From Symbolic Rapport to Public Rhetoric
in the Roman Catholic Church

Marc Muldoon, Ph.D.,
John Veltri, M.Div.

We assume many things in our present North American culture. We assume that responsible adults have developed some skill for managing money by keeping a budget. We assume that most people ought to know how to drive a car. We assume that with proper experimentation and research we can control various aspects of life. We assume that everyone will need a medical doctor at some point in one's life. Most citizens take for granted that an adult is able to read and write. Not too long ago, we had another common, even stronger assumption, one that was accepted by almost every institution. We assumed as evident that it was necessary to maintain a perceptible rapport with the sacred.

Cultural anthropologists and historians agree that in the West, prior to 1650, the need for such a rapport remained unquestioned. Even as late as the middle of this century most citizens, at least in public practice, held this belief. Examples such as the demand to swear on the Bible in court, the requirement to pledge allegiance to country and God in certain circumstances, and the practice of beginning morning classes with a prayer and scripture reading demonstrated the unconscious assumption about the inclusion of the sacred in all our affairs.

This was especially true in Roman Catholic lived culture in North America. Most catholics lived out of a spontaneous and "naively" accepted fabric of faith, spun from a symbolic thread, that linked human beings with life, society, and a world which was the natural gateway to the beyond. The Roman Catholic Church understood itself to be a steward of this symbolic thread between believers and God. In its prayer and liturgies and in the ways it expressed itself, it recognized its stewardship of this symbolic thread for the world.

In the past three decades the church has been losing its hold over this culture. Presently, it is also losing its respect by other traditions and by the wider society itself. Numbers in the Roman Church are decreasing. Applications to the priesthood are declining. The formation houses of religious orders are closing. Catholic families are mirroring the stresses in secular families. Ordinary Catholics are finding sustenance in more fundamentalist denominations. More sophisticated Catholics are experimenting with alternate communal forms of worship. Large numbers of North American women are experiencing the Church as alienating.

Many onlookers have suggested that the Church has remained too rigid in its moral norms while North American culture itself has been in transition. We maintain that the Church's loss of credibility may be due more to another vital factor than to its firm teachings during external cultural transitions. The Church is no longer being perceived by many of its own members and by the wider North American society as shepherd of the relationship between human persons with the cosmos and the soul with God. It may be that, at a preconscious level, many no longer feel connected to God or the universe through the primary religious and biblical symbols the Church has guarded for some two millennia now. For many, the Church is no longer a credible container for the sacred.

Return to Homepage

In this article we presume that in North America the Church, until early 1960, was perceived as steward of religious and biblical symbols. In this article we emphasize the following:
1. This stewardship is one of the Church's primary roles because it is through such symbols that contact with the sacred is kept.
2. At the present time, the Church seems to have lost appreciation of this role as primary, and we suggest that, because of this loss, it is losing its credibility in the world.
3. In order to underscore these points, we explore the distinction between religious/biblical symbols and ecclesiastical symbols.
4. In the last section we make an observation we consider fairly evident: namely, that in public perception, the Church's legalistic persona is in the foreground.

I. The Church and Levels of Symbol
i) Primary Religious Symbols
For the last hundred years, thinkers from diverse fields such as anthropology, ethnology, linguistics, psychology and philosophy have emphatically described how important symbols are to the health of the human psyche. True symbols are not just signs. Etymologically, 'symbol' means 'to put together.' A symbol acts as a type of 'hinge;' it reveals a non-perceptible order through a perceptible figure. This revealing function defines the symbol and distinguishes it from a simple sign. Road signs, for example, are figures employed by convention to control chaotic traffic on our highways. They are humanly contrived and do not point us toward any awareness that deepens and enriches our experiences of the physical world.

When we speak of symbol we specifically designate a perceptible figure which evokes an experience that embellishes our worldly existence; it does this by revealing more than what the objective world presents to us in physical perception. The meaning of this experience is never exhausted in a literal or objective definition. It opens a fissure of consciousness that discursive reason cannot easily close. What is true of all symbols in general applies especially to those symbols we designate here as 'religious.'(1)

'Religious' symbols offer human experience more than what physical perception permits. Religious symbols restore a human bond with the divine. They are not invented intentionally; they grow out of our individual and collective unconscious. Religious symbols borrow their perceptible figures from common human experience and become the foundation for the structure and meaning of the human world. Religious symbols draw us out of the world of our everyday concerns and into a world of meaning which is associated with the symbols.

