence of Homo sapiens from primates continues to be contested by some religious communities, but here too, there is general scientific agreement.”
    • “Quantum mechanics, for example, has changed our notion that the smallest building blocks of reality are separate objects. Rather, it suggests that interrelationships are fundamental to the universe”. “Probability and uncertainty have replaced predictability and determinism.”
    • “Biologists have also helped us understand that “matter is not composed of basic building blocks but rather of complicated webs of relations in which the observer constitutes a final link in the chain of observational processes, and the properties of any atomic object can be understood only in terms of interaction between object and observer.”
    • “chaos theory has three main points: sensitivity to initial conditions (small disturbances of the current trajectory may lead to significantly different future behaviors); strange attractors (basins of attraction within a system can lure the system into new patterns of order over time); and fractals”
    • “we are now seeing that it is essential to view and honor the interrelationship of all creation. In other words, we are recognizing that the inert “stuff” of the earth and all other living plants and creatures are tied in a web of relationships that cannot be ignored. ”

“Part II Assessing Theology in Light of Contemporary Science”

Chapter 3 Creation Theology, God, and the Big Bang

  • A Theology of Creation
  • John Haught on Creation
  • Denis Edwards on Creation
    • The presumption that under lies Edwards’s projects in general is that theology must be in dialogue with the New Science if it is to remain viable for our age.
    • a theology of God and a theology of creation are inexorably entwined. From this foundation Edwards goes on to argue five points regarding creation: that God’s self-bestowing love enables emergence; it works through chance and lawfulness; it supports creaturely autonomy; it accepts the limits of creaturely processes; and it acts in a noninterventionist way.”
    • From a theological perspective, God’s self-bestowal does nothing to limit creation’s autonomy, but paradoxically increases it. God enables the universe to run by its own laws and processes that are integral to it. God always respects the independence and integrity of what God has created.”
    • Edwards’s theology of creation is grounded in Christ Jesus who reveals a God of self-donation in creating other reality and sustaining it in existence and in fulfillment. Sin is not the reason for the incarnation; it is God’s unfathomable love that intended the incarnation from all time.”
  • “A Theology of God and the New Science
    • “Arthur Peacocke on God”
    • “Unless theology, he argues, takes into account the New Universe Story, it will be moribund and doomed. ”
    • “Unless theology, he argues, takes into account the New Universe Story, it will be moribund and doomed. ”
    • “Unless theology, he argues, takes into account the New Universe Story, it will be moribund and doomed. ”
  • “Denis Edwards on God”
    • Edwards submits that a theology of God that takes evolution seriously is a “Trinitarian vision of God as a God of mutual relations, a God who is communion in love, a God who is friendship beyond all comprehension”
    • In summary, Edwards argues that a theology of God which takes evolution into account must be a trinitarian theology of mutual relations. God’s identity is one of unsurpassable friendship and communion. This view of God as relation fits in well with science’s own discoveries of the relational nature of the universe at all levels.”
    • Edwards subscribes to a panentheistic view, which holds that all exists within the trinitarian relations of mutual love, without ever identifying God with creation.”
  • John Haught on God
    • “Haught insists that we must distance ourselves from thoughts of God as put forth in “Intelligent Design.”
    • “An evolutionary theology of God also suggests that we depend less on a notion of a “prime mover” pushing things from the past, and more on God as “up ahead” or in the future, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin encouraged. This will, Haught argues, give us evolution’s own God.”

Chapter 4 - The Creator Spirit and the Big Bang

  • “Gregory of Nyssa provided the language that the Father, Son, and Spirit were one in being (ousia), and three in subsistence (hypostasis, Latin persona). These positions were ratified at the Council of Constantinople”
  • The addition to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (the filioque controversy) effectively split the West and the East and remains to this day a point of contention between the churches.
  • Denis Edwards on the Creator Spirit
    • Elizabeth Johnson on the Creator Spirit feminist theologian
      • “The three most important cosmic symbols are wind, fire, and water. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach. “We find it described in images as small as a gentle breeze to as powerful as the winds that dried up the Red Sea. Importantly ruach is connected to the breath that gives life to all living things. “The whole community of creation,” she says, “is sustained by the breath, the Spirit of God, who ‘rides on the wings of the wind’ ” (Ps 104:3)”
      • In summary, Johnson reviews the evidence in scripture that gives a picture of the Creator Spirit in relationship with God and with the cosmos. The Spirit is the source of all life, is immanent in the world, renews the face of the earth, and is a moving force throughout the cosmos

