In a sitting room where lace doilies top every table, Jesuit Fr Robert Taft's gray sweater and wooden cane add to the impression that he's a refined retired professor. But then he shared what he believes is the line his former students quote most: "There are two things you do not do alone: liturgy and sex," reports the Catholic News service.
The world-renowned liturgical scholar was interviewed last week as he prepared to return to the United States after more than 46 years in Rome.
Students and friends share his pithy quotes with relish and his graduate summer school students at the University of Notre Dame even published a collection of them several years ago.
"They're totally spontaneous. It's not like I sit in my room before class thinking, 'What wisecrack can I throw at them today?' It just happens," he said.
Taft, who said he's "on the top of the heap" when it comes to knowledge of the Byzantine liturgy, officially retired as a professor at Rome's Pontifical Oriental Institute in 2002. He is scheduled to move to the Jesuit retirement center in Weston, Mass., just after Christmas and will celebrate his 80th birthday Jan. 9.
With more than 800 titles already to his credit, the Rhode Island native, who was ordained in the Byzantine rite in 1963, still has one big writing project left: completing the sixth and final volume of his history of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used by both Eastern Catholics and Orthodox.
Packing interrupted work on the book, he said, but the slow progress also is due to less energy and more time devoted to prayer.
"One of the advantages of getting old is that what the Byzantine liturgy refers to as the 'dread tribunal of Christ' that you're going to stand before puts the fear of God into you, and so you move to pray more," he said. "That already has had an influence on my spiritual life."
FULL STORY Of liturgy and life: Jesuit scholar reflects on his 46 years in Rome (CNS)