Brief Book Review: Historical Foundations of Worship

Historical Foundations of Worship:
Catholic Orthodox and Protestant Perspectives
Edited by Melanie C. Ross and Mark A. Lamport

What is this book? This book is the second in the Baker Worship Foundations series (the earlier Theological Foundations volume is reviewed here). It is an edited volume with essays by 18 authors from different liturgical traditions. It is divided into four sections dealing with different area of liturgical history: the common heritage of the early church, the Orthodox experience, the Roman Catholic experience and the Protestant experience. It provides a good introduction to the subject, but it is also offers a good refresher to non-beginners. The book is up to date and each chapter is written by experts in the particular area.

Who’s it for? The book is for any student of liturgy. It is written with the general US graduate student who is beginning their academic study of Christian liturgy in mind. But it can be profitably read by any interested reader and anyone who wants an up-to-date refresh of their understanding of liturgical history.

What difference will this book make? It provides a common basis for the study of liturgical history that can be appreciated by readers of any Christian tradition.  This could be very helpful in a diverse classroom with students from many ecclesial backgrounds and fosters a deeper ecumenical scholarship with the majority of the authors writing from within the traditions they are describing. The introductory section that deals with the common early history is also a great starting point for all study of liturgical history.

Why is this book significant / important This book is what it says on the tin, the title says it all: it provides the reader with an edited progression of chapters by individual authors on the Historical Foundations of Worship, from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Perspectives.

Why is this book useful / practical? It provides a one-volume history that in under 300 pages provides a manageable introduction to liturgical history. None of the chapters says everything, but all offer a good starting point and all of them provide suggestions for further reading.

Suggestion/Quibble? A minor quibble, but I think there was a tendency to conflate all Eastern liturgical rites and traditions into the Byzantine. The section dealing with the Orthodox experience is the shortest with only two chapters. The essays do occasionally mention other rites, but these get very little attention.  The section on Protestant experience has eight chapters (and Roman Catholicism has three); I would have appreciated another chapter in this section with a short introduction to each of the non-Byzantine Eastern rites.

Next steps. I am a huge fan of introductions and half the books I read are introductions of one sort or another. It’s no surprise that I think that one introduction, no matter how good, is never enough. However, this book is as good a place as any to start. I would recommend that those for whom this is their first book on liturgical history, follow on with a few other general historical overviews, such as the Oxford History of Christian Worship, Liturgy: the Illustrated History , A Brief History of Christian Worship or History of the Liturgy: The Major Stages. Then the novice would be well served by some monographs on the common liturgical heritage of the early Church. After this they could continue reading about the time period, particular rite or denominational tradition that captures their interest.

Ross, Melanie C. and Mark A. Lamport, eds.Historical Foundations of Worship: Catholic Orthodox and Protestant Perspectives. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022. xxiv + 294 pages. $29.99. ISBN: 9781540962522.

REVIEWER: Neil Xavier O’Donoghue
Neil Xavier O’Donoghue is a priest
of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, U.S.A.
He currently serves as Director of Liturgical Programmes
in St. Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland
and as Executive Secretary for Liturgy to the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Brief Book Review: Guide for Forming a Parish Bereavement Ministry

Guide for Forming a Parish Bereavement Ministry
By Robert Valle

“Each death is sacred because each life is sacred.” This is the truth at the heart of Guide for Forming a Parish Bereavement Ministry.

Who should read this?
Everyone who is responsible for parish liturgical celebrations that minister to the bereaved: pastor/clergy, liturgist/musician, lay bereavement ministry volunteers.

For those in leadership positions, the word “forming” is central. The book doesn’t merely tell how to recruit and organize (though these important aspects of the ministry are covered). Instead, the approach comes from an awareness that true ministers must care for the bereaved. It also emphasizes that the entire parish is responsible in the ministry of prayer for the bereaved.

Why is this book useful / practical?
This book is filled with numerous concrete ways to go about the responsibilities and specific tasks that will assist others as they walk the way of grief and sorrow. A deep experience and understanding of the realities of parish life are evident throughout its pages, with everything flowing from the formation process in a parish context.

