Monday, March 27, 2006

Three Reviews

Saint Austin Press is a small Catholic publisher in the United Kingdom that has been producing high quality books for a number of years now. It should be noted that while these books are not "new" in the sense one typically expects for reviews, they are relatively unheard of and worthy of having readers attention drawn to them. Two of the three books are published under anonymous authorship. These are Four Benefits of the Liturgy and Discovering the Mass. The author of both books is likely Dom Gerard Calvet, a prominent French Benedictine, whom some consider a spiritual father of the (moderate) traditionalist movement. What is known for certain is that these books come out of the cradle of a traditional Benedictine Abbey in France, that of Le Barroux. With prospect, under our present pontiff, of the Benedictines again becoming cradles of genuine liturgical, ecclesiastical and cultural renewal, these books seem more relevant than ever.

Four Benefits of the Liturgy, by A Benedictine Monk. St. Austin Press: 1999. ISBN: 1901157083. $4.95 USD.

While a short volume at 37 pages, it is one packed with inspiring insights. Dom Calvet takes us through four primary benefits of the liturgy: transcendence, beauty, interior formation, and education in the sense of the Church. The book is marked by a balance of constructive teaching and critique of the modern approach that some bring to the liturgy – an approach that has been horizontalized. The section on liturgical beauty is particularly edifying, reminding us that beauty "opens to the small and the great alike the treasures of its [the liturgy's] magnificence: the beauty of psalmody, sacred chants and texts, candles, harmony of movement and dignity of bearing... exercises a truly seductive influence of souls." This section also tackles the objection which some propose; namely that liturgical richness and beauty are somehow unnecessary or contrary to poverty. Readers are reminded that it is by means of beauty, rather than intellect, that most people are drawn into the Faith, and through which the Faith speaks to them. As for poverty, none other than Cardinal Ratzinger, reminds us that this richness "is not the richness of some priestly caste; it is the richness of all." The remainder of the book speaks of how a Catholic's "sense of the faith" (sensus fidelium) is nourished by good liturgy, and ultimately it aids in the growth of our supernatural life. As a small book, it makes for an excellent summary or introductory volume, and would be a great gift for the purpose of liturgical formation.

Discovering the Mass, by A Benedictine Monk. St. Austin Press: 1999. ISBN: 1901157067. $16.95 USD.

The second book by "a Benedictine Monk" can be called nothing less than a detailed and concise catechism of traditional liturgy. In fact, the first quarter of the book is laid out in question and answer format and covers all of the basics which surround the liturgy and sacraments. Following this, there is a detailed breakdown and comments on all the parts of the traditional Roman liturgy. What makes the book particularly rich is that the author includes many references and bits of information pertaining to both the Eastern liturgical rites as well as some of the lesser known Western liturgical rites, such as the Dominican, Carthusian, and so on. This richness is carried over also by the inclusion of beautiful, full page photographs of various liturgical rites. That being said, the book is firmly rooted in the ancient Roman rite. Besides laying out the theology and spirituality of the liturgy, readers are also treated to a concise but detailed historical explanation of the origin and development of many liturgical practices. For example, have some readers wondered why a "maniple" (a small stole like piece of cloth worn on the arm) is worn by the clergy in the traditional liturgy? Questions such as these are treated. Readers of this book will not only come away with a greater sense of the history of the Roman liturgy, they will also come away with an appreciation for the legitimate variety of liturgical rites and a deepened appreciation for our liturgical inheritance.

A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes, 2nd ed. Scott M. P. Reid, ed. St. Austin Press: 2000. ISBN: 1901157318. $9.95 USD.

Evelyn Waugh was not only a popular novelist, he was also a devout Catholic man; one whom struggled with the liturgical and theological changes that occurred after the Second Vatican Council. Waugh corresponded on this matter with Cardinal Heenan, primate of England during those tumultuous times. Waugh, in fact, was quite bitter about these changes and was not shy in expressing those frustrations. Obviously the book is of interest to Waugh fans, but it is more interesting as a chronology of the liturgical changes and theological shifts which occurred. In 1965, Cardinal Heenan would tell Waugh that "at present the Mass is an untidy mess." Heenan would eventually alter his position as seen in the latter letters in the book. This raises some interesting questions. Does this shift on Heenan's part, which is representative of a shift many would make, suggest that the initial response to the changes was merely rooted in a general dislike for change – the removal of a comfortable routine if you will – but that in the end, they were able to be more objective about them? Or, on the other hand, is it indicative of a spirit of resignation and rationalization – a psychological defense mechanism – which caused this shift? Readers will have to see the "before" and "after" of Heenan to decide for themselves, but the truth is probably somewhere in between. What is clear in Waugh's letters is that he perceived a radical shift, both in liturgical practice and in theological approach. Many of the concerns which Waugh raises echo precisely concerns that are raised to this very day. The book makes for truly interesting and insightful reading.

[Please note: the first two books are part of a kind of informal series coming from the Abbey of Le Barroux. The other title, which I believe is out of print at present, is The Sacred Liturgy.]

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