Reading the Liturgy: An exploration of texts in
Juliette J. Day
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use
code CT954 )
THE Preface to the First Prayer Book of Edward VI (1549) is a
magnificent marketing document that promotes the convenience and
benefits of a single all-in-one service book for the whole realm.
It contrasts the logical arrangement of the new Prayer Book with
the complex instructions it has replaced: "the number and hardness
of the rules called the pie, and the manifold changings of the
service, was the cause, that to turn the book only was more
business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it
was found out."
While it does not hide the fact that the new book expects its
users to persevere with its unfamiliar vernacular content, it
assures them that "the profit in knowledge, which daily they shall
obtain by reading upon the book" will amply repay the "pain" that
Juliette Day, as the title of her study makes clear, takes just
as seriously as Cranmer and his colleagues the fact of the
liturgical text, and the act of reading as the way its readers
engage with it. Her eight chapters - on "text", "authorship",
"genre", "narrative", "intertextuality", "language", "paratext",
and "worship" - apply the latest theoretical approaches to suggest
what might be going on when worshippers and those who lead worship
confront in printed form the words they will pray and the
instructions about how they will do this.
Some striking realisationsemerge out of this method of analysis,
in particular, the amount of sub-conscious processing expected of
the reader-worshipper, and the layered complexity of the liturgical
text as an entity surrounded by "paratexts" and drawn, by quotation
and allusion, into "intertextual" relationships with other
The point of articulating the workings of the reading process
and the creation and character of the text so explicitly is, in
large part, an exploration of how worshippers find meaning in
liturgy. Day refers to the work of Martin Stringer, who has argued
that meaning cannot be objectively located in the liturgical text,
and that there may be as many meanings as there are worshippers.
The categories she employs do not overlap with Stringer's, but she
is finally sympathetic to his conclusions.
Her wider audience may not necessarily find these categories a
wholly good fit for the activity that is liturgy, and it is not
explained how they might apply to the increasingly usual provision
of key pieces of text on screen rather than in book-form. But,
whatever the medium, Day has valuably shown us something of the
uncommonness of common prayer.
Dr Bridget Nichols is Lay Chaplain to the Bishop of