Kathleen Hughes: “Hope and harmony”

Here is the very fine address given on July 13 by Sr. Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ, at the NPM national convention in Detroit, “Hope and Harmony.”


  1. Irenic and ‘big’. This is challenging stuff. A ‘progressive’ liturgical voice refusing to be constrained by labels and calling those of us who are of like mind to join her in seeing the bigger picture. I shall be reading this again (and again and again…)

  2. Father Anthony, thank you for the opportunity to read some important thoughts from someone with whom I probably disagree about a lot of things. Overall I am impressed with her largeness of spirit and her graciousness in the face of things not going quite her way. She has some very good advice for folks on all sides and while I feel a bit more hopeful than she does about the general way things are going, I appreciate her Christian spirit of self-denial and focus on loving God in the liturgy.

    If not for your blog, I would not have read something like this. As you might imagine, I don’t normally read blogs that would feature talks by Sr. Kathleen Hughes. Would that all the Christians who do not share my liturgical wishes and aspirations (and those who do) might express themselves in such a recollected, well-thought-out and spiritual manner.

  3. Father Anthony, thank you for posting this important address. I sat there in Detroit transfixed by the words of my former professor (a tough, bright, and sometimes overwhelming teacher!). I made sure I spoke with her after the address, to express my appreciation and solidarity. The line that still sticks out in my own mind is this one: “I have been forced to conclude: Maybe bright as I am, right as I am, trained as I am, I am not the measure for what touches people’s minds and hearts.” This is not the Kathleen Hughes who taught me at CTU so many years ago. This is the expression of a woman whose years and pastoral practice is expressed as a kind of vintage of her wisdom. I sat there and was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for her wise words. Wherever you readers “land,” Father Anthony, these are word that will prove prophetic.

  4. Fr. Anthony – want to echo Jerry’s comments. Remember many a good argument at CTU – you needed to defend your position with evidence, experience, etc.

    Will take Sr. Hughes’ comments to heart. But (I know, there is always a but)….continue to wrestle with the appropriate response. The process and translations are illegitimate at best; ideological at worst. We have and are going through a crisis because, as catholics, we did not speak up and tens of thousands have suffered abuse because of this….the role of the episcopacy in this crisis has still not been addressed. Sr. Hughes is conceding that the changes will happen – come hell or high water. She sketches a higher plane to focus on – the sacramental and theological eucharistic activity – the dying/rising of the community. Yet, via our complicity what does that say? Liturgy expresses and lives out our ecclesiology…part of being a community is an honest approach to how we choose to celebrate…Rome has deprived us of this and has significantly changed Vatican II – a council vs. a small internal, ideological group. So, guess I have “landed” but not sure I would say that her words are prophetic…we seem to be going down a path that builds on sand.

  5. Can I just say that she is the wisest and wittiest woman I have ever known? I struggle with how we can hope when we are in some ways like abused children, all of us, deprived of choice when it comes to emotion… But she’s encouraged me to try again to hope, and her invocation of Godfrey goes a long way towards making that possible.

  6. I stopped reading when I was told that it was impossible not to get caught up in the elation of Pres. Obama’s inauguration. I, for one, was not caught up. I guess I’m an outlier, so I figured that the speech wouldn’t apply to me much.

    1. Way to miss the point completely, Ioannes.

      I was moved and surprised by Sr. Hughes’s keynote address when I heard it last month, especially since she’s one of the old guard warriors of the reform. However, I walked away afterwards wondering: Yes, living in hope is a choice, listening is a choice, developing generous hearts with those who disagree with us is a choice—but how do we dialogue when others won’t even stick around to hear what WE have to say?

    2. I almost stopped reading at that point too, Ioannes. In fact my eyes just raced over that part, as my mind just went “blah, blah, hope, change, blah, blah, I wonder when she will start talking about liturgy.” But I’m glad I persevered, because I found that she really was a gracious speaker.

      As for dialogue, Christian, it seems to me that the passion for dialogue is affected a lot by the perception of whose side is “winning” or by the perception of who has their hands on the “reins of power.” Of course as followers of Christ, we [are supposed to] look very differently at issues related to “power”. I too am disappointed lately at the lack of respectful dialogue among disagreeing factions of the Church. But I guess I can understand how someone who either was not around in the 1970’s or was not “listened to” back then would not be very responsive to dialogue right now. When we see the tiniest steps toward legitimately restoring some of the things that were lost in the aftermath of V2, we hear those who oppose this restoration not only say “wait, can we talk about this?” but “what if we just said block this by any means necessary?” I guess I am not surprised that those who favor these tiny adjustments toward acknowledging continuity with Pre-V2 spirituality and practice would not be enthusiastic about staying around for “dialogue.”

