Pray Tell ran a series of interviews with liturgical leaders four years ago. Here is the interview with recently deceased Robert Taft.
Lifetime in liturgy—any regrets? None whatever. But indecisiveness or regrets are not my style. Had there been any regrets, I would not have had a “lifetime in liturgy,” but would have dropped it early on and turned to something else.
What are you most proud of in your liturgical work? I am most proud of my students, and the fact that, except for a couple of glaring exceptions, most of them love me and carry on, often brilliantly, the work I taught them to do. What could give an old geezer now careening toward his dotage greater satisfaction than that?
Any book you wish you had written? Well, I guess all of us authors have a list of great books we would like to have written. But as one with a bibliography of publications comprising over 800 titles, including thirty-four books, three of them coauthored, eight others edited or co-edited in collaboration with others, with two more in press, there is not much I have not written about, nor do I feel the need to be jealous of the publishing success of others but rejoice in it.
But if I had to choose books I would like to have written I would pick two not on liturgy: Robert Louis Wilken’s The First Thousand Years. A Global History of Christianity (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press 2012). And German Jesuit Klaus Schatz’s justly famous book: Papal Primacy from its Origins to the Present (Collegeville: Liturgical Press 1996) from the German original and available in several other languages.
Prof. Wilken shows how Christianity really developed, pace the view of history propagated in the classic Catholic myth that there was once one Church, founded by Christ on Peter, all Christians originally belonged to it until they broke off into schism, and the solution was to return to it where they belong.
That is like the Greek Orthodox publication “Nostalgia for Orthodoxy,” provoked by the western romance with the Christian East, which led its authors to think its propagators were nostalgic to “return” to an Orthodoxy to which they had never belonged in the first place.
These Mickey-Mouse views of how the Churches of East and West originated in the early centuries are neatly flushed away by Wilken’s demonstration that originally there evolved in East and West what one might liken to a federation of independent local Churches, each governed by a ruling hierarch called pope, patriarch, or some other title, or by a synod. All these Churches were in communion with, but not dependent on, one another, until later disruptions caused breaks in the communion leading to the situation we have now.
And Schatz shows how one such branch, the Church of Rome, evolved and propagated its own Walt-Disney view of its history. But it did not begin this way, since the Roman Primacy, like everything else on earth, has a history, and Schatz shows how it evolved into — but did not start as — what it is today.
Three things to fix the liturgy — what would they be? The liturgy doesn’t need fixing. For starters it just needs a translation into something remotely resembling English. What needs fixing are the celebrating clergy. What I have often said of my own Jesuit confreres applies here too: all Jesuits have studied theology, but not all of them learned theology—i.e., learned how to think theologically. A classic instance is the question of the clergy’s refusal to cease giving communion from the reserved sacrament in the tabernacle despite the Church’s constant exhortations and orders to do so. That is not because the clergy are disobedient,but because they are theologically and liturgically ignorant, as I have tried to show in Worship 88/1 (pp. 2-22).
Pope Francis good for liturgical renewal or not? Papa Francesco is good for everything, including liturgical renewal. When he first celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel he had them toss out the altar facing away from the congregation that his predecessor had installed, and thereby gave the signal indicating how he rated the reformed Vatican II liturgy vis-à-vis the restored pre-Vatican II Summorum Pontificum “extraordinary form.”
Is the Vatican II liturgical renewal secure or endangered? I think it is secure, because I believe the vast majority of Catholic people throughout the world confirm it by voting with their feet and going to Mass in the reformed rite, showing thereby that despite the right-wing neo-con wackos (hereafter NCW’s), most Catholics prefer the reformed rite.
But that does not mean that the NCW’s are not a threat, since it is said that large numbers of them now control the terrain in our seminaries. As Professor Massimo Faggioli, the Catholic point-man on these issues has shown, the Vatican II Liturgical Constitution was the fundamental document that led the way to the rest of Vatican II, so an attack against that key document is an attack against the guiding spirit of the Vatican II Council.
