The Sacred Liturgy by a Benedictine Monk (The Saint Austin Press, 1999, 124pp, $31.20. This and the following two titles are available from Ignatius Press, tel (07) 3376-0105. Prices include GST, but postage needs to be added)
Discovering The Mass by a Benedictine Monk (The Saint Austin Press, 1999, 120pp, 30 plates, $31.20)
Four Benefits Of The Liturgy by a Benedictine Monk (The Saint Austin Press, 1999, 36pp, $6.10)
These three books originate from the Benedictine Monastery of Le Barroux in the south of France. In large part they are talks on the liturgy given by the abbot to his community. As such, they will be of value to all interested in the religious life. However, the liturgy is not the sole preserve of monks: it is the very lifeblood of Christian life in which all the baptised have a right and a duty to participate. Whatever our state in life, our understanding of the Sacred Liturgy is vital.
Developing this is, therefore, most important. Where are we to turn for help? Here we have three small books, written in a straightforward, non-specialist style, which open up the riches of liturgical tradition in a manner that provides a basic liturgical catechesis for the beginner, and that equally stimulate the thinking of informed laity, priests and religious.
The Sacred Liturgy, a beautifully presented book, is nothing less than a series of meditations on liturgical theology and spirituality which draw on the Fathers of the Church, the texts of the liturgy itself and other sources, opening the riches of liturgical spirituality to the reader. The author advocates a practical approach: "My advice to those of you who wish to nourish your own life of prayer with the public liturgical prayer of the Church is to do as you would if you were prospecting for gold. The cycle of the liturgical year is like a great river freighted with rituals, chants and poetry. One finds everywhere tiny phrases of two or three words shining brightly like specks of gold."
His reason for giving the priority to liturgical spirituality above devotions and various techniques of meditation is clear: "To the end of time the Christian soul will find in the liturgy of the church the same source of life that quenched our fathers' thirst and the same heavenly vision that nourished their hopes. Perhaps even in our days, as in the time of the primitive Church, the liturgy could still teach a materialist world to look beyond its own leaden skies and to rediscover the savour of eternity."
Discovering the Mass begins with a few pages of doctrinal catechesis on the Mass: something quite useful in this day and age. It then offers a rich historical and spiritual commentary on the (traditional) Order of Mass. Whilst some may find aspects of this somewhat dated, the overall structure is familiar and the symbolism commented upon is valuable. In any case, a better understanding of our traditional heritage cannot but help inform present-day attitudes and practices. Of the three books, this is the most lavishly illustrated with inspiring liturgical pictures from various sources. Few Catholics will fail to discover more about the central act of worship of our faith from this publication.
The last, Four Benefits of the Liturgy, is a brief and inexpensive volume which is a meditation on how the liturgy continually recalls the transcendence of God, on the attractive power of liturgical beauty, on how the liturgy gives us a sense and vision of what the Church is, and on how the liturgy nourishes and educates our inner selves.
It ends with words that perhaps summarise the value of all three books: "When the liturgy unfolds the scriptures to us it does not just tell a story likely to favour personal meditation, which each one of us can engage in afterwards. Instead it realises the actual presence of the Lord, with which we are free to communicate throughout the length of that act of worship; it is the Church in her entirety - and we in her - taking part in the death and resurrection of our Saviour. This participation is not the fruit of an effort of the mind or of the imagination; it is objective, that is to say it develops as a result of its own dynamism and is not the fruit of a human action, as is the case in private devotions.
"What a broadening of our perspective and what a deepening of our faith this implies if we only, by the esteem we have for the action of the liturgy and for its sovereign efficacy, consent to let it live and accomplish in us the divine work of our redemption. It is then that the judicious choice of scriptural texts and their calm repetition, their power of expression, the art of Gregorian chant, the sacraments and the mysteries of the life of Christ which pass back and forth unceasingly before our eyes, imprint on our souls the image of the Son who transforms them and reconciles them with the Father.
"Happy, four times happy, the souls formed in the school of the sacred liturgy! The liturgy is the joy of God and of men. It offers those who wish to accept it a remedy for the sadness of exile and gives us a foretaste of eternity."
Christopher Quinn is a journalist based in the UK.