Welcome to “Pray Tell”!

“For some time the phrase ‘liturgical movement’ has been entering with increasing frequency into current speech. … It is for the furtherance of a [liturgical] awakening that we, the editors of Orate Fratres, are herewith launching a liturgical review…”

That’s how Orate Fratres (now Worship) was launched in 1926. Today PrayTell is launched from the same Benedictine institution, Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville. More precisely, this blog is a joint venture of Liturgical Press and Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary. (And while we trust in the prayerful support of the good monks, we hasten to add that “any opinions expressed here are not necessarily…” – you know the rest.)

“Our general aim is develop a better understanding of the spiritual import of the liturgy. … [We hope] that many persons may find in the liturgy the first answer to the intimate need of their souls for a closer contact and union with the spiritual and the divine.”

This hope remains as valid in 2010 as it was in 1926. But how the times have changed! Communication is faster, and our attention spans are shorter. Newspapers and print journals are struggling. Churches face declining membership and church attendance. For young Catholics, Vatican II is “back there” somewhere with the Civil War and the Council of Trent, and young Catholics who are interested in religion often enough go for the really central things like indulgences and cappa magnas (to use the American plural). Plenty of people today meet their souls’ “intimate need…for a closer contact…with the spiritual” not in public worship, but in support groups or recovery programs or New Age esoterica. This blog aims to respond to all these realities…with hope, good will, wisdom, and humor.

“Many and varied interests meet in the liturgy. … There are the literary, musical, artistic, even ethnological and archeological aspects, all of which are worth fostering…  [But these are] always in subordination to the more fundamental aspect, that of the spiritual import, which is its true essential nature. Should any of the secondary aspects and interests break away from their proper relation to the real nature of the liturgy,… we should have to confess to the keenest disappointment of our hopes…”

Some people speak today of “liturgy wars.” (Maybe we should be grateful for such evidence of high interest in liturgy!?) Some talk of a “Reform of the Reform,” which apparently wants to undo the “damage” of the past 45 years. Some zealots on the Right have an unmistakable focus on the musical and archeological and ceremonial externals: east not west, propers not hymns, kneeling not standing, and so forth. [Full disclosure: I personally rather like Latin propers, and kneeling, and the eastward orientation of the Eastern churches.]  This blog arose from our sense that the conversation needs to broadened, deepened, redirected. Moderate and progressive voices need to be in dialogue with zealous traditional voices. The “spiritual import” which is the “real nature of the liturgy” needs to be reemphasized. The fundamental pastoral intent of the Second Vatican Council, and of the larger ecumenical liturgical movement of that era, needs to be restated, refined, defended.

Some will ask, Is this to be a liberal blog? Well, what else would you expect from Collegeville?! But more needs to be said than that. If liberal means open-minded, self-questioning, ecumenical, attentive to contemporary culture, and avoidant of romantic nostalgia, then we surely hope to be liberal. But if liberal means yesterday’s progressivism, yesterday’s ideals as if the culture and the churches haven’t changed dramatically since the 1970s or 1980s, then we hope to be not at all liberal. Those in the “old guard,” if there be such, can expect to be challenged and engaged.

“Our hopes are not based on any exaggerated appraisal of our own powers or endeavors. … A liturgical awakening is necessarily a collective event, and therefore needs the cooperation of many.  One of our hopes is to furnish a common medium of exchange… To this end we extend a cordial invitation to all who feel sufficiently interested, to join us in the expression of their beliefs and hopes, to offer their suggestions, or to ask for the experience of others.”

Only time will tell how much interest this blog will arouse. The primary scholarly periodical from Collegeville is and remains Worship magazine. This blog is meant to compliment the more traditional media, and to offer new modes of communication and dialogue. We welcome unsolicited contributions, all of which will be seriously considered for posting. Our policy on readers’ comments is here.

“All human effort is fruitless unless is it blessed by Him who alone gives the increase.”


20 thoughts on “Welcome to “Pray Tell”!

  1. A resounding, “THANK YOU” to this wonderful initiative! I’ve been observing the current trends in liturgy and liturgical music for a while now, and with growing concern about a progressive voice in these matters.

    Thank you for gathering an excellent and competent group of contributors for this project and for helping Catholics like myself find our “voice.”

    I look forward to continued reading with great interest and excitement!

  2. I just thought I’d introduce myself as someone who intends to lurk around these parts some in the future (though I suspect I’ll rarely post). Even though on the whole I’d consider myself closer to the “zealots on the Right” (as you called them above) when it comes to matter of Church reform, even I have felt some growing discomfort with attachment to tradition that feels more like clinginess, and with ideas for “moving forward” that seem suspiciously more like moving back.

    There seems to be a degree of triumphalism among my fellow Church conservatives, now that the change in the Church is taking a more traditional tack, that’s every bit as unnerving to me as it is when it comes from (pardon the expression) the double-knit dinosaurs and their puppet masses. I look forward to reading what this blog has to say about principled “liberal” reform. I think moderation is the finest possible way to approach progress, and I think we’re much more likely to see moderate (though not insignificant) changes for the better when progressives and traditionalists keep each other’s excesses in check.

