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Book Review

Keith F. Pecklers SJ


ISBN 0 8264 6856 X

New Century Theology, Continuum, 2003, 14.99

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed September 2004; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2004

Dean Inge's reply to the question 'Are you interested in liturgy?' is well known: 'No! nor do I collect postage stamps.'  The study of liturgy has often seemed to concentrate on ceremonial and rubrics.  By contrast Professor Pecklers shows that his subject is at the heart of the Christian life and is concerned with our gestures towards God 'as we recall his mighty deeds and come to rediscover our own identity as Christ's body in this world.'

The first part of his book deals with the history of worship.   While he focuses mainly on the Roman Catholic church, the writer deals generously with the contribution of other churches. He shows how Christian worship, beginning with the reading of the Jewish scriptures, borrowed from the cultural context in which the church grew and survived because it was adaptable.  But gradually it became remote from the people. In spite of attempts (not only by the reformers) to give the people a greater part, liturgy became subject to more central control.  Both Catholic and Anglican worship were virtually fossilized for four centuries.  While  the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century was eventually vindicated by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and has had repercussions well beyond the Roman church, the view is widely held that the church has been slow to implement the Council's far-reaching intentions.

The real foundation of the Liturgical Movement was the recovery of the doctrine of the church as the mystical body of Christ.  Without this theological basis there can be no significant liturgical renewal.  Liturgy and life cannot be divorced.  If worship is to be credible, Pecklers insists, it must not only look to tradition and be true to the gospel. It must be in dialogue with other cultures and other faiths.  It must allow such participation as to prevent popular devotion becoming a substitute for the liturgy.  Christian worship must find expression in human relationships and in a just society.  And liturgical renewal must be an ecumenical enterprise.

I was pleased to see the writer's recognition of Gabriel Hebert's Liturgy and Society (1935) and the parish communion movement.  Liturgical change is still on the Anglican agenda. This book reminds us that we shall achieve little if we regard worship simply as a personal, individual concern.  Underlying the liturgy must be a sound theology of the church as the mystical body of Christ, the sign of God's kingdom in our world today.

Reginald SSF




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