Religious symbolic figures can be linguistic (myths, prayers, stories), artistic (icons, statues, tableaux, buildings), or ritualistic (rites of passage, rites of initiation). Religious rituals are symbolic actions that aim to transform existence and establish a dynamic bond with the divine which commemorates and re-enacts the emergence of God in our lives. Ritual actions and their symbols are 'doors to the sacred;' they 'carry us over' into the mysterious and sacred.

Catholic theology and tradition have always taught that the dialogical relationship with God is mediated through the action of symbols rather than through some direct gaze. The sacraments are fundamental examples of this. They help transform existence by inviting one into sacred space and time. Through these symbolic actions, participants can enter into a rapport with a transcendent paradigm. The basic characteristic of such symbolic rituals is that they connect the believer and the Holy. God is manifested as one who acts with and upon human beings in accordance with specifically human meanings.

The figures used in these sacraments are not other-worldly. Consider such examples as bread and wine on an altar or sacred table, along with accompanying words and gestures. In the sacrament of communion through the rituals with bread and wine, believers are called to a table not only as witnesses or spectators. They are affective participants in a divine movement incarnated in human experience. Such a symbolic event is founded on a typical human activity, a special dinner which is an intimate and a planned affair. So too the communion or eucharistic relationship with God is both a personal and a deliberate form of human conduct. Such conduct imbues our lives with values and meaning not taken from the physical world alone. Thus the sacramental perspective is not an escape from life but an intensification of life at deeper levels of human experience.

We should not forget that symbols such as fire, water, wine, bread, anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, sacred fire, and the exchange of rings originally do not belong to the Church. Such symbols and symbolic gestures belong to much older traditions that have their roots in ancient water rituals, sacrificial rituals, marriage rituals, healing rituals. The Church has used these religious symbols for the very same reason they were used in the past - they attend to a deep need to restore and maintain a bond with the divine. The real source of many such symbols and rituals is lost in prehistory. Whatever this prehistoric explanation might have been, we recognize that these religious symbols psychically bridge 'flesh' and 'Spirit.'

What we have described as religious symbols in general can also be said of those preserved throughout the Bible. Many of these emerged from the oral traditions of prehistory. Others are recorded in the literature and history of the Bible which, as a sacred book, is itself a religious symbol. When we use religious symbols we enter a realm that cannot be exhausted by literal and discursive explanation. If we attempt to plumb their meaning discursively or to embellish their effect with superfluous gesture, we destroy their efficacy.(2)

Of all the important roles that the Church exercises, the most essential role is to maintain its stewardship of these religious and biblical symbols. This is a responsibility to ensure that these symbols remain vital and dynamic without becoming rigidly fixed as objects of devotion themselves. This can happen when religious symbols become either the subject of abstract dogma or confused with accessory gestures and figures.

ii) Ecclesiastical Symbols
Over the centuries the Church necessarily began to use a distinct level of symbols to guide its believers. To distinguish these from religious symbols described above we name them 'ecclesiastical symbols.' They are not the same as religious symbols. However such lesser or second level symbols are always required to manifest the religious symbols properly. Both water and oil need appropriate containers. Bread can be presented in many different shapes. The priest wears special garb. Fire requires a candle or container to give it form. Rituals of gesture and word are required to make manifest the use of religious symbols. While formulated to connect with the sacred, these ecclesiastical symbols are much more arbitrary and historically bound than religious symbols. An example might illustrate this distinction.

In a typical 1950 Catholic hospital in North America it was the duty of the priest to distribute communion to the sick. At the appointed hour the priest, dressed in a black cassock and surplice, would carry a ciborium containing consecrated white rounded hosts to the appropriate floors. A sacred humeral veil was draped over the priest's shoulders, arms and ciborium. He was usually accompanied by two nuns in black or white habit, one carrying a candle, the other carrying a little bell. The latter person opened the doors for the two others if a nurse had not done so already. As the small procession entered the halls, the bell alerted the nurses and patients of the presence of the transcendent. The nurses stopped and often knelt with outward respect while permitting the party to pass. The patients readied themselves in prayer.