Chapter 5 Christology and the Big Bang

  • “ The first ecumenical council was called in 325 at Nicea to deal with the issue of Arianism. The Council declared that the Son is “true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance (homoousios) with the Father,
  • “This understanding of Christ as one “in two natures” or that the two natures are united in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis effectively rejected the position of monophysitism. With the Third Council of Constantinople (680–81), classical Christological doctrine was set.
  • “Ilia Delio on Christology
    • “She too is convinced that Christianity must take into account that in this second Axial Period we are moving into a world that is globally conscious, ecologically sensitive, communal, and mindful of the evolution of the whole cosmos
    • “Her task is to develop a contextual Christology, a cosmic Christology, for our age.”
    • “In her most recent work, Delio picks up Teilhard’s more radical idea that God is in process and the universe contributes something to the fullness of God. “Evolution is not only the universe coming to be but it is God who is coming to be.
    • “While traditional Christology arising out of the first Axial Period dealt with the humanity and divinity of Christ, the Christology of the second Axial Period must address the cosmic nature of Christ.
    • “our current Christology must be inclusive and not be limited to a misreading of Jesus as a white, Western, male Jesus, for he was really Middle Eastern and Jewish. “Christ,” she says, “is not merely a person “but the person, the cosmic personal center of a God-directed universe. There can be no ‘beyond Christ’ because Christ alone is the fullness of what we hope for in God
  • “Elizabeth Johnson on Christology”
    • “Elizabeth Johnson situates her treatment of Christology in an evolutionary context by addressing a vexing problem: how to understand the tremendous pain, suffering, and death that is part of an evolutionary cosmos distinct from any human responsibility”
    • “As a point of departure, Johnson suggests that the most fundamental move theology can make “is to affirm the compassionate presence of God in the midst of the shocking enormity of pain and death.
    • “Johnson uses the term “deep incarnation,” a term coined by Niels Gregersen, to speak about the deep involvement of the Logos in the human condition with all its connotations of evolution, interdependence, suffering, and death.”

“Part III Implications for Liturgical Theology and Praxis

  • “While we could go on at greater length about how developments in theology have taken into account an evolutionary and ecological worldview,”
  • “In my review of developments in a theology of creation, God, the Holy Spirit, and Christology, two things are clear. On the one hand, an evolutionary and ecological worldview is not in competition with a biblical worldview. For those of us who are not biblical literalists, the myths of origins (or cosmogony) were never intended to be scientifically “correct,” but were meant to ponder deep human questions of purpose and meaning, origin, and destiny. In other words, conflict or even contrast between science and religion does not have to be the order of the day. However, this being said, it is also clear that in many instances our worship traditions express a cosmology or an understanding of the universe and our place in it that is outdated and insensitive to an ecological consciousness.
    • “In spite of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, our newly shaped rites and revised texts do not reflect the influence of the New Cosmology. When most of “the rites were being revised (late 1960s and 1970s), the conversation with the New Science had not yet matured”
    • “At the present moment, when we are experiencing a second round of liturgical revisions, new texts are not being admitted into the corpus of the liturgical books. Emphasis has been placed on a more direct translation of the editio typica (original Latin texts) texts. This is unfortunate since at the present time, it would have been opportune to work through the paradigm shift to a new cosmology within the worship practices of our faith tradition.”

