Monday, July 4, 2011

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass - Review

Want a simple book for the average Catholic to enrich knowledge of the Mass and help people deal with the changes of the Roman Missal? A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy by Edward Sri may be the answer for people who want a way to take ownership of the Mass and navigate the changes. While not without some minor deficiencies, this resource is written at the right level for many parish communities and for the background of its people.

Sri's enthusiasm and love for the liturgy of the Mass is evident throughout the book, and his explanations are simple and thorough. While this is a book that explains and tells, rather than letting adults discover the richness of the liturgy, it has its place among resources a parish should consider when planning their fall formation on the Roman Missal. It is written at a popular level and in a very positive tone. In fact, there are places where the reader senses the delight with which Sri enjoys the Mass.

Sri gives not only the scriptural roots of the Mass, but he also gives an explanation of the Liturgical Year, cycles of readings, and other essential elements of the Mass along the way. He explains why we read what we read, and the dynamics between the hearer and the proclaimed Word.  He even discusses the dynamic between personal belief and intellectual belief in the Creed and the history and meaning of intercessory prayer.  He traces the Old and New Testament roots of the Eucharistic Prayer.  He does not assume that his reader knows any of this - and for many adults, that is a good tactic and starting point. He glosses his explanations with pertinent quotations from Vatican II documents, popes, theologians and liturgists.

Sri's explanation of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is occasionally a bit reductive (as when he discusses how the bread and wine symbolize the offering of our lives "and all our little sacrifices," referencing Jeremy Driscoll's book on the Mass instead of connecting it to the more powerful call to claim the priesthood of the laity and offer our very lives along with all our joys and sorrows in paragraph 901 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).  He discusses the relation between the Sanctus and the hymn of the angels at Christ's birth, but misses the opportunity to define the "new" term "hosts" - about which some adults, unfamiliar with the language, have had questions as to whether this refers to the Communion bread... when it refers actually to armies of angels.

I also found it more than a little disconcerting that he moves immediately from the discussion of the "Lord I am not worthy" to an aside on how receiving Communion must be like how Mary felt at the Annunciation, as if the Marian connection is the only one to be made at that point. It IS a legitimate element of eucharistic spirituality, but again, not the only one. After a one-sentence explanation of the actions of the priest at the purification of the vessels and the Prayer After Communion, Sri then jumps immediately to the Concluding Rites without any instruction to the communicant about the meaning of  the Communion procession, the purpose of song at this point, the communicant's posture or what they should be doing after receiving or when the priest sits.  There is no mention of the silence after Communion or of the role of internal prayer. It just seems as though something essential is missing here in terms of catechesis. Since Sri did a nice job earlier in many of his explanations, going beyond Scripture to focus on the meanings of postures and gestures, I was actually surprised at how quickly and superficially he moved at this point and thereafter to the conclusion of the book.

Back to what he does do well, when discussing the revised texts of the Mass, Sri gives extensive and clear explanations for why the change expresses something essential about the Mass.  He also shows  how the new wording reclaims the scriptural roots of the Mass. In fact, I found it useful to keep a Bible nearby when reading, since Sri gives many Scripture references.  It is by taking the time to read the pertinent Scriptures that the reader can take things deeper.  When Sri does quote Scripture, I found it interesting, though not unpredictable, that like many more "traditional" Catholics, he uses the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition, rather than the New American Bible, which is the one we hear read at Mass.

I would point out that I have not seen the DVD or the study guides and workbooks that Ascension Press has produced for this book. In itself, I would give Sri's book three-and-a-half stars out of 5... it has limitations, certainly, as do many of the resources for the new Roman Missal. However, for the majority of people in the pew, this book will do little harm and a great deal of good. If nothing else, it will help people reclaim an enthusiastic sense of the rhythm and scope of the Mass, its roots in Scripture, as well as its beauty.

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