All Together Now? Catholic Unity and the Liturgy

On April 8, Rita Ferrone gave a Diekmann lecture at St. John’s University titled “All Together Now? Catholic Unity and the Liturgy.” The text of the talk is available here. In this video, after an interesting and helpful summary of the nature of the liturgy constitution, the talk takes up the nature of liturgical unity beginning at 32:17.


Rita Ferrone’s lecture on the previous night in the “Sunday at the Abbey” series on “Liturgy and Social Justice: Fresh Challenges for Today in Virgil Michel’s Legacy” is here.




  1. Thanks, Rita….well done esp. your concise explication of historical context and paradigm. Yep, enjoyed your section on Harbert and Wadsworth and unity of the Roman Rite….and it is supranational (okay, your Freudian play on *supernatural* was great) textual unity.

    Guess we have now moved from eucharist being the source and summit to the Roman Missal (textual unity) being the source and summit.
    Suggest some folks have confused cultic/temple accidents (“you can’t find it in the sacristy” – nice touch or your *latin* expose) with *paschal mystery*……but, then, they are all *objects*; correct? or are eucharist, church, faith *verbs* (dying and rising, journeying)?

  2. Rita:

    Godfrey would not only have joined in the applause; he would have exuberantly led it!

  3. Thank you, Rita, for this very important piece. To me this paragraph is a starting point for a necessary dialogue: “Liturgy is a system of signs. And it is incarnational. As Fr. Boniface Luykx said in Ephemerides Liturgicae in 1964, the scholastic maxim holds true: “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.” ―Whatever is received is received in the mode of the one receiving.‖ Adaptation is essential for reception.” Is liturgy indeed incarnational? Is it these actual people gathered, these actual scriptures proclaimed, this actual bread broken, this actual wine poured, these actual hearts and voices lifted up in prayer in the real and intimate living presence of our God, who is stubbornly both immanent and transcendent?

  4. The important questions are: what is a Rite? why Rites?

    Obviously it has something to do with culture and with language. However not every culture and language has its own Rite. Why not?

    In the case of the Roman and Byzantine Rites that probably has something to do with the existence of former empires (Roman and Hellenistic) and their long term cultural effects upon Christianity.

    However some national cultures such as the Ethiopians and the Armenians developed their own rites.

    Some seem to think in terms of historical regions of influence, e.g. Western Europe as Roman and Eastern Europe as Byzantine. That causes the Orthodox to complain about Uniates, and Uniates to have unusual restrictions like celibacy in the USA and subordinate status for their dioceses in the West.

    The migration of many Eastern Churches to other parts of the world, and the high desirability of having them flourish in these diasporas since they are under extreme pressure in their homelands means that we have to abandon the “regions of influence” theory.

    Ultimately we should give up maintaining these “ghost empires” and permit every culture to develop its own Rite but very, very slowly.

  5. While I think the talk did bring out a fundamental aspect that is too often sidelined, I couldn’t help thinking back to a point that Deacon Fritz brought up a little while back when discussion of article 38 came up here on PT: what distinguishes it as the ROMAN Rite as opposed to the Byzantine Rite, Armenian Rite, Syriac Rite and so forth? I found myself agreeing with several points in the talk but thinking at the same time that they could equally be applied – or, perhaps it would be better to say, must be applied – to any authentic act of Christian public worship. It seems to me that if that was all the Fathers wanted to convey by “substantial unity of the Roman Rite”, they could have chosen a number of other, much clearer phrases centered more explicitly on the Paschal Mystery and ‘actio sacra’. In some ways, I almost feel like it would be superfluous of them to even mention this.

    1. @Joshua Vas – comment #5:
      Joshua, perhaps I should have added that the remarks made by Fr. Neunhauser were intended to augment the classic study of Edmund Bishop, “The Genius of the Roman Rite.” In that essay, Bishop concluded that the genius of the Roman Rite can be summed up in two words: “soberness and sense.” When the Roman Rite departs from this standard, it can be safely said that the elements in question came from other sources.