The process is guided by the Order of Christian Funerals, with formation sessions and facilitator’s guides to help along the way. These will assist bereavement ministers through prayer, reflection, and sharing.

Why is this book significant / important?
The Church’s liturgy is presented as the primary catechetical and formative source for ministers. To reinforce/reiterate: as with all liturgy, the whole parish is primary in this ministry, with particular ministers drawn from it. This focus is particularly helpful in situations that find parish ministers working with unchurched children/families of the deceased, who might think of the parish merely as the location at which the funeral rites are staged.

Why should I use this guide?
The funeral rites are one of the moments richest with promise—and fraught with peril—in the life of a parish. Rich in the promise as a means to evangelize and share the Gospel; fraught with the peril of traversing an emotion-laden time in the lives of the bereaved. In the end, this Guide is a wonderful resource to lead all to the fullness of hope in Christ, the Resurrection and Life.

A side benefit
This resource is a concrete example of how to do liturgical/sacramental theology with the Church’s rites as a starting point, and how to incarnate that theology in the spiritual life of the parish and its members. A fine model for anyone interested in catechizing from the liturgy is presented here.

Valle, Robert. Guide for Forming a Parish Bereavement Ministry. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2023. 144 pages. $54.95. ISBN: 9781616717223.

REVIEWER: Alan Hommerding

While Gentle Silence Enveloped All Things

While Gentle Silence Enveloped All Things:
Remarks on the Celebration of Christmas and Epiphany

This post is a translation of “Als mitternächtliches Schweigen das All umfing,” which first appeared in German at CiG 52/2021.

Since the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 and their severe restrictions on worship, social and family gatherings, our concept of the full, two-week, liturgical celebration of Christmas seems somehow less integrated with the whole of the year. And that’s reason enough for a few moments of reflection on its faded message.

Read from Easter
The Christian faith stands and falls with the mysterium paschale (1 Cor 15:17), and thus for the Second Vatican Council it is the center of every liturgy (SC 6 and 61). Written down as post-Easter confessions, the four Gospels that have become canonical proclaim the crucified and risen One in their own way as the God-sent Messiah “from the beginning.” For this, they fall back on the experience of Jesus’s calling at the Jordan (Mark) or the pre-existence of the Logos (John).  The other two authors place the beginning of the redemption event with Jesus’s birth in his earthly life: one with the promised descent of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah for Israel and at the same time as the son of Abraham as the father of all nations (Matthew), the other with the extraordinary births of Jesus and of his forerunner (Luke). Of course, these origin narratives we now celebrate as Christmas and Epiphany do not retell the unabridged earthly biography of Jesus in every detail, but sing and celebrate his veiled divinity; not only for his sake, but for the sake of humanity and creation, for the sake of Israel and the nations.

Descent to the manger, to the cross, to Sheol
“Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.” (2 Cor 8:9; compare Phil 2:6f) The movement of dramatic descent connects Easter and Christmas: The descensus of the Crucified into the realm of death, in order to disempower that “last enemy” (cf. 1 Cor 15:26), presupposes the descent of the divine Logos into the created world, which is “his own” (cf. Jn 1:11). His coming occurs in the darkness of earthly life under the promise of the Father, “My Son are you, today I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7) – as proclaimed in the introitus of the Vigil Mass of Christmas. Thus, in its liturgical use, this psalm is intimately connected with the manger and the cross: in the Liturgy of the Hours, early on the morning of Good Friday, it interprets the death decree on Jesus with the antiphon “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed” (v. 2). Taken together, we hear that this destiny was already intended for the newborn Son (cf. Mt 2:16). In the Gradual Psalm of the Nativity Mass, God Himself reveals the Sonship of the Newborn: Tecum principum in die virtutis tuaeante luciferum genui te (Ps 110:3) as well as that of the Crucified and Risen One in the Vespers of Easter Day and therefore every Sunday: Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis … „The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand“ So also on every Sunday, the weekly Easter day.

Anthropology: Humanity exalted with Christ
“Your Eternal Word has taken upon Himself our human weakness, giving our mortal nature immortal value.” With these biblically inspired words (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9), the older Preface of Christmas III paraphrases the content of the Christmas feast in Latin tradition: A holy, even paradoxical exchange takes place, a sacred-healing bargain (commercium) in which those who cannot pay become rich! Perhaps as early as 336, the Western Roman Church celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, a birth which has sanctified the world (consecratio mundi) and exalted humankind:

“Recognize, O Christian, your dignity! Do not, after you have become a partaker of the divine nature … return to the old lowliness! Remember what head, what body member you are! … Do not submit again to the bondage of Satan, for the price of your freedom is the blood of Christ.”

This is how Leo the Great († 461) interpreted the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Logos for Christmas. The same is the mystery of salvation given in baptism: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21) O admirabile commercium – What a great wondrous exchange!

In Jerusalem, on the other hand, the birth of Christ was celebrated as his Epiphany (Gr.: appearance) in the world “fitting for time and place.” On the afternoon of January 5, the faithful first gathered for a liturgy of the word in the open field to hear the Lucan pericope of the shepherds’ adoration of the child (Lk 2:8-20); then they moved to the crypt of the Basilica of the Nativity, where the Gospel of the birth of Jesus was read (Mt 1:18-25). Finally, the extended night celebration from January 5 to 6 was marked by similar readings as the Paschal Vigil: one heard the stories of creation, of the salvation at the Red Sea, and then the miracle of the integrity of the three young men in the furnace of fire. In the Eucharistic celebration in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre on January 6, the focus was once again on the Nativity story according to Matthew.

Universality: Church from all nations
Under the influence of the Roman liturgy celebrating the coming of the Word of God “into the flesh” (incarnation; cf. Jn 1:14) on December 25, the motif of “birth” also moved to this day in the Eastern Church liturgy in the sixth century, which until then had been dedicated to the memory of the patriarchs Jacob and David. The 6th of January, in the East formerly the feast of birth, now the feast of baptism of Jesus, thus drew as feast content (only) one of those three miracles through which the divinity of Jesus manifests itself before the world: the adoration of the child by the wise men (Mt 2:1-12), his baptism in the Jordan (Mk 1:9-11 parr), and Jesus’s first sign at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-12).

Only the antiphons for the Benedictus (Lauds) and the Magnificat (2nd Vespers) speak of the tria miracula associated with this day: “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.” And “Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.”

The faithful, meanwhile, celebrate a popular theology/poor variant of the magi’s worship of the Messiah (“Feast of the Three Kings,” named Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar …). It is easy to forget that these wise men from the East are the ancestors in the faith of most Christians. Probably few baptized people today come from God’s people Israel and are therefore in need of the “light for revelation to the Gentiles” like ourselves (Lk 2:32).

Nights of Salvation: Liberated from the enemy of death, from tramping boots and bloody coats
In the Easter Vigil, the faithful experience the end of the reign of death as soon as they receive the tender light of Christ’s life; likewise, the Christmas Mass stages the darkness of a world in which many people  learn not the goodness of creation, but its calamity. When then the longed-for “light of men” breaks in, the darkness has not “overcome” it (cf. Jn 1:4f) – has it not recognized it, not grasped it or not been able to take it by force …? God’s promise (logos) is born as a child, dependent and defenseless and “he was crucified, died, and was buried,” rejected and defenseless.

He is, of course, the very same creating Logos – “the life of men” – who is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12f; cf. Eph 5:13). The same is also the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” who will put an end to violence, despotism, blood and tears when “every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isa 9:7.5). Whoever is just moved by the birth of the sweet child at Christmas is not looking deeply enough. For He is the same one of whom the Introit Dum medium silentium on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas sings:

“For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, thy all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed.“

The biblical verse continues “… a stern warrior, carrying the sharp sword of thy authentic command and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth” (Wis 18:14f) and identifies the descent of the Logos with that of YHWH during the night of the tenth plague. The liturgical text does not quote the text in full, but its allusion is obvious: The Lord comes into the corrupted world to end the rule of man over man even today. On him rests the hope of all whose nights are now lonely, cold, painfully and deadly dark. Christ, the Savior has come – so that man may finally become man in the image and likeness of God.

Brief Book Review: Theological Foundations of Worship

Theological Foundations of Worship:
Biblical, Systematic, and Practical Perspectives
Edited by Khalia J. Williams and Mark A. Lamport

What is this book? The first volume in the Baker “Worship Foundations” series. This series looks to be beneficial for a range of applications from theologically inquisitive lay people to introductory graduate student courses. 

This first volume is arranged into three parts: Part I is “Biblical Practices of Worship: Exegetical and Biblical Theology,” Part II is “Theological Principles of Worship: Systematic and Historical Theology,” and Part III is “Cultural Possibilities for Worship: Practical and Apologetical Theology.” 

Who’s it for? I would recommend this book to someone who comes from an evangelical or Protestant background and is discovering or rediscovering liturgy (or “just” the theology of worship) or someone teaching in a context (academic or ecclesial) with a variety of denominational backgrounds and working theologies present. 

What difference will this book make? This volume and its series will, I believe, promote ecumenism and liturgical theology for the American Church. 

Why is this book significant / important? It represents scholarship from a variety of denominations and “churchmanships” and shows the remarkable points of convergence in the theologies of liturgy and the consensus building on the role of the Holy Spirit in the embodied life of the Church. 

Why is this book useful / practical? Very few collected essays are able to demonstrate coherence in a way that does not seem artificial. This one is able to do so. Throughout its essays, the role of the Holy Spirit and the action of the Church in its various manifestations are highlighted.

Suggestion/Quibble…? Is this a quibble? I’m not sure, of course no volume is (or can be) perfect. With that stated, something that stuck out to me was the lack of African or South American contributors, and the lack of Eastern Christian contributors. Perhaps this is something that can be addressed in consequent volumes. It was not something that necessarily detracted from the volume as much as it represented a missed opportunity for the volume itself. 

Next steps.  I must admit that I’ve not read the second volume in this series, Historical Foundations of Worship (a Pray Tell review of this second volume is forthcoming), nor do I know how many volumes there are planned. What I can tell you is that based off of this volume I will be buying the second volume. The convergence in liturgical theology over the past century or so, and the rediscovery of its importance in Protestant and evangelical contexts is something that will have profound implications for the life and ministry of the Church. 

Williams, Khalia J. and Mark A. Lamport, eds. Theological Foundations of Worship: Biblical, Systematic, and Practical Perspectives. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021. xxviii +290 pages. $29.99.

REVIEWER: David Wesson
David Wesson is a graduate of St. John’s University School of Theology,
with degrees in scripture and liturgical studies.
He is actively involved in Adult Christian Formation at his parish in Atlanta, GA.

The languages of the word ‘liturgy’

Let’s talk about the word ‘liturgy’ for a minute. I know, this group uses the word a lot, and many have written erudite articles on the word as well as woven it into their PrayTellBlog writings, but it may be time to ponder anew the power of etymology alone as theology.

Beginning with my own pastoral experience, I will probably scream if I hear one more preacher tell us that “liturgy means the work of the people” as I did (again) several weeks ago. “No”, I scream silently from my listening spot – we dealt with this several decades ago now (and through the work of several scholars). Leitourgia is better translated “a work done on behalf of the people”, as we all dutifully learned in our classes from Fr. Anscar Chupungco and others.

But who is doing what on behalf of whom in this more recent (but ancient) analysis of a word which is a theology? In the broad interpretation of the word many assume that what we mean is that the gathered community is “doing” the work of the liturgy on behalf of others – on behalf of the world. This works well within the larger framework articulated by liturgical scholars such as Louis-Marie Chauvet with the integral relationships between and movement from scripture to liturgy to ethics, or in line with Kevin Irwin’s articulation of lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. In less skilled hands though, this work that ‘we the people do’ may end up being understood as affecting only our personal actions (not the worst outcome), rather than the broader ethical demands on us that radiate out into larger circles.

