Submitting Institution

University of Cambridge

Unit of Assessment

Theology and Religious Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Catherine Pickstock's metaphysical approach to liturgical texts and her associated critique of middle to late twentieth century Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgical revision, have influenced recent liturgical revisions in several Christian denominations and several languages. Her work has impacted upon civil society, specifically the mediation of cultural capital as found in (1) liturgical practice; (2) the training of seminarians worldwide (with Granada and Cambridge as examples); (3) the way in which new priests are taught to celebrate the liturgy; (4) the way liturgy is thought about by practitioners, laity and non-religious people; and (5) public discourse. This impact is attested by citations in published liturgical revision commentaries, bibliographies from training institutions, testimonies, blogs and other discussion forums, as well as by the range of international public lectures, interviews and other kinds of extra-academic engagement she has been invited to give.

Underpinning research

Catherine Pickstock has been a member of the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, since October 1995, holding the position of Reader since 2008.

Pickstock's research on liturgical form and revision was published in her book After Writing (1998) and in a series of related articles. In these she re-evaluates the philosophical and cultural assumptions underlying the liturgical reform informed by the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, as well as its charter in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the Church of England's Liturgical Commission in the late 1970s, and offers a philosophico-theological proposal that liturgy be reinstated as a fundamental theological nexus between metaphysical insight and embodied practice.

Inter alia, Pickstock argues:

  1. that liturgical texts are a fundamental site for the imparting of theology;
  2. that liturgical performance is in a certain sense the acme of theological reflection, rather than simply its starting point or expression;
  3. that a desire to modernise liturgical language has obscured the peculiarities of liturgical language in any era;
  4. that a change or `updating' of liturgical language can result in an alteration of doctrine;
  5. that there is a need to restore a view of liturgy according to which all of life should belong to a pattern of ritual action.

Pickstock's research emphasises particular ways in which the reforms presupposed characteristically "modern" principles of epistemology at odds with ritual purpose in general, and with the specific logic of the inherited liturgical texts undergoing revision and reform. It shows how the apparent simplicity of ancient rites was mistakenly interpreted as a guide to full performance, and how the reformers projected backwards a modern preference for unambiguous words, isolated phrases and avoidance of redundancy of expression and repetition, all of which are adverse to the generation of genuine ritual effects. Through textual analysis of mediaeval and contemporary liturgical texts, her works seek to show that a complex "apophatic" liturgical theology was present in the mediaeval rites, which was itself part of a cultural understanding of doxology (or praise of the divine) which extended beyond the rite itself to inflect a way of life.

Pickstock's work is situated in a broader re-engagement of theology and society through a critique of the problems consequent upon the much-attested "disenchantment" of popular perception in "modernity". She has sought to re-assess the relationship between theology and society on various critical fronts: liturgical, political, economic, aesthetic, linguistic and musical, and has done so in part through her own academic writings, and in part through co-founding (with John Milbank and Graham Ward) the critical-theoretical theological movement known as Radical Orthodoxy in 1997 which led to two book series, a journal, countless discussion groups, conferences, engagement with various political leaders (e.g. Lord Glasman, Jon Cruddas) and think tanks (e.g. Respublica), interviews, PhD dissertations and published responses.

References to the research

1. C. Pickstock, After Writing: on the liturgical consummation of philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998) [widely reviewed; translated into Spanish, French and Serbo-Croat] ISBN: 978-0631206729

2. C. Pickstock, "Asyndeton: Syntax and Insanity: a study of the revision of the Nicene Creed", Modern Theology 10.4 (October 1994), 321-340 [international peer-reviewed article; reprinted]. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468 0025.1994.tb00043.x (published online 2008). ISSN 0266-7177/ Online ISSN: 1468-0025.


3. C. Pickstock, "A short essay on the reform of the liturgy", New Blackfriars 78. 912 (February,1997), 56-65 [international peer-reviewed journal; reprinted]. DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-2005.1997.tb07572.x (published online 2007). ISSN 0028-4289/ Online ISSN: 1741-2005.