  7. “Maybe bright as I am, right as I am, trained as I am, I am not the measure for what touches people’s minds and hearts.”

    – Vatican II is a very recent event in the life of the Church. Fr. Peter Jones (composer of the ‘Coventry’ Gloria) has pointed out that ‘we are not yet the Church of Vatican II).

    On a practical level, the liturgical changes (in the UK, anyway) were not really explained to most people, and although good liturgy happens in some places, it is more often the case that Marian hymns, relics (for example the spectacular success of the recent ‘tour’ of St Therese of Lisieux), benediction hymns and altar rails are touching people’s minds and hearts in a way that the recognition of Christ in the Word, and in the people are
    not. (Not yet anyway!)

  8. Dear friends,
    I want this thread to stay on liturgy. Comments about other political issues (the economy, abortion, etc.) will be deleted. Thanks for your understanding.

  9. I have not read Mark Searle’s article on which Kathleen Hughes’ comments on the “stages” of participation are based. However, taking her as a faithful reporter of the gist of what he says, I would like to take issue with the three-fold schema of deepening participation which she references with approval.

    First of all, the idea of separating engagement with Christ (second stage) from engagement with the Trinity (third stage) seems to me patently absurd. Is the Christ whom she envisions we are engaging somehow limited to the Jesus of history? This cannot be, because the Jesus of history—somehow divorced from the transcendent Christ, second person of the Trinity—is just plain not accessible to us in the liturgical event. If, on the other hand, we engage with the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father, as she describes it, we have ipso facto engaged with the Trinity. It is furthermore not possible to engage with Christ without also engaging with the Holy Spirit, if we take Saint Paul at his word (“No one can say Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit”), so I find this makes no sense to me whatsoever.

    Second, the idea that we pass from one stage to another–physical observance of outward signs, to Christ, to the Trinity–is a schoolroom notion completely at odds with the human experience of religious intuition. I am not saying that our religious intuitions may not grow more nuanced or deepen with time, but I’ve listened to too many people reflect on…

  10. I’m impressed and challenged by this talk, and I’ve been thinking about it for the last day. But I do wonder if not being ‘cranky’ — which I take it means what I’d call ‘crotchety’ (‘cranky’ in UK English means ‘mildly crazy’)–is an option for a priest who continues to preside. We priests can’t just keep our emotional and spiritual distance and let the change happen; we’re responsible for making it happen. It seems to me that if we can’t summon up some level of conviction that this new translation may be the right thing, the only responsible thing for us to do is to withdraw from public liturgical ministry. We stand no chance of presiding effectively and appropriately, in a way that leads others into prayer.

    Or am I being hopelessly clericalist?

  11. Ctd.
    …rites to take the view that they pass through three stages, one two three. There are people who perceive Christ first, and only then the physical details! There are people whose sense of the Trinity comes before their sense of the fitness of the structures of the rite.

    Thus to suggest that we, collectively, are “fixated” on “stage one” of liturgical participation also seems to me absurd (not to mention patronizing, and psychologese). Who is fixated? The whole thing seems to beg the question of “second naïvete” as well. The more intimately we “know” the work of Christ in the Liturgy, the more readily we delight in its externals; that’s the nature of incarnational liturgical praxis. It suits her argument to say otherwise perhaps now, because she is getting her audience ready to button its lip and ignore whatever grates on their sensibilities of outward fitness. But the argument that this represents a “higher stage” hasn’t been made, at least not here.

    1. Rita, I haven’t read the Searle article here but they are presented as “levels” not stages. This is a significant difference, since it’s my understanding from the description that normally the levels do all operate simultaneously and enrich one another spontaneously. Each level is specifically intended to and ought to draw participants deeper into the mystery. The first level is cultural, the other two are theological, but the purpose of the cultural level is to draw us into the spiritual levels.

      The distinction between the 2nd and 3rd is that the 2nd level (Christ’s offering) is the mediation between the specifically liturgical action we do and the trinitarian love which should suffuse our whole life (not just the liturgy). That love, of course, will pull us joyfully back to our ritual participation, in which we will see new meaning.

      I think the purpose of using these distinctions here is to encourage us to use the life of the Trinity in which we dwell to see (beyond the ritual level) the deep unity among all believers which, being God’s own unity, Father, Son, Spirit, cannot be shaken. We enter into this life through participating in Christ’s sacrifice by the liturgical action.

