Pray Tell Live – Panel Discussion on Liturgy and Creativity: Uniformity, Diversity, Inculturation?

July 17, 2014
12–12:30 pm CST

Liturgy and Creativity: Uniformity, Diversity, Inculturation?

Pray Tell Panel Discussion with Eliot Kapitan, Stephen Petrunak, Kate Cuddy and Nathan Chase. Moderated by Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB.


  1. I’m somewhat at a loss for words watching this.
    All the discussion seems profoundly, exclusively anthrocentric rather than theocentric.
    Shoe polishing? Stretching? (Is that liturgical Pilates? Pardon pun.)
    Mr. Kapitan’s commentary, along with Fr. Ruff’s example, of the Missal of Pius V not necessarily functioning as a catholic vehicle of worship seems incredibly naive. And the exceptions Fr. Ruff’s calling to mind other rites, Gallican, Ambrosian, Sarum etc. (one presumes) are nonetheless just as codified as the Roman rite, and were not equivilent to “shoe polishing” in place of the mandatum as clearly articulated by the documents to which each of your particpants professed respect.

  2. Thank you for this discussion. The panel shared much in a short period of time.

    When I was first introduced to the documents 40 plus years ago, I was handed a book and told to follow the directions. In my youthfulness, I looked for what I could get away with in preparing music. I was resistant to anyone telling me how to worship. Then I went to the other extreme and that didn’t work either.

    As I matured in ministry and my own relationship with God, I came to an understanding that I needed to prepare the liturgy, first, from a place of prayer and being in right relationship with God. Then I asked the question, “what does the church ask of me so that I may best serve the people in the pews”. I have grown to a further understanding that our documents and directives serve as an instrument of unity. I take great comfort knowing that there is a basic structure that is used throughout the world within the Roman Rite. I understand the importance of knowing my community but also being mindful of the stranger who may be in our midst. Just as important, is knowing that when I worship in my home parish, I don’t worship just with those who are physically present. I worship with the Universal Church and the Communion of Saints, past, present and future. I believe that we are called to serve those in our care mindful that we are also stewards of the liturgy and our faith traditions and that, at some point, another minister will hopefully pick up where we will leave off and continue the journey. I agree that the liturgy is alive and that if we say yes to a living love relationship with God, our liturgies must reflect that life. If our relationship with God is living, then changes are a natural consequence. I think that we who serve need to be consistent in our preparation and presentation, I often challenge myself with the question, “if I proclaim that I believe that Christ is truly present in Word and Sacrament, then how do I come into His presence and not be changed”? Does my living model what I express in…

  3. What I would like to have seen in this discussion is some mention of the fact that oftentimes lurking behind local variations in the liturgy are different theologies and different conceptions of the sacred some of which are incompatible with one another, some of which explicitly anathematise one another , etc. for example, using Sanctus bells is allowed and in some places very common, but certain people argue that it represents a bad understanding of the Eucharistic prayer, other people argue that their use underscores important parts of the prayer. I think that often what we have are not controversies over practices so much as controversies over theologies and even notions of sacrality and transcendence manifesting themselves in arguments over variations.

  4. Stanislaus Kosala : …I think that often what we have are not controversies over practices so much as controversies over theologies and even notions of sacrality and transcendence manifesting themselves in arguments over variations.

    I agree with this thought. I also think that part of the problem is discerning what is controversial regarding sacrality, etc. How many pastors/presiders/leaders think they are restoring that sacrality, while actually imposing their own personal views?

    While I may not agree on a personal level with certain practices the parish is doing, do I have the right to change these practices because of my personal views? Some pastors do think that way, because they think that that change is what the parish needs.

    Does the parish REALLY need it? Maybe it might, may it might not. But is the change really for THEM, or is it to make the PASTOR/LEADER feel better? So with the bells, the question may not necessarily be about the sacrality of using them or not; the use can legitimately be argued either way.

    Maybe the issue is really about what *I* want instead. After all…I can always justify MY actions as being pure and right, leading the parish, etc. to a better holiness. If that is the case, then the use of a particular action, etc. may not be a good idea. Otherwise, the parish could be constantly in flux, having each current pastor/leader thinking that he/she is fixing things “for the good of the parish.” Instead of bringing people into a cohesive worshipping body, he/she causes divisions. No wonder people don’t sometimes understand where the Church is going. They don’t see any continuity.

