A phrase beloved by a vocal segment of the theological avant-garde is “celebration of life.” Leading the celebration are such personages as Sister Corita Kent, Sam Keen, and Harvey G. Cox. They say that the Christian Church has bogged down in the “work ethic” and has so suppressed the human need for festivity that its ministry seems totally irrelevant to the rising generation.

Their proposal is that the Church take the lead in establishing a new, festive mood. In this new mood, the fantastic array of images and ideas that the electronic media bounce off our minds will be handled in a new way. Rather than deal with them rationally and scientifically, we are to confront them in a mood of festivity.

In his Feast of Fools Harvey Cox views festivity as a corrective to our present reluctance to do things symbolically. Our age has replaced symbol with technique, he says. Now it is imperative to break the rule of abstract ideas by returning to a free-floating form of liturgy that allegedly marked the group expression of pre-scientific man.

In analyzing festivity Cox finds three elements. The first is excess, which provides release from the usual structures of daily life and takes the celebrator beyond the usual conventional limits. Second is life-affirmation, a transcending of the negative aspects of life. Life is pronounced good, even in the presence of tragedy. Fantasy and festivity make it possible to affirm life even at the edge of death; evidence for this is found in the custom of holding wakes around the remains of the dead.

The third element in festivity is juxtaposition. Cox seems to mean that in festivity there is not only an involvement of the whole person but also the sharing of celebration with others. ...

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