CATHOLIC LITURGY is the most recent title in the accessible SCM Studyguide series that already covers a broad range of topics from religion and science to church history. Earlier volumes deal with liturgy and the sacraments, but the present volume, edited by Peter McGrail and Martin Foster, two highly regarded Roman Catholic liturgists in the UK, has a distinctive focus and intended readership.
It is arranged in three parts, covering the principles of liturgical worship, the sacraments, and what is curiously called “beyond sacraments”, covering funerals and the Christian year. There are 12 chapters, many of them jointly written, by a team of seven authors.
Their Church of England counterparts attempted something similar in a slim volume Words for Worship: Prayers from the heart of the Church of England (CHP, 2012), and comparisons could be made with The Study of Worship and Liturgy (SPCK, 2013), with its innovative approach in presenting the different dimensions and aspects of liturgical study. But this volume is to be highly commended for the way in which the various chapters deal in turn with liturgical texts, their performance, and their theology.
The book is close to 300 pages; the fount is large, and in each chapter the material is broken up with section headings. Some of the key ideas in a chapter and points for reflection are set out in boxes on the page, and each chapter includes specific questions for discussion. This format makes the book eminently suitable as a group study guide, and the glossary provided at the end of the book is a helpful tool for the general reader.
So, whom is the book for? It is primarily for Roman Catholics, but much would be lost if this book was regarded as being simply for and only for them. In the first place, the editors spell out why liturgical formation is so important. Liturgical formation goes beyond “knowing about” to becoming more open to being engaged by liturgical celebration. And that is a lesson that we all need to be aware of. Whether or not the Church of England is suffering from liturgical fatigue, liturgical formation remains a considerable challenge. Our prayer life can be deepened by knowing something about the Church’s prayer texts, but there is more at stake here, and ultimately, formation is about the worshipper’s being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Second, those of us who would like to see a recovery of a sense of the sacramental in the worship of the Church of England would greatly profit from the chapter here on sacramental theology. Third, in a Church driven by the mission imperative, there is much to inspire our thinking about the place of baptism for both infants and adults in the making of disciples in this volume’s two chapters on Christian Initiation.
Inevitably, there are questionable points — such as the etymology of the word “liturgy” as being the “work of the people” — but these are minor quibbles. One will have to look elsewhere for full discussions of preaching, the ordering of the worship space, and music, but there is much here that the reader can learn from.
The Revd Christopher Irvine is Priest-in-Charge of Ewhurst and Bodiam, Rural Dean of Rye, in Chichester diocese, and teaches at Sarum College and the Liturgical Institute, Mirfield.
SCM Studyguide: The Catholic Liturgy
Peter McGrail and Martin Foster, editors
SCM Press £22.99
Church Times Bookshop £20.70