John H Darch and Stuart K Burns
Saints on Earth: A Biographical Companion to Common Worship
ISBN 0 7151 4036 1
Church House Publishing, London, 2004, £20.00
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed September 2005; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2005
Does Common Worship really need another book of hagiographies? After all, with already published works such as Exciting Holiness with its additional readings and prayers, and Celebrating the Saints with its sampling of writings for each of the people in the revised Calendar, the market for another book is quite slim.
The authors, taking the paucity of the biographies of those termed 'lesser saints' in Exciting Holiness as their starting point would say that there is room for another volume. Add to this the potential for including this material as an update to the church software programme Visual Liturgy they may have a point.
The biographies themselves are indeed fuller than in other volumes and the authors take especial care to give a picture of those whose lives have not been well recorded previously. Naturally, the stories are coloured by the history of the authors; the dedication of the book is to the students of St John's College, Nottingham. This is shown by a tendency to transform some widely accepted miracles of the saints into legend. An example from the biography of Clare describes the well-known story of her defending Assisi from attack by a display of the Blessed Sacrament as 'visible prayers in front of the attacking army'. I found this an awkward approach; it may open the reading of these biographies to those of a more evangelical church practice but such unacknowledged editing may add confusion as to the authenticity of particular incidents - a practice all too common amongst hagiographers down the ages.
The book is not complete without the CD-Rom it contains. This is an update for version 4 of Visual Liturgy, taking the material in the book and incorporating it into all aspects of Visual Liturgy. This enables users to add biographical material into service sheets and pew bulletins. A word of caution before installing the disc: it will help to make certain that Visual Liturgy has been updated online and that you do not have resident some McAfee peripherals such as Clean Sweep. I did not check these and had several interesting weeks trying to get my whole system running correctly again. Once this is done all works well. For those who do not use Visual Liturgy the CD-Rom also contains PDF files that may be printed separately.
The biggest failing of this book is that the Calendar is not complete. It intentionally does not include the major biblical saints and awkward times such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the Advent 'O's'. These are included in the index but a note of their passing in the text, set out in date order, would remind readers to look elsewhere for them.
Andrew Dotchin TSSF
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