The January Issue of Worship

I hope that the January issue of Worship is in your hands by now. I know that some of our overseas readers might not yet have received it. This issue is the liturgist’s version of an action-packed Hollywood movie.

The issue starts out with a bang. Robert Taft, S.J. in “‘Communion’ from the Tabernacle – A Liturgico-Theological Oxymoron” writes a scathing critique of the practice of distributing communion from the tabernacle. Taft’s wit is on full display as he begins his article saying:

In an unjustifiably sanguine bout of optimism I had initially subtitled this study ‘The Last Liturgico-Theological Oxymoron?’ But the ongoing exaggerations in eucharistic devotion that the neocon restorationists of the newly contentious and divisive Roman Catholic West continue to invent or rediscover and reprise convinced me that such optimism was currently misplaced. Still, the liturgical practice of Bishop of Rome Francesco is encouraging, so maybe it is till too early to repeat the old saw: ‘East is East and West is West and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Taft’s critique, or more properly condemnation, of communion from the tabernacle revolves around 4 key points: “1. It reflects a patent ignorance of Eucharistic theology. 2. Its origins and history are questionable. 3. It ignores the authentic tradition still observed by the Orthodox East. 4. It is a practice condemned and proscribed by the supreme authority of the Catholic Church in which it is being practiced despite these strictures.” Taft’s article then sets out to unpack each of these accusations. He does so with an eye to general differences in Eastern and Western Eucharistic piety. Taft’s article is a fun read thanks in part to his classic wit and genius.

Bruce Morrill, S.J. in “Lay Liturgical Leadership in the US Catholic Church: Popular Advances, Official Retreat,” focuses on the tension between the faithful’s desire for community and the Vatican’s concerns about the centrality of the priest and the Eucharist celebrated in its fullness. Morrill’s article begins with a plethora of interesting, and at times depressing, statistics about the frequency and practical effects of parish closures. These statistics are intermingled with personal anecdotes from Morrill’s own ministry. Morrill’s article then provides an interesting look at lay-led liturgies, such as Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest. He highlights the tension between the need for more lay involvement and the official viewpoint, which often sees lay leadership as a threat to holy orders.

In looking at Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest, Morrill notes the hierarchy’s “delicate” approach to this ritual. (From my perspective such delicacy is understandable, however, I often wonder what drives this delicate approach, a concern about lay ministry or a concern about the declining importance of the Eucharistic prayer?) The reception of communion, as it is described in Morrill’s article, appears to be more important for the faithful than the Eucharist celebrated in its fullness. In this way, Morrill’s article seems to be a logical extension of Taft’s. Morrill even writes that:

Put bluntly, the people do not miss the Eucharistic prayer. They have so little affective or intellectual appropriation of it as not to be disturbed by its absence or, therefore, to be persuaded by the hierarchy’s exhortations about the value of the ‘full Eucharist’ (their neologism for the Mass, as distinct from a communion service).

As the number of priests declines, parishes close, bishops continue to restrict the usage of Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest, and the faithful further disassociate themselves from the Eucharistic prayer as a whole, the Church is left broken and with very few avenues for healing that are theologically acceptable and practically realistic, let alone find support amongst both the faithful and her clergy. I am left wondering: “What can be done?”

William Smith in  “Who Sang What?” provides a bit of a change in pace. Smith’s article is a look at psalmody from ancient Judaism to the early Church. Smith’s article requires a rethink of the way we approach psalmody. It begins with a series of questions:

  • Are psalms songs to be sung?
  • Were some psalms not sung?
  • Was the psalter a hymnbook?
  • Was the psalter “The Hymnbook of the Second Temple”?

Smith answers these questions before going into the early Church’s usage of song. Smith looks at the usage of psalmody in the early Church and its relationship to Jewish practices of psalmody. Smith also looks at the development of hymnody or new songs that were specific to the Christian tradition.

Smith concludes that the first evidence of psalmody in Christian worship dates to around 200 AD, and that new songs were more common before this period. Smith also sees “(1) freely composed hymns and (2) selected psalms and other lyrical material from the Bible” as the heart of the Church’ repertory.

Michael Joncas in “English-Language Roman Rite Liturgical Music since Sacrosanctum Concilium: Some Reflections” provides a survey of English music since the Second Vatican Council and reflects on those developments in light of Sacrosanctum Concilium. His article begins by showing that the Council called for a shift from priest centered to assembly centered vocal engagement. The voice of the assembly was to be heard. This was a new model of engagement. Another key shift has been in the texts to be sung. Here the Council opened up the doors. Gone are the days when the all of the texts of the liturgy were more or less prescribed (at least in the missa in cantu/missa solemnis). The allowance for greater usage of music in the vernacular was also a produce of this textual shift.

The Council also allowed for a change in instrumentation. While the organ is still given pride of place, just like Latin and chant, any instrument in theory is allowed in the liturgy as long as it meets a few basic criteria. A radical shift in genre has also occurred. Gregorian chant is given pride of place, but any genre of sacred music which is “in accord with the spirit of the liturgical action” is allowed. Liturgical music has also become inculturated.

