Sunday, May 07, 2006

Book Review: The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described

BOOK NOTICE: The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described
Adrian Fortescue, J.B. O'Connell and Alcuin Reid, OSB
Published by St. Michael's Abbey Press, 2003
496 pages. $59.95 USD.

For those attached to the classical Roman liturgy, these are exciting times. As each year goes by, various classical liturgical books and references have been put back into print. We have seen the 1962 Daily Missal re-released in both pew and altar editions. We have also seen chant manuals, such as the Liber Usualis put back into print. Of these resources, it seems that more and more are additionally being brought up to the 1962 typical edition. Less and less are Catholics attached to this liturgical tradition required to scour used book sales, only to come up with older editions of these books which, while usable, aren't as precise as they could be. An even more exciting development is that of these “reprints”, many have also been updated in the light of papal and curial documents of the past 40 years (in the case of the Baronius Press Daily Missal for example, the inclusion of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary) – thus truly making them part of the living spiritual treasury of the Church in the 21st century. This, of course, is also the particular appeal and strength of this new edition of Fortescue and O'Connell's The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described.

Alcuin Reid has brought this book back up to speed with the classical liturgical books as they were in 1962 and thus has rendered a great service to the Latin rite. In his own words: In this edition errors and inconsistencies present in the twelfth edition have been corrected. The text has been brought into line with the 1962 typical edition of the Missale Romanum... Passages have been expanded, rewritten and made more explicit, and new notes have been added, in order to assist the modern reader. The diagrams have been drawn anew, corrected and expanded. Notes and the bibliography have been increased. A new chapter, 'The Faithful at Mass,' has brought together hitherto disparate material for the convenience of the reader."

This edition of the Ceremonies is also graced with a preface by His Eminence, Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, the president of the Ecclesia Dei Commission. Moreover, Alcuin Reid himself gives a very insightful five page introduction to the manual. In this introduction he looks at the balance required between rigid rubricism on the one hand and damaging rubrical libertarianism on the other. To wit: " rightly dismissing the ceremonial anarchy which has blighted the Liturgy of the Latin rite for far too long, we ought not to adopt a rigidity which is not required by the liturgical books, for there are rubrics and there are rubrics, and there are customs, and there are different (correct) ways of performing certain ceremonies. " In short, while not becoming overly rigid about every jot and tittle of the rubrics, and so fall into "fanaticism and fastidiousness", at the same time, "care and a concern to act correctly and in accordance with the mind of the Church... are essential" for "rubrics are not to be ignored, for they express the mind of the Church in respect of her most sacred treasures – the mysteries celebrated in the Sacred Liturgy. They surround these central mysteries of our faith with gestures and rites and prayers which protect them and enable us creatures of flesh and blood to approach them, to begin to comprehend them and to be sustained by them... they also protect us from the exigencies and frailties of our clergy by giving an objectivity to the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy which transcends the human characteristics and preferences of its ministers." It is this kind of "Aristotelian" middle-way between two extremes which we can most certainly use in our day and age, whether of the ancient or the modern rite; a kind of balance that the Christian East has seemingly preserved in matters liturgical.

For those whom are not familiar with the Ceremonies, it is a rubrical manual whose aim it is to provide a practical explanation of the traditional ceremonial of the Church for the purpose of their execution – in other words, this is not a devotional or historical book. The manual includes such ceremonial explanations for the Low Mass, Solemn Mass, the Pontifical liturgies, the liturgies of Holy Week and other times of the liturgical year, the sacramental rites, Requiem Masses, Vespers, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and more. There are a great many sanctuary diagrams to be found throughout the text and having looked at other editions of such ceremonial manuals, I was suitably impressed by an iconic system which makes the position of the sacred ministers quite clear at a moment's glance.

Finally, a word about the book itself as a book. The hardcover editions of books published by the St. Michael's Abbey Press are always of the highest calibre. This book is no different. In fact, it is probably one of the most beautifully bound books I have seen lately. From the elegance of its dustjacket, the quality of its paper, to its navy blue cloth binding with a gold foil pressed spine label and front cover design, it makes for a beautiful and sturdy volume. Moreover, it includes a sewn in ribbon for quick reference.

As I said earlier, this book is not a history, nor is it intended to provide an explanation of the symbolism of the ceremonial. That is not its purpose. But if you are interested in the rubrics and ceremonies of the classical Roman rite, or if you are a seminarian, a priest, or an altar server at the classical liturgy, then this well produced manual will be of great use to you in the execution or study of the traditional Latin liturgy as found in the 1962 Missale Romanum.

To order this book:

In Europe: St. Michael's Abbey Press
In North America: St. Augustine's Press

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