Pray Tell at 5: An Interview with Guest Editor Rita Ferrone

Rita Ferrone has served several times in the past five years as Pray Tell moderator for one-month stints during Fr. Anthony Ruff’s breaks, in addition to serving on the blog editorial committee. Fr. Anthony asked Rita some questions about her work as blog editor. 

How do you like editing Pray Tell? What is it like to do this work?
I’ve found it to be both fun and a challenge. I’ve really enjoyed the chance to work with so many smart, talented, interesting people—including regular contributors, occasional contributors, and commenters, not to mention the good folks on the editorial committee, along with Peter Dwyer (Liturgical Press) and Bill Cahoy (St. John’s School of Theology), and of course Anthony Ruff. I really like the role Pray Tell has played in helping the Church live up to its ideals in worship, or at least to wrestle with the right questions. It’s exciting to be part of the Pray Tell blog behind the scenes as stories develop, such as the Roman Missal story and the election of Pope Francis, and to know that readers from around the world are reading this blog. Everywhere I go, I run into people who read Pray Tell.

Because the editor is responsible for scanning a couple dozen news sources daily, editing Pray Tell has also pushed me to keep up with day-to-day developments in the church and in the public discussion of matters liturgical. I’ve enjoyed this aspect of the work. I feel better-informed and I’ve learned a lot about the on-line world as a whole.

Moderating the comments can be a challenge. Whoever edits the blog must read each and every comment, and the comments come in 24/7. Keeping out trolls and working to keep the conversation civil is a tough but essential task requiring constant judgment calls. I’m sure I haven’t done it perfectly, but like each of the editors I’ve taken the charge very seriously. “Minding the blog” today isn’t as quite as onerous as it used to be—or at least so it seems to me; I haven’t moderated in a while! The people who come to Pray Tell nowadays know that the comment thread is for discussion; they don’t come here to insult, bully, rage, ride a hobby horse, or act like a troll. This wasn’t always the case, however. It’s something we have built up over time.

What is Pray Tell at its best? What does it do well?
Pray Tell is a mix of things. It’s a news source, an aggregator of hand-picked interesting stories from far and wide, a platform for intelligent commentary and critical thinking, a forum for discussion, an aid to spirituality, and a font of inspiration and humor. There is no other place on the web where so many scholars, teachers, and leaders in all areas of liturgical practice meet on line and talk with one another and with ordinary pastoral practitioners and liturgical participants in parishes and dioceses. If you scan the names of contributors in the “other voices” feature, as well as the regular contributors, it’s a veritable Who’s Who of people who contribute mightily to the art and craft of liturgy in the English-speaking world, and who reflect deeply on liturgy as an historical and theological reality. Pray Tell at its best is a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors and not any one thing alone.

And Pray Tell at its worst? What needs work?
The worst of Pray Tell is the way in which so many different discussions devolve into the same discussion about the Extraordinary Form versus the Ordinary Form, with all the same talking points and a continual clash of assumptions that can never be resolved. I once quipped to a friend that I could die in the midst of one of these discussions and the participants would hardly notice. Yes, he said, after one or two polite expressions of sympathy, they’d go right back to discussing the Ordinary vs. the Extraordinary Form. I do think we need to be vigilant about avoiding a rut, and this particular subject tends to run us into a rut.

Akin to this is the tendency to see Pray Tell perhaps in a somewhat provincial way, worried about Catholic issues and that’s that. To prize one’s particular religious tradition or liturgical heritage is not the same thing as restricting one’s vision or interest in the wider world, but I think it’s just easier to talk about what one knows best, and for many of us it’s Catholic liturgy. For this reason, I have been especially grateful for the contributions from Nicholas Denysenko (Orthodox), Peter Rehwalt (Lutheran), + Cody Unterseher (Episcopalian) and other contributors and commenters who, from within their own traditions, have enlarged our discussion.

What would you like to see more of at Pray Tell?
Water. Oil. Bread and wine. Incense. Processions. Touch. We’ve had (because of the translation issues) an abundance of consideration of the words of the liturgy. Perhaps an overabundance. This is why I ran a series on art. I’d like to see more reflection on the non-verbal sacramental “stuff” of the liturgy.