Anything good coming out of Summorum Pontificum? Nope, unless creating unnecessary divisions in the Church and driving crazy our harried bishops who have too few priests to start with and now have to try and accommodate the NCW’s is considered “good.”
Is liturgical ecumenism still alive? It’s still alive as long as I’m still alive, and I was the last time I checked. I have spent my entire life, priestly and academic, building bridges to our sister Churches, especially those in the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox East, but also not ignoring those of the Anglican and Reformation traditions. In fact, I have a new book in press entitled Beyond East and West 2: Problems in Ecumenical Understanding, which is an ecumenical clone of my highly popular and often reprinted Beyond East and West 1: Problems in Liturgical Understanding (Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute 1997).
In the new, forthcoming book I develop my ecumenical theology already expressed in a conference still in press: “Communion, not Reunion: The Future Church of Sister Churches,” lecture at the 2013 Orientale Lumen XV Conference “Rome and the Communion of Churches,” Washington DC, June 20-23, 2013, to appear in the Congress Acta.
I outline there my ecumenical vision of how I conceive our future, which will not consist in any Churches becoming anything they are not already, but in their coming together freely in mutual respect, recognition, and ecclesial communion as Sister Churches.
Admittedly, this is more easily conceivable between the Catholic Church and the Churches of the East, which Rome already recognizes as “Sister Churches” possessing the full panoply of what for Rome constitutes a “Church” in the full sense of the term, with a valid apostolic episcopate and sacraments.
With regard to the Anglican and Reformation traditions the problem from the Catholic side remains more complicated, but not, in my view, insoluble, as I have already explained elsewhere in my writings. Among the outstanding ecumenical and liturgical priorities the Catholic Church could and should address to further the cause of ecumenism now would include the following:
First, I consider it both essential and urgent to revisit the question of the validity of Anglican orders. I have no pretense at being a specialist on this question. But now that the archives of the Catholic commission that studied the question are open, it is reported that half of the original Catholic commission members were in favor of recognizing validity. But it is said that the then Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster pleaded against doing so, lest Anglicans cease to convert to Catholicism. If that is true, then we are faced with the scandalously shameful manipulation of a serious religious cause regarding another Christian Church.
This question also involves a cluster of other issues that I believe need to be reconsidered:
[a] the whole question of conceiving apostolic succession via the “relay race pass the baton model” is questionable, since it is probably not provable with historical verisimilitude for any Church on earth, including that of Rome. It is not clear that Rome originally had a monarchical episcopate rather than some sort of collegial governing body, possibly presbyteral, in the earliest post-apostolic era.
[b] Besides, at least some reputable Catholic theologians today would agree that apostolic succession does not have to be validated via such a material process.
[c] In this context one might take a lesson from the Apostolic Sister Churches of the Orthodox East, for whom valid sacraments, including orders, are those recognized as such by the Church. Period. Now since the Orthodox have recognized Anglican orders, where does that leave us Catholics, since we recognize the Apostolic Succession of Orthodox orders?
[d] Furthermore, the Catholic acceptance of a more nuanced view of apostolic succession would lead to considerable ecumenical progress with the classic communities of the Reformation traditions like the Lutherans, which could then be recognized as particular “Sister Churches,” something fully reputable Catholic theologians have already adumbrated, if I understand them correctly.
[e] Finally, anyone who knows a little history of theology is aware that at the time of the Catholic decision denying the validity of Anglican orders there was in vogue in Catholicism a view of Christian presbyterate as “priesthood” overdeveloped from the time when the early (probably) African apologist Municius Felix (ca. 130-300 AD) could declare: “Aras non habemus — We [Christians] have no altars!” Here, as with all historical reality including religious phenomena, context is everything. And it is well documented that the theology of Christian ministry underwent a progressive “sacerdotalization” in the course of its evolution, once the need to resist recurrent Judaizing tendencies had abated.
