Liturgy Newsletter — Reviews
Resource Publications, San Jose, California, 2006
ISBN 0-89390-630-1 US $23.95
Over the years I have read a range of materials written to train readers and to train the trainers of readers. The best of them emphasise both the importance of engaging with the different dimensions of the text and of paying attention to the practicalities of the work of proclaiming the text. Some of these have been very worthwhile, perhaps especially the now long out of print Communicating The Word Of God by John Wijngaards, (McCrimmons, 1978).
However for a practical and lively introduction to the ministry none seems to me to match Douglas Seal’s Stop reading and start proclaiming.
His book reads most engagingly. It is well written, well organised and packed with insight, pastoral wisdom and practical example which clearly illustrate the various points and clearly and easily draw the reader into an active exploration of the particular matters being discussed. Care has been taken in the presentation of the text to provoke the reader of the book from a relatively passive reading to a much more active engagement with what is presented. For example the ‘Take Note’, ‘Traps’, ‘Tricks of the Trade’ and ‘Trivia’ symbols effectively highlight sections. In addition each chapter ends with a summary section ‘’ ‘X’ important things to remember about…’: these are models of synthesis and clarity.
Probably no book can substitute for good personal tuition, but this book comes close and it certainly provides an effective, experiential process for those who are willing to reflect and to learn.
The further exceptional quality of this book is that it draws on the experience of an author who is an actor and director, and a liturgist. We are in the hands of someone with a breadth of perspective and a depth of understanding.
He emphasises the importance of the minister engaging with the ‘text’ to be proclaimed — not ‘just’ because it is the word of God, but because this is text that needs to be performed, because this is the most effective way of ministering this word to the people of God, helping them to receive it and be nourished by it in all its fruitfulness and potential. Leal offers wise instruction about how to engage with different aspects of the text (its form — for example asking is this narrative, didactic, exhortatory?; its structure — recognising and making use of its parallelisms, repetitions, use of simile or paradox, for example).
He knows the importance of voice, and of using the voice to communicate (so there are helpful words on tempo, rhythm, pauses, volume, vocal energy and exercises on all of these, plus some fun ones for improving diction).
He recognises that it is not by voice alone that the ministers minister but also through their bodies from which the voice issues. So there attention is paid to such things as posture, eye-contact, even the proper use of gesture.
One especially valuable chapter is that entitled ‘Working on emotion’. If the mention of gesture in the previous paragraph sounded a warning bell in your mind, then quite possibly you will find this the most challenging chapter of the book. For myself I found it the most rewarding, and the one which more directly engaged me with the question of what it is that we ought to expect of our ministers of the word. I emerged from the chapter more convinced yet that it is not enough (!) that they engage with the biblical and liturgical meaning of the scripture texts set before them. Or at least it is not sufficient to do work which reveals meaning in the text as ‘object’, ‘out there’: work must also be done on where and how and why does this text seek to engage with us emotionally, and where and how and why does/might it engage with me and the community I am charged with ministering it to? There is no doubt that what Leal invites us to something significant and demanding. Some will reject what he suggests, but again, for myself, I found that he was putting into words many things which I realised I’d valued in the ministry of others, and even attempted for myself, but had never found the right words to describe.
I found myself very much in sympathy with the lessons he draws from his theatrical background. I’m sure others will be suspicious of them. This is a suspicion he anticipates and is careful to engage with. Certainly he never loses sight that what ever can be learnt from experience of the theatre, he is here dealing with something quite distinctive. He recognised the particular and sacred nature of the liturgy and of the exercise of ministry within it.
This is an excellent book. Do yourself a favour and read it. Do someone else a favour and recommend that they read it too.
Celebrating the Christian Year. Prayers & Resources for Sundays, Holy Days & Festivals Years A, B, &C.
Volume III: Advent & The Christmas Season.
Compiled by Alan Griffiths. The Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2005.
ISBN 1-85311-6718. £25.00
Hopefully readers of the Liturgy Newsletter are already familiar with Canon Alan Griffith’s writings on matters liturgical which appear from time to time in Catholic journals. His acuity of observation and his al dente literary style inform, provoke, sometimes tease, and almost always persuade his readers of the importance of the topics he turns his attention to.
Celebrating the Christian Year. Volume III: Advent & The Christmas Season joins two sister volumes (Volume I: Ordinary Time, Volume II: Lent, Holy Week and Easter) and provides the Church a beautifully crafted resources to assist with the keeping of the liturgical year.
In our society, where so much of what is absolutely fundamental to Christian belief and practice is obscure to our contemporaries (and to not a few of our Christian contemporaries), focussing on the liturgical year may seem a luxury we could do without.
One of the strengths of Canon Griffith’s work is that, although never lacking opinion, he is free of the sort of knee-jerk insistence on the observing of liturgical rules for their own sake which damages the reputation of many of those who have care for the worship of the Church. These volumes of resources are offered not simply because they can be, but because they can be useful in more firmly establishing Christian faith and life in the Church.
It would only be mildly ironic to recall that in our secularized society ‘The Festive Season’ lasts (more or less) from late November until 25 December. Then follows a season of retreat in order to recover from it all until the arrival of the next great party season at the New Year on 31 December/1 January. The publicly acknowledged Christian content of this season seems to be diminishing year by year and in many places is actively discouraged. Christian believers of all traditions can sense a widening gulf between the secular Christmas and the religious celebration. This sense of difference is likely to increase even more in the future. (Introduction, p. viii)
Some might carp about this; others urge that the drift to secularism in society be boldly resisted. Here a different tack is suggested.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps the sense of growing divergence will move Christian believers to reclaim something of the real shape and character of their celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ. They will then have a good chance of experiencing more deeply how their celebration differs both in its character and in its extent from the secular Christmas. (Introduction, p. viii)
His response is more mild than some. But it takes us to the heart of things. Celebration is not enough. We need to understand what we celebrate and why. Then, (and only then?) will that celebration form us in our faith.
There are no quick fixes for crises in Christian identity here. No ‘revisionings’ whish promise the earth and deliver scarcely anything worth while. Instead we are provided with good strong texts. Some are new, but many are fresh translations from the Missale Romanum and Missale Ambrosianum. The introductions and commentary are most valuable, offering wise pastoral, theologically-sensitive, review of the tradition and of our present circumstances. They repay careful reading.
Intended for use by the Church of England, the volume naturally enough addresses some circumstances which are most commonly found there and not in the Roman Catholic communion (in these islands) — for example a main Sunday service which is not a Eucharist. In the main, however, the resources offered here are likely to be found valuable by all Churches and ecclesial communities, and will be put to good use according to local need and opportunity (to the extent permitted by the law and disciplines of each community.)
One of the indications of the liturgical and devotional impoverishment of many Roman Catholic parishes at this time is how very little worship happens in their churches, other than the celebration of Mass. Celebrating the Christian Year offers sound resources to help clergy and lay leaders of prayer to consider what else might be done to nourish the life and faith of individuals and community at large.
Some which seem to me particular valuable are:
- Vigil Services for Sundays and major festivals. Full sequences of readings are provided here for Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ
- Advent Carol Service
- A simple service for Christmas Eve (which may more suitably address Roman Catholic needs for a service for children than the children’s masses being more and more commonly celebrated)
Also worth noting are the simple rites for the blessing of the Advent wreath, Christmas crib and Epiphany gifts.