4. C. Pickstock, Thomas d'Aquin et la quête eucharistique, Gérard Joulié, Grégory Solari tr; préface de Olivier-Thomas Venard (Genève: Ad Solem, 2001) (international peer-reviewed publisher). ISBN 2940090688

5. C. Pickstock, "Liturgy, Art and Politics", Modern Theology 16.2 (April, 2000), 159-180) DOI: 10.1111/1468-0025.00120 (published online 2002) ISSN 0266-7177/ Online ISSN:


6. C. Pickstock, "Liturgy and the Senses", South Atlantic Quarterly 109.4 (2010), 719-730 (international peer-reviewed journal) DOI 10.1215/00382876-2010-014. ISSN: 0038-2876/ Online ISSN 1527-8026.


All outputs can be supplied by the University of Cambridge on request.

Details of the impact

Pickstock's research has entered the contemporary "canon", as a reference point for clergy, ordinands and seminarians and liturgical reformers. After Writing is listed on the "Transforming Worship" website of the Church of England's Liturgical Commission and the reading list for members of the House of Bishops [1]. Her research is discussed and listed in Roman Catholic and Anglican seminary bibliographies and in standard clerical and seminary reference works, e.g. the Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (OUP, 2006) and The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (SCM, 2002) which remain in wide use and feature on standard seminary reading lists [1, 2, 3, 6].

Pickstock's theological analysis of liturgy as "impossible" and "a difficult language" (After Writing, p. 186) has been linked by the Church of England's Secretary to the Liturgical Commission with the House of Bishops' rejection of the proposed (2011) revisions of liturgical texts on the basis that they were inappropriately accessible [1]. Pickstock's insistence on the connection between liturgy, the arts and politics, and on liturgy as a fusion of the real and the ideal have been cited as an animating force behind the theme of this decade's most significant liturgical conference organised by the Liturgical Commission ("Liturgy in the Public Square" and "Liturgy with Arts and Literature", July 2013) [1].

Pickstock's analysis of the mediaeval liturgy has influenced Roman Catholic liturgical reform and practice in various ways; for example, the sustained increase in the use of the Tridentine Mass all around the world, following Pope Benedict's Summorum Pontificum Motu Proprio (2007) and Sacramentum Caritatis (2007), is attributed by Roman Catholic commentators in part to Pickstock's philosophico-theological analysis of mediaeval rites, and her critique of the Vatican II reforms [4, 6, 9; see also 2]. Her analysis of liturgical texts and critique of the reforms have influenced the International Consultation on English in the Liturgy in their recent recommendations and commentaries upon new revisions, as well as recommendations for liturgical practice, in particular the need for liturgical complexity and 'stammering' as well as the re-introduction of caesurae (2009) [3, 4; see also 1, 2]. Pickstock's work was a point of reference for the reformers during their new English translation of the Roman Catholic Novus Ordo (2010) which was issued to English-speaking Roman Catholic parishes in the USA, the UK and Australia in 2011 [3; see also 1, 2]. Her discussion of liturgical complexity and stammer has also impacted upon liturgical practice, as evinced by the Archbishop of Granada in his statement concerning his continuing liturgical practices and understanding [6].

Similarly, in the Church of England, Pickstock's work was a central point of reference for reformers during the period when the Church was active in the reform of the 1982 Alternative Service Book, leading to its publication of the new Common Worship: Services and Prayers in the Church of England, authorised for use by the General Synod since 2005, and now in circulation throughout the Anglican Communion and in daily use in parishes all over the world [1, 2]. The new practice of "silent Masses" and the introduction of the "caesura" or "Form of Preparation" (Common Worship p. 161) have been attributed to Pickstock's After Writing [1, 2], and especially her analysis of what she has identified as a "liturgical stammer" [1]. Her work has also been linked with the recent tendency to draw upon mediaeval, pre-reformation and pre-Tridentine liturgical practices, over current liturgical provision (e.g. A. Davison and A. Milbank, For the Parish: a Critique of Fresh Expressions (SCM, 2010) [1, 2].