Joncas concludes that “it is still too early to tell how the Council fathers’ teaching in SC will ultimately be received by the Church as a whole.” Joncas also contends that there is a debate about the “ministerial function” of liturgical music. This, in my opinion, is central to the reception of SC’s teachings on sacred music.

Phyllis Zagano’s “Women in the Diaconate” wraps up this issue with a zinger. Zagano begins by referencing Cipriano Vagaggini’s article L’ordinazione delle diaconesse nella tradizione greca e bizantina in OCP (Orientalia christiana periodica). Vagaggini was responding to Pope Paul VI’s wonderings about the possibility of admitting women to the diaconate, to which “Vagaggini responded in the affirmative.” Zagano then provides a translation of Vagaggini’s intervention at the 1987 Synod of Bishops on the Laity in which he address the possbility of women in the diaconate.

Vagaggini’s intervention is based on the ordination of deaconesses in the Byzantine Tradition. His intervention revolves around 4 arguments: 1) the rite of ordination of deaconesses in the Byzantine Tradition within the sanctuary, 2) the significance of the location for the ordination, 3) the duties their ordination allowed, and 4) modern needs.

Zagano’s translation of Vagaggini’s intervention provides a brief and compelling argument for why discussion about the admission of women to the deaconate should be opened up once again.

Book Reviews


  1. I have found Worship to be one of the most inaccessible journals.

    In fact the only place that I have read it has been the Notre Dame Library when I went to summer school there.

    Even then it was inaccessible in comparison to other journals. Many journals could be accessed electronically. Their contents could be downloaded either as a file or printed out. Worship was not among them.

    So basically the only access is for those who purchase a paper copy. That might be efficient for a large parish where that one copy could circulate among the staff, but it does not make sense for an individual in today’s digital world.

    As an individual today my primary means of communication is digital so anything that does not exist in digital form or as relatively inexpensive and easily obtainable paper might as well not exist. Unless I can copy out quotes, or place a link where someone else can get the article or read the book rather inexpensively, I am unlikely to use the material except in a general way without attribution.

    Given the abundance of material readily available at reasonable prices, in practice journals like Worship don’t exist for me. I could not use it even if I got the paper copy free.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #2:
      Jack, we are well aware of this issue.
      We are working on bringing out a digital version and a digital subscription option in the next 6 months or so.
      That said, every issue of Worship more than 12 months old has been available electronically to libraries via EBSCO for years.

      1. @Hans Christoffersen – comment #6:
        My university library receives Worship via an EBSCO subscription, but the latest issue available there is a year old (March 2013). I don’t know whether the delay is due to policies of Worship or EBSCO, or whether it’s the result of a lower-cost subscription option, but a 12-month lag is less than ideal.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #5:

        The Eastern notion of the Lord’s Day is very different from ours. It begins with Vespers on Saturday evening. This is followed by Matins either combined with Vespers on Saturday evening as a Vigil in the Russian practice, or Matins preceding the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning as in the Greek practice. Whichever way it is done the whole Community celebrates an “Easter” every Lord’s Day. Only monks as “ideal” Christians might be expected to go to the whole thing; everyone else does what part they can which means that people might go to Vespers and/or Matins without going to the Divine Liturgy.

        In this context, our Roman practice of having a Saturday evening Mass, a 9 a.m. Mass and an 11 a.m. Mass is a hopeless impoverishment of the Lord’s Day and a fracturing rather than an integration of the community with Divine Worship. The Orthodox have only one Divine Liturgy per day.

        The Byzantine tradition does combine Vespers with a Communion service on weekdays of Lent in the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified. Here communion is viewed as “food for the journey” rather than the eschatological banquet of the Divine Liturgy. This idea, however is incompatible with the celebration of the Lord’s Day or any feast.

        The East has a greater understanding and value of the Divine Liturgy, the role of communion, and the place of the Liturgy of the Hours in Christian life. We need to learn from them. Of course they also need to learn from us. We have done better at restoring frequent communion. Our proliferation of Masses on Sundays and Weekdays has probably helped but at the cost of short Masses, the Lord’s Day, the Liturgy of the Hours and communal worship.

      2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #5:
        Preaching to the choir here, my friend, I remember when my parish about 20 years ago was looking to combine Masses, and the Sunday 4pm and 7pm Masses were targeted. Why not the Saturday 5, the least-attended of them all? I asked. You would have thought I was advocating for altar rails and mantillas.

        “The East has a greater understanding and value of the Divine Liturgy, the role of communion, and the place of the Liturgy of the Hours in Christian life.”

        *sniff* Greater? Looks like just another lung to me. I have a deep respect for the East; I wrote several papers in grad school on Orthodoxy. I retreated once for several days in an Eastern Catholic community. I think Rome and the Eastern Churches all have glaring weaknesses as well as strengths. We can certainly learn from each other. And, no doubt, we can benefit in the West from a recapture of the Liturgy of the Hours. On duplicating the East in the American suburbs, I would embrace it if it happened, but I just don’t see it latching on in any scenario outside of direct divine intervention.

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