Thursday, August 16, 2007

Book Review-Mike Aqulina, The Mass of the Early Christians

A few months ago, a copy of Mike Aquilina's 2nd edition of The Mass of the Early Christians came my way. I was happy to see it on several levels, but largely because I've been reading his blog, The Way of the Fathers, ( must read for all patristibloggers) for just over a year and corresponding with him for about as long. He also has been a strong supporter of this blog and I was happy to read more of his writing in a conventional form.

In this book, Aquilina tackles the origins of the Mass (or Eucharist, as I would say). The perspective is Catholic (that isn't surprising, given the term Mass used), but I was please to see Mike's irenic style throughout. He considers the practice of the Mass from the first Pentacost to the Council of Nicaea (and Cyril of Jerusalem as a coda). The books breaks down into four parts: first, a historical introduction which includes a fascinating section connecting Jewish worship and the Christian liturgies connected to the Mass; the testimonia of the Fathers themselves, along with some pagan and heretic testimony; substantial excerpts of Cyril of Jerusalem as representative of the post-Nicene tradition; and a creative exercises to bring the early Christian Mass to life. Aquilina's style is clear, accessible and a pleasure to read.

In its basis, this is a source book and the issues addressed by the excerpts are traditional Catholic ones: Real Prescence, liturgical action, the concept of the priesthood, relationship to heretical and schismatic Christians. The result is a very clear enunciation of the patristic evidence for the Catholic view of the Eucharist. As an Anglican who believes in the Real Presence (even if I'm not sure I want to go quite all the way to transubstantiation), I find much in common with the testimonies cited.. Given the interest of Anglicans in the Liturgical Renewal program in the last century, this is not an unusual position. I do wonder how a more, say, Calvinist Protestant would select his sources on the topic, but that is just an idle thought.

I encourage my readers to seek out this new edition of The Mass of the Early Christians. For my Catholic readers, it is a valuable connection to the Catholic liturgical tradition and its patristic justification. For non-Catholics, it is an excellent and accessible account to the Catholic reading of the Fathers and tradition. Either way, you will enjoy your time with this book.


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