  5. I suppose the bells could be regarded as aural punctuation points for those whose theology of the Mass looks to the words of consecration as the ultimate focal point for Christ’s true presence in our midst. But we know the Mass did not start out that way. Jesus was present in the cenacle from the outset of the sacred meal, not only after saying “this is my body…this is the cup of my blood.” It would, in fact, be a very long time before ritual development assigned to the institution narrative a theory of causation. Bells, of course, were not introduced until it was thought helpful to alert people who were dutifully visiting various shrines in cavernous medieval church buildings that Jesus was about to become present upon the altar at the celebrant’s bidding. The Missal of Pius V enshrined that particular understanding in such a way that those who love the TLM or the EF are mystified by its omission. But there are other theologies of the Eucharist that are more readily perceived by those who know only the Mass of their lifetime, and do not require bells to alert them to the fact that they are engaged–at some level–in ritual actions that require the presence of Christ from the time they are gathering to after they are dismissed. This view certainly acknowledges his substantial and sacramental presence in the bread that is broken and the wine out poured as of utmost importance, but not necessarily as caused by the institution narrative alone.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #5:
      “those whose theology of the Mass looks to the words of consecration as the ultimate focal point for Christ’s true presence in our midst”

      I think that description is a caricature; the expression “true presence” is an example. A person whose theology emphasizes the words of consecration would speak of the “real presence”, for they could not deny that Christ is truly present in the liturgy in various other ways — the people, the priest, the word, etc. — but they would highlight the making-present of the Body and Blood under the signs of bread and wine as the “real presence” as it has traditionally been called, the presence par excellence.

      As for the words of institution being believed to have consecratory power, the treatise “On the Sacraments” attributed to St. Ambrose expresses such a belief, as does the likewise-attributed treatise “On the Mysteries”. Support can be found in Augustine and Chrysostom, among others. It could even be posited that St. Justin Martyr was familiar with the words of Christ being used over the bread and wine (Apol I, 66). St. Irenaeus also refers to the bread and wine “receiving the invocation” or “receiving the word”. This belief boils down to belief in the efficacy of the word(s) of Christ: as He said “this is my body”, so it was.

      I think there is room in the Church for a theology which embraces all the ways Christ is present at Mass, while reserving special reverence for the “real presence” in the Eucharist, and which embraces the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer as consecratory, while reserving special reverence for the “words of institution” (and the epiclesis! don’t forget, there are bells rung there too). Doesn’t that fit the Catholic mold of “both … and …”?

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #6:

        In using “true presence” Fr is trying to identify the theological differences that Stanislaus pointed to. For one group, the “true presence” is the real presence. For another group, the “true presence” is the presence of Christ offering himself on the altar. For the latter, the real presence is just as real as it is for the former, but it is a consequence of the “true presence,” not an end in itself.

        I think that is the problem with the Sanctus bells. They shift attention away from the “true presence”, the presence of Christ offering through the actions of priest and people, and direct our attention toward a more passive real presence. At the moment when we should be most immersed in Christ, offering ourselves through with and in Him, we are called away to a devotional act.

        The practical question holds theological questions within it. Identifying those differences is one way we learn about the mystery.

      2. @Jim McKay – comment #10:
        I would not assume what one group believes “true presence” to mean; in this day and age, it’s hard to group people together at all! This seems like an easy way to generalize about people and come to erroneous conclusions.

        From my own perceptions (biased and erroneous as they may be), I doubt a typical “traditionalist” would say that the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is “an end in itself”. At the very least, he or she would acknowledge that the Eucharist exists for at least two reasons: for offering it to God the Father, and for receiving it as our sacred food. (God gives us bread and wine, we present them back to God, God gives them back to us as the Eucharist, we offer the Eucharist back to God, God gives us the Eucharist back as food for us. Most anaphoras make that quite clear.)

        I don’t think the Sanctus bells distract us with a devotional act. I would have to ask around to find out if that’s the case. It isn’t the case for me. When I hear the Sanctus bells — and I’ve been watching and listening the whole time, anyway — I don’t get distracted from anything by anything, because for me it’s just another part or feature of the Eucharistic Prayer, just like I’m not distracted by the change in the priest’s voice, or in his posture, or by the pause of silence.

