Changes at Pray Tell

Pray Tell is pleased to announce coming changes in its operations. Beginning September 1, this blog will be housed at Saint John’s Abbey rather than Liturgical Press, and it will operate in collaboration with Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., is stepping down as blog moderator but will continue as a contributing writer and member of the editorial team. Pray Tell will continue as ever in its mission to “promote the ongoing renewal of the liturgy and its transformative effects in the life of the Church and the world.”

Pray Tell is deeply grateful to Liturgical Press for its sponsorship of the blog for more than thirteen years. Pray Tell looks forward to collaborating with the School of Theology and Seminary, which will now support a student worker position at the blog.

The blog is moving to a simplified layout, similar to what it had originally, which will make posting easier for contributors. In line with a reduced workload for moderator and student worker, beginning September 1st there will not be readers’ comments at the website. All previous comments since the beginning of the blog in 2010 will remain up. It is not anticipated that the number of posts will be reduced, and in fact it is anticipated that the frequency of posts might increase in coming months and years.

Fr. Anthony reports that he looks forward to devoting more time to writing posts for Pray Tell, which was always his first passion. With this transition he will also have a bit more time in the classroom.

Pray Tell sees itself as a wondrous movement for liturgical renewal. Thank you to all our loyal readers for joining us in this important work of service to the churches!

Saintly Spaces

In thirty-two-plus years of working in liturgical publishing, you accumulate a lot of memories, along with subsequent stories to share. One of my most potent memories comes from early on in my work when, in 1992, I was given a saints’ hymnal submission to peruse and evaluate.

The hymns—one for each saint on the U.S. liturgical calendar—had been written by a well-meaning pastor who had typed (on a manual typewriter) each text on a sheet of music manuscript paper, all with hymntunes already photocopied on them. His skill as a hymn text craftsman, sad to say, was not up to the honorable nature of his intent. In addition, the texts were put into a fixed rotation of commonly-known tunes, with the result that (for example) on June 3, we had this text set to Beethoven’s HYMN TO JOY:

Charles Lwanga and companions spread the faith in Uganda;
In their witness and their dying, faith was known in Africa.

(I didn’t say all the memories were necessarily positive ones.)

One thing from that pastor’s cover letter, however, has also stuck with me: that the saints on the liturgical calendar are a largely-untapped resource to inspire us in our own daily living. He wanted to show that saints are, indeed, ordinary and oftentimes sinful people who nevertheless continued their striving to attain holiness through God’s grace.

I’ve had substantial opportunity lately to reflect anew on his insight, and on saints in general. The recent release of The Divine Office Hymnal put a new compendium of sanctoral hymns on my shelf. Earlier this month, I assisted in leading a “Singing the Saints” workshop for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, utilizing For All the Saints, another compendium of sanctoral hymns by J. Michael Thompson, for which I served as an editor.

Our workshop took place at St. Thomas Aquinas cathedral in Reno, NV (site of the NPM convention). It was there that I encountered a remarkable statue of St. Joseph in one of the side hallways.

What I loved about it immediately was the overt expression of paternal and filial love expressed there, as a young Jesus reaches up to his earthly father, who bends down to give him a kiss on his head. We rarely (if ever) see such a three-dimensional embodied display of love between these two, the kind of love incarnate we understand to be a basis for sacramentality. (I also served as an editor and contributor for Br. Mickey McGrath’s book Go to Joseph, where there are a number of illustrations that do present this same love between Jesus and Joseph.)

The detail that stood out to me as most notable was the space between the left heel of Jesus and the ground beneath it, as Jesus stretches up to receive his kiss on the head. I wish I had been able to learn/discover the name of the sculptor, because this is precisely the reason that I have such admiration (and, OK, a bit of envy) for those who work in the visual/graphic arts. So much is expressed in that small lifting of a small foot!

It seems to me that little bit of space is, in a substantive way, where the saints—named and unnamed—lived and continue to live. Their lives oriented toward that reaching up, that making of effort to draw a bit closer to the many paths by which we come to know divinity here on earth. Saintly stories are filled with innumerable accounts of the varied ways that heel-lifting love continued to lift them up.

It also seems to me that the same little bit of space is precisely where the liturgy needs to live, and move, and have its being. The gift of liturgy (and the joy of our work in it) is to provide that lift—from wherever we may be—to receive a divine kiss of grace.

Did you Celebrate the Vigil of Pentecost?

