Walker Percy and the Catholic sacraments.
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Rasnic, Rhea Scott.
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A noticeable void in Walker Percy studies is the absence of a full-length theological analysis of his treatment of the Catholic sacraments, an unfortunate omission considering the place they occupy in his work. This project will attempt to fill that void, specifically exploring Percy's presentation of the sacraments in his fiction, focusing on both the theological and literary implications of Catholic sacramental theology. The impetus for the theological discussion is prompted by Henri de Lubac's claim that the sacraments are by their very nature communal rather than individualistic. In the bulk of Percy's work, we see the importance of community within the Christian life, and the sacraments play a crucial role in establishing such community. This theological treatment of his novels will also supplement previous Percy criticism, much of which deals with his philosophical relevance to the detriment of his Catholicism, by focusing primarily on the specifically Catholic elements in his novels. In addition to these theological concerns, I argue that Percy's early-mid fiction (The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, and Lancelot) are superior novels due partly to Percy's respect for the inherent "mystery" of the sacraments. In his last two novels (The Second Coming and The Thanatos Syndrome) the sacraments occupy a less significant role, having been replaced with either sentimental romanticism (The Second Coming) or a hortatory, moralizing tone (The Thanatos Syndrome). By his last novel, Percy relies upon the vocabulary of Catholicism to express his seething contempt for modernity, rather than the subtle sacramental theology we see in his early fiction. The unfortunate literary consequence is fiction more prescriptive than descriptive, more dogmatic than ironic.