By John Grondelski
With only days remaining before the most extensive changes to the prayers of the English Mass in two generations, The Mass is a very timely and important book. The book offers a liturgical, historical and spiritual overview of the Mass. It is designed to deepen one’s love for and active participation in this central act of Catholic faith while enriching one’s personal spiritual experience of the Mass.
One of the key lessons the Church should have learned from the 1969 introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae was the importance of explaining the rationale behind changes in the prayers and practices with which Catholics were long familiar. This book is clearly an effort to meet that exigency.
Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl and patristics expert Mike Aquilina, however, do not limit their focus merely to the impending changes, but use the opportunity to present a broader catechetical overview of the Mass for adult Catholics.
Part mystagogy, part meditation, the book discusses Catholic faith and doctrine concerning the Mass. The authors intelligibly and succinctly trace its history, its sacrificial meaning, its various names (Mass, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper), the dominical obligation and the proper preparation for participation in Mass. They also explain the ministers, vestments and sacred vessels that are part of the Eucharistic celebration. Black-and-white photos accompany the text.
After this overview, the authors analyze each of the individual Mass prayers. They consider their meaning and their placement within the overall structure of the Mass, as well as providing insights (especially from Patristic sources) into their spiritual application to our lives.
Yet the authors always remain eminently readable and popularly accessible. Consider this presentation for the Sign of the Cross: “The gesture itself traces the way God loved the human race, descending from heaven to heart and taking flesh, and then ascending to heaven, taking our glorified human nature with him. Thus we conclude at the right shoulder, just as Jesus concluded his journey ‘at the right hand of the Father’ in heaven. By the form of the cross, we also acknowledge the means of our redemption: the cross of Calvary, whose sacrifice is made present for us in the Mass. The Sign of the Cross takes no more than a few seconds, but it speaks volumes of truth and sounds the depths of theology.”
While among the best current presentations on the Mass available, this book does have some flaws.
Some fairly significant changes are coming in the language of Mass prayers. Changes are mentioned, but are often buried in the text and without reference to the language for which the change is a substitute (e.g., “consubstantial with the Father” will replace “one in being with the Father”). Some changes (e.g., the change in the Creed from “We believe” to “I believe”) are not mentioned at all. A side-by-side comparison of all the revisions with the current texts would have been helpful.
The explanations of the Collect and the Prayer After Communion are cursory. Mention is not made of the individual period of silence after Communion or of how it forms, together with the Prayer After Communion, a twofold period of thanksgiving: individually, during the period of silence, and communally in the prayer.
Limits notwithstanding, this book appears at a most opportune moment. It deserves a wide private readership as well as extensive use in parish study groups preparing for the Nov. 27 introduction of the revised texts.
John M. Grondelski writes from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition
By Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina
215 pages, $21.99
To order: randomhouse.com
By the Book
By Joseph Pronechen
Jimmy Akin has taken the timely step to significantly update his 1998 book titled Mass Confusion.
In this major revision — Mass Revision: How the Liturgy Is Changing and What It Means for You — he attempts to neutralize all the possible confusion that might arise as the changes take place. Akin deals with some specific changes in language, especially those in which the congregation prays or responds. He clearly brings out the reasons and causes for the new translation, called for by John Paul II, and how it will restore a sense of sacredness to worship.
But Mass Revision devotes only a small portion to the language changes, which it incorporates in an overall broader examination. Taking us through all parts of the Mass, Akin shows us in much detail how each portion is to be celebrated in word and also in rubric.
For instance, there is a long chapter just on the Eucharistic Prayer, followed by an even longer chapter on reception of Communion; that section is followed by an extensive chapter on the Communion Rite.
Throughout some of the chapters, Akin not only details all the Church directives proper to these times — he does not shy away from bringing up some liturgical abuses and what the Church says about them, including some remaining freewheeling interpretations of the changes that came 40 years ago after Vatican II, such as eliminating male pronouns, and eight pages addressing extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.
One of the book’s several strong points is the bountiful number of official Church references Akin constantly quotes, often at length. To explain what governs a practice during Mass, he often doesn’t list just one document. He might quote extensively from three official sources, including the governing Vatican congregations, canon law, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and U.S. bishops’ documents, so there’s no mistake about what’s supposed to be what.