In published overviews of Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgical revision, such as those of the International Consultation on English in the Liturgy and the Centre International d'Études Liturgiques ([3]; see also for e.g., J. S. Baldovin, Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics (Liturgical Press, 2009), ch. 1), as well as in various discussion forums, the reformers and other discussants routinely cite Pickstock's work when insisting on liturgy as a theological category, as more than a text or isolated rite, as requiring apophatic "stammering" and "recommencements" (e.g. Baldovin, esp. pp. 26-32) [also 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10]. They acknowledge their debt to her critique of the reforms for not adequately contextualising the liturgy in contemporary culture, and for raising the following questions:

  1. Do the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the subsequent reforms too easily accept "modern" preconceptions about society? [3, 4, 6, 7, 8]
  2. Does the reform of the liturgy rationalize the Mass in a way that evades its "impossibility"? [1, 4, 6]
  3. Have the strategies of translation (in the 1970s) adequately captured the genius of genres to which they were applied? (Aidan Nichols OP, Looking at the Liturgy (Ignatius, 1996), pp. 82-6 and The Catholic World Report (January 1997), pp. 58-9) [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]
  4. Was there adequate dialogue among liturgical historians, pastoral specialists and theologians in the construction of the reform? ([3, 4]; also Baldovin, Reforming the Liturgy, ch. 1, esp. pp. 26-32).

Pickstock's research and collaborative consultation have impacted upon Croatian Lutheran liturgical practice (2010-2013), and are forming the basis for a revision of the Croatian Lutheran Liturgy and pastoral practice, with greater emphasis upon liturgical complexity, stammering and caesurae, and more emphasis on the Eucharistic prayer and communal contemplation than had been usual for Croatian Lutheran liturgical practice. Her work has also led to more lay attention to the theological nature and purpose of liturgy [5].

Pickstock's research is central to the training of seminarians in Granada, especially since the translation of After Writing (Herder, 2006) made her work more accessible. It has decisively impacted upon the way in which new priests are taught to perform the liturgy, and how the Archbishop of Granada regards and celebrates the liturgy, as a broader and metaphysical pattern of ritual action in continuity with all of life, and his manner of implementing the Pope's "reform of the reform" and Summorum Pontificum in a Spanish context [6]. It has shaped courses on worship and the liturgy in the ecumenical Cambridge Theological Federation (the largest such institution in Europe) and has impacted upon specific discussions of Anglican priesthood at Westcott House, one of the colleges of the Federation [2].

Pickstock's critical re-evaluation of the liturgy has shaped public discourse. During the impact review period, Pickstock has been invited to write Credo Columns in The Times, given public addresses to groups of churchgoers and ordinands, including talks at Manchester Cathedral (2008, c. 70) and Westcott Theological College (2010, c. 45), as well as other religious and non-religious audiences and video-link discussions (e.g. Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, 2010, c. 200). Her works have been reviewed, discussed and reprinted in semi-popular religious as well as non-religious journals and bulletins (e.g. The Reader (2009), Art and Christianity (2008)), reviewed and cited in newspaper reviews and articles (e.g. L'Homme Nouveau (2008), The Tablet (2009), The Church Times (2009), and mockingly cited in "Pseud's Corner" of Private Eye (Issue 952, p. 13) and discussed in blogs and online discussion forums (e.g. [7, 8, 9, 10]).

Sources to corroborate the impact


Church of England:

[1] Statement from Person 1, Secretary to the Liturgical Commission, General Synod of the Church of England.

[2] Statement from Person 2, Tutor, Westcott House Theological College.

The Roman Catholic Church:

[3] Statement from Person 3, the Former Executive Director of the International Consultation on English in the Liturgy, Paulus Institute.

[4] http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2013/07/the-contribution-of-catherine-pickstook.html

The Croatian Lutheran Church:

[5] Statement from Person 4, Co-ordinator of Theological Commission, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Croatia.


[6] Statement from Person 5, Archbishop of Granada.


[7] http://robbbeck.wordpress.com/category/theology/catherine-pickstock/ (06/11/11) Blog entry on the influence of Pickstock on preparation for chalice bearer duties.

[8] http://www.chantcafe.com/2011/03/why-do-english-speakers-like-chinese.html (19/03/11); http://www.chantcafe.com/2011/01/liturgical-text-is-different.html (14/01/11)

[9] http://doxapatri.org/2012/09/05/catherine-pickstock-on-the-liturgy/ (05/09/12)

[10] http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/remembering-repeating-and-working.html