Review: The Mass: The Glory, The Mystery, The Tradition

Guess what I found in the mail tonight?

The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, The Tradition is a collaboration between Cardinal Donald Wuerl (the current archbishop of Washington DC) and Mike Aquilina. The cover shows a beautiful carving of the Last Supper. It’s a nice sturdy book; it’s small and physically easy to read. The book itself (without the forewords and back matter) is less than 200 pages long. It focuses on the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite, but many other forms and Rites are mentioned as examples.

The book gives a basic but deep explanation of what we do at Mass and why. It consists of very short chapters (which often helps the reader to concentrate). First you get a brief rundown of beliefs and practices related to Mass, and then there’s a step-by-step explanation of each part of Mass. The new translation is used, and some of the new wording is explained. There are a fair number of photo illustrations. There are also many quotes from the Fathers of the Church and other historical sources.

But this is not a book trying to be hard to understand. Each chapter is just the right length for a short moment of reflection, if you want to use this as a devotional book. It doesn’t explain too much or too little. It also doesn’t soften the obligations of a Catholic, or hide the importance of things which American priests and parishes often don’t do. It’s apolitical and sticks to the truth. Finally, it provides many good suggestions for further reading.

The only real complaint I have is a passage conflating responsive singing with antiphonal singing. I don’t know if that was by mistake or on purpose. (Some recent scholars like to argue that antiphonal singing didn’t come about until the fourth or fifth century, or something like that.) Anyway, that’s just one passage in one chapter.

Kids could probably get a lot out of this, but it’s written towards adults. I recommend it.

I’d also like to thank Mr. Aquilina and Doubleday for sending me a review copy. The book comes out February 1 (St. Brigid’s Day).

(That’s also the feast of Ss. Pionius, Asclepiades and companions. During Decius’ persecutions in 250, the parishioners in Smyrna heard they were going to be arrested on St. Polycarp’s Day. So the night before, St. Asclepiades (a layman) headed to church with fifteen likeminded Christians and started an all-night prayer vigil. Sure enough, after Mass early on Sunday morning, they were arrested. But they’d already donned chains and shackles that they’d thoughtfully brought along, to show the pagans that they didn’t intend to abandon Christ. They were put on the rack and torn with hooks, but still refused to sacrifice to the Emperor. After a couple of weeks, they put them in the games and they died martyrs. Here’s a slightly different account with more names of companions.)

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1 Comment

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One response to “Review: The Mass: The Glory, The Mystery, The Tradition

  1. France

    This book by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina is a good catechetical resource for Catholics, especially those in Faith Formation programs or those entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program. It gives good though somewhat basic explanatory look at what the Mass means for Catholics as well as the meaning behind many the gestures, words and vestments that we use when celebrating the Mass.

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