Throughout, Akin has an easy-to-understand style that gets to the point. In explaining the difference between the “dynamic equivalence” method of translation now being replaced with the “formal equivalence” or “literal translation” John Paul II ordered, Akin writes that dynamic equivalence “uses casual, everyday language that does not reflect the sense of the sacred in the original. All languages have a dignified, formal way of speaking that is used in worship. Formality underscores the sacredness of the experience and helps us recognize the glory and majesty of God.”
Speaking of language, among 100 pages of “Bonus Material” that make the book like two reference sources in one, there is an extensive glossary. Looking up unfamiliar terms associated with worship and the Mass is easy; for example, an important word not used in the liturgy but mentioned several times in the book (and very helpful to understand the importance of a point): recognitio. But a really unfamiliar word like “consubstantial” in the newly translated Nicene Creed should merit being listed.
At the same time, the extensive section on Communion under both species, timely at printing, now needs revision. In June, the third edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal was released with new directives on Communion. It reduced the number of times — 14 down to three — when the chalice could be offered during Mass within the U.S. Church.
Still, this is an excellent book that will answer many of the faithful’s questions and serve as a fine reference that relies not on opinions or interpretations, but official Church laws and directives.
How the Liturgy Is Changing
and What It Means for You
By Jimmy Akin
Catholic Answers, 2011
423 pages, $15.95
To order: massrevision.com
To the Roots
By Joseph Pronechen
Sometimes the unintended timing of a book’s release couldn’t be better if it were planned. That is the case with A Biblical Walk Through the Mass.
This book was first intended as a catechesis on the Mass, but when the English translation of the new Roman Missal was announced to go into effect beginning in Advent this year, the catechesis, which also happens to include explanations of a number of the changes, fell perfectly into place as a preview.
Edward Sri certainly has the background for such a work. The author of several books with scriptural themes, he holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome and is provost and professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver.
What is unique about this book is the way it tours the liturgy in terms of the biblical roots of its words and gestures. For example, when the priest says, “Lift up your hearts,” his directive harkens back to the Book of Lamentations (3:41). Sri goes on to define simply what the Bible means by “heart,” then explains the priest is giving us “a ‘wake-up call’ to set aside all other concerns and focus our minds, wills and emotions — our hearts — on the sublimity of what is happening in the Eucharistic prayer.”
While the major references are from Scripture itself, Sri also includes details from other sources and from the Catechism. We read about the biblical roots of the Mass, especially from the Passover and Jewish tradition.
Sri tells us why “the cup” of Christ’s blood will be more faithfully rendered in the new translation as “the chalice” and why Christ’s blood being poured out “for all” is changing to “for many” (pro multis, in the original Latin). Jesus’ language recalls “the many” mentioned in Isaiah.
“In this prophecy, Isaiah foretold that God would one day send his servant who would make himself ‘an offering for sin,’ pouring out his soul to death and bearing the sin of ‘many’ and making ‘many’ righteous (Isaiah 53:10-12). Jesus, speaking at the Last Supper about his own blood being poured out ‘for many,’ is clearly associating himself with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.”
With such insightful explanations throughout, it’s surprising a chapter like “The Second Reading” consists of only one paragraph, which leaves you wanting just a bit more of an explanation.
The book is also now a foundation in a five-part learning system for catechesis of the Mass, and it can be supplemented with a companion booklet, A Guide to the New Translation of the Mass.
This walk through the Mass, with its often “aha!” realizations of why something is said or done during the liturgy, should help even daily Massgoers to grow in their understanding and love for the Mass.
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
A BIBLICAL WALK THROUGH THE MASS
Understanding What We Say
and Do in the Liturgy
By Edward Sri
Ascension Press, 2011
157 pages, $12.99
To order: ascensionpress.com
OTHER NEW BOOKS ON THE MASS
THE MASS IN SCRIPTURE
By Stephen J. Binz
THE LIVING MASS
Changes to the Roman Missal
and How We Worship
By Father Heliodoro Lucatero
GLORY IN THE CROSS
Holy Week in the Third Edition of
the Roman Missal
By Paul Turner