A friend of mine recently said that some people are “too into the liturgy.” His comment struck me as odd and I wondered if he would ever say anyone was “too into the Bible” or even “too into Jesus Christ.” The liturgy is the official public worship of the Church, or put in a more compelling way, it is the continuation of the very life of Jesus Christ in the world today, which shows us how to properly acknowledge God our Father as having supreme dominion over all creation.
That is hardly something to be dismissed, yet many Catholics do just that. The major reason why is likely that they barely understand what they are dismissing. A Confirmation, Baptism, wedding, or funeral may be attended with the idea of honoring the humans present with only a vague reference to the God who, out of pure love creates, redeems, and sanctifies those humans.
I’m not sure it’s possible to be “too into the liturgy” but even if it is, 99 percent of Catholics do not fit that description. Therefore, the following list of fascinating books will help readers to see that all we are, have, and do, ultimately comes from God, and participating in the liturgy is how we demonstrate our humble and grateful acceptance of that and our desire to begin our heaven here on Earth.
Indeed, as St. Alphonsus Liguori has written in the closing book on this list: “Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the source of everything that is good.” The Italian doctor of the Church also wrote that “when the Eternal Word took flesh, he hid his divinity and appeared on Earth as a man. But in remaining with us in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus hides even his humanity … in order to show us how tender is the love he has for us.”
Let us, then, venture into the extraordinary realm of divine love as expressed in 10 books by saints and scholars.
While “liturgy” is normally used as a synonym for “Mass,” it can also refer to the entire range of sacraments, or how the Church glorifies God and sanctifies itself. It is through this latter usage that a book on the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation can be lauded for liturgical greatness. In his classic, Fr. Alfred Wilson, CP, dispels common misconceptions about the sacrament that makes a soul worthy of receiving Holy Communion after having committed grave sin and the sacrament that, used wisely, actually prevents future sins. This volume, published by Roman Catholic Books, is to be distinguished from another by the same title but a different author and published by Ignatius Press.
Far from being a service invented by any number of humans, the sacrifice of the Mass is a divinely-ordained form of worship. Ven. Martin von Cochem shows that it renews the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to such an extent that he becomes, not just symbolically, but literally present to us in the Holy Eucharist. Christians wanting to know how to adequately thank, adore, praise, and petition God will need to look no further than the Mass — an outstanding explanation of which can be found in this book.
Long before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was teaching like no one else in the Church. In The Spirit of the Liturgy, which Ignatius Press recently released a commemorative 20th anniversary edition of, our former holy father deftly touches on the connection between Old and New Testament worship, the Church’s thinking behind sacred architecture, a liturgical calendar, sacred music, the direction of liturgical prayer, active participation, and the foundational reasons for why we should worship in the first place.
In recent decades there has been a popular shift from the rights of God to the rights of man, so much so that the word “religion” has almost become synonymous with “philanthropy.” In order to get back to the most fundamental principle in Judeo-Christian culture — the very First Commandment — Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP, wrote a simple yet profound book on the necessity of putting God first. Only by recognizing our complete dependence upon the Almighty Lord of the Universe can we truly be of value to our neighbor. This is why the saving action of Jesus Christ as expressed through the liturgy is the key to all of human history.
This book is a bishop’s explanation of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum (The Supreme Pontiffs), which allowed greater usage of the “Old Mass” or what the former holy father called “the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.” While many see a great divide between “the extraordinary form” and the “ordinary form,” Bishop Aillet sees continuity — if the ordinary form is actually celebrated according to the wishes of St. Paul VI. This includes Gregorian chant and the priest and people facing the same direction in prayer, two things which were erroneously believed to have been forbidden by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
In this book, Peter Kwasniewski makes the case — in light of the almost universal lack of adherence to the norms governing the new Mass — for the traditional Latin Mass being the best way for Roman Catholics to immerse themselves in the saving action of Christ. While some object to the use of Latin, chant, incense, and so forth. the former Wyoming Catholic College professor of philosophy and music explains why there is no reason to be “incensed” at these things. It is precisely the otherworldly aspects of the “Old Mass” that lift us out of our ordinary surroundings and make us worthy of seeing the Divine Essence.
The layout of a church goes a long way toward whether or not the actual liturgy taking place there will be reverent or not. Michael S. Rose’s illustrated book gives examples of beautiful and ugly churches, and how the reader can ensure that his own church will glorify the Lord. The qualities of permanence, verticality, and iconography are explored by Rose, who has helped to spark renewed interest in truly sacred architecture. For more technical yet briefer treatments of the Church’s developing philosophy of church design, The Liturgical Altar by Geoffrey Webb and A Guide for Altar and Sanctuary, compiled under Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, are available from Romanitas Press.
Those who read the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, or St. Pius X’s motu proprio on sacred music, Tra Le Sollecitudini, will clearly see that Gregorian chant is the foundational music of the Roman Catholic Church. However, Joseph P. Swain, professor of music at Colgate University in New York, ventures beyond mere recitation of the Church’s position into the historical, psychological, linguistic, and sociological reasons that the Church’s collection of chants and polyphonic compositions are truly sacred treasure to all Catholics.
Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise’s blockbuster book shows how discipline and practical devotion, far from being unimportant aspects of ecclesiastical life, can directly affect which doctrines we believe. Lex orandi, lex credendi is paraphrased into English as “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” The elderly Argentinian, who currently lives in St. Pio of Pietrelcina’s Italian monastery, details how St. Paul VI wanted to preserve the traditional manner of receiving Holy Communion. The updated version recently released by Preserving Christian Publications also includes a section addressing what communion with Christ actually is and who may receive Holy Communion. This material was of such interest to one group in Florida that they purchased 1,000 copies of the book.
This little book carries a big impact, as it shows the reserved Eucharist, or the Blessed Sacrament, is not just a thing to celebrate, but a person to adore, regardless of whether an official liturgical event is taking place. Jesus Christ in substantially present in every Catholic church in the world and waits for us to speak with him in his direct presence. Those unfamiliar with this practice will easily see by way of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s book that profound prayer to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is accompanied by recognition of Mary, who, through her fiat, first made Christ present in the world.