Professional Liturgist

Can anyone tell me what a professional liturgist is and the role that they have? I have never heard this term used until recently and was wondering what role and authority they have.

It’s someone who’s in charge of setting up liturgical celebrations. Assuming it’s a layman, he’ll have only as much authority as the priest gives him. In practice, plenty of priests are more than happy not to have to deal with the specifics of what music is chosen, what altar decorations are used, which Mass the baptisms will be celebrated at, and so on.

Thanks for the quick response Mark. I guess my confusion lies with the term professional. I had also assumed that they played some role in the liturgy of the word.

On another forum someone represented themselves as being a professional liturgist and that they were quite upset with the new liturgy that is being introduced. I am surprised that I have not heard this term used.

“Professional” really just means that you’re paid. In my fairly limited experience with professional liturgists, it’s somewhat like being a sacristan, except with more planning responsibilities and fewer caretaking responsibilities. The Pope, of course, has a professional liturgist, Msgr Guido Marini – not everyone can quite afford to have an archbishop in charge of planning the liturgy, tough.

It’s tough to judge individuals (or the term) in isolation. There’s definitely a perception that a lot of “professional liturgists” have graduate degrees from liberal programs, see themselves as part of the “lay revolution” in the church, and wind up as autocrats in their little fiefdoms. I’m sure there’s some measure of truth to that, although, minus the M.A. in liturgy, that likewise describes plenty of “old hens’ societies” that have run parish affairs since time immemorial.

Because of that perception, there is a certain backlash that asks why a graduate degree is needed to do the red and say the black.

(For those unfamiliar with that saying, doing the red means following the rubrics, which are the instructions printed in red in the Missal, and reading the words of the prayers printed in black exactly as they are, without any changes on the fly.)


There’s a ton that goes into the Mass that is not in the Missale, however. Take music, for instance. You might say, to heck with music, just do chant, the real music of the Church. Okay, who’s organizing your schola? Which of the 18 chant ordinaries do you want? Is it one the congregation has learned, or will you have to print up worship aids? What will they say, and what type of notation and translation will you provide? (Unless, of course, you’ve gone wild and picked one of the many English chant ordinaries out there.) Hopefully someone’s arranged for an organist to be present, or do you expect the congregation to sing unaccompanied? Or maybe you want a polyphonic ordinary? Or just parts?

Ask about 800 more questions like this, on topics from lilies to logistics, and you’ll have a sense of what it’s like to plan, say, the Easter Triduum.

the priest is the “professional liturgist”.
lay people can call themselves what they want, and if you parish can afford to pay somebody to fill a job description that person designs themselves, more power to you, but he is not a liturgist if he is not a priest.

Source? Or do you just have a private definition of the term “liturgist” that differs from other people’s?

how about somebody provide a quote from RS the GIRM or other official Church liturgical document defining and giving a job description for a professional lay liturgist.

It’s probably in the same section as the job description for a parish secretary and the bylaws of the altar society.

A professional liturgist, as near as I can gather, is someone whose job is to introduce a bunch of nut stuff into the liturgy, and then patiently explain to the hoi polloi, using small words, why their opinion that the stuff is nutty doesn’t count.

While it does not specifically treat the matter of “professional liturgist”, RS does make some observations regarding a diocesan liturgical commission, which, more often than not, is composed primarily of laity:

25.] Commissions as well as councils or committees established by the Bishop to handle “the promotion of the Liturgy, sacred music and art in his diocese” should act in accordance with the intentions and the norms of the Bishop; they must rely on his authority and his approval so that they may carry out their office in a suitable manner 58 and so that the effective governance of the Bishop in his diocese will be preserved. As regards all these sorts of bodies and other entities and all undertakings in liturgical matters, there has long been the need for the Bishops to consider whether their working has been fruitful thus far, 59 and to consider carefully which changes or improvements should be made in their composition and activity 60 so that they might find new vigor. It should be borne in mind that the experts are to be chosen from among those whose soundness in the Catholic faith and knowledge of theological and cultural matters are evident.

RS takes it statements from Sacrosanctum Concilium, which states that:

  1. It is desirable that the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, set up a liturgical commission, to be assisted by experts in liturgical science, sacred music, art and pastoral practice. So far as possible the commission should be aided by some kind of Institute for Pastoral Liturgy, consisting of persons who are eminent in these matters, and including laymen as circumstances suggest. Under the direction of the above-mentioned territorial ecclesiastical authority the commission is to regulate pastoral-liturgical action throughout the territory, and to promote studies and necessary experiments whenever there is question of adaptations to be proposed to the Apostolic See.
  1. For the same reason every diocese is to have a commission on the Sacred Liturgy under the direction of the bishop, for promoting the liturgical apostolate.

