Julie Davis's Reviews > The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition

The Mass by Donald Wuerl
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Apr 21, 2011

really liked it
Read from January 25 to 31, 2011

Any Catholic knows that the Mass is the heart of our Catholic life and identity. At the most basic, it is communion in the Eucharist, the bread of life which is Christ's body. Everything else that we are comes from that. Most Catholics know the basics of the Mass so well that they could go through them in their sleep.

Therein lies the problem.

In the first place, we may know motions, gestures, liturgical responses, and more, but we often don't know why we are doing these things. If we do understand why, there often is an even deeper meaning that escapes us. If you are a newcomer then you are in the dark about what to do during Mass until you pick it up by watching those "in the know"—who often may not be able to explain why things are taking place.

Secondly, the well-known liturgy of the Mass is going to change in November when the new translations will be put into effect. What is changing and why are key issues to helping everyone get the most out of the new liturgy.

The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition is designed to act as a primer about the Mass. It begins with a brief description of the Mass's origins and history, followed by an indepth look at all the steps, from procession through dismissal. The authors are at pains to describe the process on two levels. First come the essentials of what actions are being taken (the priest prays, the people respond, etc.). To that effect, they include photos of the priest during different moments of the Mass. Descriptions are given of who all the roles of those celebrating the Mass, the church furnishings, books used, clothing, vessels and more. On a deeper level, they go into why the actions are being taken, both on symbolic and spiritual levels. The excerpt which closes this review gives an idea of how skillfully these are blended.

The Mass is also where you may find the changes in the liturgy described and explained to show how they more fully reflect the mysteries in which we are taking place. Often this is not called to our attention as a change, but is contained within the explanation just before or after the liturgical words. This is done matter-of-factly, without polemics.

I know more than some about the Mass. As a convert of 11 years ago, I dug deep and was fascinated by the symbolism. Reading The Mass, I was reminded of things that I had forgotten and, indeed, learned new information as well. It was inspirational and reminded me of the depths that the Catholic faith has to offer anyone who will take the trouble to look below the surface.

I love Mike Aquilina's writing. The Mass is no exception. Aquilina can take the most basic, matter-of-fact information and show us the spiritual element that makes it come alive. It is his touch that we see throughout the book which makes it an inspirational as well as informational work.

Add to Aquilina's writing chops is coauthor Cardinal Donald Wuerl. I was told that his mere presence as coauthor made an imprimatur unnecessary, according to whatever authorities the publisher contacted (seems dicey reasoning to me for future generations who may read this, but there you go, that's what they told me). It results in accuracy and clerical insight as well as spirituality that you can trust underlying the explanation of the Mass.

It is not a perfect book. A few things caught my attention that were small, but noticeable:

* It seemed to me that some elements were needed for consistency's sake. Several times the text goes to the trouble of informing the people to stand, for example, and yet never instructs on when to sit again.
* Although the church furnishings are described, no mention is made of saints' statues, votive candles, stained glass and the like ... all the items that every Catholic church contains, no matter how ancient or modern the architecture.
* Some variations which are allowed for in various rituals weren't mentioned. I imagine this may have been because they aren't commonly used. For example, our church retains the altar rail which is where communion is given. Practically everyone chooses to kneel for communion. Naturally anyone may stand who chooses to do so. However, altar rail or no, the book makes no mention of protocol for those who may desire to kneel for communion.

Those small things aside, believe me when I say that this book is one to recommend for anyone who wonders why we "do those things we do" in Mass. Indeed, it would be a good book to read to remind us of just what depth we are offered every time we attend Mass. Highly recommended.
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