Once in the room, the priest rested the ciborium on a designated table and initiated the ritual action by saying a few introductory Latin words to which the nuns replied. There was a hush in the room. The priest opened with care the cover of the ciborium and took out one small round white host. In great solemnity, he elevated the round host for all to worship. Going to the bedside, he placed a host on the communicant's tongue. For those present, the sense of the sacred was very real. This sense was even realized in those who felt they were not worthy enough to receive communion that morning and also in those from other denominations.

In this example, note the two levels of symbol. We place the these two levels in columns to differentiate these levels while at the same time illustrating their close connection. Please remember that ecclesiastical symbols developed in order to manifest religious symbols. Unfortunately the ecclesiastical symbols often became identified with them:

The first level is that of religious symbol

The second level is that of ecclesiastical symbol
bread roundness and whiteness, with the use of a ciborium, and its style
sacred gestures the priest gave his blessing with the sign of the cross
sacred words


certain words were used to help dispose persons for entry into the experience
hushed silence the bell announcing the arrival of this event helped to create the silent atmosphere
priest the fact of his ordination, the rules and lifestyle that he was expected to follow with his book of rituals and sacred formulas - all this told the participants that he is was a priest worthy for this ministry
sacred garb


black cassock, white Roman collar, nun's habit, humeral veil
cross style of crucifix

and all these in the atmosphere of a Catholic hospital, which itself for many was an important symbol.

As suggested above the role of these ecclesiastical symbols was to manifest appropriately the religious symbols. In the above scenario these ecclesiastical symbols helped to manifest most effectively 'the real presence' of the consecrated bread.

Ecclesiastical symbols, like all second level symbols, grow out of an historical period. They help to portray the more primary or religious symbol according to certain times and places. During different historical and cultural situations the way of presenting the religious symbols can take different forms. For example, the ways of preserving eucharistic bread and the manner of bringing communion to the sick have changed radically over the centuries. Since ecclesiastical symbols grow out of the needs of an historical period, their connection with time and place may need to change with changing cultures. Their role is secondary in that their use should depend on their effectiveness in manifesting the more primary religious symbols.

As the ecclesiastical symbols manifested and helped to enhance the religious symbols, they came to carry also an implicit political message of power and privilege. In many instances, these secondary symbols became associated with a particular status. Only the ordained deacon or priest or authorized person was to touch the ciborium. Only an ordained priest or deacon could unlock and open the tabernacle door to replace or remove a ciborium with consecrated hosts. If by chance an unauthorized person needed to touch the ciborium, that person might do so by using a cloth to cover the stem of the ciborium as it was being moved. Unfortunately over the centuries there was not a continual development and adaptation in the use of ecclesiastical symbols.

It should be recalled that the early Church did not begin to build itself on what we have called ecclesiastical symbols. The Roman Church grew out of the early Christian experience which grew out of the history, imagery and language of the Bible. The very Bible itself, as well as the stories, myths, histories, poetry and metaphors the Bible contains, are religious symbols on a primary level. These biblical symbols were incorporated from Hebraic traditions and became part of the early Christian practice. In turn they were perceived by the Church and Christians to be assimilated in Christ, the Risen Lord. As the "the image of the invisible God," as the "Word in whom all things were created," as the one who is present "when two or three are gathered in my name," Jesus, the Christ, is the Symbol of Symbols. For centuries these religious symbols had a power to inspire Christians to imitate Jesus by sharing their worldly goods with the poor and even by giving up their lives in martyrdom.

Biblical symbols gave identity and energy to the early Christian community and evoked the ability for this community to flourish in the Roman world. One only has to read the sermons of the early church Fathers of the first few centuries to realize that these biblical symbols, expressed through the vivid imagery of an extensive oral tradition, were continually used in both worship and imparting God's word. In the church practice of the early centuries, homilies were rich in metaphor and connected to the symbols used in celebration.