So that’s a few of the issues on my agenda for starters.
Among your many books do you have any favorites, and why would you pick the ones you list? Well, topping the list would have to be my very first book, The Great Entrance. A History of the Transfer of Gifts and other Preanaphoral Rites of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (OCA 200, Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute 1975) xl + 485 pp., which has sold better than any book ever published by the Institute press, frequently sold out and had to be updated and reprinted again and again through the years, and has just now been translated into Italian and updated by Prof. Stefano Parenti in a huge tome about the the size of the Gutenberg Bible: Robert F. Taft, SJ and Stefano Parenti, Storia della Liturgia di San Giovanni Crisostomo, vol. II: Il Grande Ingresso. Edizione italiana rivista, ampliata e aggiornata (Analekta Kryptoferrys I0, Grottaferrata: Badia Greca 2014) 793 pp.
The first edition (1975) was immediately declared a classic, and I was dubbed “the Byzantine Jungmann” after the famous Austrian Jesuit liturgical scholar Josef Jungmann, author of Missarun Sollemnia, his classic history of the Roman Mass. Overnight I found myself famous, and nothing has been the same since, much to the chagrin of a couple of my confreres in Rome.
The Great Entrance became volume 1 of my by now massive multi-volume History of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, of which four volumes have appeared (= OCA 200, 238, 261, 281,) and the last is in press.
If allowed a second choice I would choose my Liturgical Press book The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West (1986, 2nd ed. 1993) that received the First Place Award of the Catholic Press Association for “The Best Book in Theology in 1986” and has been translated into Italian (twice), French, and Ukrainian.
But among my many books the one I actually use and re-read more than any other represents the only delving I ever did into the realm of spirituality, a book that resulted from a liturgical retreat to Ukrainian Greek-Catholic seminarians that I continue to use for my own personal edification and prayer. It is entitled Liturgy: Model of Prayer — Icon of Life (Fairfax, VA: Eastern Christian Publications 2008). It has been reprinted numerous times, is still available from the publisher, and continues to nourish my spiritual life.
Is academic liturgical study relevant to the real world? In the first place, ALL serious liturgical study is academic, and academic liturgiologists also reside in and pray and worship in “the real world.” Furthermore, their study is relevant to the real world since it is the only liturgical study that has impacted the liturgical renewal of the Churches, as should be evident from reading the flagship liturgical literature in the field like Worship. Ecclesia Orans, Jahrbuch (later) Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft, Ephemerides Liturgicae, La Maison-Dieu, Studia Liturgica, etc.
What were the most important reference books on liturgy you were repeatedly forced to turn to in your scholarly research? Jungmann’a classic Missarum Sollemnia on the Mass of the Roman Rite, André Jacob’s Histoire du formulaire grec de la Liturgie de Saint Jean Chrysostome. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Louvain 1968; Stefano Parenti & Elena Velkovska (eds.), L’Eucologio Barberini gr. 336. Seconda edizione riveduta con traduzione in lingua italiana (Biblioteca Ephemerides Liturgicae Subsidia 80, Rome 2000); Juan Mateos (ed.), Le Typicon de la Grande Église. Ms. Sainte-Croix n° 40, Xe siècle. Introduction, texte critique, traduction et notes, 2 vols. (OCA 165-166, Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute 1962-1963).
Does that mean you consider those the best books you have read on liturgy? By no means. Those books are a short list of the essential reference works I had to constantly consult on a daily basis, though innumerable other reference works and critical editions of liturgical ms sources were in frequent use too.
As for the best books I have read on liturgy, surely near the top of my list would be St. John’s Abbey Benedictine Monk Alan Bouley’s From Freedom to Formula. The Evolution of the Eucharistic Prayer from Oral Improvisation to Written Texts (CUASCA 21, Washington, DC: Catholic University of America 1981), a work of genius and an extraordinarily well-written read.