    So good luck with this project! (And don’t mind too much if I do occasionally play the dissenting voice, when/if you all tread into too progressive of discussion for my taste…)

  3. I’m not sure that childish misrepresentation of one’s opponents shows much in the way of wit or wisdom, but the acknowledgement that young Catholics are increasingly drawn to their liturgical heritage and the attempt to distance the blog from the disasters of the 1970s and 80s show that Fr. Ruff, at least, is aware of the growing crisis faced by the progressive liturgical world.

  4. Thank you for the project here.

    I will try not to be too harsh (it takes restraint, believe me), but I have to wonder why, for instance, you describe Progressives as “Moderate” while Traditionalists are “Zealous”…is this the tone you really want to put forward as you begin? Also, the comment about indulgences and Cappa Magnas (!?) is something of a cheap shot…most young traditionalists I know are far more serious about the content of liturgy than with it’s externals. Consider for a moment just how obsessed so-called “progressive” liturgy can be with externals (singing, clapping, processing, responding, environment, lay participation, diversity, inclusion, multi-culturalism, etc…) and then make the comparison.

    I think there is a danger in not seeing that the movement towards tradition is genuine and founded in spirituality, not in the “things” such as vestments and language. To characterize it otherwise is to claim that those who take part in it are misguided… quite a claim to make about people who, as a group, seem to make the Catholic Faith a major force in their lives, often to a much greater extent than Catholics in general.

  5. Excellent! Well done!
    I hope this blog will be a strong voice of (and for) all those, who try to foster a liturgical spirituality according to Vatican II and SC in the broad varieties of local and universal church.

  6. I’m looking forward to reading along. I worship in a parish that works hard to see that liturgy is prayerful and purposeful, where externals express an internal stance that longs to be closer to God. We make some use of Latin chant, but don’t eschew modern hymnody; we use incense liberally, but are attentive to inclusive language; laity as well as priests lead the Liturgy of the Hours, but we have Eucharistic adoration. I’m hoping there are more places like this!

  7. Thank you for this effort. It can be very tiresome to see conservatives, sometimes uninformed ones, dominate the internet discussions on liturgy. A broader, deeper discussion is very welcome.

  8. Thanks to Anthony Ruff (and friends) for his thoughtful historical work and guidance in the work of choosing old and new from the storehouse; and most recently for setting up this blog. I have already recommended it to a good friend. And I hope that we can pass on our insights to each other with as little defensiveness as possible.

  9. I am so pleased to see this initiative – my frustration level reaches
    unnatural highs when I see the vitriol that liturgical discussion can produce. I have put this on my home page. Thank you for making this available!

  10. Those nickle and dime tracts from the Liturgical press printed my childhood in the 1950s; my music degree dates 1961; times have changed certainly, but good to see that the monks of St John’s are still involved where the academic and the actual intersect. I look forward to future visits.

  11. It’s good to find a blog about reforming Catholic liturgy so close to its genesis and I wish you Godspeed in building a readership with a lot of humble, honest and hearty discussion. My first reaction was also “God help the poor souls who have to moderate its comboxes.” Because how we worship determines how we believe “lex orandi, lex credendi”, it can’t help but get heated. The early church fathers came to blows as they discerned the essential matters of belief, so when it comes to liturgical worship, it’s probably a good thing that the blogosphere has some space between fist and jaw.

    First thoughts upon perusing the home page – The preponderance of professional liturgist sites makes me a little squeamish. These are the same people who got us into this mess and we’ve all heard the jokes about the difference between liturgists and terrorists (can negotiate with terrorists). This is hauntingly similar to the Obama administration’s reliance on avante-garde establishment economists – the very people whose training makes them unable to understand the remedies needed to avert catastrophe. Nevertheless, I subscribed and will try to keep an open mind.

    So far, after reading all the posts, I have to say I’m at least encouraged by much of the wisdom in the comment discussions. The patronizing tone in both Richard Giles and John Baldovin’s pieces, though not unexpected, was disappointing. Call me an idiot if you want – I don’t mind a good fight. But sneering condescension is despicable, especially when it’s thought out before the heat of battle.

  12. Excellent stuff, Father…

    It’s nice to see a blog on liturgy which lets people think for themselves and have dangerous things like minds and opinions…

    You are opening up a fascinating world to us all. I will check back often!

