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LSB120 The Church & Contemporary Communication Elizabeth Sheppard M9801-001

TOPIC: Discuss the statement of Marshall McLuhan that "the medium is the
message" in the light of the Church's role of communication in today's context.

In the contemporary context of the Church's communicative role, McLuhan's

statement that "the medium is the message" is significant. Mcl.uhan describes the

assault of technology on the senses and constructs of life, and people withdrawing into

self-protective numbness. Because the medium is fascinating, it overwhelms the

message, and we stop communicating. For example, "the effect of the movie form is

not related to its program content". 1 In order to weather this technological assault, we

can examine how the message of the Church has survived past assaults. The Church

has always adapted the media, language and cultural context of her message to

contemporary conditions. The way the Church communicates Christ's message has

always been through the lives of her people, especially her saints and great teachers.

This is the "way" Christ lived and taught - that the ultimate medium is the Body of

Christ - the Church in the world.

The Church communicates Christ to the world, by establishing faithful

relationships between human beings based on mutual trust and love, in the lives of

Christians and those with whom they share relationship. Only by acting from such

authentic relationships can the Church bring God's Kingdom to the world. We achieve

the coming of the Kingdom by communicating God's love, expressed and constantly

renewed in Christ's life, death, resurrection, and ascension. There is no other way than

this. By this means - the witness of visible love between Christians, their neighbours,

and their enemies - the Church can choose to empower itself to communicate God to the

contemporary world. We act in relationship when we use media to communicate.

How we use the media will be determined by the quality and authenticity of the

1McLuhan, Marshal1 Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 3rd imp.

London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967 p 18 1
LSB120 The Church & Contemporary Communication Elizabeth Sheppard M9801-001

/ relationship we wish to establish. Any relationship is enriched by mutual awareness in

dialogue and impoverished by monologue.

McLuhan's concept of the medium as the message is well developed but

imperfect. He sees the media as the various "autoamputations" which humans have

created to escape the pain of sensual overload, and describes the escalating physical and

cultural changes which different media bring to our lives.

By living in Christ, we can embed the Christian message into the human terms

of our own lives and culture. By living the message, we, in Christ, become the

medium, and all other media become subservient to God. The retreat into technological

numbness and non-communication is reversed in this way, by the communal prayer

and life of the Church in Christ, which addresses and interprets new experiences in the

light of the Gospel.

God communicates with the Church through the resurrected life of Christ and

the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. Christ's injunction to teach and preach the

good news, baptising all people in His Name, is pursued by the entire Church in close

verbal and written consultation with the divinely graced Magisterium of the Church.

The Pope and the Magisterium of the Church devote their lives to the communication of

the Gospel. The scriptures, tradition, prayer, and worship of the Church, combine with

God's grace and the gifts and works of the faithful bestowed by the Holy Spirit, to

illumine the living Word and send it into the world.

The Church has always acknowledged the importance of both orality and

literacy in the propagation of the faith. The tradition of the Church is deeply ingrained

in oral ritual, custom and behaviour. The written scriptures and writings of the Church

are a unique combination of the oral and literate traditions which present God's

relationship with His people as a living dynamic text.

The Biblical texts of both Old and New Testaments avoid the pitfalls of linear

texts by adopting the conventions of the oral cultures they sprang from. In them the

message is welded to the medium of the life of the people. The parables of Jesus,

which transcend time and reach out to people of all ages, races and cultures, exemplify
LSB120 The Church & Contemporary Communication Elizabeth Sheppard M9801-001

/ non-linear scriptural method in addressing common human situations and problems

using cyclic, allegorical and image-based forms.

The liturgy, especially the Paschal Mystery of the Eucharist-, together with the

pastoral work of the Church, in communicates the love of God to the world. The

leitourgos , the work of the people of God, is not a set of rules, a bureaucratic

hierarchy, a collection of sanctified objects or decorations, or a pattern of repeated

actions carried out meticulously. It is the loving combination of these elements in the

living liturgy of the communal service of God, which will bring all people to Christ.

The Catechism ofthe Catholic Church states that

"In the New Testament the word "liturgy" refers not only to the celebration of

divine worship but also to the proclamation of the Gospel and to active charity.

In all of these situations it is a question of the service of God and neighbour. In

a liturgical celebration the Church is servant in the image of her Lord, the one

"leitourgos"; she shares in Christ's priesthood (worship), which is both

prophetic (proclamation) and kingly (service of charity).'?

Catechesis, spiritual formation of the faithful, and evangelization is undertaken

through parishes, missions and other works of the apostolate by the priesthood, the

religious orders, and the laity. Education, training and basic funding of these

apostolates is one way of supporting effective communication of God's love to the

world. Maintaining the consistency of the Church's mission, is the task of Magisterial,

lay and ecumenical organizations, such as Propaganda Fide, the Joint Working Group

of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, and the

consultative Conciliar committees.

Many committees, which have a crucial role in the communication of

contemporary Christianity, address ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church

2The Catechism of the Catholic Church p 279 Article 1074

3The Catechism of the Catholic Church p 278 Article 1070

LSB120 The Church & Contemporary Communication Elizabeth Sheppard M9801-(XJl

/ and non-Catholic Churches. Emphasis on managerial and academic print and

conference media has limited their effectiveness. Substantial progress has been made

towards unity with the Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican Churches. The situation is

analogous to that of the UN committees which impose sanctions at conferences but are

frozen into inexplicable immobility when it comes to taking practical action to avert

catastrophe. The solution to this problem lies in facilitating responsible human

communication at local level. The present disunity of Christians sends a negative and

inexplicable message to the world that the Churches will not acknowledge their

common belief in Christ. Yet the fact that God has acted in human history to maintain

the apostolic succession of the Christian faith from person to person, remains clear.

Christ accomplished the miracle which McLuhan asserts is impossible - that of

enabling people to travel through and transcend their own time-bound suffering and

mortality. In living this, He enabled every person who believes that this happened in

Him as a human being, to follow Him.

In describing the phenomenon of projection or autoamputation of body

functions, McLuhan assumes that no-one has the ability to recognise the destructive

effects of the alteration of media constructs on their life. He ridicules General Sarnoff

for assuming that it is possible to assert control over the media.t However, he also

describes people who remain detached but are aware of what occurs as the technology

affecting them acts on their lives. De Toqueville, Blake and the Psalmist all have this in


Therefore it is possible that all people, given preparation and training, can

identify and control the constructs of new media, rather than being prey to it. We live

and work in an "electric" environment, but that does not automatically mean that we

worship, or conform our lives to, electricity or any of its manifestations, any more than

the fact that most urbanized Christians drive cars, means that they must allow the car to

dominate their lives.

4McLuhan, Marshall p 11

5McLuhan, Marshall p 45 - 46
LSB120 The Church & Contemporary Communication Elizabeth Sheppard M9801-001

We have a choice, we have God-given freewill. People only worship their car,

or electric technology, if they use it to aggrandize their own ego in competition with

others. Rather, the Christian uses media and technology for the glory of God. The

Church has for centuries trained people to resist the making of idols, and to prefer God

above all. By centering ourselves in Christ daily, we remain in control of the message

and of the creativity of our environments and bodies. The medium is then indissolubly

welded to the message and becomes God's servant through our service of God.