Over the centuries something happened to the effectiveness of these religious and biblical symbols because they were obscured and hidden for large numbers of ordinary Christians. Among the many and complex reasons for this, one can list the following:
i) The Church had become a state religion and had developed into an institution rather than remaining a community of faith. In this process the symbols used in the early Christian family setting were eventually taken out of the more private family setting and celebrated in the public setting of church buildings;

ii) The Church had become so unwieldy that it needed strict laws and norms to govern and guard the use of the religious symbols. Partly the result of this necessity, the universal language of Latin became the official language of the Church and the Bible the preserve of a special caste of educated people living in monasteries;
iii) The religious orders, which had become the enclaves of the educated and built their customs upon the use of ecclesiastical symbols. Thus in their celebration and lifestyle, they tended to exaggerate the use of the ecclesiastical symbol over the use of the religious symbol.

As a result, contact between believers and religious symbols came to be mediated through a layer of symbolic embellishments that the Church judged appropriate. As the Church established itself politically, the demand for uniformity and clear lines of authority had the effect of emphasizing the role of ecclesiastical embellishment over the more primary religious symbol.

Take for example the symbol of bread. In the early Christian communities bread used as a religious symbol was something one could smell, taste and feel. Leavened or unleavened, it was a textured substance. It crumbled when broken. It had to be chewed to be eaten. It was also the symbol of the personal presence of Christ among believers.

Over time, however, a refined 'host' replaced bread. The circular wafer was elevated in an ornate monstrance and accompanied by long processions, cope, incense, canopy and special music. It too was a symbol of presence, but one mediated by the Church with its own historically relevant symbols. The intention to manifest the deep religious symbol of bread, and the presence of God to our souls, remained. The expressive function of ordinary bread as symbol found itself re-signified in the 'host' - the Church's symbol(3) of Christ amongst believers.

The transmutation of religious symbol into ecclesiastical symbol was entrenched by the time of the Reformation.(4) The institutional Church, rather than the Risen Christ, became the over-arching symbol of presence. Unintentionally, for the majority of believers, the role of religious symbols was buried under theologically distinguished disciplines and complicated regulations. The effective religious symbols were lost behind the insistence of ecclesiastical symbols. In the end, the question to be asked is whether, in the use and proliferation of ecclesiastical symbols, the believing community was taught to celebrate the presence of God symbolically, or to remain faithful to the authority of an historical institution.(5)

Despite continual reforms to deal with obvious disciplinary problems, the institutional Church continued to overemphasize ecclesiastical symbols. This emphasis certainly was effective in giving an identity to Roman Catholics. This identity served well as cultural support during times of emigration to the new world. Unfortunately, the price that was to be paid became evident in North America only after Vatican Council II. As the institutional Church invited its members to a time of renewal, it stripped itself of those ecclesiastical symbols that had long obscured its religious symbols. However, it did not realize that over the centuries it had unintentionally undermined the effectiveness of these religious symbols. For large numbers of Catholics, the religious symbols, particularly those rooted in the Bible, could never again be as effective as they were originally in the early Church. In exaggerating its own ecclesiastical symbols, the Church had lost the effectiveness of both ecclesiastical and religious symbols.

During the first half of this century seminaries did little to educate its future priests to communicate the symbolic tradition. Many older priests can easily verify that in the seminaries throughout North America no attention was given to the education and formation of their role as stewards of religious symbols. Much time was given to canon law, moral theology and doctrine. More time was given to the metaphysics of the presence of Jesus in the eucharist than to the manner of celebrating the eucharist itself. Scripture was understood in terms of defined dogma and natural law, not in terms of the literature and symbol which make up such a large portion of it. Everything was taught in terms of a classical static world view. Gesture was reduced to correctness in posture. Symbol of the sacraments was rationalistically reduced to sign. Contemplation was changed to discursive forms of prayer. Spiritual direction was more concerned with moral behaviour and conforming to institutional practices. Human interior experience was looked upon and dismissed as Freudian. What was true of seminary training was definitely true of education in Church sponsored schools(6).

