Sunday, September 7, 2014

Top 7 Books to Better Love and Understand the Mass

Received this question over at my Google+ page and thought others might be interested too,
+Nathan Barontini ty Do u happen to have a good easy to read Book about the history of the mass?
It's a great question, one that more Catholics should be asking. Remember, Vatican Two describes the Mass as "the source and summit of the Christian life" (cf. Lumen Gentium 11). Getting more out of our weekly obligation is a great way to grow in holiness.

With that in mind, I'd recommend a couple books for getting to know the Mass better.

First, I'd recommend a book by the former bishop of my home and native land, Pittsburgh, PA, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina guide readers through the different parts of the Mass, from the entrance procession to the blessing and dismissal, capturing the deep meaning of elements that are at once ordinary and mysterious: bread and wine, water and candles, altar cloths and ceremonial books. Step by step, they explain the specifics, such as the order of the Mass, the vessels used, the unique clothing worn, the prayers and responses, the postures and the gestures. Then they explore the rich historical, spiritual and theological background to each. Prayerful but practical, fact-filled but readable, The Mass prepares readers to participate more fully and appreciatively in the sacred rite at the heart of Catholic life. 

I read this book on my way back to the Holy Faith and it helped clarify what was happening at Mass in a very approachable manner.

If you're looking for a little more history (and apologetic punch) then The Mass of the Early Christians by Mike Aquilina is definitely worth your time. Mr. Aquilina, who co-authored The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition with Cardinal Wuerl, does a great job of showing the ancient roots of the Mass while showing yet again just how Catholic the early Christians were. From the book description,
In The Mass of the Early Christians, author Mike Aquilina reveals the Church's most ancient Eucharistic beliefs and practices. Using the words of the early Christians themselves -- from many documents and inscriptions -- Aquilina traces the Mass s history from Jesus' lifetime through the fourth century. The Mass stood at the center of the Church's life, evident in the Scriptures as well as the earliest Christian sermons, letters, artwork, tombstones, and architecture. Even the pagans bore witness to the Mass in the records of their persecutions.
In these legacies from the early Church, you ll hear and taste and see the same worship Catholics know today: the altar, the priests, the chalice of wine, the bread, the Sign of the Cross...the Lord, have mercy ...the Holy, holy, holy ...and the Communion.

While Mike Aquilina shows us the ancient lineage of the Mass and how it connects us to the very first Christians, Dr. Edward Sri (of the Augustine Institute) shows how incredibly Biblical the roots of the Mass are. In fact, you'll find more Scripture in the Mass than at any "Bible Christian" "worship service." His book A Biblical Walk Through the Mass was written specifically to help Catholics better understand the Mass and the new translation Pope Benedict gave us. It's a great read.

If you're looking for someone to really get down into the nitty gritty of the Mass, breaking down the rubrics and looking at the laws governing how the Mass is supposed to be celebrated (according to the Church), Jimmy Akin's Mass Revision - How the Liturgy is Changing and What it Means for You will do the job nicely. Don't be fooled by the title, Mass Revision is an update to Mr. Akin's Mass Confusion: The Do's and Don'ts of Catholic Worship containing the original books material but adjusted to account for the changes that came with the new translation.

If you're looking for something that gets less at the technical aspects of the Mass and delves more deeply into the spiritual reality behind the Mass, I can't recommend Dr. Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth enough. By reading Hahn's book you'll begin to understand what really is happening on Sunday morning. Hahn pulls back the curtain, allowing us to catch a glimpse of the heavenly realities that make the Mass so important. As a bonus, you'll (finally!) be able to understand that most mysterious book in the Bible - Revelations, whose key is nothing less than the Mass itself.

If you really want to tackle the essence of the Mass, and aren't afraid of something more difficult, I know of no better book than Pope Benedict's The Spirit of the Liturgy. It isn't the easiest (or the hardest) book in the world and probably isn't exactly what the questioner is after, but it is a book every Catholic should read at least twice. Benedict himself, in the foreword, lays out his scope for the book,
"My purpose here is to assist this renewal of understanding of the Liturgy. Its basic intentions coincide with what Guardini wanted to achieve. The only difference is that I have had to translate what Guardini did at the end of the First World War, in a totally different historical situation, into the context of our present-day questions, hopes and dangers. Like Guardini, I am not attempting to involve myself with scholarly discussion and research. I am simply offering an aid to the understanding of the faith and to the right way to give the faith its central form of expression in the Liturgy."

Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention what is widely considered to be simply the best history of the Mass, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development by Josef Jungmann. It isn't an intro level read though. It's highly scholarly and leaves Latin and Greek text untranslated assuming the reader knows both languages! If you want a challenge (and an admittedly dry read) with lots of historical information then this might be the book for you.

What did I leave out? Is there a great book on the Mass that you've read? Please share!

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