NAAL: A President’s Perspective

And here is the promised interview with Fr. Richard Rutherford, CSC, president of the North American Academy of Liturgy. We reported earlier on the recent meeting of NAAL in Milwaukee here and here and here.

Pray Tell: What does NAAL uniquely offer to the field of liturgy today?
Fr. Richard Rutherford, CSC:The opportunity for liturgical scholars across the ecumenical and interfaith spectrum to meet professionally for an exchange of ideas with the goal of mutual enrichment and greater understanding of worship in one’s own faith tradition as well as in the traditions of others.

PT: How is NAAL changing and developing these days?
RR: The greater breadth of membership – with respect to gender, racial, international, and ecumenical  representation, among others – continues to bring a dynamism to the seminar presentations and discussions that is closer than ever to the reality of worship in life beyond the Academy.

PT: Is the academy in an ivory tower, or is it in touch with the real life of worshiping communities? Are bishops and church leaders respectful or skeptical of NAAL’s work? How about in your tradition, the Roman Catholic church?
RR: To the extent that NAAL is primarily an academic enterprise it will always run the risk endemic of academia in general of being perceived of as “an ivory tower,” but given the seminar structure of the annual meetings and the dynamism just described in the reply to the previous question, in my experience NAAL is far less “an ivory tower” than other such societies. With regard to the RC Bishops and other church leaders, their relationship to NAAL and its work is about as varied as the individuals themselves.

PT: NAAL has become not just ecumenical, but also interfaith, with Jewish and Muslim members. How is this an enrichment, how it is a challenge and problem? Several liturgies and prayers during the conference are not Christian – do you experience this as a loss?
RR: From the beginning NAAL has always been an interfaith society, with Christian and Jewish members. The invitation to the membership to experience Muslim presence by way of both a Muslim plenary speaker and an interfaith morning prayer service at the 2010 meeting was an invitation to explore broadening that interfaith character. Given the genuine effort on the part of theological scholars today to bridge the understanding gaps among the three Abrahamic faiths, it seems to me that the NAAL charter challenges the society to befriend the same questions, whatever the challenges, problems, or feelings of gain or loss.

PT: Is NAAL liberal? Do its members tend to be, to name a few examples, in favor of inclusive God language, or broader intercommunion, or more thoroughgoing inculturation which would revise inherited rituals? How much of an agenda can one associate with NAAL?
RR: The longer you spend with NAAL, you will discover that it does not exist as a “person” with or without an agenda. Its members are individual academics and as a collective defy labels.  To your specific questions/examples, you will find members on all sides of those issues and in all shades of the color spectrum. At least that is my experience through the 36 years of NAAL’s existence. That’s what makes it so dynamic and viable as an academic society that does not hold “conferences,” but whose members gather annually for a meeting of seminars on topics of academic interest. Although it may be that certain seminars have their origin because of an agenda of individual members, the seminar itself will attract participants on all sides of the topic in question.

PT: How does the future of NAAL look to you?
RR: Coming off of what by most accounts was a successful annual meeting in Milwaukee and experiencing the enthusiasm of the newest members for the work and values of NAAL, I would say the future is brighter than ever.

PT: Thanks for the conversation and insight, Richard!

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