I was asked by one of the seminarians from my parish recently for a reading list in the subject of liturgy. Between that and a couple other conversations, I put the following list together. (If you don’t already know this, you soon will: I’m a bit of a book nerd.) It is not intended to be exhaustive, nor a graduate course reading list. There are other books in my library that I didn’t include here; there are other books that are very good that are not on this list. There may be works that some are surprised are not here; Ritual Notes, for example. That is not the purpose of this list. This is more theological than technical.
The Spirit of the Liturgy, Joseph Ratzinger.
This is Ratzinger’s masterpiece on the liturgy. Yes, it is Roman Catholic, but it has been influential to Anglicans and Orthodox as well, and personally, was one of the most important books I read in seminary. It helped open my eyes to the cosmic dimension of the liturgy. Another thing it does very well is sidestep the arguments about the orientation of the priest during the mass, and look at the core of the argument. He proposes the so called “Benedictine Arrangement,” where the celebrant and people do indeed face each other, although with the crucifix on the altar, so that the “enclosed circle” does not leave the image of Our Lord on the outside.
“The glory of God is the living man, but the life of man is the vision of God’, says St. Irenaeus, getting to the heart of what happens when man meets God on the mountain in the wilderness. Ultimately, it is the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God.”
― Pope Benedict XVI,
For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann
Schmemann seemingly did not intend or expect his “little book” to achieve the level of fame and importance it has. He intended it as merely an outline for students. And yet, it has been reprinted and republished multiple times and in a variety of languages. The edition I use and to which I have linked above is the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press edition, which comes bound with two other essays of Schmemann’s, Worship in a Secular Age and Sacrament and Symbol. Schmemann’s work is similar to Ratzinger’s book above in that it can help to open one’s eyes to the cosmic and spiritual dimensions of liturgy. Consider the following quotes:
“Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship…If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshipping being, as homo adorns: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity as fulfill it.” — Schmemann, For the Life of the World.
“The Orthodox Church, by celebrating the seemingly “con scriptural” feasts of Mary’s nativity and of her presentation in the temple reveals, in fact, a real faithfulness to the Bible, for the meaning of these feasts lies precisely in their recognition of the Virgin Mary as the goal and fulfillment of the whole history of salvation, of that history of love and obedience, or response and expectation. She is the true daughter of the Old Testament, its last and most beautiful flower.”– Schmemann, For the Life of the World.
I list these two books together because one is linked to the 1928 Prayer Book and one to the 1979 Prayer Book. I list them both because regardless of which one you use they provide insights into the actual texts themselves as well as (perhaps more importantly) insight into the liturgical thought of the eras in which they were produced. Both of these are dated and both reflect the scholarship of their times, which may no longer be the most correct or accurate information. Dix’s Shape of the Liturgy permeates the 1979 Prayer Book’s Eucharistic Rite, for example, but his conclusions are now viewed with some skepticism.
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