Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Book Review - Liturgy

LITURGICAL PIETY by Louis Bouyer, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1955, x & 284 pp.

COMPARATIVE LITURGY by Anton Baumstark, revised by Bernard Botte, OSB. English Edition by F. L. Cross, London, A. R. Morsbray and Co., 1958, xix & 249 pp.

CHRISTIAN WORSHIP, ITS HISTORY AND MEANING, by Horton Davies, New York, Abingdon Press, 1957, 125 pp.

THE AMERICAN PARISH AND THE ROMAN LITURGY, by H. A. Reinhold, New York MaxmilIan, 1958 xii & 148 pp.

These four books, written by non-Orthodox specialists in liturgics can be read with great profit by the Orthodox desiring to increase their understanding of worship and of that which can be termed the liturgical problem of our time. That such a problem exists is recognized by a wide circle of clergy and laity. But that the solution of this problem requires a tremendous effort of studying the liturgical tradition in its historical development, in its theological and spiritual implications, in its psychological and sociological connotations – is still overlooked by too many. The liturgical problem must not be oversimplified, or reduced to only one of its aspects. It is not enough, for example, to ask – what is the right thing to do in a parish church that cannot accommodate all its members at one service, to increase the number of liturgies, or to use a "substitute", such as the "typica"? For unless one understands the nature and the function of the Sunday Liturgy in the life of the parish, any answer, however practical, would lose its essential purpose to be the expression, the "incarnation" of the Orthodox tradition in a real situation. For, of course, if the unique purpose of the Sunday service is to allow all the individual members of the parish to "fulfill their religious obligation" by "attending" the Liturgy, if nothing more than this individual obligation is involved, then the Roman system of several masses, served from 6 A.M. till noon and meeting all conveniences is normal, efficient and practical. But for some reasons, the Orthodox Church does not allow the priest to serve, under any circumstances, two Liturgies on the same altar and the same day. Why? Are these reasons anachronic disciplinary norms with no reference to a definite conception of the place of Liturgy in the life of the Church? Or are they rooted in the very essence of Orthodox tradition? What is the exact significance of a "religious obligation", of the "attendance"? All these questions are utterly important for the proper understanding and solution of the liturgical problem. There are, in fact, hundreds more of them. And even if all our practices are in formal agreement with rules, canons, and rubrics, this formal rectitude does not yet guarantee the Orthodox spirit. For the Orthodox tradition is not preserved and maintained by the mere external fulfillment of "rules", but primarily by the understanding of their significance. Alienated from theory (i.e., the faith, the experience, the vision) that created them, these rules become dead letter and can easily co-exist with a perfectly non-Orthodox, if not purely secular, mentality. One must stress again and again the growth of this danger: a "formal" Orthodoxy with a non-Orthodox content. Orthodoxy cannot be preserved by an "Orthodox" (Greek, Russian, etc.) architecture, the celebration of Chrysostom’s Liturgy and the three barred cross (do not the Uniates meet all these requirements?). The external signs, symbols, rites and customs, to be means of Orthodox life, must be, first of all integrated in the Orthodox faith and vision and this means understood in their meaning.

The liturgical movement is precisely the effort to understand the Liturgy, to replace the formal approach to it by the rediscovery of its real essence and implications. The books under review, although written by non-Orthodox and dealing with situations, not always identical with ours, are very helpful as introduction to the spirit, the problems and the methods of the liturgical revival. And, last but not least, they help us to realize what a treasury we, as Orthodox, possess in our liturgical tradition and how inadequate and poor is our use of it.

Father Bouyer is one of the recognized leaders of the liturgical movement in France. More than anybody else, he has helped by his numerous writings (his "Paschal Mystery" has been translated into English) to widen and to shake the narrow scholastic, juridical and pseudo-devotional approach to the liturgy, to rediscover the Patristic and truly "catholic" dimensions of worship. The first part of his new book deals precisely with the various "poisons" that have deteriorated both the liturgy and the liturgical spirit in the West, and also with the history of the western liturgical revival. In the second part, he outlines and explains the main elements of the Liturgy (Eucharist, the Liturgical year, the Divine office, etc.) both historically and theologically. And finally, in concluding chapters, the author tries to define the real "spirit of Liturgy and of Devotion". Almost everything in this book is excellent, inspiring and challenging. The Orthodox theologian will, however, differ with the author on the crucial issue of "epiclesis", but this is too important a subject to be discussed here and I hope to deal with it in a special article.

Dr. Baumstark is the father of the comparative method in liturgics, and the English edition of his book, considered as a classic in this field, has long been overdue. "Technical" as it is, it can be of great value for the non-specialist. It simply annihilates that harmful pseudo-conservatism in matters liturgical, which makes any real liturgical revival, any real return to the true spirit of the liturgy impossible.

Dr. Davies’ book does not add much to what is already known. But it is an orderly summary of the facts and a good, although slightly simplified, presentation of the main liturgical traditions. It will be useful for beginners and also for all those in need of general information and references.

Finally, Fr. Reinhold’s book must he read not as a manual of liturgics, not for the information it contains, but for the spirit that animates it and makes it an excellent example of that "Liturgical apostolate" without which the liturgical problem remains a problem for rubricists and choir directors but not for the church. We have to learn again to look on sacraments as dynamic, not static, entities, and on sacramental worship as something that requires nor only a sort of "medicine man" who performs long and involved rites, handed down to him as secrets, and offering the results, finished and static, to the devotees of this cult, but rather an interplay of cult mystery in which the priest and the faithful have their assigned roles." One can disagree with the author on a number of his ideas and statements, but one cannot disregard his plea for a real liturgy and for its impact on the whole life of the church. – Alexander Schmemann

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 2 - New Series, No. 2, Spring 1958, pp. 49-50.