Review: Whose Mass Is It?: Why People Care So Much about the Catholic Liturgy

Whose Mass Is It?: Why People Care So Much about the Catholic LiturgyWhose Mass Is It?: Why People Care So Much about the Catholic Liturgy by Paul Turner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like many books by Paul Turner, this one is a well-written, informative and accessible volume. The title of the book and the main question that is examined throughout the course of this short narrative reminds us that, ultimately, the Roman Catholic Mass belongs to everyone in general and no-one in particular.

In looking at the development of the post-conciliar liturgy, Turner examines the wide range of legitimate stakeholders, all of whom have some legitimate claim to answer the question “whose Mass is it?” by saying “It belongs to me/us”. And therein lies the difficulty. This multiple sense of ownership brings with it a great degree of tension when the interests of one group of stakeholders are caught up in perceived conflict with that of another group of stakeholders.

And yet, this is as it should be perhaps, and could legitimately be seen as evidence of the great respect and love that these stakeholders have for what is the central act, the source and summit, of the Christian life. The ongoing “cultural wars” surrounding liturgical practice, while quite possibly a source of scandal to the world, are at the same time evidence of a shared and common appreciation of what the Catholic Mass means for those who believe.

This book is well worth reading for anyone who wishes to understand more of the significance attached to the Catholic Mass, particularly in light of the advent of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal and its subsequent English translation.

From the blurb:

When changes happen to the Catholic Mass, opinions are strong and diverse. Everyone feels in some way that the Mass is theirs. It is. Or is it? Whose Mass is it? And what should people do to claim it?

Whether or not adult Catholics attend Mass regularly, they strongly bond with it. Within a single generation, English-speaking Catholics experienced the Second Vatican Council’s authorization for the first overhaul of the liturgy in four hundred years, and then, in 2011, they prepared for and implemented a revised vernacular translation. Each of these two events awakened strong feelings as people gradually became aware that someone else’s decision was going to affect the cornerstone of their spiritual life.

In Whose Mass Is It? Paul Turner examines the impact of the Mass, the connections it makes, and its purpose in the lives of believers.

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Now Where Will I Sit?

The front seats in Catholic churches are often left unoccupied for Mass. If the participants are the priestly people whose responsibility is to offer themselves in sacrifice together with the sacramental self-offering of Christ on the altar, their proximity to the altar is essential. Those who sit far away when seats are available in the front simply do not participate as fully as they could. The whole assembly of the people looks disinterested in offering themselves in sacrifice when the seats closest to the altar go bare. The ministers in the sanctuary are not the only ones who pray at the altar. Everyone does.

At daily Mass participants commonly scatter to different pews and positions. The sign of peace may be exchanged according to local custom, but at some Masses the people sit so far away from each other that the only way they can exchange peace is to wave at those who are too far to reach. For a church that values the body in posture and gesture, the sign of peace becomes impoverished in these circumstances. It is reduced to a friendly wave instead of a deeper sharing of friendship and peace. The priestly people would give a far greater expression of their common purpose if they sat together in the front no matter the size of the church and the number of those in attendance.

Paul Turner, Whose Mass Is It? Why People Care So Much about the Catholic Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015), p. 111. Emphasis added. ISBN: 978-0-8146-4867-4.

Choosing Mass Music Wisely

When planners are asked to explain how they choose the music for the entrance chant, they usually say that they follow themes from the gospel or the lectionary’s other readings of the day. There is virtually no liturgical tradition behind such a choice, nor was the lectionary compiled to influence music outside the Liturgy of the Word. On occasion, one finds a link between the words of the Missal’s communion chant and the gospel of the day. But planners often choose the music for communion because the words contain some reference to the Body and Blood of Christ, a custom quite rare in the Missal. The Missal’s communion chants have their own inner logic. Some have been associated with specific days at least since the eighth century, such as the one for the First Sunday of Advent. Others form an inner group, such as the “I m” statements of Jesus in John’s gospel, which appear on the Third, Twelfth, Eighteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-Third, and Twenty-Fifth Sundays in Ordinary Time. Verses from the Beatitudes appear on the Fourth, Fifth, Seventeenth, and Twenty-Second Sundays in Ordinary Time. The words of these particular communion chants were new to the postconciliar Mass, and they invited a unique way of planning music. But these internal structures are commonly set aside when planners choose music that focuses more on the action of going to Communion.

