Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review: Daily Liturgical Prayer - Origins and Theology

It must be said that, sadly, we are living in the equivalent of the dark ages for liturgical studies/theology. The strength of the liturgical movement of the early-mid twentieth century seems to have run declined with the debatable reforms of the Roman Rite following the second Vatican Council. In the broader ecclesiastical current, liturgical works are either the decayed remains of the extreme "de-sacralization" crowd of the immediate aftermath of the Roman reform, or the restorationist impulses which gained influence, whether intended or not, through the work of Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. In such a climate, one must seize upon any work that provides a wealth of critical scholarship coupled with a sense of purpose. Gregory Woolfenden's Daily Liturgical Prayer: Origins and Theology, accomplishes as much. This volume supplies an up-to-date historical view of the major ancient and medieval schemas for praying the hours of the divine office, providing the reader with the full perspective on the development of the divine office in Christianity.

Any volume covering daily liturgical prayer/the divine office will be compared, and unfairly so, to Taft's now classic The Liturgy of the Hours in the East and West. Woolfenden, however, does not limit himself to a historical study - much needed though it may be. Woolfenden surveys the storehouse of liturgical evidence for the sake of determining, ala Dom. Gregory Dix, the form and theology inherit in the offices of vespers and matins. Woolfenden does not present the ancient rites with a running theological interpretation of the evidence. Rather, the rites are laid out simply and accurately and, where appropriate, he notes any commonalities, be they thematic, textual, ceremonial, narrative, etc. By the book's conclusion, the author seems to imply, on the weight of the evidence presented in the book, that there are some rough "families" or "types" of daily office. Yet, there some basic commonalities to the office that extend across western and eastern liturgical families, especially in the office of vespers. For Woolfenden, any continuing discussion of reforming the divine office requires a thorough understanding of the basic form and theological intention of the office that seems to run the expanse of western and eastern churches. It is not enough to pray the psalms and read select scripture; the form of the hours has a function, the function being worship of the Deity. Whatever reform is to be done in the future, choosing a cathedral versus monastic model or, implicitly, a pre-Vatican II versus post-Vatican II model, is not enough. The daily office as worship, more than mere praise, must be rediscovered. Every act of worship has its particular ritual structure and intention. The first step, as Woolfenden implies, in reforming the divine office is to rediscover the intention of the given hours, what each hour of prayer was originally designed to accomplish.

For so long the divine office has been reduced to either perfunctory function or, at best, a service of praise. Through a meticulous investigation of the families of daily canonical prayer, Woolfenden presents the first argument for the case of seeing the divine office as something more, as a most profound expression of divine worship of its own integrity and intention. It remains to rediscover said aspects in the hope of truly rediscovering the work and purpose of the divine office. Daily Liturgical Prayer: Origins and Theology is a recommended volume orienting oneself towards such a task even if only in one's personal prayer life.