“Chapter 6 Sacramentality and the New Cosmology

  • “To begin, a sacramental theology suggests that God can be and is revealed, embodied, and communicated through created reality. A too exaggerated sacramentalism absolutizes nature and loses the distinction between Creator and creation (pantheism). However, a more balanced sacramentalism does not slip into pantheism, but finds God revealed, embodied, and communicated in created reality, even while
  • “Sacramentality in light of the New Science must be a cosmic sacramentality that expands whatever we have developed to date to include the far reaches of the visible universe.”
    • “We are sentient creatures who experience the world through the many senses that are part of embodied existence. In this regard, we are one with all other living forms, acting and interacting with our environment both natural and created. In addition, our bodies are made up of inorganic substances—minerals, water, oils, etc., which make us one with all created, inorganic life on this planet and in the universe. As we have said earlier, everything that exists had its origins in stardust. Regarding sacramentality, God reveals and communicates God’s self to us in our embodied existence and through all matter of things that make up our environment. ”
    • “The cosmos is now the context within which we can understand the church’s seven particular sacraments.”
    • “All creation is potentially sacramental, and every being in creation has the potential to respond sacramentally to God’s blessing”
    • “We could also say that the individuality of the first Axial Period must give way to the relationality of the second Axial Period. Sacramentality is not simply meant to advance the relationship between the individual and the living God; it is tied to the mutual “salvation of the whole cosmos.”
    • Baptism - Confirmation
      • “Our unity with Christ accomplished in the initiation sacraments ties us together not only with all Christians but with all humanity, indeed, with all creation.”
      • “The Christian tradition since the time of Augustine has spoken of sacramental character as that dimension of our configuration to Christ that cannot be lost, unlike grace. The character with which we are marked in baptism and confirmation configures us to the kenosis of God in Christ.”
      • “Our sacramental character configures us to this Christ, and we cannot expect the fate of the Body to be significantly different from that of the Head.”
      • “The koinonia that marks the relationship of the members of the Trinity one with another also marks the relationship of the Spirit with creation. This koinonia of the Spirit with all creation enlarges the concept of the Spirit’s efforts at building up the church to building up unity with all of creation in all its diversity and complexity.”
    • Eucharist
      • “Eucharist is the sacrament of the presencing of Christ in assembly, presider, word, and sacrament for those gathered in memory of him. It is the gift of a kenotic God of mutual relations who pours self out to achieve communion and transformation”
      • “Through participation in the eucharistic meal, we are not only configured to Christ as in baptism/confirmation, we are literally made into Christ’s Body by partaking in his Body and Blood. We become divinized, as our Eastern sisters and brothers would say. We become ever more transformed into divine spirit that is the future of the universe. ”
      • “Eucharist is also about making anamnesis or memory of the great salvific work of God in Jesus Christ. The point is not just to reminisce about the past but to remember in such a way that the past becomes present and the future is inaugurated.”
      • “In this second Axial Period, we are called to be ecologically sensitive, to have a global vision, and to be open to the expanse of the universe. Our sacraments can no longer be understood solely as a means of grace for the individual or for the developing relationship of the individual with God.”
    • Reconciliation
      • “The church, which is always in need of conversion and repentance, accomplishes this ministry of reconciliation in a variety of ways as well: through uniting its sufferings with that of Christ and through its works of charity; through its expression in a life of reconciling acts with God and neighbor; through confession of sin which happens in prayer, worship, and the penitential aspects of the eucharistic celebration; through the sacrament of penance itself. ”
      • “since the end of the twentieth century, the corporate nature of sin has become an important focus of attention. Because of the multiple experiences of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and mass destruction that have marked this past century, the question of corporate conversion and reconciliation has come to the fore. ”
      • “While churches have played a part in this ministry of reconciliation, the actual form of the sacrament of penance has not been affected by this shift in consciousness. The current Rite of Penance under form two (Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents) was drawn up to emphasize the relation of the sacrament to the community, but the date of the Rite’s publication (1973) predated the growing recognition of corporate sin and the need for corporate reconciliation.”
      • “Overall, the church’s ministry of reconciliation has been too narrowly construed regarding corporate sin and reconciliation vis-à-vis the human community with one another and the human community with Earth. ”

“Chapter 7 Integrating the New Cosmology into Our Prayer Traditions”

