QUAERITUR: The “liturgist”

You know the jokes…

What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?  …


You find yourself with two terrorists and liturgist and only have two bullets in your gun….

So, today I received this question:

Fr. Z,
                I deeply love the liturgy and am greatly saddened at the improper celebration of it that is so common in America.  I have been considering this step for some time now and have decided, through prayer, to begin looking more seriously at the possibility of actualizing it.  Curious yet?  I wanted to inquire about becoming a liturgist.  I know, properly speaking, the job should fall to priests.  However, I don’t believe that seminaries are doing the job they ought to be (I have some good evidence of this from my seminarian friends).  From what I have seen there is no degree offered for liturgists, but there ought to be a field of study and a validation format so that some crazy person cannot read some books and insert their own slanted opinion of the liturgy.

I ask for two reasons, one is concern for some people who call themselves liturgists and the other is to ensure that if I pursue this desire, that I do so within orthodoxy and in line with the magisterium.  Thank you for your time in reading and answering my question.

I admire your courage!


Yes, degrees are given in liturgical studies.  For example, at Sant’Anselmo in Rome you can get just about any sort of training you want, good, bad or indifferent, depending on your desire to work hard and keep your head clear of some of the strangeness you are still bound to encounter.
Perhaps others would like to chime in about programs for degrees in liturgy.

In the meantime, I have often mused about the need for a new order of priests called the Rubricians.  Their apostolate would be to save the world through saving the liturgy.  Thus, they go forth to teach clerics and seminarians to say the black and, well.. just do the red, if you get my drift.   Their habit would be a black Roman cassock, trimed in, of course, red, and with a fascia of, of course, red and a black biretta…. which could be trimmed as well.

But, in in the meantime, I suppose you can start be studying liturgy. 

Learn Latin and Greek, friend, along with Itailan, French and German.  Start now.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. xathar says:

    Catholic University of America also grants ecclesiastical degrees (STL, STD) in Liturgical Studies.

  2. Tim Ferguson says:

    There is a very good liturgical studies institute on the campus of Mundelein Seminary, outside of Chicago. I would also encourage your correspondent to consider examining studies in canon law. There is a lot of crossover between the law and the liturgy. Liturgists should have a solid grounding in canon law.

    From a practical standpoint, I think the Church needs more liturgists with canon law degrees – and you’re more likely to have yourself taken seriously if you’re interested in work at a diocesan level.

  3. sacerdosinaeternum says:

    I second Tim’s comment. While at the Sacred Music Colloquium in Chicago this summer, I was able to visit the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein. There are great things happening there. They think with the Church, love the Holy Father’s teaching, and I think that they will produce many servants of the reform of the reform. I can’t say many good things about San Anselmo. From what I understand, a good program of studies in the Sacred Liturgy is being developed at Santa Croce in Rome with Opus Dei.

  4. In all charity, and speaking as layman who has a graduate degree in theology…

    The two biggest problems in the Church today are: priests who don’t live their vocations; laymen who don’t live their vocations.

    Don’t belittle the countless laymen whose labor and contributions made possible the beauty of the Church. It isn’t priests, bishops, cardinals, or popes, and CERTAINLY NOT liturgists, who finance the building of the great churches, works of art, vestments, etc., etc. It is the laymen. It is only tiny handful of clerics who painted and sculpted the great master works that give glory to the great churches, basilicas, and oratories. The vast majority of the greatest liturgical works of art were crafted by laymen. I know of no clerical architects, but I know a half dozen lay architects designing wonderful ecclesiastical structures, such as the project for Clear Creek Monastery. Those laymen are making a far greater impact on Catholic liturgy than any liturgist, and countless other “lay ecclesial ministers”, with whom I’ve ever had the displeasure of coming in to contact.

    Laymen who want to do these kinds of things I think reveals a bit of unconscious clericalism. We laymen have been given the impression (unfortunately quite often on some Catholic blogs) that only priests can make a significant impact on the liturgy. That isn’t want I encounter in looking at the history of the Church. I certainly haven’t encountered it here in South Bend, Indiana, where the laymen of the Church, and a handful of students at Notre Dame, made the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite flourish in the area.

    If you want to bring about good liturgy, first be a good layman. Fight the battles that laymen must fight with the courage that befits the Catholic laity.

