Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Liturgical Reading Plan

At times I have been asked the question, "I would like to learn more about the sacred liturgy, what should I read?" This question is usually driven by a variety of factors. For some, a growing awareness of what the Holy See has lately been referring to as the "shadows" which have entered the celebration of the Mass -- that is, liturgical abuses. That all is not what it should be. Some find themselves or their children bored at Mass, others find a general or particular dissatisfaction with the celebration of the liturgical rites. Others found themselves believing that the forms of the liturgy really didn't matter, so long as the Blessed Sacrament was there in the tabernacle, but then began to see otherwise. Others experienced the celebration of the classical Roman liturgy, or the modern Roman rite celebrated within a traditional ethos, and thus had an epiphany about the power and importance of good liturgy. Some may have come to realize the catechetical power of the liturgy (for good or for ill!), or others that the Mass is ultimately about man's worship of God, not his celebration of his own community.

Whatever brings them to this question, there is a fundamental recognition that the sacred liturgy really does matter, and not only in its most substantial form, the sacrifice, but even within its external forms which have the power to effect us interiorly, and bring forth these substantial spiritual realities. This is also brought up, however, in the light of our situation today. There are many claims out there about the liturgy. As such, I've determined to quickly put together a "liturgical reading plan" which seeks to address some of the basic issues of pertinence to the sacred liturgy, and which also are matters of debate, discussion and confusion today.



Obviously, a very good place to start in these questions is by reading the Catechism, both that of Trent and the modern Catechism, as well as Sacrosanctum Concilium. Beyond that:

Four Benefits of the Liturgy, by a Benedictine Monk

This book is only around 36 pages in length, but is probably about one of the most inspiring and informative overviews of the sacred liturgy I have come across. Without doubt, I would make it that top of the reading list for the beginner in particular, but for anyone generally.

Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer, Rev. Dr. Uwe-Michael Lang, Cong.Orat.

The issue of "ad orientem" and "versus populum" is one of the hot-button issues of today. What did the Council say? What was the practice of the early Church? These are all questions looked at by Fr. Lang. The matter of the direction of liturgical prayer is probably one of the most important liturgical questions today, over and above everything else, with only one exception: sacred music. It also gives pertinent insights into the orientation of the liturgy as first and foremost directed toward God: that is, of the primacy of worship.

The Organic Development of the Liturgy, Rev. Dr. Alcuin Reid

Another issue of great importance today is that of the place of tradition in the Church, including the liturgical tradition. This touches into the issue of adopting a hermeneutic of continuity rather than one of rupture, of being servants of the liturgy rather than that of masters over it, of neither being absolutely immobilistic nor novel in our approach to it. In short, what has been and is the nature of change and development within the liturgy and as mandated by the Council? This book analyzes the history of organic liturgical development.

Thomas Aquinas and the Liturgy, by Dr. David Berger

This might seem a surprising inclusion, given how specific a focus it seems to have. But within this book is a very potent look at the issue of the relationship of liturgy and doctrine, and the liturgy as the doctrine of the Faith expressed and lived. In short, the matter of "lex orandi" and "lex credendi". Indeed, it is taken from a specific study of this in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, but it represents something bigger, reaching as well back into the patristic age.

Liturgy, Participation and Sacred Music: Proceedings of the 2003 CIEL Colloquium

Today, one of the biggest things which one will hear spoken of is the Council's call for "full, active and conscious participation" of the laity in the sacred liturgy. It drives many initiatives, but often active participation has been confused with a kind of liturgical activism which is something else entirely. In this series of essays by a variety of ecclesiastics and professors, the origins of the idea of active participation are analyzed from St. Pius X, up through Pius XII, into the Council and finally in the post-conciliar papal clarifications. These essays emphasize that while external activity is part of this, that ultimately the interior dimension of this is what defines it and what is most important. This understanding alters our understanding of how "active participation" is manifest.

Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant, by Dom Jacques Hourlier

The issue of sacred music is a crucial one today. While this particular book doesn't address all of the issues of the day with regards sacred music and what constitutes an appropriate development in sacred music, this book does lend itself to an appreciation for non-musical scholars of what makes Gregorian chant particularly suited to the Roman liturgy. This in turn bears fruit as insight into the character of sacred music for which Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony ought to serve as the template.


For those who have read, or will read, these basic topics to their satisfaction and whom wish to delve deeper into a look at the underlying issues of today, the following books would be of particular recommendation:

Looking again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the 2001 Fontgambault Conference

An insightful series of essays taken from participants from both the classical and reform-of-the-reform school of thought, which analyzes the important question of "where do we go from here?" as well an analysis of where we are presently and how we got there.

Looking at the Liturgy: A Critique of its Contemporary Form, by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P.

A very interesting critical look at some of that which has driven our modern understanding of the liturgy, such as the influence of rationalism. It is a good introduction to the topic.

The Mass and Modernity, by Fr. Jonathan Robinson, Cong.Orat.

The Mass and Modernity is a very philosophically oriented book that takes off from some of the thoughts that are found in more abbreviated form in Fr. Nichols book, analyzing the development of approach toward the Faith from the Enlightenment on, and how that has effected our response to the Council and liturgical reform. It also draws out some ideas that, as moderns, become easy to fall into, but which aren't compatible with our Catholic Faith. This is all done in a context which does not deny the need to somehow speak to modern man.

Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate, by Fr. Thomas Kocik

There is need today for there to be a coalition between those who seek to widen the availability of the classical Roman liturgy, and those who wish to reform the reform. Fr. Kocik's book presents a fictional debate between parties on each "side" of this question. This can help people who find themselves adhereing more to one or another school of thought to realize where each other are coming from, and that perhaps not so much divides them as some may think.

The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, by Msgr. Klaus Gamber

A classic study of the post-conciliar liturgical reform by a respected scholar.

There are many books out there that likely deserve to be on this list, most of which I have listed in my "Reading List" to the side. Some of these are not on this list because I have myself only had a chance as of yet to skim them, or I've read them so long ago as to have forgotten their specific contents. There are gaps as well in this list. I think of a book on sacred music which does more specifically address the broader issues of liturgical music past and present -- perhaps Laszlo Dobszay's book, "The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform" fits the bill. I think of the architectural issues of today, which Stephen Schloeder's book, "Architecture in Communion", may well address. As well, there is the matter of the sacrificial dimension of the liturgy, which "Altar and Sacrifice" (the 1997 CIEL Proceedings) is likely a good representative. There is the issue of mystery in the liturgy, which "Liturgy and the Sacred" (the 2002 CIEL Proceedings) did well address as I recall.

The list will evolve, and needs to be formalized, but I offer it as it is now for what it is worth, and for those interested.

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