Catherine VINCIE. Worship and the New Cosmology: Liturgical and Theological Challenges. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2014.pp. 115. $16.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8272-2. Reviewed by Andrew MCCARTHY, Anna Maria College, 50 Sunset Ln, Paxton MA 01612.
Catherine Vincie’s Worship and the New Cosmology, is an effort to overcome the “dissonance” between our intellectual life and faith life in the areas of science and religion. In this process she rightly situates the human story in the extra-global setting of the expanding universe. This is analyzed briefly in terms of a paradigm shift which is one of the most important concepts to raise in the science and religion discussion. Although non-scientifically oriented readers might be concerned about crossing disciplines and using a new vocabulary, this is a very efficiently written book. Vincie brings in just enough material from a confluence of disciplines that otherwise could be daunting. She also provides a solid review of the must-read literature in science and religion, including a critical analysis of the various possible relationships between the two. She favors a conversational approach over any effort at forced concord.
After reviewing some of the most common descriptions of the relationship between doctrine and liturgical practice, she begins to suggest the value of using marginalized liturgical and prayer practices to reveal how the new cosmology might enter more fully into the church’s faith life. It would seem that too much reliance on this path might run the danger of trapping the new cosmology on the margins. Her primary thesis is that the new cosmology is dynamic and brings the need for new language and new understanding, while our worship practice is still linked to an ancient, static cosmology. The contrast is seen in her densely scientific description of the birth of the universe which reads poetically as it expresses the dynamism. She draws the conclusion that we are “connected at the molecular level to everything else in the universe” (29), and she describes humans as “the cosmos come to consciousness” (30). Conversely, she challenges the anthropocentric tradition in Theology and suggests, provocatively, that humanity might not be the purpose of the universe.
Vincie’s endeavor to relate cosmology with key topics in systematic theology could have been very complex and tiresome, but her selectivity and ability to deliver thorough but efficient synopses of the topics made this a practical review which kept her primary purpose in focus. She included the ideas of Ilia Delio, Denis Edwards, and Arthur Peacocke among others. Vincie addresses the tension between re-shaping the qualities of God in light of the new cosmology and the need to let go of some traditional qualities. One of the key concerns is how Theology can articulate the simultaneous transcendence of God and an immanence that reveals God’s role in creation in a manner that coheres with evolution and other scientific thinking. With Peacocke she points to a God who yields the intelligibility of the universe while simultaneously offering it the autonomy that reveals in indeterminacy. Vincie also makes it very clear that the Holy Spirit finds an even more natural fit between traditionally associated qualities and the new cosmology.
Vincie goes on to make the point that God mediates God’s self through the matter of the universe. She calls this contextualizing religious experience in the cosmic. She adds that the new cosmology drives us to understand that the universe is distinctly relational and our worship must reflect this more completely. Taking each of the sacraments in turn, she suggests a re-contextualization of the sacred in new cosmology terms. For the Eucharist the implication is that we are drawn into communion with all that exists through Christ. Under the Sacrament of Reconciliation she highlights the sin of ecocide and indicates that this is an area that could be open for discussion of corporate sin and corporate reconciliation.
Perhaps Vincie’s most daring move is to suggest a re-formulation of the liturgical calendar around cosmological themes. She connects this briefly with pagan solstice practices, noting that it would provide a counter-balance to the current androcentric tendency. However, as she recommends celebrating seasons of the earth, there is a quick shift to celebrating the emergence of humanity. It seems difficult to avoid the human element in human worship practice.
In the final stage of the book, Vincie offers extensive prayer options for rituals. The reader should look beyond the first selection which uses some awkward terms and lacks the solemnity of prayers that follow. Many of these prayers will flow in a very familiar way to Christian worshipers while enhancing the emphasis on the interdependence of creation in and through God. Of some concern, perhaps over exaggerated, is the degree to which scientific theory shows itself in specific terminology in the prayer texts rather than in vague or symbolic references. Is it not possible that generations to come, with more advanced scientific paradigms even than our own, might struggle with how literal or figurative our generation took these texts? One example might be “Reading: ‘Genesis for the Third Millennium.’” I am not calling the science into question, just the riskiness of religious affirmation of specific elements of the science of our times.Vincie concludes by calling for a paradigm shift in our ecological consciousness. Her efforts in this book are a positive next step in expanding such consciousness beyond academia into the believing community. Slightly controversial and highly creative, this book would stir great discussion in liturgy courses. Hopefully it will also stir the creativity of liturgical ministers and directors and presiders of liturgy.