Niels Krogh Rasmussen, OP
1935 – 1987
On 29 August, 1987, the world of liturgical scholarship suffered a great loss through the sudden death of Fr. Niels Krogh Rasmussen, OP, at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. At the time of his death he was fifty-two years old.
Niels Rasmussen was born and raised in Denmark. During his student years he bacame a Roman Catholic and later joined the Dominican Order in the paris Province. Early in his career he became a pupil of the renowned liturgist, Pierre-Marie Gy, OP, who served as Director of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie at the Institut Catholique de Paris. Niels studied paleography at the Ecole Nationale des Chartres, hagiography and codicology at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, and liturgical studies at the Institut Catholique de Paris. From this last institution he received the doctorate on 28 January 1978 with the defense of the dissertation “Les Pontificaux du hautmoyen âge,” which treated the evolution of pontificals in the ninth and tenth centuries.
His teaching career in liturgy began in 1968 and included the following institutions: University of Aarhus (Denmark), Institut Catholique de Paris, La Salle University (Philadelphia), Saint John’s University (Collegeville), The Catholic University of America, and finally the University of Notre Dame where he was granted tenure in 1985. From that time until his death he was Coordinator of the PH.D. Program in Liturgical Studies there.
His writings were extensive and scholarly, often bridging the fields of theology and medieval history. Some of his later publications show his deep knowledge of Renaissance and Baroque liturgy as well. Besides his work in the pontificals, he will perhaps be most remembered for his revision and English translation of Cyrille Vogel’s major work in French which serves as a brilliant introduction to medieval liturgy, Medieval Liturgy: And Introduction to the Sources, revised and translated by William G. Storey and Niels Krogh Rasmussen, OP (The Pastoral Press, 1986).
Niels Rasmussen was known and respected as a liturgical scholar not only in the United States but throughout the world. His death came as a great shock to many. They may be comforted by the words of his mentor, Pierre-Marie Gy, preaching at a Eucharist offered for Niels in Paris shortly after his death: “Perhaps we can ask Jesus that the secret of those last moments of the earthly life of Niels might be in some way assumed into the agony of Gethsemani, saved by it. Lord Jesus, let your words of mercy for those who put you to death, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’ be even more true for Niels.”
Tribute prepared by Gerard Austin, OP, and published in Fountain of Life: In Memory of Niels Krogh Rasmussen, Pastoral Press, 1991.