  • “Creative persons could turn their attention to the liturgical calendar, prayer texts, liturgical song, and the environment for worship. Where traditions are open to modification, prayer texts could be changed in such a way as to broaden the range of experience that is addressed”
  • “As we have seen with our treatment of the sacraments, expanded notions of creation, God, Spirit, and Christology could be worked into already existing liturgical elements. In other cases, entirely new rituals could be created that take the science/religion conversation into account.”
  • “If we are to reorient ourselves in right relation with Earth and the cosmos, then our liturgies must play a role in that reorientation. Liturgies can either serve to keep us alienated from or, at best, oblivious to created matter, or they can engender new patterns of relationship between ourselves and creation that are life-giving for all concerned. It is past time they did the latter.”
  • “Psalm 148 calls upon the sun and moon, shining stars, and waters above the heavens to join in praise of the God who created them. Sea monsters, mountains and hills, wild animals, creeping things, and flying birds are all implored to join in praise of the Creator. First Chronicles 16:31-36 is also rich in accounting for creation’s praise: “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice . . . Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord.” Using these texts more intentionally in newly created services that focus on creation, we can join our voices in solidarity with creation in our orientation of right relationship with God.”
  • “Our worship needs to join with creation’s praise and lament not only on distinct days (e.g., Earth Day) but in every liturgy and in all seasons. Only through such a thoroughgoing process will we be able to move from our anthropocentrism to a more integrated appreciation of the relationship of God with humanity and all creation. Only by attending to the “turn to the cosmos” in all aspects of our liturgical prayer will the liturgies be able to do their formative work on us, and convert us to care for Earth and its creatures outside of liturgical space.”
  • The Liturgical Calendar
    • “Too often we have considered celebrating the cosmic cycles of the seasons, of winter and summer solstice, as remnants of pagan religious practice, and from which Christianity needs to distance itself. In the current context, such an approach and attitude needs to be overturned. “As I indicated in chapter 1, in the second Axial Period we must take the wisdom of those in the pre-Axial and first Axial Periods and add it to the insights of our present age. Attending to the natural cycles of our solar system could be an invitation to see all of reality as “God-drenched,”
    • “In the current liturgical dispensation, the temporal calendar is used almost exclusively to honor the salvation history story of God in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit. This makes the celebration of the liturgical year an act of anamnesis, inviting participation in the reality signified. Using the calendar to honor creation (original, continual, new) would perhaps limit our androcentrism and force us to take more account of and show more gratitude for, the rest of creation.”
    • “I am imagining that we could create a feast that would celebrate the first Flaring Forth (instead of the rather inelegant “Big Bang”) of the universe some 13.8 billion years ago. A second feast might celebrate the emergence of our galaxy and the formation of our solar system. Another could mark the emergence of life on planet ”
  • Prayer Texts
    • “A “Call to Worship” for Universe Sunday gives a taste of what could be created for a prayer service or eucharist:”
    • “Present collects could be modified to take into account the developments in a more relational understanding of God and in an ecological theology.”
    • “I have written a full Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman Catholic tradition that could be used at any of the new feasts that I have suggested. It reads as follows:”
  • Liturgical Song
  • Environment
  • New Rituals
    • “Innumerable new rituals have been created by various church communities on topics of ecological justice. These new rituals include raising consciousness to the beauties of creation, confession of the sin of ecocide and the destruction of habitats, and commitment for much needed stewardship of Earth.”


  • “Those communions such as the Roman Catholic Church, whose approval process for new liturgies and new texts is quite elaborate and slow, will have a more difficult time in integrating this new paradigm shift. Nonetheless, there is room for services created on an ad hoc basis and for the development of hymnody and environments that take these cosmic and ecological concerns into account.”

Other facts

Bibliographic info

  • Personal name Vincie, Catherine, 1951-
  • Main title Worship and the new cosmology : liturgical and theological challenges / Catherine Vincie, RSHM.
  • Published/Produced Collegeville, Minnesota : Liturgical Press, [2014]
  • ISBN 9780814682722
  • LC classification (full) BL240.3 .V56 2014
  • LC classification (partial) BL240.3
  • LOC permalink https://lccn.loc.gov/2014010616
  • Dewey class no. 261.5/5