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Doing ‘this’ in remembrance of Jesus Christ

28 September 2012

Simon Jones reviews a study of liturgy in both East and West

The Eucharistic Liturgies: Their evolution and interpretation
Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson
SPCK (Alcuin Club Collection 87) £20
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT231 )

FOR 115 years, the liturgical pub­lications of the Alcuin Club have sought to serve the Church and Academia by having a twin concern for scholarly research and liturgical renewal.  Although the authors of the Club's latest collection claim that they are "informers" rather than "reformers", Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson's magis­terial survey of the eucharist does far more than trace the origins and development of the central act of Christian worship. True to their word, the authors are careful not to relate their findings to contemp­orary issues. Nevertheless, no one can read this wide-ranging study of the history and theology of the eucharist without being challenged to ask questions about the liturgical practices of the modern-day Church.

In the space of just eight chap­ters, Bradshaw and Johnson not only attempt to describe how the eucharist has been celebrated from the Early Church to the present day, but also provide a thorough theo­logical analysis of the rites con­sidered, focusing particularly on the historically complex and contro­versial issues of eucharistic presence and eucharistic sacrifice.

Assisted by a number of helpful charts that compare the structure of various rites, extensive quotations of liturgical texts, and a brief summary at the end of each chapter, the clarity and comprehensiveness of this volume make it essential read­ing for students of liturgy as well as for any general reader with an interest in the eucharist - perhaps particularly those who have the responsibility for presiding at it.

While many studies of this kind have limited their attention to either West or East, a significant strength of this volume is its inclusion of the rites of the Christian East. Although, understandably, they do not always receive the same depth of treat-ment as their Western counterparts, the concise introduction to the litur­gical uses of the different Eastern Churches, which begins chapter five, provides an invaluable starting-point for the Western reader.

If critical comments have to be made, they can only be about un­expected omissions. Given the amount of space devoted to eu­charistic sacrifice, this reader was surprised to find no mention of Robert Daly's important study Sacrifice Unveiled; and, when it came to the discussion of Thomas Cranmer's eucharistic theology, no mention of Diarmaid MacCulloch's contribution to this area of debate.  In the final chapter, the observation that 20th-century liturgical re­visions have witnessed a converg­ence in the shape of eucharistic rites could have acknowledged the in­fluence of Gregory Dix's four-fold shape.

At first sight, this may look like the sort of volume that is best dipped into rather than read from cover to cover. Not so! Bradshaw and Johnson's style has a lightness of touch which engages the reader, unravels complex theories, and makes them accessible. This excel­lent study, dedicated affectionately to the memory of their friend and colleague, Kenneth Stevenson, is not just for liturgical anoraks.

True to the best traditions of the Alcuin Club, it will be of immense value to Academia and the Church alike.

The Revd Dr Simon Jones is Chap­lain and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and a member of the Church of England's Liturgical Com­mission.


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