The crisis that erupted for believers may have been due in part to the Church's moral positions of the day(7); but our thesis is that the greater impact came at a deeper level from the dramatic shift in the symbolic structure of the post-conciliar Church - its liturgies, the stress on biblical spirituality, the insistence on teaching and preaching from a biblical perspective, the return to the inner dynamic and symbolism of the sacraments, the restructuring of feast days, the involvement in the world of social structures, the relativization of Church rules. For generations of believers nurtured on ecclesiastical symbols, the attempted shift back to religious symbols relativized the very significance of liturgy and the sacraments and all other public actions and teachings. The Church could no longer maintain its role as faithful steward of religious symbols. In the popular mind and, even to the ordinary believer, what was obscured by ecclesiastical absoluteness at one time now became arbitrary! While many may have rationalized that, on a conscious level, the Church was too rigid and morally inflexible, we maintain that, at a preconscious level, the Church was no longer a credible container of the sacred. It should be no surprise that the 'de-mythologizing' that the institutional Church encouraged through Vatican II did not result in the 're-mythologizing' that was truly both intended and needed. As the credibility of the Church weakened for many in North America, the search for new sources of spiritual sustenance began. This has taken the form of many experiments with eastern philosophies, cult movements, pop therapies, or some form of weak nominal connection to Catholic roots.

II. Public Perception and Legal Rhetoric
The most serious effect of this loss of its primary role as steward of religious symbol is that a post-Vatican generation has matured and fostered offspring who have only a weak or indifferent commitment to the Church and its valued sacraments. Many, perhaps the majority of people, have only a tenuous understanding of the Church. They do not have a strong sense of identity. They were not formed in the ecclesiastical symbols of the first half of the century. They have not experienced, like their grandparents, the inner dynamic rapport with the sacred that the pre-Vatican Church engendered. Hence, the experience of Church for many is one left to information from the public media.

With its penchant for scandal, sensationalism, and non-historical explanations, the media's portrayal of the Church is a distorted one. While more committed and educated readers and listeners can appreciate the symbolic thread and interior experience behind the Church's motivations, popular journalists can not and will not.(8) Furthermore, the context in which North American media people function is laden with a legalistic understanding in which human interactions of trust are being replaced by legal interactions. Further, this context is aggravated by the media's constant proliferation of images. This undifferentiated multiplication(9) has the effect of trivializing and weakening symbols that could have a power to deepen and enrich human experience.

Despite the official Church's earnest attempts to re-establish itself as a more integrated Church for the 20th century, it has failed to see that its persona is one primarily brokered through the mass media. From the famous birth control encyclical, Humanae Vitae of 1968, to the letter attempting to rule out women's ordination, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of 1994, it has continued to present itself to the world in a legal way even though this may not have been its main purpose. Subsequently, new generations of potential believers see the Church outside of any personal experience of the Church as bearer of the sacred. Through the filter of the media, the Church appears locked-in to its insistence on theological purity and defence of its power structure. As Church leaders formulate moral questions and various teachings using applications of natural law and revealed truths with a legal rhetoric, its pronouncements are made to sound very similar to those of any other juridical body in society.

Church leaders fail to appreciate the 'legal interpretation effect' of the context through which North Americans filter Church pronouncements. In failing to communicate effectively the healthy link between the experience of God in religious symbol and moral vision, the Church is becoming indistinguishable from other groups operating in a pluralistic society. Instead of grounding the experience of its members in the poetry, images, and symbol that relate us to the sacred, the Church's strong positions become merely public rhetoric. Such rhetoric does not cultivate mystery nor does it inspire healing action in the world. The language of empowerment in the Spirit has been replaced by the discourse of legal rhetoric. Such discourse obscures how mystery draws us into a collective identity. There, communal responsibility starts and ignites a deeper sense of human significance and meaning for each of us.

The suggestion underlying these observations is definitely not to mourn romantically the loss of past grandeur and to re-establish unresponsive structures.(10) Nor is it to suggest that the current movement toward the dissolution of the Church into small networks of communities based on instantaneous charisms is an answer. Human affairs, even religious ones, need institutions. But Church officials need to ask certain questions about the international institution they lead. Some of these are:
i) How can the Church make its primary role as steward of symbols truly primary?
ii) Does the Gospel find its proper interpretation and communication in a legal persona?