Paschalis Sollemnitatis, the 1988 CDW letter on the celebration of Easter, suggests that we should celebrate a Vigil at Pentecost:

Encouragement should be given to the prolonged celebration of Mass in the form of a vigil, whose character is not baptismal as in the Easter Vigil, but is one of urgent prayer, after the example of the Apostles and disciples, who persevered together in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as they awaited the Holy Spirit

Notitiae the official journal of the Congregation suggests how to celebrate such a prolonged vigil [259 (2998): 156-15]. This allows for the use of all four options for the Old Testament reading given in the Lectionary for the Vigil Mass. As in the Easter Vigil, there are prayers after each reading and then the Gloria is sung. This is followed by the Collect, a New Testament Reading and the Gospel. First Vespers of Pentecost may directly precede this celebration.

In 2008 the second edition of the third edition of the Roman Missal in Latin (the Supplementum  to the editio typica tertia), added the material from Notitiae and formalized it into the text of the Roman Missal. These were in turn translated in the current 2011 English translation of the Roman Missal.  In the United States, the 2017 Supplement to the Lectionary for Mass provide a clear arrangement of all the readings of the prolonged vigil.

This is all well and good.  But I personally have never heard of such a prolonged vigil being celebrated in a parish context. So, the question I am posing in this post is whether any parishes actually take advantage of this possibility of a prolonged vigil? I hope that other PrayTell readers have experienced this, but I suspect that in most places it is a casualty of the attitude that sees any change to the regular Sunday liturgy as being simply too bothersome to implement and that especially something optional will rarely be celebrated.


Cover image by geralt at Pixabay.

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.

Anything you can sing, I can sing … correcter.

If you’ve not yet read Paul Inwood’s excellent PrayTell post “Can we sing just anything at Mass?” (from this past July), I recommend that you do so. Even if you have, a re-read would likely be a good thing.

In the post, he makes reference to people who have said or written that there’s no liturgical rule stating that the song of the day needs to match the [Lectionary] scriptures of the day. Since I am someone who has made statements similar to that (though not precisely like it), this led me to do some further reflection.

The early decades of post-conciliar reform in the U.S. often found parish musicians and/or music committees searching each week for a song or songs that directly quoted (full disclosure: “parroted” is the term I’ve often used when referring to this phenomenon) a scripture of the day. Most often it was the Gospel, but if a favorite prophet—often Isaiah—or St. Paul had ended up as the lyricist, then that was the song to be done! There was a flurry of Lectionary-based songs and hymns writing, which was a good thing. In my view, the effort got derailed in the quest to essentially set every Lectionary reading, verbatim, to music. We ended up with a sola lectionarium or sola evangelium approach, which (to use a favorite term of mine, learned from Fr. Lucien Deiss) is an “unnecessary impoverishment” since it frequently doesn’t encourage a more thoughtful opening up of the scripture passages.

Annie Get Your Gun:
Anything You Can Sing …

Yes, the weekly song of the assembly needs a connection to the lections of the day. But that connection doesn’t need to be outright—or even close to—repetition. Perhaps to think of the assembly’s song as having resonance with the scriptures may be a better (and more sonic) way to approach it. Sometimes that resonance will occur in the propers of the day in the Missal or one of the Graduals. Sometimes it doesn’t. Let’s search, then, for that resonance outside the propers on those occasions. If the theme of mercy is woven through the readings, find a sung text that amplifies that theme—perhaps quoting another scripture on the topic of mercy, or opening up that focus in a new or different way.

I realize that the advocates of always/only using prescribed texts are correct that these texts don’t (or rarely) run the risk of error. While I wholeheartedly agree, it simultaneously occurs to me that their use likewise doesn’t run the risk of creativity. If we only allow new (or only allow inherited) musical settings of the same fixed texts, then we have—to an extent—quenched the Spirit. (This attitude, for example, would have discouraged Aquinas from writing his eucharistic hymn texts.)

Our attitude in this matter certainly cannot be cavalier, for we know the power that music has to help people embrace things “by heart.” I will, however, likewise trust that Spirit to guide us in avoiding, correcting, or occasionally forbidding error when or if it arises.

No, we cannot sing just anything at Mass. But, on the flip side, neither can we be certain that our mere correctness, or accuracy, or purity alone—much less our inflexibility—will guarantee that the song of the Body offering the sacrifice of praise will truly lift our praise to the living God.