      From Neunhauser’s perspective, however, there were also theological elements which constituted the essential qualities of the Roman Rite, it’s genius. Those which he enumerates (and they are all in the passage I quoted here) very clearly are found in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and have been identified in order to reassert what is essential.

      I will leave it to those who know the Eastern Rites better than I do to clarify how and to what degree each has its own genius, and how that genius differs from the Roman Rite. I do see perhaps more clearly how the churches descended from the Reformation in the West have preserved or jettisoned some of these characteristics of the parent rite, so I doubt it is an all-or-nothing sort of comparison that is to be made with other ritual traditions.

      Even the notion of “soberness and sense” neither describes all the manifestations of the Roman Rite nor disqualifies all other rites of the world, when you think about it.

      I do think Neunhauser (and the Constitution) have pointed to a number of essentials which don’t go without saying, but indeed which help us mightily to differentiate the core from the details, and to preserve the core, while allowing for legitimate diversity.

  6. I enjoyed the video and seeing a multidimensional view of Rita which is not present for any of us on the written page of a blog which tends to present only one dimension and self-interpreted. She has a wonderful pastoral approach with her listeners.
    I wouldn’t argue with her about post-Vatican II developments in the liturgy which surely are official and approved at the highest levels of the Church and usually by papal fiat. Yes, the liturgy went from Latin to all vernacular overnight. That was a good thing in my book at the time and still today, although I appreciate attempts to maintain our Latin in the liturgy at least in a minimal way and that could be codified in the future or not. Just as there were “winners and losers” in terms of bishops and their positions during Vatican II, sure the same is true in the post-Conciliar implementation of Vatican II. But nothing in the post Vatican II implementation by the pope, bishop and rank and file parishes is as authoritative at the Second Vatican Council and its actual vision. So there is nothing stopping the current post Vatican II Church from revisiting its post Vatican II decisions and adjusting them in light of what the Council actually taught, the true council. So we get a new English translation that is not immutable but quite different; we get the 1962 missal back; we get some elements of the Church reintroduced once thought forever discarded. These are all post-Vatican II developments approved in a post-Vatican II way. This development will continue on in various ways until our Lord returns.

  7. (Rita) has a wonderful pastoral approach with her listeners… which is not present for any of us on the written page of a blog which tends to present only one dimension.

    Well the “one dimension” is mainly the result of this blog’s comments. Rita is not responsible for them. Given another set of comments, “a wonderful pastoral approach” could be far more evident on this blog, too.

  8. Thanks, Jack…at least he listened to the video. Usual inaccurate comments:
    – “Yes, the liturgy went from Latin to all vernacular overnight.” (depended upon where you were; many of us experienced a gradual change over four+ years)
    – “But nothing in the post Vatican II implementation by the pope, bishop and rank and file parishes is as authoritative at the Second Vatican Council and its actual vision.” (As John O’Malley warns – the usual attempt to separate the *original VII documents* from how they were implemented…as if the originals became corrupted; or that the implementation wasn’t intended by most of VII fathers)
    – and of course, this sets up the next line…..”So there is nothing stopping the current post Vatican II Church from revisiting its post Vatican II decisions and adjusting them in light of what the Council actually taught, the true council.” (don’t miss the key wording – the *TRUE council* and Allan will tell you what that is; geez, channeling Fr. Z who wasn’t born during VII, was a convert but knows the mind of the council fathers better than anyone)
    And what *stretches* – why looking at the TRUE council gives us a new English translation (never mind that almost everyone would reject this as any type of *true* implementation of VII); 1962 missal back (can you believe it…do you really think the majority of the council fathers wanted to keep the 62 missal; much less bring it back?); and the usual Allan-speak…..*in a post-Vatican II way? (what does this mean?)

  9. Rita, your presentation is superbly researched and presented. Your decision to frame much of your presentation through Thomas Kuhn’s model of the paradigm shift is very apt. As someone who is still working his way towards a postconciliar postmodernity, many of the points you have made have brought about much personal introspection. This is of course essential to growth in charity.

