Fr. Aidan Kavanagh was a professor at Notre Dame and Yale, a Benedictine monk, and one of the world’s leading scholars in liturgical studies and liturgical theology. Kavanagh died in 2006 at the age of 77 and a beautiful obituary published by Yale can be read here. Amongst many other accolades, he was the first Roman Catholic to serve as the Dean of Yale Divinity School (1989-1990) and his works have profoundly influenced my thinking and research.
Fr. Kavanagh is perhaps most known for his book, On Liturgical Theology, his vast and prolific writing corpus, and his research on the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), liturgical studies, and a pioneer in liturgical theology alongside Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
On Liturgical Theology is Fr. Kavanagh’s successful attempt at articulating the need for, methodology behind, and strength of liturgical theology as a meaningful venture within the wider theological realm. In his introductory remarks, Kavanagh makes a strong argument for the centrality of Christian worship in theological ventures, he writes:
“…the liturgy of the church is nothing other than that church’s faith in motion on certain definite and crucial levels. This faith surely has other modes and levels, but these are to be evaluated finally in terms of the church at worship before the living God, rather than vice versa. It cannot be forgotten that the church at worship is not only present to God; far more significantly, the living God is present to the church. This latter presence is not a theological theory; it is a real presence which is there to affect, grace, and change the world. It is an active real presence of God accomplishing his purpose as he will by the gift of himself in his Son through the Holy Spirit; God is not present to the worshiping church by faith but in reality; it is the church which is present by faith to God, and this faith reaches its most intense degree of relationship to its divine objective in a worshipful manner. No other stance is so appropriate when creature confronts Creator, when the redeemed regard the Redeemer.”
– Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology: The Hale Memorial Lectures of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 1981 (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1984), 8.
Fr. Kavanagh continues with some poignant comments about the nature of the church as God’s representative body in the world. He suggests:
“As such, Paul saw this gathering, this ecclesia, so closely identified with him whom we all crucified that he felt compelled to call it his Body. By grace, faith, and sacrament, the Church is the fullness of him who is the fullness of the Godhead bodily. If the incarnation of the Logos was God enhumaned, the Church is God in Christ enworlded.” – OLT, 15.
Ultimately he brings the conversation full-circle in his introduction by relating liturgy, the church, and theology together in one harmonious grouping. Unfortunately such a reality does not exist in many churches to this day. He laments, “Theology began to withdraw from pulpits and the liturgy into the classroom and study,” (18). The goal is then to once again view the liturgy and the church’s worship as deeply and profoundly theological. Indeed it is the locus of theologia prima and from, with, by, in, and through it we—that is, the church—make the most robust theological statements, affirmations, proclamations, and confessions possible.
On Liturgical Theology is an effort to regain, reclaim, and re-embrace the liturgy as theologically meaningful and relevant rather than viewing it as rote, boring, and outdated.