In recent weeks, #BlackLivesMatter has prompted Catholics like me to learn about and examine racism in the Church in America. Inspired by reading lists on Black Catholics put together by U.S. Catholic and Dr. Tia Noelle Pratt, and for my own learning, I decided to compile a list of readings on African American liturgy which I share here.
The articles in this list prioritize Black authors, Black experiences, and highlight ways in which racism is intertwined with liturgical practices and the historical development of liturgies in America. They show that liturgical development is not “organic” but influenced by particular social and political forces in history, that liturgical inculturation is a means of acquiring racial justice, and that African American worship is not monolithic.
In parishes, racial justice is often left to social justice ministries, but this should not be the case. Readers will find in many of these articles that injustice is most visible (or invisible) in worship. In sharing this bibliography, I hope that liturgical ministers can use some of these readings for liturgical formation just as teachers may use them to diversify their classroom curriculum.
This list is by no means comprehensive; I welcome relevant additions. Please comment below if you have suggestions and I’ll be happy to include them.
Cressler, M.J. “Black Power, Vatican II, and the Emergence of Black Catholic Liturgies.” U.S. Catholic Historian 32 no. 4 (2014): 99-119. doi:10.1353/cht.2014.0027.
Gregory, Wilton D. “Black Catholic Liturgy: What Do You Say It Is?” U.S. Catholic Historian 7, no. 2/3 (1988): 316-21. www.jstor.org/stable/25153838.
Harris, Kim R. “Sister Thea Bowman: Liturgical Justice Through Black Sacred Song.” U.S. Catholic Historian 35, no. 1 (2017): 99–124. doi: 10.1353/cht.2017.0005.
James P Lyke, “Liturgical Expression in the Black Community,” Worship 57 (1983): 14-25. (added 24/6/20)
Rivers, Clarence Joseph. “Freeing the Spirit: Very Personal Reflections on One Man’s Search for the Spirit in Worship” U.S. Catholic Historian 19, No. 2 (2001): 95-143. www.jstor.org/stable/25154770. (added 22/6/20)
Rivers, Clarence Joseph. “Thank God We Ain’t What We Was: The State of the Liturgy in the Black Catholic Community.” U.S. Catholic Historian 5, no. 1 (1986): 81-89. www.jstor.org/stable/25153745.
Whitt, D. Reginald. “Varietates Legitimae and an African-American Liturgical Tradition.” Worship 71 (1997): 504-537.
A series of debates in Plenty Good Room. (added 6/24/20)
Cyprian Lamar Rowe, “A Tale of War, A Tale of Woe,” Plenty Good Room 2 (Sept-Oct 1994): 10-13; J.-Glenn Murray, “Give and Take,” Plenty Good Room 2 (Nov-Dec 1994): 6-10; Cyprian Lamar Rowe, “A Tale of War, A Tale of Woe, Continued,” Plenty Good Room 4 (Mar-Apr 1995): 9-13; J.-Glenn Murray, “Doing the Rite Thing,” Plenty Good Room 4 (May-June 1996): 3-13; Richard McCarron, “Response to the Tales of War and Woe,” Plenty Good Room 4 (Sept-Oct 1996): 3-10; Cyprian Lamar Rowe, “How Long, O Lord, How Long?” Plenty Good Room 5 (Jul-Aug 1997): 3-11; Richard McCarron, “Response to Cyprian Lamar Rowe’s ‘How Long O Lord?’ Plenty Good Room 5 (Jul-Aug 1997): 12; J.-Glenn Murray, “Response to Cyprian Lamar Rowe’s ‘How Long O Lord?’” Plenty Good Room 5 (Jul-Aug 1997): 12-13; Joseph Brown, “To Sit at the Welcome Table,” Plenty Good Room 5 (Nov-Dec 1997): 9-15; Scott Haldemann, “Forging a New Self,” Plenty Good Room 5 (Mar-Apr 1998): 2-5.
Black Bishops of the United States. ‘What We Have Seen and Heard’: A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization from the Black Bishops of the United States. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press. 1984.
Black Liturgy Subcommittee, NCCB. In Spirit and Truth: Black Catholic Reflections on the Order of Mass. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1987.
