Candler School of Theology, Antonio Alonso

Atlanta, Georgia

To tell the story of the theological significance of ordinary material objects and the theological convictions they express, in order to encourage deeper attentiveness to the diverse materials through which we worship God.

Researcher(s): Tony Alonso 
Academic Discipline:  Liturgical Theology

Project Summary 

In my project, I propose to explore the theological significance of the Second Vatican Council through the prism of the ordinary material objects of Christian worship. Whether in the transformation of communion hosts, new editions of hymnals, or in the shifting meanings of devotional materials like home altars and holy cards, I plan to tell the story of these objects in a way that opens up the complex theological convictions they express to encourage deeper attentiveness among students, pastors, worship leaders, and scholars to the diverse materials through which we worship God. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year?  

How does tending to the materials of contemporary worship in its many manifestations yield more complicated interpretations about the meaning(s) of worship in ways that texts alone do not? But also: in what ways are texts themselves in some sense material?  

While worship practices are often framed around various versions of a “conservative” and “progressive” binary, how do close-grained histories of the materiality of worship across the ideological spectrum complicate such binaries? 

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations? 

By focusing with specificity on the transformations in my own Roman Catholic tradition, I am attempting to perform a mode of theological reflection on material objects that embodies curiosity, generosity, and empathy to help worship leaders, pastors, seminarians, and liturgists be more attentive to the entire theological world contained in something as simple as the bread they choose for the Eucharist or a subtle change they make to a worshipping space. I am attempting to offer a framework from which to think theologically about materials that points worship leaders beyond a reflexive rejection or embrace of particular objects, but instead awakens their attention to the activity of God in and in spite of those objects. 

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)? 

The unpredictability of the pandemic made the kind of ongoing research I wanted to do in archives more complicated. I was able to mostly work around this, but it changed the scope of my project and what I was able to accomplish. 

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

I would encourage other Teacher-Scholars to be nimble and flexible in their work, especially as the major upheaval of every sphere of life in the past two years is not in any sense complete. The sheer emotional toll it has taken on all of us, but especially on those connected to the church, has been enormous. There is a constant temptation to evade the ways that impacts us. I think it’s important to be patient with oneself and with the communities with which we are connected.  

More broadly, I would encourage Teacher-Scholars to remain curious and open to changing your mind! There is a joy in discovery. And research can be filled with unexpected surprises that challenge your hunches. 

What products will emerge from your project? 

Ultimately, a monograph will emerge from the work over the past year. More immediately, a peer reviewed article on communion hosts (now out for review), a book chapter on the materiality of sacred music (also under review), and a presentation at the Yale ISM Liturgy Conference on these topics will all find their way into the world in the next year.