Review: At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell’s “Amen Corners,” 1991-2012

At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell's At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell’s “Amen Corners,” 1991-2012 by Maxwell E. Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this book, almost predominantly because of the structure that had been adopted by the editors.

This was no mere collection of essays, though the new essays contained in the book were of a very high quality and well worth reading in and of themselves. No, this book represented two collections of essays: a series of nine essays originally written by Nathan D. Mitchell in the journal Worship, and a collection of essays written in response to the selected essays of Mitchell that were composed by Mitchell’s postgraduate students.

In structuring this volume in this way the reader is able to gain some idea of the contribution made by Mitchell to the field of liturgical scholarship over many years, a contribution that is revealed most poignantly in the way in which his students engage with his writings respectfully yet critically.

For those who might be interested in contemporary liturgical scholarship, this book would be a most welcome addition to a library.

From the “blurb”:

From 1991 to 2012, Nathan D. Mitchell was the author of the “Amen Corner” that appeared at the end of each issue of Worship. Readers of Worship grew accustomed to Nathan’s columns as invitations to rethink the practice of Christian worship through a liturgical theology that was interdisciplinary, aesthetic, and attentive to history. With the soul of a poet, Nathan was always on the lookout for the turn of phrase, image, stanza, or metaphor from other classic wordsmiths that could capture the liturgical insight he wanted to explore.

For the first time, this volume assembles some of the most important of these columns around the themes of body, Word, Spirit, beauty, justice, and unity. In addition, Nathan’s former students offer substantive commentary through essays that invite the reader to consider how the themes raised by Nathan might develop in the coming years.

This collection is a must-read both for those who admired Nathan’s contribution to liturgical studies and for a newer generation of scholars seeking to discern the frontiers of liturgical theology.

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The True Real Presence

Real presence is thus not only the gift of Eucharist but the goal and work of Eucharist. Real presence means our God giving life to the world in the body and blood of Jesus Christ – giving life, giving it abundantly, lavishly, promiscuously, to those who are grateful and to those who are not, to those (as the paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom puts it) who kept the fast and to those who did not. Jesus, after all, is the one who tells us our place at the table will always be there. Jesus is the One who – like every mother’s crooning to the child at her breast – tells us to “Take, eat, this is my body for you.” Jesus the bread-breaker becomes Jesus the bread broken. And if we who share that broken bread do not ourselves become bread-breakers, then (as Paul warned us) we eat and drink judgement to ourselves. That’s the whole law; the rest is just commentary.

Nathan D. Mitchell, “The Amen Corner: Making the Connections”, in At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell’s “Amen Corners,” 1991-2012, Maxwell E. Johnson, Timothy O’Malley, Demetrios S. Yocum, eds. (Collegeville, MN: A Pueblo Book, published by Liturgical Press, 2014), p. 155. ISBN: 978-0-8146-6309-7.

The Nature of the Liturgical Movement

The liturgical movement did devote a significant amount of energy toward advocating for improved aesthetic experiences of the liturgy, but the vision of the liturgical movement never ended in its media, be it worship aids, missals, microphones, or vernacular translations. The liturgical movement was a social movement, seeking to bring the faithful to a deeper realization of their role in the great Mystical Body of Christ, both within the act of worship and as faithful members of the baptismal priesthood in the world.

Katharine E. Harmon, “Linking Cult to Care: Social Transformation and the Liturgical Movement”, in At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell’s “Amen Corners,” 1991-2012, Maxwell E. Johnson, Timothy O’Malley, Demetrios S. Yocum, eds. (Collegeville, MN: A Pueblo Book, published by Liturgical Press, 2014), p. 134. ISBN: 978-0-8146-6309-7.

No Isolation in the Liturgy

Far from liturgical isolationists, liturgical movement advocates of the past and present have sought to shift the center of Catholic devotional gravity from self-absorption and drive-by communions to interactive and cohesive ritual experiences, attending to cultural particularity and responding to special social needs. The liturgy, and especially the Eucharist, cannot be ignorant of life.

Katharine E. Harmon, “Linking Cult to Care: Social Transformation and the Liturgical Movement”, in At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell’s “Amen Corners,” 1991-2012, Maxwell E. Johnson, Timothy O’Malley, Demetrios S. Yocum, eds. (Collegeville, MN: A Pueblo Book, published by Liturgical Press, 2014), p. 124. ISBN: 978-0-8146-6309-7.

The Expression of God’s Beauty

If liturgy is beautiful because it is an encounter with Christ the expression of God’s beauty, and if liturgy is the expression of faith of those created in the image and likeness of the Beautiful, an assembly of the beautiful (as Christ’s body at worship), then it can be argued that the faithful have a right to beauty in worship, and a right to become co-creators of beauty in worship by participating in the work of God which is the liturgy. What is less-than-beautiful in the manner of celebrating the liturgy thus must be avoided at all costs. If what is at stake is the faith-life of believers, which poor celebrations risk weakening or destroying, then good celebrations, beautiful celebrations, are vital because the encounter with Christ’s beauty in the liturgy is that which changes us/opens us up to desire the promotion of what we have experienced: exposure to God’s beauty prompts us both to promote and emulate that beauty beyond the realm of the liturgical.

Clare V. Johnson, “Portals to Transcendence”, in At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell’s “Amen Corners,” 1991-2012, Maxwell E. Johnson, Timothy O’Malley, Demetrios S. Yocum, eds. (Collegeville, MN: A Pueblo Book, published by Liturgical Press, 2014), p. 96. ISBN: 978-0-8146-6309-7.

The Presence of Christ

The ontological presence of Christ in the Eucharist enjoins on us a willingness to recognize the presence of Christ elsewhere. A theology that seeks to find Christ in the Eucharist to the exclusion of Christ elsewhere will end with a Christ that remains nowhere. Rather, a living eucharistic theology will lead to the conviction that God is remembered everywhere, that the whole universe, by which we are nourished, is the flesh of the Word, bearing the ineradicable traces of God’s constant love.

Kimberly Hope Belcher, “Can a Mother Forget Her Baby?: Flesh, Recognition, and the Eucharist”, in At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell’s “Amen Corners,” 1991-2012, Maxwell E. Johnson, Timothy O’Malley, Demetrios S. Yocum, eds. (Collegeville, MN: A Pueblo Book, published by Liturgical Press, 2014), p. 11. ISBN: 978-0-8146-6309-7.