Weekly Book Pick

Father Peter Stravinskas, founding editor of The Catholic Answer, certainly has a gift for explanation and a wealth of experience. In this concise volume he explains, step by step, the various prayers and rituals of the Catholic Mass of the Roman Rite (Novus Ordo), and offers scriptural meditations to help readers participate in it more fully.

The book is divided into four main chapters, devoted respectively to the Introductory Rite (“Coming into His Presence”), the Liturgy of the Word (“God Speaks to Us”), the Liturgy of the Eucharist (“The Perfect and Acceptable Sacrifice”), and the Communion and Concluding Rites (“Receiving the Lord and Sent Forth to Serve”). There are also helpful appendices on Latin in the Liturgy and on postures and gestures used in worship as well as a glossary of sacred vestments and other liturgical objects.

The first part of each chapter describes what happens during Mass and why. Often the approach is experiential.

In the first chapter, for example, we learn how the Entrance Song and procession, the Penitential Rite and the Gloria (on Sundays) all prepare us to encounter the mystery of God's presence and action among us.

Occasionally the comments are historical. “The Liturgy of the Word has its origins in Jewish Tradition (Catechism, No. 1093, No. 1096), patterned after the example of Jesus and the first Christians,” writes Father Stravinskas. “Synagogue worship, right up to the present, is a heavily verbal ritual, including prayers, psalms, [etc.]. … The Scripture readings in Our Lord's time were based on a three-year cycle, just as they are in the present liturgy of the Roman Rite.”

At several points, the author provides a thoughtful English translation of a prayer in the Mass. Particularly interesting are the notes on each of the four eucharistic prayers, all of which clarify their origins and distinctive emphases.

Father Stravinskas shows sensitivity in dealing with pastoral questions, such as the status of the Tridentine Mass, the proper dispositions for receiving the Eucharist, and the rare circumstances in which non-Catholics are allowed to receive Communion.

One advantage of the step by step commentary is that the author heads off controversies; the answer is usually there before the objection arises.

There is much to learn about the Mass that cannot be conveyed in classroom mode. Therefore, in the second part of each chapter, the author offers a series of short meditations, designed to be read and pondered at the rate of one per day. Each meditation consists of a phrase from the Mass and a Scripture passage, followed by a page of reflections.

A sample: “The Lord be with you. [The Greeting]. ‘Boaz himself came from Bethlehem and said to the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” And they replied, “The Lord bless you!”’ (Ruth 2:4) … The next time you participate in the Mass, listen for those words and try to experience them for the first time — in all their dazzling audacity. The priest is praying that the Lord will come and make His dwelling within you.”

Father Stravinskas has kept this non-technical explanation of the Mass short and simple, by keeping it on the sure and solid foundation of traditional Catholic theology. Study questions after each chapter make the book suitable for use by discussion groups. This edition is the first publication of Newman House Press, the print apostolate of the Scranton Diocesan Oratory of St. Philip Neri.

Michael J. Miller writes from Glenside, Pennsylvania.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy