A NOVICE at Mirfield once averred that the practice of liturgy was essentially like reciting the 119th Psalm, and when it was finished, you simply began again. David Hoyle recognises that, as we cycle through the Christian year, there is a temptation, especially in a culture that rewards innovation, to think “Let’s do it differently this year.”
The situation, he observes, is compounded by the problem with Common Worship that there is just too much material.
Hoyle writes in the style of the accomplished preacher. He delivers short and arresting sentences that capture and fire the imagination. Behind the book stand three influential figures, one of whom is Bishop Michael Perham, who taught us that observing the Christian year was a way of telling and celebrating the whole Christian story.
As each season turns, with its assigned scripture readings, hymnody, music, and prayer texts, so it gradually reveals its secrets; and these can surprise and challenge us in fresh and immediate ways. This is certainly what Hoyle does in these 20 short chapters exploring the various themes and moods of the times and seasons of the liturgical year.
But, as you reach Chapter 17, there is a rather unexpected turn, and the reader discovers why Hoyle is a little selective in his treatment of the liturgical round. The author’s aim is to correlate the Christian year with the individual clauses of the Apostles’ Creed. That is why, for instance, Lent receives just a cursory mention.
From this point on, however, the argument is tighter, the insightful personal reminiscences become more frequent, and the writing is more compelling; for, far from seeing belief as a set of propositions that you can mentally tick off as you recite the Creed, the author presents Christian believing as a dynamic, historical, and shared faith that shapes our identity and reinforces a sense of belonging to a community that waits and yearns for God’s future.
Given the pressing environmental crisis, the lack of a chapter on creation is curious. The theme is embedded in the Creed and in Common Worship and the lectionary. Despite this omission, A Year of Grace is an engaging book and one that should be widely read.
The Revd Christopher Irvine is Priest-in-Charge of Ewhurst and Bodiam, and Rural Dean of Rye, in Chichester diocese, and teaches at Sarum College and the Liturgical Institute, Mirfield.
A Year of Grace: Exploring the Christian seasons
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50