Sometimes it may be expedient that several dioceses should form between them one single commission which will be able to promote the Liturgy by common consultation.

  1. Besides the commission on the Sacred Liturgy, every diocese, as far as possible, should have commissions for sacred music and sacred art.

These three commissions must work in closest collaboration; indeed it will often be best to fuse the three of them into one single commission.

Even though the documents do not specifically state that individual parishes should have such a committee, many of them do. Mine, in fact, just started to have one. It is important, however, that there is someone, whether lay man or priest, who has read the authoritative documents of the Church so as to offer guidance on what can and cannot be done. Lamentably, there are still some priests, and I have personally experienced this, who seem to view the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as some free form exercise of creativity, deviating from the norms and imbedding and inserting things based on their personal idiosyncracies. There needs to be a stop-gap measure, even if it does not necessarily come from the local Ordinary.

Puzzleannie, consider yourself highly blessed with whom you have as your Ordinary. I know that he will not let things get out of hand. He is very astute and very faithful. :thumbsup:

I have never gotten paid for the work I have done, either at the diocesan level or at the parochial level, save maybe for something during Christmas. I have fought hard to maintain the integrity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not introducing nutty stuff that would blight the sacred liturgy in any way. In fact, I have had quite a few battles with the nuns on the nature of the so-called “liturgical dance”, with the medical community regarding bringing up a replica of a human brain and a stethescope as part of the offertory during the White Mass and a federal judge who wanted to do something strange for the Red Mass.

Believe me, at the risk of dating myself, I have had to adopt the Hall and Oates mantra of “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” several times.

What I am saying is that please don’t lump people who plan liturgies into one category. There are quite a few of us who will sacrifice ourselves to maintain the integrity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and try our best to the point of migraines to keep the shenanigans out of there.

MarkThompson has a really good answer for this. Or, I suppose one could ask for a really minimalist approach, why does a priest need a graduate degree (or even college) to simply do the red and say the black? Can’t every other ministry of the church be done by laypeople anyway?

If the parish priest/pastor ultimately stands in the place of the bishop and is responsible for everything that goes on, he does need extensive training and experience in scripture, tradition, theology, philosophy, pastoral realities, etc. Except that he can’t DO everything, and therefore entrusts the responsibilities of certain spheres (like liturgy) to someone else of comparable or better training and experience. Someone who has an MM in Liturgical Music is a professional who is far better equipped to recruit, rehearse, and schedule musicians for all masses and handle the details of the countless weddings (and often ridiculous but well-intentioned special requests); similarly, someone with an MA in Theology/Liturgical Studies is far better equipped to handle the details of the RCIA rites, as well as to recruit, schedule and instruct the servers to do this-because-that.

Basically, liturgists are there to make sound liturgical decisions with the mind of the Church under the authority of the pastor. They’re not people you want to bash.

As a paid Pastoral Associate/Liturgist I thank you for your great remarks. I do have an MAs in Theology/Liturgical Studies (2 degrees) and a Doctor of Ministry. I prepare all the ltiurgies in the parish, coordinate all liturgical ministries, and do serve on the diocesan liturgy commission and the RCIA committee and teach liturgy in our lay ministry institute and train liturgical ministers for the diocese. As part of my job I also am responsible for education on the liturgy through writings and courses. I say all this to show that good ltiurgy requires more than just doing the red and saying the black. Our parish priests don’t have the time (and some don’t have the education) to do all the other stuff that needs to be done. I can tell you that my work is much appreciated. Anyone who says it should be simple to prepare liturgical celebrations obviously hasn’t. Our priests show up for Mass knowing everything is in place, all the books and arrangements are made, all the ministers know what they are to do, and that any “extras” are taken care of. They can then focus on celebrating the Mass.

As a professional church musician myself, I understand the complexities of putting together finely tuned liturgy. The comment I made about doing the red and saying the black really needs to be taken in conjunction with the antecedent comment from MarkThompson:

There’s definitely a perception that a lot of “professional liturgists” have graduate degrees from liberal programs, see themselves as part of the “lay revolution” in the church, and wind up as autocrats in their little fiefdoms.


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