Saturday, April 22, 2006

Book Notices: Archdale King, The Liturgies of...

Liturgies of the Religious Orders (ISBN: 393674131X, 431pp.)
Liturgies of the Primatial Sees (ISBN: 3936741344, 656pp.)
Author: Archdale A. King
Publisher: Nova et Vetera: 2005 (

I have the extreme pleasure to more formally introduce readers of the New Liturgical Movement with two recently re-published, classic liturgical studies – a very much overdue reprinting by most any account. Archdale King originally published these books back in the mid 1950's. Besides these two titles, he also published other liturgical studies, such as Liturgies of the Past, The Liturgy of the Roman Church, and The Rites of Eastern Christendom.

There is an increasing interest these days in legitimate liturgical diversity. Not liturgical diversity in the sense of "do-it-yourself" liturgy, but in the sense of traditional variances in liturgical books, ceremonial and custom. While this legitimate diversity has always been a part of our Catholic heritage, it has become something quite abstract to most Latin rite Catholics. Many are astonished when they learn of the Eastern liturgical rites for the first time. Some, on the other hand, are aware of the liturgical diversity that exists within the Christian East, however, such diversity within the Latin rite is less known.

In the years following the Second Vatican Council, many of our liturgical traditions were sadly set aside; not because of Church decree, but rather because of a spirit which deemed them no longer desirable or relevant to modern man. Part in parcel with this attitude was the development of an undesirable form of diversity; one which gives great freedom on the one hand (where novelty and innovation is concerned) but which is extraordinarily stingy about diversity on the other hand (where tradition is concerned).

The positive effect which has come in response to this undesirable situation is that many have sought to understand what constitutes true liturgical diversity and are more and more seeking out information about the riches of our tradition. In so doing, many have gained a new appreciation for the rich tapestry that is the Western liturgical tradition.

This laudable and fruitful effort can find little better resource than Archdale King's two books, Liturgies of the Religious Orders and Liturgies of the Primatial Sees. Perhaps of most interest today – perhaps due to an interest in a monastic and specifically Benedictine revival of Christian culture in Europe and the West generally – are the so-called monastic rites.

In Liturgies of the Religious Orders, Archdale King takes us through six rites: the Carthusian rite, the Cistercian rite, the Premonstratensian rite, the Carmelite rite, the Dominican rite and, in an appendix, the Gilbertine rite. Of additional benefit is the fact that "each of the chapters has been seen and, where necessary, corrected by one or more members of the Orders concerned." Moreover, I shall let the author speak for himself as to his methodology in approaching these various rites/uses:

"Each of the chapters contains a brief sketch of the Order under consideration; some account of the churches built for its liturgical worship; a history of the origins and development of that rite; the liturgical year; chant; ornaments of the church and ministers; and, finally, the rite as it appears today, in both formulas and ceremonies, with, as far as is possible, the story of their beginnings, and showing in what particulars they differ from the Roman rite as exemplified in the Pian missal."

In Liturgies of the Primatial Sees we are taken through four rites: the rite of Lyons, the rite of Braga (with an appendix on the rite of Tibaes), the rite of Milan (or, as it is better known, the Ambrosian rite) and the rite of Toledo (or, the Mozarabic rite). Archdale King's approach to these rites is precisely the same as the approach he described just above.

The level of detail to be found in both books cannot be understated. In fact, each rite itself could merit its own lengthy review. Suffice it to say, it is my hope to simply give potential readers a sense of the scope and contents of the books.

A few words about the structure of the books. These are scholarly books, and as such they include typical features and characteristics of such works, such as the use of liturgical and eccelsiastical vocabulary. Moreover, many of the Latin language references aren't translated. In both cases however, readers will not find this insurmountable. Most who have any interest in this level of liturgical detail and history will already have the basic vocabulary down. As for the Latin references, these passages tend to be short, either a sentence or even a phrase, and the sense of them is given by Archdale King himself -- which, for most, will be more than sufficient.

Both books are also furnished with a number of black and white plates. These plates vary from architectural images of the interior and exterior of the churches, to, most interestingly, images of the actual vesture and ceremonial of the various liturgical rites in question. As well, extensive bibliographies are to be found within each of the books. Particularly handy, however, is the fact that these bibliographies are put at the end of each section on the particular liturgical rite in question. This makes it quite easy to look up particular resources for particular rites. In addition, as part of this academic apparatus, extensive indices are available at the back of each book.

The books are priced at $85/105 USD each. While that might seem steep it must be remembered that these are true reference volumes, and on a topic which is not only of high value and interest, but also rare. Prior to Nova et Vetera republishing these books, the original volumes from the 1950's would typically run around $200 or more in the used book circuit, normally coming from seminary libraries.

If you need any more encouragement, the more of these volumes they sell, the greater the likelihood we may be blessed to see more of Archdale King's works come back into print. But they won't stay in print forever, so I'd suggest that if you have the means and you have the interest that you purchase these two works before they are gone again.

(See a sample of the text of these books: The Premonstratensian Rite from Liturgies of the Religious Orders.)

The books may be ordered either directly from Nove et Vetera in Germany, or St. Philips Books, Oxford, England.

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