Pray Tell’s Teresa Berger interviews two colleagues about the upcoming Coronation

Since I work, at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, with two scholars who have real expertise related to the liturgical and musical aspects of the upcoming Coronation (and are both British, too), I sat down with them for a conversation about the liturgy and music to be expected on May 6th. Oh, and I got to ask about bells too 🙂

Here is the link to the video of the interview [it’s about 30 minuts in length]:

Yale ISM Liturgy Conference 2023: Registration Now Open!

Please consider joining us for the 6th Yale ISM Liturgy Conference, held in-person at Yale University, in New Haven, CT, from June 12-15. The overarching topic is “Liturgy, Materiality and Economics.” More information on the topic and the featured speakers is available here:

Registration for the conference is open and can be accessed here:

Do join us as we explore the manifold ways in which material economies have underlain past liturgical practices and continue to underlie worship today.

February 2: On reaching “that light which never fails”

My thoughts usually turn to the prophet Anna – mentioned at the presentation of the Lord in the Temple as told in Luke 2 – on this day in the liturgical calendar. I typically lament that the Scriptural witness and the tradition on which it is built do not let Anna speak for herself. Only Simeon is given words, beautiful words. But today, a much more recent silencing disturbs my memory of Anna, and of Simeon too, and of the proclamation of God’s light, for all to see. That recent silencing is the brutal taking of the life of Tyre Nichols.

In Luke 2, the old prophet Simeon is clear-eyed about what encountering the infant Jesus meant for him: His life’s mysterious imperative, to see and witness to the light, had been fulfilled. God now let him depart this world in peace.

Fast forward 2,000 years, to January 7, 2023, and Tyre Nichols only wanted to get home, home to his mother, when abysmal violence met him. How on earth to think this atrocity together with the feast of Candlemas? I do not know. But I do know that when candles were (and are) blessed on Candlemas this includes candles to light the way of those who will die in the coming year. And surely, nobody assumes that these candles will only burn during hours of peaceful deaths. Deep in my heart, I believe that if God’s light were not stronger than all the depth of human iniquity that can surround people passing from this world to the next, it would not be worth blessing candles today. So, I place my hope in what the prayer for the blessing of candles says: that even through a violent dying, one can “reach that light which never fails.”

Christmas 2022: Of Cooks and Code-switches

This Christmas, I ponder a
Nativity painted over sixhundred years ago by the Westphalian artist Conrad von Soest (+ ca. 1422). There may be more stunning images to think and pray with this Christmas, but Conrad’s painting holds a unique detail that captures a truth woven deeply into today’s feast.

This unique detail comes in the depiction of St. Joseph by Conrad von Soest. In most other images I know, Joseph seems to do nothing much other than stand by, ponder, and adore. In some cases, he has fallen asleep. Certainly, pondering and adoring the mystery that is Christmas is a primary, profoundly appropriate, and imperative posture. We will do well to practice it in the midst of all other holiday festivities.  

Yet at the same time, there is something deeply revealing in Conrad’s depiction of a St. Joseph who is busy kneeling on the stable’s floor and blowing on a little fire in order to heat up some food for Mary. Mary herself is resting in the background, lovingly gazing at her newborn child. Conrad’s St. Joseph, rather than gazing adoringly on both, takes upon himself the domestic labor of food production (a labor that was typically in the hands of women, at least until very recently). And in this painting, thefood production is visibly a lowly and subservient task. St. Joseph kneels on the floor, far below Mother and Child. The mystery of Christmas in this painting – that is, shepherds and angels, donkey and ox, Mary and Child – happens well above the kneeling cook (who is without halo, and whose simple pottage does not look Michelin-star’d, either).

In that image of a lowly, cooking St. Joseph, however,something shines forth about the deepest truth of Christmas. What Conrad’s painting reveals is a code switch, which lies at the heart of the Nativity. And, we might claim in faith, it is the ultimate code switch. What happened in Bethlehem, after all,turns all expectations of what constitutes normality on its head:

St. Joseph kneels to cook.

The quotidian and domestic shine forth as sacred.

A place on the margins is made the very center of the universe.

God becomes human.

And with that: A blessed Christmas to all.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 is a number of different things in the different calendars we all keep, or juggle to keep together.

In the liturgical calendar, today falls in the first week of advent 2022. It is also the feast of the Apostle Andrew, celebrated not only ecclesially but in some places (e.g., Scotland, and Barbados) also as a civic or national holiday. As the latter example indicates, there are always other calendric markers that intersect with the liturgical calendar, such as civic or national calendars, or an academic calendar that might make this the last full week of classes.

Of increasing importance to me for some years now have been planetary, cosmological, and ecological calendars. In the latter, November 30 is a somber day, and day of mourning. For over a decade now, the day has been marked as the “Remembrance Day for Lost Species” [].

Why should Christians, and in particular those of us involved in liturgical practices and liturgical studies, care? Why on earth should we care that today is the “Remembrance Day for Lost Species”? After all, someone also declared November 30 to be “National Mousse Day,” and someone else “National Methamphetamine Awareness Day,” and someone else still, “National Computer Security Day.”

Why care about November 30 as “Remembrance Day for Lost Species”?

Pope Francis offered a succinct and startling answer to this in his encyclical Laudato Si’: “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence” (LS 33), he wrote. Translated into the language of worship, we might say: The human-driven extinction of species is diminishing the planetary community of our fellow creatures who worship God, as do we. No wonder Pope Francis challenged us to experience this loss as akin to an amputation: “I would reiterate that ‘God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement’” (LS 89).

I will take time, then, on this November 30, 2022, to honor this “Remembrance Day for Lost Species,” and to mourn the loss of some of our creaturely fellow worshippers. In particular, I will mourn, the loss of the beautiful ivory-billed woodpecker and the Carolina parakeet, both extinct creatures of the region I now live in.

Images of these and other creatures threatened by extinction can be accessed here: