I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day, a Scripture scholar, about the phenomenon of “fashion” in scholarly circles. Scholars are, by definition, supposed to be studious, objective, fair-minded, but the painful reality is that scholars are just as likely to succumb to selective evaluation, private agendas, and emotionalism as anyone else. One can see certain fashionable theories or opinions conquering whole fields and holding them captive for years, decades, even centuries, in spite of the fact that the evidence is wanting or equivocal or problematic.
If Scriptural exegesis provides copious examples of theories treated as quasi-dogmas, liturgical studies afford many examples, too: the fashion for inserting epicleses in all anaphoras (and seeing their absence as a defect); the championing of ancient “anaphoras” that have turned out to be non-liturgical after all; the fashion for reconstructing early Christian liturgy so that it would, by a surprising twist, look like mid-20th-century liberal Protestant worship, with “people’s altars” and versus populum; the denial of a practical and conceptual distinction between the sacred and the profane, or the attributing of such a distinction to paganism; and on and on the list goes.
Fortunately, fashions have their brief day in the great arc of history, and when the sun sets on their empire, they give way to new ideas, new theories, and new attempts at analysis or synthesis. We have seen this happen abundantly in the arena of Scripture, where sophisticated literary analysis has put the Humpty-Dumpty of textual fragments and sources back together again in an intentional unity, and where it is no longer laughable to suggest that a certain stance towards the text, namely that of religious faith, is required for understanding it. The same is happening in the arena of liturgical studies, as a new generation of scholars shed the psychedelic costumes of the 1960s and 1970s and take a wider and deeper view.
Naturally, such a paradigm shift — which, for convenience, we might call a hermeneutic of continuity — will never be greeted with enthusiasm or even a fair hearing by those who are still institutionally committed to the paradigm of rupture and discontinuity. (One may predict already what the review in Worship will sound like; it could nearly be auto-generated.) There will, moreover, always be those post-modern relativists who maintain that every generation is imprisoned by its fashions, and that we are merely witnessing the inevitable upheaval and revisionism of the young Turks, before they settle into their hardened prejudices, ready for defeat at the hands of scholars yet to come. But this view seems entirely too pessimistic to me. In the generational currents of scholarship, it does happen, in some fortunate instances, that authors produce judicious, insightful, well-founded treatments of their subjects, in such a way that we may dare to say a classic text is born, a “must-read.”
While I am nervous about bestowing the label of “classic” on any brand-new book, the T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy is eligible for it. As with any multi-author work, the chapters vary in style and methodology, but the majority of the contributions are definitive summary treatments of their topics, bringing the reader to a refreshing perspective that goes well beyond the hackneyed progressivism of the conciliar and post-conciliar periods. The authors writing for this volume are, for the most part, people who suffered through or lived after the dismantling and reconstruction of the Western Catholic liturgical tradition, and who, equipped with the irrefutable evidence of widespread collapse as well as the surprising (at least to intellectuals) revival of traditional practices, are in a position to offer a truly balanced assessment of, if I may borrow the title of a popular book on liturgy, “what we have done and what we have failed to do.” Those who are looking for substantial theological thinking on the liturgy together with probing critiques of the recent past — two features often missing from the standard fare — will find this book a goldmine.
Now to more specific comments on the content. In the interests of space, I will highlight chapters that seem especially strong in achieving their purpose.
David Fagerberg provides a workmanlike opening chapter, “Liturgical Theology,” that ably rehearses the themes of his teacher Kavanaugh, enriched with insights from Beauduin and Schmemann. One is particularly struck by Fagerberg’s ability to state concisely how liturgy must be defined “thickly” rather than superficially, how theology itself must be firmly placed in a liturgical context if it is to make any sense as an activity of members of the Body of Christ in union with their Head, and how liturgy without asceticism is an illusion.
Chapter 2, “The Jewish Roots of Christian Liturgy,” by Robert Hayward, helpfully assembles what we know about the Jewish worship and ritual practice on the eve of Christ’s coming, so that we can see the backdrop against which Jesus himself and his disciples introduced a sacramental economy with an eschatological finality.
Chapter 3, “The Study of Early Christian Worship” by Daniel Van Slyke, is one of the most brilliant, with its dissection of the seductions of archeologism or antiquarianism (seen above all in the misplaced veneration for the so-called Canon of Hippolytus, the model for Eucharistic Prayer II). Van Slyke describes the current theories that seem to undermine any appeal to ancient Christianity, and suggests that we do better to learn from the ancients certain principles that are truly trans-temporal, such as the centrality of doxology, the power of ritual to deliver us from the devil, and conservatism with regard to received rites.
In Chapter 6, “The Roman Missal of the Council of Trent,” Anthony Chadwick furnishes a masterful synopsis of the complex history of the codification and revision of the Missale Romanum in the centuries just before the Council of Trent and up to Quo Primum of 1570. The summary of the problems and abuses identified in the Tridentine period and the careful analysis of the 1570 missal and its sources are superb. Chadwick concludes that the commission’s work must be described as a work of conservative “restoration, not compilation or fabrication,” such that “the continuity of tradition is assured”: “very little was changed in the ordinary of the Mass compared with the missal of 1474” (119). What was unprecedented about the missal of 1570 was not its content but the codification and enforcement of the rite “from above.”
Alcuin Reid contributes several chapters to this volume, and, as one would expect from the author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy and other works, his contributions are among the finest:
The progressive perspective is also present in this volume, which was a deliberate choice of the editor. (Reid mentions in his introduction that he had invited Piero Marini, John Baldovin, Keith Pecklers, Massimo Faggioli, and John O’Malley to contribute to the book, but implies that all of them refused.) Anscar Chupungco in Chapters 12 and 13, and James Leachman in Chapter 9, come strongly to the defense of the liturgical reform, and offer the reader abundant material for reflection. It is fascinating to see how supporters of the liturgical revolution justify its aims, methods, and results, even down to the present day when the entire project is looking dated and dull, like civil and ecclesiastical architecture of the same period, and when its philosophical and theological assumptions have been exploded by a variety of critiques, whether traditionalist, sociological, or post-modern. Making the weaker argument the stronger is never an easy task; those who continue to prop up the establishment are surely notable for their determination.
Chapter 15, “A Reform of the Reform?” by Fr. Thomas Kocik is the single best summary of this at times nebulous phrase and pluralistic effort, which is perhaps more of a longing for authentic Roman liturgy or a hope for institutional change than a coherent platform. Certainly, Kocik pulls no punches when it comes to describing the extent of rupture and discontinuity in the reformed liturgical books, as a way of explaining why there has been widespread discontent and a growing desire for pruning novelties and restoring lost or maimed elements. Unfortunately, in spite of grassroots support for both the recovery of the preconciliar liturgy and the “re-enchantment” of the postconciliar liturgy, it seems that senior ecclesiastical officialdom has, for now, turned its back on the Reform of the Reform, as can be seen in the insulting responses to Cardinal Sarah.
For Chapter 17, “The Liturgy and Sacred Language,” no better author could have been chosen then Fr. Uwe Michael Lang. Those who are seeking a pithy statement of the properties of sacral or liturgical language and how the Roman liturgy has exhibited and embodied these properties will find this dense paper admirably suited to the purpose.
Something similar can be said for Chapter 19, “Liturgical Music,” in which Timothy McDonnell discusses music in the liturgy after the conciliar reforms, the principal documents in the reform of liturgical music, the eclipse of the Graduale Romanum, the challenge of setting vernacular texts to chant, and the alarming manner in which the prescribed role of genuine liturgical music has been utterly obscured by layer after layer of gratuitous musical construction of shoddy workmanship.
Chapter 20, “Discernment, Decorum, Auctoritas: Keys to Reanimating Catholic Architecture,” by esteemed classical architect Thomas Gordin Smith, is a veritable treatise on the principles of ecclesiastical architecture, beginning with fundamental expectations, moving into “paradigmatic architectural methods,” and illustrating with copious visual examples the common symbolic vocabulary of churches across the ages, with particular attention to the basilican plan, which Smith sees as a worthy and practical model for new churches.
The book concludes with a feature I was not expecting: “A-Z of the Study of Catholic Liturgy,” a 50-page glossary of hundreds of terms — historical, liturgical, architectural, theological, biographical — that a student of liturgy will encounter in his or her studies. As with Samuel Johnson’s famous dictionary, the definitions are not perfunctory but thoughtful and even, at times, argumentative. Recommended further reading is listed in many of the entries.
If I have any substantive complaint about the book, it would simply be the onerous price. The publisher evidently conceives the book as a reference work for libraries, but, as one who is in charge of accessions at a small liberal arts college, I suspect the price would discourage even librarians working under pinched budgets. Nevertheless, if you have any say in library acquisitions, you should strongly recommend this book. Moreover, if you are a serious student of the liturgy, you should save your pennies until you can afford a copy, for this book is uniquely weighty and important.
In sum, the T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy is an invaluable resource on a host of subjects that have, until now, tended to receive either superficial or biased treatment, while providing a number of outstanding scholarly summaries of different areas of study. Readers who take a more traditional stance on matters liturgical will find in its pages incisive critiques of modern trends and an abundant apologia for tradition; readers who are of a more progressive bent will no doubt find grist for their mills and, just possibly, a challenge to their own triumphalistic paradigm. All readers will find thought-provoking engagement of some of the most controversial issues that arise in this field. Congratulations to Dom Alcuin Reid and Bloomsbury T&T Clark for publishing such a ground-breaking volume.