Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Work of our Redemption

The Work of our Redemption - this is the title of a book written by Fr Clifford Howell SJ. My copy is a revised edition dated 1969, though the first edition of the book dates from 1953. The chapters in the book began life in 1950 and 1951 as a series of journal articles intended to introduce Catholics who had no "liturgical background" to the ideas being discussed in the journal. The chapters as they stand in the 1969 edition of the book are re-written/revised/deleted in the light of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, but they pre-date the lived experience of the Missal of Pope Paul VI. The title of the book is taken from Pope Pius XII's encyclical letter Mediator Dei:
The work of our redemption is continued, and its fruits are imparted to us during the celebration of the liturgy.
I haven't persevered in reading the book from cover to cover, but have dipped into a few of its chapters from time to time. What is interesting about the book, particularly my 1969 edition, is what it reveals about the assumptions about liturgy and what one might call "liturgical theology" as they are presented by one of the foremost liturgists of the time. Many of those assumptions would now be seen as very "traditional", and it is interesting to be reminded that they were the ordinary content of the Liturgical conversation at that time. There are chapters that present a sound understanding of grace and of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ in which we come to share in the Divine life. The first chapter strongly affirms the necessity of worship of God as part of the human vocation. The chapter that includes an account of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick also includes an explanation of the plenary indulgence offered to the faithful at the time of death when the receive the Apostolic Blessing from the priest (how many Catholics even know about that nowadays? My observation about it is that, between the Sacrament of Anointing and the Apostolic Blessing, even the most nominal of practising Catholics would have to be rather negligent to end up in purgatory).

A second point of note is that there are very able - by which I mean both doctrinally sound and catechetically effective - explanations of many of the key theological ideas involved. Many a contemporary catechist could look to this book as a source of ideas about how to present liturgical ideas in a parish context.

One might have a different view of the history of the Liturgical movement than that presented by Fr Howell (I have still to read those chapters properly). But nevertheless, as a witness to "where things were at" during the times of the Second Vatican Council itself, I think this is a very useful book.

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