    I would suggest that you pursue architecture, music, or business, the most practical field for the laymen who wants to influence, by financing, Catholic art and liturgy.

  5. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I wonder if our friend would benefit from knowing the types of programs out there, both degree and non-degree programs. Many dioceses have programs to train liturgists for parishes but there are also very formal advanced graduate degrees. What exactly the end-goal is will help to inform what sort of program of studies to begin.

  6. Ioannes Andreades says:

    “…some crazy person cannot read some books and insert their own slanted opinion of the liturgy.”

    I knew a priest who used to joke that you had to receive a B- or lower from a certain liturgy professor in order to consider yourself Catholic.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    This question is along the lines of something I have been thinking about more and more. The rarely-seen-in-your-average-parish Master of Ceremonies. My limited research (“Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite”) has so far shown that the parish MC can be a layman. I thought about suggesting the idea and volunteer at my local parish, but I figure I would meet with all sorts of resistance as I attempt to rein in the liturgical dancers and such!

  8. Phillip says:

    Reverend Father,
    May I ask where one can find info on the Rubricians? Is there a website? I googled it but nothing came up. They sound pretty interesting, and I want to check them out. Thanks.

  9. Geoffrey says:

    Phillip: There is no such thing. Fr. Z was simply musing. He said: “I have often mused about the need for a new order of priests called the Rubricians. Their apostolate would be…”

    Perhaps that is your calling, Father… “Founder of the Order of Rubricians Minor” or “ORM”! ;-) [Minor? Maximal!]

  10. There are many theology programs in which you can specialize in liturgy. Notre Dame among them. You’ll need to think carefully about what kind of career you want. If you want to teach at a seminary and do research on liturgy, you’ll really need a Ph.D. (or an ecclesiastical degree like the S.T.L. or S.T.D.). I don’t know what the job market is like, but I imagine it’s not much better than that for philosophy Ph.D.’s. That means you’ll need to go to a top school in order to make a decent living at it. Also, as a rule of thumb for humanities degrees, if you’re looking to make a living as a professor when you get out, you should be able to win full funding and a stipend from the university at which you are studying. That’s a sign that they believe you’re a quality candidate.

    There are a few people who work as parish or diocesan liturgists. For that an M.Div. might be more appropriate (or an M.A. sufficient), along with a great deal of practical experience. Depending on your age and state of life, you may want to consider becoming a permanent deacon.

  11. Henri says:

    Father: why Italian, French and German? What in particular in those languages needs to be read? [These are the main languages of research for liturgy.]

  12. oleksander says:

    yeah I can see Latin and Italian, but French and German? Wouldn’t Spanish be better? [No.]

  13. MJL says:

    Could someone tell me what a “liturgist” is? I once took a nightclass in beginner’s applied physics – does that make me a Physicist? I think “liturgists” must be some kind of American invention – certainly at parochial level. In the UK we just have old-fashioned parish busybodies who make the clergy’s lives a misery with their puerile (usually protestant inspired) liturgical likes and dislikes. God save us from such nonsense!

  14. I’m not an expert on the topic, but French, German, and English are the standard scholarly languages in Western Europe. Spanish might substitute for German for particular topics (e.g. Carmel, Mazorabic liturgy), it will depend on the topic of the research you intend to undertake. Latin and Italian are clearly also essential for work in Liturgy. Greek you’ll need for scripture, the Greek Fathers, and the Greek Liturgy. Usually learning Latin and two modern languages is a requirement for a Ph.D. in Catholic theology. Greek is, I believe, a requirement for the S.T.D.

    If you’re studying Eastern Liturgy, you’d need to learn the language associated with the rite your studying. Those studying the Byzantine rite (even outside of the Russian liturgies themselves) should, writes Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ also know Russian:

    Names like Almazov, Dmitrievskij, Krasnosel’tsev, Muretov, Orlov, Petrovskij, Skaballanovich, Turaev, have rendered it hazardous today to undertake any serious scientific study of Byzantine liturgy without knowing Russian. (Taft, Note 10)

  15. Cornelius says:

    “You find yourself with two terrorists and liturgist and only have two
    bullets in your gun…”

    How does the rest of it go? I’ve never heard this one.