    Your observations on Msgr. Bruce Harbert’s identification of the new translation with the 1570 Missal strikes me as quite emblematic of the traditionalist Catholic misunderstanding of a functional interaction between paradigms. Not a few traditionalists intend to keep alive vestiges of the previous paradigm (i.e. the Tridentine era) in today’s postconciliar paradigm, even to the detriment of postconciliar liturgy.

    In my view, Msgr. Harbert’s statement that the “1570 Missal was held in the hands of missionaries who also brought bread, wine, chalice, paten, and vestments to the New World” contains valences of prejudice and liturgical hubris. On another level, Harbert’s statement repeats a very common sentiment within the EF community and within the “reform of the reform”. This sentiment contends that in order for the ordinary form liturgical translation to display continuity with previous liturgical paradigms, this liturgy must contain aspects of the previous paradigms. Another (hopefully parallel) example to Msgr. Harbert’s view: the Roman Canon should be celebrated often or even exclusively and celebrated in Latin as often as possible. This “Roman Canon fundamentalism” derives from an insistence that the oldest anaphora of the Roman Rite serve as the most concrete aspect of ritual unity. Certainly I am guilty of this view, and a part of me still endorses this viewpoint. Yet, I am quite cognizant that a fine line exists between incorporating some aspects of previous paradigms and stealthily overtaking the current paradigm with elements of the previous paradigm. This latter point strikes me as the implicit goal of Msgr. Harbert’s statement.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #9:
      Jordan, thank you for your kind comments about the talk. I cannot but admire the way in which you are considering nuances of approach to the varied ritual expressions of Catholicism. I think you are grappling with some deep questions with respect to paradigm shift. The “fine line” you speak of is one that I think we all need to consider carefully, as it may be transgressed in the other direction too, by expecting the incorporation of bits and pieces of the reform into the older forms of the Roman Rite without respecting that paradigm as a whole.

  10. Thank you Rita for a wonderful lecture. Appreciate your mention of two missionary Bishops from my own community, Bishop Simons of Indore, (the present Ordinary of Indore is an Indian SVD) and Bishop Kemerer of Posadas; both veterans of living and working in a cross cultural context, and worthy sons of our founder St Arnold Janssen, who encouraged SVD’s to immerse themselves in the language, customs and cultures of the people they ministered to. Pity some in the USA don’t realize that such immersion, rather than constant reference to Rome, produces a far more effective pastoral model, particularly with respect to the Liturgy. Fr. Z is the last one I would look to in modelling a liturgy that would be appropriate for Japan, whether for Liturgies celebrated in and for Japanese or for the ex-pat community.

    1. @Brendan Kelleher svd – comment #10:
      Karl Weber of Linyi (Ichow), China (also quoted here), was an SVD as well. What a profound presence your order brought to the liturgy debate, Brendan. Did you know any of these men in the flesh? They have all gone to God now. I was deeply impressed by their interventions.

      As a footnote, I actually wondered whether Pope Benedict was being intentionally ironic in using an unattributed quote from Weber — in quite a different direction — when he appealed in his letter which accompanied Summorum pontificum, for the bishops of the world to “enlarge your hearts.” We’ll never know, but the phrase is striking. I wouldn’t be surprised if he remembered it.

      1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #11:
        Sadly no. I was a minor seminarian during Vatican II, and so experienced Mass according to the pre-Conciliar missal and all that came during and after. But I did meet Cardinal Tien SVD, the first ever Chinese Cardinal – he was baptized by St Joseph Freinadementz one of the first SVD assigned to China, and some other SVD Council Fathers. For all SVD’s the spirit of our founder with his insistence that we immerse ourselves in the language, customs and culture of the people we work with is foundational and formative of the way we work. So one learns that culturally rooted religiosity is as formative in the faith life of the people as Gospel and Creed. All through my time here in Japan I have had to create or creatively adapt what the Catholic liturgical tradition offers in response to the needs of the situation. Enlarging hearts, your own and those you preach, witness to and minister to is foundational to cross-cultural mission.

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