The Liturgies of Church and State (Cavanaugh, 2005)

Today the most significant misunderstanding of the Christian liturgy is that it is sacred. Let me clarify. The problem is that “sacred” has been opposed to “secular,” and the two are presumed to describe two separate—but occasionally related—orbits. The problem is not simply that this separation leaves the church’s liturgy begging for relevance to the “real world.” The problem is rather that the supposedly “secular” world invents its own liturgies, with pretensions every bit as “sacred” as those of the Christian liturgy, and these liturgies can come to rival the church’s liturgy for our bodies and our minds. In this brief essay I want to explore in particular some of the liturgies of the American nation-state. I will suggest first that such liturgies are not properly called “secular,” and second, that the Christian liturgy is not properly cordoned off into the realm of the “sacred.”