The answer to questions such as these will be crucial. Unless Church leaders become aware of their primary role and exercise it in an effective manner, the voice of the Church will have no credible significance. Many believers will be quite right to find sources of spiritual sustenance elsewhere.

Over the centuries there have been moments when the Roman Catholic Church truly earned the title, "Splendour of the Church"(11) because it manifested God's light with life-giving symbols. However, at the end of the twentieth century, it has drawn our attention more to itself and its own historically bound structures and mental constructs. In this process it has unwittingly betrayed its own sacred trust. If the Church wishes to remain true to its primary role, it will have to learn once again how to manifest its stewardship of symbols(12)


About the writers of this article:

Marc Muldoon, Ph.D., lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Having specialized in Phenomenology, he received his doctorate in 1990 from Louvain. At the time of writing this article he was teaching in the Department of Philosophy at Brock University, Ontario, Canada.

John Veltri is a Jesuit priest. Author of two books on spirituality, at the time of co-authoring this article he was associated with Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


1. 1. Scholars argue whether symbols can be 'religious' by their very nature. We will not enter into this debate. However, symbols are used religiously. Even those who hold either side of the issue will admit this. We are concerned with the fact that the Church has been using symbols religiously from its very beginnings.

2. The topic of symbols, and religious symbols in particular, is extensive and the comments in this essay are cursory at best. One basic principle is that the established character of symbols does not necessarily imply that the meanings animating them are either uniform or fixed. The meaning which symbols evoke are polyvalent and not univocal. This means that the significance of a symbol always exceeds its conceptual representation. Consequently, similar forms of symbols appear in different contexts and practices that express different meanings. Deep symbolic expressions, therefore, should be understood as general models according to which cultural groups modulate their own expressive style.

A symbol can be too vigorously codified. When this is done, the symbol is reduced to one representative function. Then its expressive function is inhibited. An excessive codification can impose an abstract dogma on believers obscuring rather than supporting the religious truths stemming from the symbol. Religious truths which symbols animate are too comprehensive to be exhaustively formulated.

The danger of rigidly codifying a symbol's representative function is the subversion of a symbolic ritual by ritualism. As noted in the text, at the psychological level, an active religious symbol is characterized by its 'revealing function' with respect to the sacred. A symbolic ritual that has become too fixed and 'de-symbolized' follows the logic of ritualism. In such a logic, the symbols and symbolic rituals become operations of manipulation of an impersonal power. This in turn can contribute to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some Roman Catholics used to experience this as scrupulousity. See A. Vergote, Guilt and Desire, Religious Attitudes and Their Pathological Derivations, trans. M. H. Wood (London: Yale University Press, 1988), 98-110.

3. In the subversion of the symbol of bread by the symbol of the 'host,' the latter became more a sign than symbol. This slippage was exacerbated by its objectification in the doctrine of transubstantiation with its focus on the exactness of how the substance of Jesus' body and blood is present totally in each and every part under the 'accidents of bread.' If bread is a religious symbol for a believer in the appropriate context, its description as having 'accidents' is absurd.

4. The diminution of religious symbols was certainly accelerated by the Reformation. The Catholic Church, to maintain its identity, entrenched the use of ecclesiastical symbols. The Protestant reformers, on the other hand, in literalizing the bible, denigrated the use of symbols in general and, in time, replaced them with their own rational concepts, moral laws, and subjective emotions.

Perhaps even more destructive, however, was the pervasive rise of rationalism in the seventeenth century. Cartesian thought, for example, fostered the belief in the absolute rule of reason and the eventual hope of understanding the world in a completely empirical manner. As a result, objective understanding became more highly valued over and above all other forms of spiritual, subjective, imaginative and intuitive modes of comprehension. In the end, the symbolic mediation of truth was to become suspicious and taken to be less credible. By the nineteenth century, the tendencies of scientism and deism had become endemic to the Catholic intelligentsia.