        The “devotional act” I assume you are referring to is the adoration of the Eucharist when the priest shows the elements as the bells ring. I admit I do adore at this moment, but this is not a distraction. It’s a part of the prayer for me.

        And to be technical about it, the part of the Eucharistic Prayer that speaks of offering the Eucharist comes after this part, in the anamnesis/offering. EP III states this quite well, even explicitly mentioning ourselves as an offering in the transition from the offering-prayer to the communion-of-the-saints-prayer (“May he make of us an eternal offering to you”).

  6. Why do the commentors, much less the authors, of Pray Tell Posts get so hung up on symptomatic concerns such as the “Sanctus Bells,” rather than engage the systemic problem of “anthropomorphism” that dominates the execution of the worship rites in our Church.
    Pardon me for asking the dumb, obvious question

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #7:
      Possibly because most of us think “anthropomorphism” is a phantom problem. Or we don’t think it’s confined to the modern Roman Rite or its excesses. Or because we think that humans inevitably get in the way of a relationship with God because, well, we’re part of it.

      We can’t legislate what God does in the liturgy. Not even the red and black do that.

      Personally, I think Sanctus bells can be a convenient distraction from a deeper aspiration in the liturgy: cooperation with God’s salvific plan. Are we spectators to the Paschal Mystery, cheering Jesus on, or finding comfort in a historical reenactment? Or do we have concerns about aspects of liturgy we can inspire and support–things like congregational singing, minimizing needless distractions and repetitions, and getting bogged down in peripherals.

      According to CCC 2478, an observer of this video is morally bound to assume the discussion has a religious context, that of the liturgy. If one has concerns, ask the people directly. But always operate on the assumption of good faith.

      That this discussion is about inculturation doesn’t mean it denies, for example, the REal Presence because the people don’t mention it. It just means that’s not the topic, and that traditionalist Catholics weren’t there to derail the conversation into Something They Like.

      I realize you’ve come off the high of the Colloquium. Wonderful, that. But not everybody thinks in the same way as the modern CMAA.

    2. @Charles Culbreth – comment #7:
      I’ve wondered that myself about this place. I think anthropomorphisation of God is always a risk, even for traditionalists, since we can only talk about God in terms of personhood. Personally, I think that the post-vatican ii liturgy very often fails to express the absolute gulf between creature and creator. I would say that this is the key problem.

  7. It wasn’t my intention to stir up the Sanctus bells debate it was just an example of the top of my head. I don’t think that anyone ever denied that legitimate variations in liturgical practice may exist within the same rite, even before Vatican II, the trick is distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate variations.
    One thing that confuses the heck out of me though is how liturgical progressives make use of historical precedent. For example, you have people on the panel talking about how the roman rite has for much of its history allowed a great deal of variation as partial motivation for accepting it today. Yet I doubt that these same panelists would agree that lay people should never be allowed to distribute holy communion or even touch the chalice because of the very strong historical precedent of such positions. Why do some appeals to history have motivational force but others don’t? Could someone pleas explain this to me?

  8. Todd, I well appreciate your perspective as you know. But I can’t appreciate the two insinuations you make in the last two paragraphs. Namely, I didn’t call to question the panelist’s beliefs about Real Presence, rather I dealt with the predominance of a perspective that I found curiously lacking. That’s not trying to change their topic, it’s observing the topic’s content and attributes. Caricaturing me as a traditionalist Catholic, by implication, is offensive, Todd, deeply so. And then to add the cherry of “come off the high of the Colloquium, of which you have no idea or experience is presumptuous, condescending and insulting. Don’t put words into my mouth as I try not to do likewise to you.

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #11:
      It seems, my friend, that you were the first to try to put words in people’s mouths, or more accurately, to point out something they weren’t saying. CMAA had nothing to do with that? Fine. I observe they have their own agenda, and frequently go to the meme that other “musicians” don’t have the same sense of “theomorphism” they do.

      Jonathan says it much better than I did. I apologize for my remarks that clearly offended.

  9. For the record: In John 6, Jesus refers to his flesh as true food and his blood as true drink. I regard real and true as equivalents when used in connection with Eucharist as a noun.