  13. Quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, I must admit that they would have to drag me kicking and screaming back to the Latin Rite. I’m old enough (73) to remember it well and to have lived through its worst features. I remember one priest (very nice man and devout) who said weekday Mass in eleven minutes. He claimed that he could do it even faster if the altar boys would only cooperate! Of course there was never a homily in the old days. Now was he deficient in faith? Lax? So worn-down by routine that he was totally unaware of what he was doing – well no. Actually he was very devout and quite charming; he did it for reasons that seem never to be discussed and, I fear, are returning – he did it because the only thing that mattered was the Consecration: reciting the words slowly and clearly, scripture, preaching – these were totally unnecessary. All one needed was the magic word, which, by the way, was repeated several times. I looked forward to the reforms inspired by Vatican II with great anticipation; and what did I get? Well I got black leotards, clown suits, “Where have all the flowers gone?”, sanctuaries denuded to such an extent that they resembled conventicles in Edinburgh (of course without the art of preaching and knowledge of scripture that are usually associated with them), and a pack of clergy who dressed like rag pickers and were never home. Actually what went on for forty years would have raised eyebrows even in Edinburgh. What could you all at Collegeville and “Worship” possibly have been thinking of? The only thing you appear to have accomplished, after all that scribbling and all those conventions, is the deliberate creation of a disgruntled constituency that now dreams of past ages that never existed. Fr. Benedict Groeschel is quit right: this movement back to the Latin rite has nothing to do with a love of Latin on the part of the laity; it represents of vote of no confidence delivered against what you all dished out to them. And you know, now that the fun and games are coming to an ignominious end, it will serve you right if you all end up with your faces once again plastered up against the tabernacle muttering “Te igitur.” And I sincerely hope that while you’re up there, dressed in the “eat at Joe’s billboards,” muttering away and listening to the sound of the rosary beads rattling against the pews, you all reflect on your shocking lack of responsibility while you had the time, and on what you might have achieved after such a long struggle if you had only possessed an ounce of maturity, class, poetry and concern for your fellow Christians. My only regret is that you’re going to drag me along with you back to the past. I sincerely hope I don’t live long enough to witness all this; indeed I’m thinking of taking up smoking (unfiltered Camels) just to hasten the process along.

    1. If there has ever been a brief summary of the modern liturgical reform, I think Mr. Ciavolino has nailed it. Once again, I am hearing hints of the pendulum swinging. The only point I would make is that the swing towards orthodoxy and a more “conservative” liturgy does not necessarily have to be a “return to the past”. Would a more orthodox interpretation of the liturgy as described in Vatican II documents (Ordinary in Latin, use of Chant, Sung dialogues, Ad Orientem) really be a return to the past? Which past would that be? A visit to John Cantius in Chicago will quickly make the difference between a 1955 low Mass and an orthodox interpretation of the NO quite obvious. The “return to the past” argument seems trite at best.

      Of course, maybe Mr. Ciavolino is right…but as he so eloquently noted, whose fault is it? Traditionalists can’t really be blamed for the current situation.

  14. Already the sparks are flying in these first responses to a first post.

    I am a civilian in these wars–a Catholic convert who mainly sits in the pews, getting up once every few weeks to perform as a lector. I am, however, very interested in liturgy simply because I am a Catholic (a “devout Catholic,” I like to think, as the old phrase goes), and especially so since I am an amateur historian of sorts and also an icon-maker (by vocation or avocation, I am not sure yet).

    I have a particular interest in liturgy as evangelism. If it doesn’t bring ’em in and keep ’em glued to their seats as art and drama, liturgy may be fulfilling its main function and yet also falling short in a big way.

    I will be reading what all you smart folks have to say, and maybe adding a comment now and then.

    And may God bless this new adventure in faith!

  15. I salute Fr Anthony’s attempt to make a place for conversation between left and right. Based on the trajectory by which I came into the Catholic Church, I would have identified myself as a liberal (including a master’s from St John’s). Until one day, at a professional society meeting populated by more conservative types, I was asked if I supported liberal liturgy. I had the presence of mind to do something I had rarely done up to that point: I asked what the speaker had in mind. And he said, “You know, like when they put goldfish in the font for ‘ecology Sunday.'” Ah, by that definition, I will disqualify myself. (And so, also, would most of the liturgists who self-identify as liberal, making me wonder whether the two sides have a common point, after all.l) I have since gained benefit from listening to a group on the other side of center which my pride had prevented me from conversing with. And ever since that encounter, I’ve been more interested in knowing *what* needs liberating and *what* needs conserving, than in applying the labels.

  16. I am grateful for this site and will follow it as often as I can. I have only two comments. The first is that, instead of arguing and “labeling” those we disagree with, all of us–and I start with myself–ought to really listen to each other. In the 43 years since I became a Catholic I have learned the most from those who challenged my thinking, not those I agreed with most often. The second point is that some of us appear to overlook the good Catholic principle of both/and rather than either/or. As far as I understand things liturgical, the Mass is both a sacrifice and a meal.

  17. I’m six year younger than Mr. Ciavolino and I never saw a Latin Mass like he describes. And I don’t recall anybody saying the Rosary during Mass either.

    The fastest I ever saw was the 6:00 a.m. “hunters’ Mass” done in about 22 minutes with no homily. And nothing was rushed.

    I would say that the issue is not a “return to the past” but a “return to reverence”, in both Latin and English.

    I have never heard one person say all Masses must be in Latin? I attend Latin sung Masses maybe four times a year.

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