These tendencies have the following effect. When the scientific mind encounters religion, it attempts to conceptualize and to express the contents of religion in concepts the rational mind can understand. This leads to the need to explain rationally God's mystery. This leads to the eventual assertion that God belongs to the natural spontaneous activity of reason. The God-as-idea, or God-as-pure-being and first cause, comes to replace the experience of God under any other mode and becomes the essential basis for religion. In short, the word 'God' is no longer anchored in the symbols of biblical monotheism. Religious belief becomes predicated on reason and not on a symbolic rapport with the sacred. See Antoine Vergote, "God Beyond the Seduction of Deism," in H. E. Mertons and L. Boeve, eds., Naming God Today (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1994), 63-78.

5. 5. The effects of such a transmutation was exemplified in some Roman Catholic dioceses where round hosts were to be replaced by square ones. The new hosts were brown in colour and crumbled easily. Many believers objected to such a replacement. Their sentiments reflect the type of rigidity that believers ingest when the codification of a form of a symbol becomes more important than the symbol's mediating function. The other extreme happened in the late 1960's, when people suggested that liturgies be made more relevant for young people by employing current foodstuffs. As we alluded to in the text, bread as a primary religious symbol is not an arbitrary choice.

6. Catholic school systems which claimed to have a different atmosphere than others did little to form Roman Catholics in the symbolic tradition. Distinctiveness from others could often be identified through smaller school populations, dress codes, catechism classes, prayer at the start of the class or day, pictures of saints on the board or wall, church worship services on special festive occasions. Theories were often expressed about forming the whole person. But like most other school systems throughout the continent, Catholic teachers stressed head rather than heart, memory rather than imagination, analysis of symbol rather than the experience of symbol. The Catholic school system both appropriated and contributed to the cultural scientific paradigm just as much as their secularist counterpart.

7. Various reflections and observations about the Roman Catholic experience in North America during the last third of this century have been written. Many of them explain the church's present malaise something like this:

'The past thirty years have been some of the most turbulent and exciting in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the vision and attitude of aggiornamento, Vatican II set into motion a wrenching crisis for a church whose identity for centuries was based on the fidelity of its members. The reforms of Vatican II took place during the 1960's when North American society in general was already experiencing challenges to social norms and established authorities. The implicit and explicit value system of every public institution was being called into question.

The flashpoint where the questioning of church authority and changing societal norms met was in Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae (1968). The firm teaching on artificial contraception initiated a painful period of turbulence for many Catholics. Since that point, the large exodus of practising members and the pluralism in belief and attitude among educated believers has left the institutional church in North America fractured.'

8. While we may not agree with his entire analysis, Jude P. Dougherty has pointed out some interesting reasons why the media is consistently insensitive to reporting on issues in religion. See Jude P. Dougherty, "What was Religion? The Demise of a Prodigious Power," in Modernity and Religion, Ralph McInerny, ed. (London: University of Notre Dame, 1994), 129-142.

9. This point is well explained in Chapter 10 of Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender Of Culture To Technology (N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).

10. The desire for such a romantic return to more 'authentic' times is certainly evident today. Such a desire, however, neglects to recognize that Vatican II has rightly identified the celebrative community with the just community. Faithfulness to the sacraments is only an expression of our experience of God in the world. Social justice education was the necessary corrective to a pre-Vatican world-view that had allowed the message of the gospels to become too closed and too private.

11. This is the title of the book by Henri De Lubac, published by Sheed and Ward, 1956. He wrote this tribute while Church officials were investigating his orthodoxy.

12. 12. We are indebted to Rev. Lawrence Cobel of St. Barbara's Parish, Lackawanna, New York, for a seminal insight elaborated in this article.

Selected References

DILLISTONE, F.W., ed. Myth and Symbol, Theological Collections 7 (London: S.P.C.K., 1966).
MARTOS, Joseph, Doors to the Sacred (London: SCM Press, 1981)
POSTMAN, Neil, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)
McINERNY, Ralph, ed., Modernity and Religion (London: University of Notre Dame, 1994), 129-142.
MERTONS, H. E. and L. Boeve, eds., Naming God Today (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1994), 63-78.
TILLICH, Paul, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1957).
TILLICH, Paul, The Protestant Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963).
VERGOTE, Antoine, Guilt and Desire: Religious Attitudes and Their Pathological Derivatives, trans. M. H. Wood (London: Yale University Press, 1988).
WUTHNOW, Robert, Rediscovering the Sacred: Perspectives on Religion and Contemporary Society (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992).