The Catholic University of America

 Stephen Wilbricht

Final Examination of Reverend Stephen S. Wilbricht, C.S.C.

For the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 1:00 p.m., Caldwell Room 125


Rev. Msgr. Kevin Irwin, S.T.D.


Mark Searle's Vision for " Pastoral Liturgical Studies": Liturgy as "Rehearsal of Christian Attitudes"

Mark Searle (1941-1992) left a lasting mark on both the study of liturgy and its reform by his contribution of “pastoral liturgical studies.”  His method serves to supplement classical theological and historical approaches to liturgical study with empirical research, hermeneutical analysis, and critical evaluation.  The benefit of Searle’s system is the scrutiny of cultural attitudes that threaten the very survival of corporate worship.

To counter the perilous influence of American ideals such as individual and privatization, Searle proposed that the liturgy be understood as the “rehearsal of Christian attitudes.”  For him, the liturgical assembly is the sacramental encounter with the attitudes of Christ.  In order to rehearse the worldview of Christ, ritual forms must be respected, integrated, and practiced again and again.  In other words, through regular and repeated engagement with liturgical gestures, movements and words, individual identity is overshadowed by corporate identity in Christ.

This dissertation explores Searle’s lens of “rehearsal of Christian attitudes” in his writings throughout three important stages of his academic career.  The first stage, the early years of Searle’s writing, encompasses his interest in initiation and justice and demonstrates the inseparable connection between liturgy and life.  The second stage, Searle’s development of “pastoral liturgical studies,” involves the interpretation of empirical data gleaned from the Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life and justifies his starting point for “pastoral liturgical studies” as the living, breathing assembly steeped in those cultural attitudes precisely at odds with liturgy.  Finally, the third stage, the last several years of Searle’s life, includes his honing of interdisciplinary acumen and his call for a new liturgical movement that reorients assemblies in the skills of “full, conscious, and active” participation.

The conclusion of this project suggests that Mark Searle was a pioneer who vigorously critiqued the direction of liturgical renewal for its failure to lead the Church into the deeper levels of participation.  In his abbreviated academic career, Searle proved himself as a modern-day mystagogue who upheld surrender to disciplined rehearsal of trusted ritual patterns as the gateway for contemplation of corporate belonging in divine life.