  16. An unbelievable amount of scholarly literature on the Roman Rite has been composed in French and German (French especially), as well as Italian. Father is correct. Indeed, you can’t do serious liturgy work without those five languages. I remember being shocked that a “liturgist” I knew in college had a rudimentary (at best) grasp of Latin. He didn’t know the language of his own Rite.

  17. xathar says:

    Latin is usually a prerequisite for beginning an STL program. Greek and one modern language are necessary to graduate with an STL. An STD requires another modern language.

  18. xathar says:

    Also, a degree in Liturgical Studies involves the study of liturgical practice from an historical perspective from which various principles of liturgical theology are deduced, proffered, and proposed.

  19. RBrown says:

    An unbelievable amount of scholarly literature on the Roman Rite has been composed in French and German (French especially), as well as Italian. Father is correct. Indeed, you can’t do serious liturgy work without those five languages. I remember being shocked that a “liturgist” I knew in college had a rudimentary (at best) grasp of Latin. He didn’t know the language of his own Rite.
    Comment by Dr. Lee Fratantuono

    There are universities granting pontifical degrees (incl the doctorate) to candidates who cannot read the source text. And it goes beyond pontifical degrees. I knew one man with a doctorate from SLU in medieval history (with a tesi on St Boniface) who could not read Latin at all.

    The vernacularization of the liturgy has produced an academic mess.

  20. I teach at a reasonably good liberal arts college and have never sent a student of mine to gradute school in my discipline – they simply don’t have the requisite languages to START graduate work, let alone to complete it, in European art history before the Renaissance.

    It’s not just the Church – it’s all of American education!

    The sad fact that many seminarians for 1962-oriented groups and orders are taking beginning Latin during their postulancy should scare us all! Agitate for high school Latin in your town.

  21. CK says:

    Could we at least start with diocesan rules about who CANNOT be in charge of individual parish liturgies?? So often it is the liberal sister “pastoral assistant” who is left to organize things according to her preferences…or the music ministers…or just some overly anxious persons who find an opening with pastors who don’t want to worry over such “minute” and/or “trivial” matters. It has seemed in the past few decades that what is most influential in so called qualification to do such is only some kind of demonstrated outward ENTHUSIASM or zeal or ignorant stubborness!

  22. chironomo says:

    It’s strange that in the modern Church, the title of liturgist, or Director of Liturgy, is often applied to the Director of Music. Although I have a considerable background in things liturgical, I’m not sure why these two are combined. To me, the “liturgical” preparation part of my job usually requires little more than consulting the appropriate liturgical books or documents. Is the degree just to give the appearance of credibility or something? What would this “liturgist” do? Is there really such an official title in the Catholic Church, or is it something like “Pastoral Minister”?

  23. Sid says:

    1. made up of lay, religious, clerical CATHOLICS (not liberals nor those who wish to be anything [Anglican, Protestant, Gay Pride] other than Roman Rite);
    2. who learn the requisite languages, or at least Latin;
    3. who receive training – and orthodox training – in the history of the Roman Rite, the Ordo of the OF and EF, chant, the various liturgical books, and orthodox and authentic Catholic liturgical theology;
    4. who pray the Office, or at least Lauds and Vespers, in community and sponsor Holy Hours; and
    5. who along with clergy and minor orders serve as sacristans, vergers, sextons, MCs, ushers, cantors, schola members, members of altar societies, and experts and consultants on liturgy – including teaching in seminaries.

  24. “What would this ‘liturgist’ do?”

    Train altar servers; train lectors; hold rehearsals for couples getting married and for catachumens; act as master of ceremonies for pontifical ceremonies, solemn Masses, and holidays (Easter Vigil, Holy Thursday, etc.); order liturgical supplies and undertake other duties of the sacristan or sexton; etc. Whether all this makes sense as a job or can be done by volunteers depends on the talents of the pastor, number of other priests available, availability and talents of volunteers, size of the parish, and more.

  25. dymphna says:

    I’ve often wondered what a liturgist was.

  26. Ed the Roman says:

    For the “two bullets” joke, wait until the liturgist has led one of the terrorists to despair and suicide, then finish the other two.

  27. Romulus says:

    Cornelius: you shoot the liturgist — twice.