Do you advise young people to go into liturgical studies? I think it fair to say that I have fostered the careers and future success of my graduate students in myriad ways. But I am generally reluctant to advise them in choosing a future career path. I prefer to explain the possibilities and problems as I see them, and let them decide.
What would you judge to be the best doctoral dissertations you directed in your professorial career? I would not even dream of giving an answer to such a question! Some dissertations were more obviously landmark works of scholarship than others, but on my list of doctoral dissertation written under my direction they number thirty-four, to which one can add eight more in the direction of which I had a major role, though was not the official director. To that list one can add an additional twenty-one licentiate or MA level theses I directed. Those in the trade will recognize that as an enormous workload, but I was often asked to assume the direction of theses because the students knew I really directed them, despite my reputation for being exigent and even tough, or because the official director was seen to be inadequate for the task.
Many of these dissertations were eventually published and are now recognized works of scholarship in the field of Liturgiewissenschaft. Those who know how to read will know them already or can find them easily. For me as director to make the selection would be easy but odious and reprehensible in the extreme.
 At least of male candidates, but I do not know if that recognition has been rescinded since the Anglicans began to ordain women presbyters, ordinations I presume no Orthodox recognize as valid.
 See, for example, Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., “Occasional Eucharistic Hospitality: Revisiting the Question,” TS 74/2 (June 2013) 399-419. I do not wish to imply that Fr. Rausch agrees with the broader conclusions I am drawing from his observations.
 For an excellent account of this evolution, see Nathan Mitchell, Mission and Ministry in the Sacrament of Order (Message of the Sacraments 6, Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier 1982). See also the Grove Liturgical Studies (Grove Books, Bramcote Notts.) touching on the topic: Study No. 19: R.P.C. Hanson, Eucharistic Offering in the Early Church; No. 31: Rowan Williams, Eucharistic Sacrifice — The Roots of a Metaphor; No. 40: Colin Buchanan (ed.), Essays on Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Robert F. Taft, S.J., born in Providence, RI (USA) Jan. 9, 1932, was a Jesuit priest ordained in the Byzantine Slavonic (Russian) Rite in 1963. He was founder and editor-in-chief of Anaphorae Orientales, and Professor of Oriental Liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome, where he served as Vice-Rector from December 20, 1995-April 29, 2001. He received there his doctorate in 1970, followed in 1971-72 by postdoctoral studies in Oriental Philology at the University of Louvain, Belgium. He also served as Visiting Professor in the Graduate School of the University of Notre Dame beginning in 1974. A prolific writer, the bibliography of his publications and writings comprises over 800 titles, written in English, French, and Italian, mostly scholarly publications on Eastern Liturgy, including 34 books, 5 of them co-authored, plus 9 others edited or co-edited in collaboration with other authors. His writings have been translated into nineteen different languages.
Fr. Taft served as Consultor for Liturgy of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and was a member of several Vatican commissions and other editorial and advisory boards.
In recognition of his work, Fr. Taft received numerous academic awards, including three honorary doctorates, and several ecclesiastical honors. In 2001, he was elected Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, the highest honor the Academy confers in recognition of scholarly distinction. He was the first and at that time only American Jesuit in history ever to be so honored.
After the fall of Communism in 1989, Fr. Taft was actively engaged in assisting in the restoration of the persecuted and suppressed Eastern Churches in the former Soviet East Bloc. On May 5, 1998, the Head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church elevated Fr. Taft to the dignity of Mitred Archimandrite in recognition of his services to the Eastern Churches. On November 11, 1999, Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos, of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, conferred on Fr. Taft, in the name of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a second pectoral cross, with the right to wear the double pectoral insignia, in recognition of his scholarly research and writings on the Orthodox tradition.
On his visit to Rome, May 8, 2008, His Holiness Karekin II of Etchimiadzin, “Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians,” conferred on Fr. Taft a third pectoral cross in recognition of his studies on the Armenian liturgical tradition and his work for the education of their clergy.