Paul Turner, Whose Mass Is It? Why People Care So Much about the Catholic Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015), p. 28. Emphasis added. ISBN: 978-0-8146-4867-4.

Review: Zealot: The Life and TImes of Jesus of Nazareth

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

While Aslan’s book is well-written and engaging, it is, ultimately, unconvincing. Arguing that the focus on Jesus the Christ in Christianity for the last two thousand years has overshadowed an understanding of Jesus of Nazareth (the “historical Jesus”), Aslan attempts to peel back the layers of obfuscation and deliberate manipulation in order to ‘rescue’ the “historical Jesus” what we Christians have done.

Arguing that the Scriptures are not historical documents – which any mainstream Christian would accept willingly since we believe them to be first and foremost theological documents – Aslan then proceeds to use the Scriptures to support his primary thesis that the real Jesus, the Jesus of Nazareth who was a zealot and a revolutionary, has been essentially hijacked by Christianity (and largely by Paul and his supporters in the days of the early Church immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans), and that it is high time that an understanding of the “historical Jesus” was recovered and embraced.

I am, by and large, a fan of Aslan and his work, but this particular iteration has been exceptionally disappointing.

From the back cover:

Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the ‘Kingdom of God’. The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal. Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.

Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against historical sources, Aslan describes a complex figure: a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity secret; and the seditious King of the Jews, whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his lifetime. Aslan explores why the early Church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary, and grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself.

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Review: Monastic Practices

Monastic PracticesMonastic Practices by Charles Cummings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone who has even the remotest connection with the monastic life, for example as an Oblate of a Benedictine house, there is much in this book to assist them in deepening their understanding of that particular form of religious life. With necessary adaptions from the clearly monastic thrust of the book, which would be a very wonderful guide for the new arrival or novice, the reach of this book reaches beyond the monastic enclosure into the broader desire of some believers for a specific way of living the spiritual life.

I found the entire book thought-provoking and at times challenging to my spiritual life, and I would recommend it to anyone who similarly wants to deepen their spiritual journey. I have a suspicion that I will be revisiting this book on a regular basis as a means of reconnecting with some of the basics.

From the blurb:

For three decades, Monastic Practices has been a valued resource for English-speaking aspirants to monastic life. In this revised edition, updated and expanded, Charles Cummings, OCSO, explores the common practices of the monastic life in order to rediscover them as viable means of leading persons to a deeper encounter with God. How do monks and nuns occupy themselves throughout the day? Have they modernized their lifestyle or is it still cluttered with medieval customs? Could any of the monastic practices be of use to those outside the monastery? A certain wisdom is necessary to know how to use such practices and how to give oneself to them until they lead one to God.

After long monastic experience, Cummings shows us how the ordinary things we do constitute our path to God. In the art of living life, he argues, we are always beginners, searching for God through our concrete circumstances and actions.

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The Mystery of Stability

The practice of stability helps us to look for the loving presence and power of God everywhere and in every situation. Wherever we are right now is the place where God’s mysterious design has placed us and wants us to be. We have not been thrown haphazardly into this precise situation, nor did we drop here by chance, but we are placed here, deliberately and lovingly, for a reason that may become clear if we look for the signs of God’s will in these concrete circumstances. Why are we here? What mission have we here for God, for others? The mystery of stability teaches us to experience every situation as the place where a divine loving will permits us to be at this moment of our life.

Charles Cummings, Monastic Practices, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015), p. 206. ISBN: 978-0-87907-484-5.

The Need for Forgiveness

I need to forgive for the sake of my own peace of mind, even if the other never asks to be forgiven. It is better to let go of the resentment and let it heal than to bear it for months or perhaps years like an open sore. Nursing a grudge does more harm to the one who refuses to forgive than it does to the one who caused the injury but may have forgotten it long ago. I can forgive in my heart even if I do not say it in so many words. By forgiving I become a healing, life-giving presence to others . . .

Charles Cummings, Monastic Practices, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015), p. 180. ISBN: 978-0-87907-484-5.