If you could change one thing about Pray Tell, what would it be?
I’d like to find ways to engage more thoughtful, well-informed women in the discussion threads. We have some wonderful commenters who are women, but they are few in number. There are sometimes whole days that go by without any woman making a comment. That does not mean that women are not reading the blog. But it does mean we don’t hear from them. If there was one thing I could change it would be to find the key that would open the door for them to join in these discussions.

If you could say one thing to commenters, what would it be?
Thank you for the kindness and respect you’ve shown me each time I have served as editor. I appreciate it when you have tried to clarify your thoughts rather than taking offense when someone disagrees with something you’ve said. You have been a shining witness to me when you are patient with others and share your wisdom in a spirit of mutual seeking after truth.

Oops – I guess that’s three things!

What’s your biggest hope for the next five years of Pray Tell?
I hope we shall have the pleasure of reporting on the shelving of Liturgiam authenticam and dismantling of Vox Clara. 😉 But in the meantime, I know there will be plenty of other news to follow, insights to ponder, and discussions to host. My hope is that Pray Tell will continue to be a lively site and positive influence for years to come.

Ad multos annos, Pray Tell!

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9 comments

  1. Balanced, respectful, inspiring! Thank you, Rita. We can be most hopeful about the evolution of high quality liturgy with guides like you.

  2. Rita, I sincerely thank you for your editorship here at PTB. I recognize that at times I can be combative and unwilling to listen to others. I have at times also not listened to you. I apologize for these and other indiscretions.

    The endless debate between partisans of either form is merely a symptom of underlying ideological disagreements. I have tried to address the more entrenched ideological issues through, for example, our discussion on the value of image versus the value of the written word in liturgy. This question is but one of many holding up more superficial discussions about the direction of liturgy. I am glad for you calm moderation of discussions and ability to redirect threads from ad hominem “arguments” to more substantial inquiry.

  3. “The people who come to Pray Tell nowadays know that the comment thread is for discussion; they don’t come here to insult, bully, rage, ride a hobby horse, or act like a troll. This wasn’t always the case, however. It’s something we have built up over time.”

    Yes, I agree!! And I think this will go a long way in helping more women to enter the discussions – no one likes to get their metaphorical head bitten off for an opinion expressed in a comment thread. There is less and less of that happening here…..a kinder and gentler forum…..with no loss of serious content. Thank you, Rita!

  4. Rita,
    As I mentioned in a previous post, thank you for introducing me to Pray Tell back in 2010.
    It is because of the nature of this blog that I continue to read it and contribute to it – when I have something worthwhile to say.

  5. I usually appriciate Rita’s comments, even when I don’t agree with her.

    I haven’t really posted much in the comments lately, mostly because the EF v. OF discussion has gotten tireing. PrayTell encourages the debate, but doesn’t take steps to have a serious discussion about it. Imagine if PT posted articles about the role of women in the Church, but made sure they were all written by men who were laregely unsympathetic to women, and whos experience of working with women were mostly childhood memories and internet blog comments. Now imagine women commenting unfavorably to the articles and always having to respond to men telling them their real world experiences are unusual, and if they want the real scoop on women in the Church they should read more blogs.

  6. This was wonderful reading, especially as I have been away from Pray Tell due to a lack of time; Rita’s words were great to encounter upon my return!

    I have learned so much here, I can’t possibly thank everyone enough. Ad multos annos PrayTell, and than you Rita for all that you do.

  7. Rita’s comments are always interesting and thought provoking as was her Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. As far as the shelving of Liturgiam authenticam, from you to God’s ears!

  8. Jack, for what it is worth: I share some of your concerns, and Rita’s. The discussion about liturgical reform is important, and the old arguments on both sides keep getting trotted out. The topic is too important not to discuss, but we can do a better job of it.

    I am glad that you, and Jordan, and Ben, and other “conservative” friends continue to post here — not that I think you all have the identical points of view, and not to lump you into one “camp”.

    I am very pleased that we have a forum here where a range of views can be aired. Pray Tell isn’t perfect, but I know of very few liturgy discussion forums where “conservatives” and “progressives” can participate without either being edited out or being hooted down by the opposite gang. In general I think that Anthony, Nathan and Rita (when each of them is editing) do a fine job at keeping multiple perspectives in play.

    Hope you will keep commenting!

    Rita, thanks for sharing a great interview!

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