  10. I enjoyed the conversation. It reminded me of the passage in part VII of Newman’s Apologia:

    Catholic Christendom is no simple exhibition of religious absolutism, but it presents a continuous picture of Authority and Private Judgment alternately advancing and retreating as the ebb and flow of the tide; – it is a vast assemblage of human beings with wilful intellects and wild passions, brought together into one by the beauty and the majesty of a superhuman power – into what may be called a large reformatory or training-school, not to be sent to bed, not to be buried alive, but for the melting, refining, and moulding, as in some moral factory, by an incessant noisy process (if I may proceed to another metaphor), of the raw material of human nature, so excellent, so dangerous, so capable of divine purposes.

    Charles, of course any discussion like this will to some extent be “anthropocentric” — and I would be interested in how you unpack that term — because it is humans who are speaking and doing the liturgy. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to start from the position that everyone in the discussion was trying to understand where God’s Holy Spirit is leading the community. But how to understand that?

    I suppose someone could have said, “This is a dumb conversation. Just do what God wants: say the black and do the red. End of story.” That would have ended the discussion.

    Newman’s point — and I think this is where the panel was trying to go — is that the process of adaptation and development in the Church is messy, “an incessant noisy process.” He was talking about doctrine, but I have little doubt he would have applied this to liturgy. It is an incessant, noisy, HUMAN process. But — like the sacrament that the Church is — see Lumen Gentium — it is a process that points beyond itself, to God.

    I think he saw the “incessant noisy process” as an essential part of the journey ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem — out of the shadows and into the truth.

  11. Nope, not buying your tactic, Todd. I put no words into panelists’ mouths. As Jonathan observes, I could choose to unpack what I mean by anthrocentric, but I believe most everyone here gets the gist. And again, your own words, even when attended by an erzatz apology, remain seriously offensive. YOU raise the CMAA specter, and by doing so you simultaneously brand me as an automaton, deny that I have a free mind and intellect, and show your own condescension and prejudice. When are you going to look for the plank, Todd?
    I’m done with this. You just seem unable to “fight fair.”

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #17:
      There are no tactics here. In post #7 you asked a question. It’s a non-starter for me, as it is for the people you asked about.

      When people get together to talk to God or about God, it might be considered worship. Or perhaps theology. This panel is people talking about people who get together to talk about God. I don’t have a problem with that as a topic. If they were whispering in the back of church while worship elsewhere was going on, that might be a problem.

      “I believe most everyone here gets the gist.”

      I’m not sure I do. If I’ve mischaracterized you and/or CMAA, go ahead and enlighten me. I’ve stated my take: I think talking about the human element of liturgy is within appropriate bounds and says nothing about the possibility the talkers are focused too little on Christ.

  12. The best reason for the Sanctus bells: they’re a lot of fun for the altar boys. Ever since the shift to Paul VI’s mass, there’s been precious little left for those poor kids to do.

    All in all, quite an interesting conversation. I was actually encouraged that the panellists favoured ‘bending the rules’ and ‘not following all the norms.’ I’d encourage priests not only to leave out the Sign of Peace (which is allowed), but also to skip the Bidding Prayers (Prayers of the Faithful) and ‘Memorial Acclamation’ (which aren’t), both of which I think are extremely intrusive and distracting. Maybe they can devote the time they’ve saved to using the Roman Canon, so rarely heard in most parishes, and the people can actually hear the names of some saints. Another way to let them do that: use the ‘real’ Confiteor, not the Paul VI/Bugnini version. In other words, be creative.
    Perhaps, in a much more timid way, this is what the priest Eliot Kapitan complained about was thinking when he used gestures and actions specified in the 1962 Missal that are not mentioned (but not forbidden) by Paul VI’s missal.

    One thing that strikes me as odd is that whenever we hear about ‘inculturation’ it’s about Zaire or gospel music or the far East. Not long ago I went to a performance of Fauré’s Requiem—I say ‘performance’ because that’s what it was: a concert, not a mass. I was well into my 40s before I had the chance to actually participate in a Mass that used music by a classical composer. Fact is, for those of us who live in the west, the old rites that Paul VI tried to ban are an intrinsic part of our culture—hence the famous ‘Agatha Christie’ letter. But we’ve been forcibly de-culturated.

    Finally, I’d be curious what people thought about Mr Kapitan’s comment, ‘We [professional liturgists] know too much’ (23:02). Do they really?

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