Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: The Mass - A Study of the Roman Liturgy

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in liturgical courses at a graduate level has probably read the name Adrian Fortescue in passing. If these courses have been of a Roman Catholic slant, then one has probably read a brief summary of one point or another in Fortescue's arguments or his role in the twentieth century liturgical movement. Fortescue's writings are historically important when engaged in liturgics, though today it is hard to find anyone that has actually read Fortescue as part of a course syllabus - liturgical studies has a knack for under-promoting anything past the last two decades. Preserving Christian Publications has reprinted Fortescue's The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy and this could perhaps relieve the increasing gap in knowledge of his writings. Although, one must exercise some caution when appropriating Fortescue into contemporary research.

The importance of The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy is due both to its place in the liturgical movement and the breadth of its content. While Fortescue knew to couch his words carefully, he does not shy away from presenting data which demonstrated the stark contrast between the way the Roman liturgy was celebrated in earlier centuries and what had become the normative celebration by his own time. In particular, Fortescue notes where the evidence points to a greater role for the laity in the liturgy, with some focus upon parts of the liturgy that had gradually become proper to the priest or the choir. Although, it is the depth of Fortescue's survey of the available liturgical sources of his time that makes this book required reading for liturgists. Major ancient ordos and rites are discussed with considerable detail as are the theories surrounding the creation of the Roman Rite itself. For those interested in the "Tridentine" liturgy, Fortescue's commentary on the Mass is thorough, providing both theological and historical details, noting the transitions from the ancient to the contemporary period. Some of the theories that circulated in the early twentieth century regarding the origins of the Roman Rite are fascinating and will likely leave one wondering what ever happened to these discussions along the way to the liturgical reforms after Vatican II.

The book is not without its weaknesses. While Fortescue's presentation of the Roman liturgy was devoid of any rigid defense of the manner of celebration current in his time, he does betray the influence of the Church's intellectual climate at the time. The discrepancies between the Gospel accounts of the Eucharist are dismissed as trifling differences and Fortescue tries to argue that Jesus himself intimated that the Eucharist was to be celebrated at the altar and his perspectives on the "canon of Hippolytus" are now just about firmly rejected. It also doesn't help the PCP's blurb on the dust jacket states that Fortescue proves the Roman Mass is the most ancient liturgy of all. Rather, Fortescue proves, due to the influence of the Roman Rite over all of the surviving western rites, that the Roman Rite is now the oldest extant liturgy in the west, the rites of Toledo and Milan having been fairly Romanized in their respective canons.

Despite these objections, one of which belongs to the publisher alone, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy remains essential to any liturgist's bibliography.