National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Plenty Good Room: The Spirit and Truth of African American Catholic Worship. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1991.
See also: Gregory, Wilton D. “Overview of Plenty of Good Room: The Spirit and Truth of African American Catholic Worship” in The Liturgy Documents, Volume Four. 264-268. Chicago: Liturgical Training Publications, 2013.
Bowman, Thea. “The Gift of African American Sacred Song” in Lead Me, Guide Me: The African American Catholic Hymnal. Chicago: GIA Publications, 1987.
Eugene, Toinette M. “Between ‘Lord Have Mercy!’ and ‘Thank You, Jesus!’:Liturgical Renewal and African American Catholic Assemblies.” In Taking Down Our Harps: Black Catholics in the United States, 163–175. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1998.
Glenn V. Jeanmarie, “Black Catholic Worship Celebrating Roots and Wings,” in Theology: A Portrait in Black. 75-90. Washington D.C.: National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, 1980. (added 6/24/20)
Harris, Kim R. “Creating and Reclaiming Our Welcome: Listening Back and Ahead to the Sound of Our Prayer.” In Fully Conscious, Fully Active: Essays in Honor of Gabe Huck, ed. Bryan Cones and Stephen Burns, 53-66. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2019.
Holmes, Barbara A. “Come Ye Disconsolate: Contemplation in Black Church Congregational Life.” In Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church (2nd Edition), 67-92. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2017.
Johnson, Kevin P. “African American Scared Music in Catholic Worship: Core of African American Survival in America.” In Uncommon Faithfulness: The Black Catholic Experience, ed. M. Shawn Copeland, LaReine-Marie Mosely, S.N.D., and Albert J. Raboteau. 181-194. New York: Orbis Books, 2009.
Pratt, Tia Noelle. 2019. “Black Catholics’ Identity Work”, in PP 132-152 in AmericanParishes: Remaking Local Catholicism, eds. Gary Adler, Tricia C. Bruce, and Brian Starks. New York, NY: Fordham University Press. https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/2325129/pdf
[Available online for FREE during the pandemic]
Spencer, Jon Michael. “The Roman Catholic Church” in Black Hymnody: a Hymnological History of the African-American Church. 1st ed.,182-199. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992.
Bellow, Kathleen Dorsey. “The African American Catholic Assembly Towards ‘full, Conscious, and Active’ Participation in Liturgical Celebration and Black Life.” D.Min. Thesis. Catholic Theological Union at Chicago, 2004.
Brown, Joseph A., and Fernand Cheri. Sweet, Sweet Spirit: Prayer Services from the Black Catholic Church. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2006. (added 22/6/20)
Hayes, Diana L. 2012. Forged in the Fiery Furnace: African American Spirituality. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2012.
McGann, Mary E., Lumas, Eva Marie, and Harbor, Ronald D. Let It Shine!: the Emergence of African American Catholic Worship. Ashland, Ohio: Fordham University Press, 2008.
Moore, Cecilia Annette., White, C. Vanessa, and Marshall, Paul M. Songs of Our Hearts, Meditations of Our Souls: Prayers for Black Catholics. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2006.
National Office for Black Catholics and the Liturgical Conference, This Far by Faith: American Black Worship and Its African Roots. Washington D.C.: The Liturgical Conference, 1977. (added 24/6/20)
Rivers, Clarence Joseph. Soulfull worship. Washington D.C.: National Office for Black Catholics, 1974. (added 22/6/20)
Rivers, Clarence Joseph. The Spirit in Worship. Cincinnati: Rivers, 1979. (added 22/6/20)
GIA Publications. Lead Me, Guide Me: The African American Catholic Hymnal. Chicago: GIA Publications, 1987. [See introductory essays.]
Brown, Grayson Warren, “Shaken up so we can pour ourselves out.” National Catholic Reporter, August 2010. (added 6/24/20)
Brown, Joseph A. “Come by Here” The Sankofa Muse, 2013. (added 22/6/20)
Pratt, Tia Noelle. “Authentically Black, Truly Catholic: Liturgy & Identity in African-American Parish Life” Commonweal, April 2020.
Pratt, Tia Noelle. “Racism and the Liturgy: Q&A with a Sociologist.” Pray Tell Blog, November 2018.