From a different perspective, “a work done on behalf of the people” is becoming a favourite of – for lack of better words – more conservative liturgical restoration movements. Here, the restored translation from the Greek understands the work for the people as a work of the clergy for the laity. The ritual, particularly sacramental rituals, but also blessings and more, are done for the people, whose ritual passivity is welcomed as a sign of authorization and reception. For some newly ordained, this understanding embodies the distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all believers which has been ‘eroded’ in the wholesale emphasis on the centrality of baptism. The primary act that priests in particular do then is to “do” the liturgy for all who have gathered in presence and proximity. This does not necessarily exclude the liturgy also being a work benefiting those not present in the room – it often has ramifications for the living and the dead – but with regard to the work of the liturgy, it is the clerical-lay dynamic which is experientially central.

A third circle of thinking about liturgy as a work done on behalf of or for others is arising in postcolonial scholarship, particularly postcolonial liturgical theology. This approach overlaps with the second understanding that the work is done by the clergy for the laity. But here, unsurprisingly, it is about power in shaping and limiting the plurality of ritual expressions. Those holding this power may very well be clergy, but the other suspect group are liturgical experts – academics and scholars – who limit the breadth of liturgical imagination in the work of the people and proceed to shape the liturgy on behalf of the people. “People follow liturgies as prescribed, but they also do whatever they want with them.” (Cláudio Carvalhaes, “Liturgy and Postcolonialism: An Introduction”) The shape of this discourse may be centred in the reception (or non-reception) of official liturgy, or more likely, in concentric circles of ‘popular religiosity’ around the liturgical rituals of the ‘experts.’

I suspect for some Christians there is still a fourth understanding of liturgy as a ‘work done on behalf of others’ in which the ‘Other’ is God. One comes to church in order to offer prayers to God and meet some minimal requirements demanded by God. In doing so God’s demands are met (or the demands of the ecclesial rules are met), and a fulfilment of obligation has been met on behalf of the one who has ‘done’ the liturgy demanded (or at least expected) by God. Liturgy is the ‘work of the people’ for God – who receives the labours of the week and marks the duty roster as completed. And those who have done the ‘work’ are off the hook of any lasting obligations during the week.

All four of these possible interpretations have matured in some circles since Vatican II, particularly as the late 1960s and through the 1970s understood the “work of the people” meaning choosing the music, the art & environment, and many of the prayers affecting the sight and sound of the official liturgy. What does the word ‘liturgy’ mean now? I propose that if we argue for a return to etymological purity, “a work done on behalf of the people”, we need to articulate a clearer liturgical theology of who is doing what for whom. It will require an ongoing catechesis on liturgy particularly for our most common Sunday morning pattern of a eucharistic liturgy to counter the enduring cultural emphasis on entertainment in North America (only heightened by the pandemic embrace of the virtual). That same catechesis in the importance of theology will need to include the reality that being baptized immerses one in the reality that one cannot not participate – we have put on Christ. And that identity in and of Christ is not only one of singing all the verses of hymns, but of living as Christ for the world.

In the parochial adoption of various positions on liturgical theology, at least two other related conversations regarding the work of the people are often missing. The first is the important (and ecumenical) re-articulations that God is also at work in the liturgy and on us presented over the past few decades by Michael Aune, John Baldovin, Kevin Irwin, and others. It is God who summons us to draw near together, and God who initiates and draws us into the human and divine encounter. The problem with God working on us is that we might not be able to control the outcome, which aside from being the point, would be problematic to those who prefer to assume that we control the liturgy as well as the effect liturgy has on others. The second is that most of the working models of liturgical theology derived from the etymology of the word ‘liturgy’ are pointed toward the ‘results’ or effect of the liturgy. What if the joy of liturgy was in its very celebration, in this time and place outside of time and place? It is difficult not to think of someone like David Brown (God and Enchantment of Place) arguing for liturgy approached and celebrated as an event of beauty in encounter, in sensual delight, in the joy of glorifying God, rather than in an instrumentalist way.

As the majority of worshiping communities return to the presence and proximity of our whole selves in one place and time, it might be a good time to revisit what we mean by the word “liturgy”, what our worshiping communities mean by the word “liturgy”, and how it fits in the larger context of ‘worship’ as a way of life – a way of continuous prayer and service to God.