  28. JPG says:

    This post reminds me of Martin Mosebach’s comments that the layman with traditionalist sympathies needed to become an expert in Liturgy to combat the various abuses. I find myself doing the same thing.
    Currently I am reading Dom Prosper Gueranger’s Holy Mass as well as Fortescue’s study in the Mass recently released by Preserving Christian Publications. Both of these are awe inspiring books. I will never aspire to the Academic levels to which Fr Z suggests but such sources provide me with much needed edification. I also do not relish the role of Parish busybody. However in defense of the busybody, these people may provide some sense of the faithful which has sadly been ignored through so many wreckovations and tabernacle movements. A general rebellion against the removal of altar rails and the like is what was needed in the 1980’s
    Fairfield, CT

  29. Frank H says:

    And in response to “What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? ”

    Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist!

  30. David Andrew says:

    To tag onto Chironomo’s comments, I’ve served as a director of liturgy and music in several Catholic parishes, but currently am only a music director. When I was doing both, I was fully steeped in the “NPM” post-conciliar “spirit of VCII” mindset, and would probably have given a pass to many of the things I now recognize (after several years of intense personal study of the documents, commentaries, and participation in blogs and forums such as this one) as horrible abuses.

    What I continue to find disturbing is that, as a Catholic musician who out of necessity has needed to stay current in liturgical matters, I continue to find myself better versed in liturgics and the very basics of sacramental theology than our deacon who is in charge of liturgy, or indeed our sacramental preparation instructor. Her “education” in particular is stuck in the ’80’s, as is her understanding of the Mass and the other sacraments.

    At this point in my life, as much as I’d love to seek out a degree in liturgics, I really don’t see the point. I agree with David Werling’s comments that as a lay person I can do my own kind of good work, but ultimately it is up to those in holy orders (all the way up to the Holy Father) to see to the safeguarding of the liturgy of the Church.

    However, I’m all for forming a Confraternity of Rubricians (if there’d be a lay order), or a third order (oblates) of Rubricians.

  31. Larry says:

    I find myself in a peculiar situation. I have always advocated education and made certain that my own children got as much as they could stand, much of it on their own dime. But when it comes to this topic and a few others I find that it is this piece of paper marking someone as educated or more commonly an “expert” I cringe. We are just now emerging from the era of DRE’s who were educated and nearly destroyed the Faith. It is precisely the “experts” of the liturgical movement who have caused most of the problems we see before us. So my gut feeling is that we have had enough of experts in liturgy and the death of the liturgical movement might be the most glorious passing of our age. That being said of course we need people who are faithfilled and faithful to help our priests and parishes provide the proper worship of God as provided by the Church in her liturgical books. For the most part this involves reading the books and doing what the books tell us. In some instances it is good to be able to see what the official Latin text say as there are currently some errors or at least inconsistencies between the official text and the one ICEL had provided in the 1970’s. Most of these problems should disappear with the publication of the new Missal in about two years. Of course the issues will not go away until the priests decide to obey. As regards the TLM a liturgist is completely dependent on either a very good knowledge of Latin and or a faithful priest who guides him or her in what is to be done.

    “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

  32. Paul says:

    It is worthwhile to know that the Roman University of the Holy Cross has established a liturgy degree. It is only just beginning, but if they bring to the Liturgy what they have brought to Canon Law, we can expect many wonderful things!

  33. Barloga says:

    What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? …

    You can negotiate with a terrorist.

  34. Ed says:

    Larry: I enjoy your usage of Pope’s epigram, and I think the three following lines answer part of our concern: “A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow drafts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.” The more deeply we plunge into these texts we become–at least if we are honest with ourselves–more orthodox. Anyway, here’s a sad state of affairs: I know of a man who loves the liturgy and is concerned with its proper celebration. He applied for the deaconate and was turned down because “the Mass is such a small part of a deacon’s call as to be negligible–he is to serve.” My hope is that a greater discussion on the liturgy, such as the re-reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium requested by our Holy Father, will help all of the faithful to realize that we are ALL called to the GREAT service of the liturgy.

  35. Mitchell says:

    He has a lot of courage to want that job. Better to apply for the Lturgical Police for enforcement issues. It will be a steady job with a probable retirement plan.

