OPINION: Catholicism and theater share strong connection

In modern society, faith and the arts are often perceived as conflicting. However, there is a unique intersection in these two areas of devotion for those involved in their faith and the theatre. Growing up a devout Catholic with an avid enthusiasm for theatre, I’ve come to discover how these seemingly disparate realms have entwined to develop a strong source of inspiration, passion and joy. 

Born in Southeast Michigan to a large Catholic family, I was the youngest of six siblings. Throughout my childhood, my family instilled in me a deep passion for participating in liturgy and dramaturgy. I remember being inspired by my oldest sister and godmother Rachel to pursue both these paths. She also went to UDM to pursue a major in theatre and when I was seven years old, she directed the play that would be my first ever onstage appearance: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” 

In high school, I realized that these two areas of my life would inevitably become inseparable aspects of my identity and play crucial roles in my formation as an individual. I discovered that they offered profound sources of self-expression and connection with others and with God. 

Aside from the philosophical bridges between the two, there are practical parallels as well. I’ve always noted the similar ritual aspects of the Catholic mass in the context of theatre. The priest and congregation recite memorized portions and do particular well-rehearsed motions, stories are told at a central uplifted area, there is music interwoven that draws on the themes of those stories and it culminates in an epic, life-altering transformation that can only be described as cathartically miraculous. 

Human beings are ritual creatures, made to be engaged in liturgical interactions. Theatre is a clear example of how these rehearsed motions, memorized lines and shared stories are naturally attractive to us, and we want to be involved in a community in which we fit. 

Although I have experienced such a rich interconnectedness in these two areas, I’m aware that most perceive these paths to often be at odds. The rich sacred traditions of Catholicism sometimes seem incompatible with theatre culture, which is known for its tendency to be unconventional and often boundary-pushing. However, I find there to be a strong connection between the two. Both Catholicism and theatre have always been counter cultural. 

Jesus was the most counter-cultural figure to exist! He changed everything. Two thousand years later, theatre is drawing on that same concept of telling stories and inciting radical change, bringing recognition to tales that need to be shared. Catholicism and theatre tell stories of love, loss, morality and redemption. 

Throughout the history of the church, countless Saints have expressed the importance of artistic expression: St. Luke, St. Catherine of Bologna, St. Genesius and so many others. 

In his letter to artists, St. Pope John Paul II writes, “I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music…[that] the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God.” 

There has always existed a strong bond between worship and expression. Despite common misconceptions of the incompatibility of Catholicism and theatre, I believe that the two are more alike than different. 

Both challenge us to understand unfamiliar perspectives, contribute to our communities, empathize with diverse experiences and become who we truly are.