BOTH of these books approach the study of liturgy as it relates to the ordering of worship and the shaping of Christian lives in and for the world, and present the topic in a systematic framework: Tim Gorringe in relation to time and the Christian year, and Alan Suggate in relation to what has become a theological preoccupation, the question of human flourishing.
Gorringe draws on his scholarship and writes with energy and a personal commitment to living the Christian life. In this book, divided into three parts, he addresses a topic that has preoccupied philosophers and theologians through the centuries. Augustine of Hippo wrote extensively on the complexities of time and history, but Gorringe takes Bede as a guide, as his writing is more closely tied to the round of the Christian year.
The first part of the book weaves together biblical, anthropological, and philosophical perspectives to provide a clear and engaging exposition of time as it is measured, kept, and recorded as history. Although this part is illuminating, some conundrums persist. Reflecting on our “own time”, can we speak of the goal of time as becoming more human, more humane? Time, it seems, is always fallen and redeemed time, and that, as Gorringe shows, is why we need liturgical time: not to escape mundane time, but to demonstrate its significance.
The second and largest part of the book gives an account of the liturgical year. Here, little is added to what the liturgist would know about the history of feasts and fasts, but Gorringe poses some intriguing proposals, such as devoting so-called “Ordinary Time” to the earthly ministry of Jesus. Some might respond by saying that provision is already made for this in the lectionary, with its sequential reading through each of the Synoptic Gospels on a three-yearly cycle.
As Gorringe works through the unfolding seasons of the Christian year, he rehearses the biblical readings provided for these times, and these reflections give food for thought for the preacher. In this section, Gorringe presents a persuasive argument for not adopting a fixed date for Easter. Although there is much to reflect on in an extensive chapter on the “season of creation”, a failure to engage with the Church of England’s resource book A Time for Creation (Church House Publishing, 2020) is a serious omission and a missed opportunity.
Substantial attention is given to the Sanctorale, the calendar of the saints and inspiring heroes of the faith, but the third part of the book is tantalisingly brief in its treatment of some key themes and questions, such as how forgiveness is possible in the face of appalling atrocities. There are quibbles, such as consistency in referencing. These are largely editorial, and although the change is explained, some readers may find Gorringe’s use of G-d (for “God”) difficult on the eye.
Suggate’s short book is divided into four equal parts, in which he presents a constructive method to integrate the private and the public, the divine and the human, the personal and the social. The first carefully maps our cultural context and does so on its own terms. He then, in turn, addresses the Western Christian tradition, the liturgy, and finally, the faith. The critique is searching, and the final chapter is a consummate summary of the faith. It sees Christ at the heart of creation and places the Church firmly in the public square.
At one point, he repeats, as many do, the questionable etymology of “liturgy” as “the work of the people”. A more accurate reading would be “a work performed for the public good”. This definition certainly reinforces the agenda of both our authors: namely, that worship, though directed to God, because God is God, is offered for the benefit of the human world and the wider creation. This is a perspective that sees the world in the light of God’s judgement, and opens for us the transformative vision of God’s Kingdom.
Suggate draws on a narrow range of sources, but his writing is widened by his mature reflection and elegant style of writing. He draws heavily on the work of Gregory Dix, whose historical work has long been superseded, as is acknowledged, but he recovers, with the assistance of Rowan Williams, some abiding insights. In short, here is a book that equally balances questions of the public or common good, and the centrality of public, common prayer: a defining Anglican attribute, if there ever was one.
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.
Keeping Time: Time, liturgy and Christian discipleship
Sacristy Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.29
Living Culture, Living Christ: On becoming fully human
Alan M. Suggate
Sacristy Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49