  36. Bos Mutus says:

    I couldn’t resist submitting a couple of anagrams I’ve come up with for the term PROFESSIONAL LITURGIST.



    “ELITISTS PLAN FOR OUR G-I-S*” *where “G-I-S” is an initialism for “Gastro-Intestinal Sickness” — Do initialisms count in anagrams?

    or (for those who like a Shakespearean flair)

    “SPITEFUL LIARS! GO ON — STIR!” (OK, doesn’t make much sense, but isn’t that consistent with most contemporary liturgies?)

  37. Bosco Peters says:

    I know the difference between a liturgist & a terrorist…
    but please tell me the two bullets one…

    Do you want to encourage praying the Liturgy of the Hours?
    I’ve just created a badge for blogs and websites.
    Please have a look here:
    Let me know if there are any issues with this – size, etc.

  38. CarpeNoctem says:

    What is the difference between a liturgist and an onion?

    People cry when they chop up the onion.

  39. PNP, OP says:

    My fav: what’s the difference btw a religious sister liturgist and a pit bull dog? The Chanel suit and impeccable makeup.

  40. James Gavin says:

    Larry’s comments are well taken. What is needed in regards to experts are that those experts be properly educated. By this I do not mean simply a College degree since those with Modernist understanding of things will likely be in charge of that persons education. I use the term Modernist loosely not meaning to indict or impugn with a formal charge of heresy but instead those with the current worldview of NEW-good , OLD-bad with little PROPER formation in Tradition or theology. In independent studyy and granted reading Fortescue , Ratzinger, Gamber and Guarini perhaps is leading my own bias but what was done to the Liturgy in the 1960’s by Bugnini et al seems preposterous to say the least. What I have learned is that the liturgy is not mine and any changes are to betaken with great discretion. One is a servent of the Liturgy. It is mine only in that I bend to it. It is something given by the Lord Himself to us, thus any change must be undertaken with great discretion. One should also read Alcuin Reid’s book on the organic development of the Liturgy.
    I say this in that these authors articulated what I myself have felt for years as one reared with a memory only of the new Mass. I have watched in horror as people treat the Mass and the the Blessed Sacrament as merely our weekly Parish get together with no sense of awe.

  41. Agellius says:

    Cornelius: You find yourself with two terrorists and liturgist and only have two bullets in your gun…

    “. . . use both on the liturgist. The terrorists will be more respectful during your negotiations–in fact, they might be grateful!”

    I got this from: http://dad29.blogspot.com/2008/08/another-liturgeist-joke.html

  42. Jason Keener says:

    “A liturgist is an affliction sent by God so that Catholics living in a time when there is no overt persecution need not be denied the privilege of suffering for the Faith.” – Christopher Derrick

  43. Samuel Orsot says:

    I think at the end of the day, the burden of sin for abuses committed during Holy Mass falls on the celebrating priest and the parish priest. A priest has to know what is going on or what his “liberal liturgist” planned. He’s the one saying the Mass. If he chooses to remain ignorant of it, that’s his business, but the burden of sin, in my mind, still falls on him.

    Does anyone know of any universities in the Louisiana/Texas region in which they offer classes on canon law?

  44. James Netusil says:

    Please don’t think that every liturgist of the 90’s or 2000’s is a terrorist – and quite frankly that joke is offensive to many of us. There are those of us who are collaborative and orthodox. However, I don’t believe that one should assume seminaries aren’t training priests well – I am in seminary now and the liturgical training is very orthodox and detailed. I’m sorry for your friends who are in a poor seminary, but it isnt the case in most. If you want to be a GOOD liturgist, find a liturgy mentor and learn from them. Books are fine – but learning on the job is better.

  45. Samuel Orsot says:

    I can’t agree with you more. Maybe Fr. Z. can chime in here, but the burden of sin falls on the priest saying the Mass, and his superiors in a position to oversee how he does the Mass. The Mass is like a knife. When used rightly, it can be a tool that you wonder how you could have ever lived without, or it can be a weapon that when used wrongly, that leaves people wounded, hurt, and filled with despair. A liturgist too is like that weapon. The priest must make darn sure that they do their job reverently and correctly, so that the faith is strengthened. Failure to do so leads to the results we have seen.

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