      It’s not quite the way I would put it, but I think this is what’s meant here.

      1. Kimberly, thanks. You may be right, and I’d be interested to hear more of your ideas on the subject. What sent me in another direction was the notion that we are “stuck” on one level, which seemed to me to suggest a process. The numbering of levels also suggested a hierarchy, which, when combined with her comments about humeral veils and irritating translations and all seemed to suggest that the externals really are irrelevant as one advances spiritually. Had she said all three exist at once and mutually inform and enrich one another, as you have, I’d have been more disposed to agree.

        The separation of Christ from the Trinity still concerns me.

      2. Rita, I certainly would have put it a bit differently than Kathleen did above, but I think the ability to analytically distinguish between different aspects of participation is useful in liturgical theology. I take it that what she is saying is that the ritual externals (in this case, irritating translations) are the foundation for the other two levels of participation. Given an imperfect form for liturgical prayer (which, surely, is always what we’re given), we are still called to find in it, by grace, the foundation for participation in the trinitarian life.

        Again, I don’t think there is a distinction between Christ and the Trinity, but between a participation that’s truly theological but limited to the liturgical action and one that flows out from the liturgical action to fill all of life, which Searle (I assume) identifies as trinitarian (although they are both trinitarian, and I think Searle would probably affirm that). I think the “work of Christ” bolded text is in order to emphasize the properly theological aspect of the liturgy, without minimizing the importance of the externals (which are how the work of Christ takes place).

        Always dangerous to guess what the author means (while she’s still alive!), but there’s my best guess.

  12. Sorry Philip, my comment crossed over yours! I didn’t see yours before posting. I think you ask a good question.

    1. Rita, If you had replied to yourself (hover your mouse pointer over the brown ‘taskbar’ with the poster’s name and time of posting to see the reply ‘box’) then your continuation would have been in the right place. It took me a couple of weeks to come across this by chance when the blog first started up.

  13. Rita’s point about separating the “historical” Jesus from the Risen Lord now living in Glory is a very good point. The “historical, critical” method of studying the Gospels tends to lead people to make this separation which is not at all what the Gospels intended. These intend to show us that Jesus just “is”; He is the “I AM” that the Most Holy Trinity truly “IS.” This transcendent God is made manifest in many ways and sacramentally at Mass. Our transcendent God is the “Gift” par excellence to be received not dissected.

  14. I feel that Fr. Anthony has done well in posting this article, because it summarizes exactly what PRAY TELL is all about. Congrats!

  15. “I have dwelt on this topic at length because I think it gives a sure way to hope and harmony. I believe we have gotten pretty much fixated on level one, the level of the exterior ritual. And here’s the result. Our energies are drained and our communities are divided by things like humeral veils – superficial choices which happen to be the least important aspect of our participation.”

    . . . this is a truly magnificent sentence!

  16. There seems to be a lot of good stuff in this address… I have it in my “to read” pile. But the previous comment draws my attention to a rather odd sentence:

    “And nowadays everyone has an opinion and everyone is an expert. I was surprised one day recently when the presider started using the humeral veil to cover the chalice and paten and walk them in and out in procession.”

    But that seems incredibly unlikely to me. If the chalice is being carried in procession like it was in the Tridentine liturgy and as I’ve seen done in many places in the ordinary form, especially for daily Mass, (contra the rubrics for the ordinary form, which have it on the creedence) it would laudably be covered with a veil. But I can only imagine that Sr. Hughes saw the chalice covered with the chalice veil? This is a completely different thing than the humeral veil. That this would be a point of confusion seems to show how far we’ve fallen out of touch with our liturgical past.

    1. Samuel, I wondered about that too. She probably meant chalice veil. If you’ve seen the chalice carried in procession in the OF, perhaps it is by priests who are old enough to have been trained before the reforms and never changed their ways? I’ve never seen it.

      1. “If you’ve seen the chalice carried in procession in the OF, perhaps it is by priests who are old enough to have been trained before the reforms and never changed their ways?”

        Occasionally, but more frequently by priests (regardless of age) who serve in churches where there is no full-time sacristan. At daily Mass, if they’re expected to do the set up/take down themselves, I’ve seen priests bring the chalice with them when they enter or (more frequently) remove it to the sacristy with them when they depart.

  17. Another point, it would be interesting to compare elements of this to Martin Mosebach in The Heresy of Formlessness where he talks about one of the effects of the disruption of the liturgical reforms having been to make everyone “experts” in the liturgy and to force them to pay attention to the surface details in an unnatural way that inhibits and impedes actual participation.

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