Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Short History of the Mass

By Alfred McBride, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 128 pages.

Father Alfred McBride's A Short History of the Mass emphasizes the constancy of the Mass throughout centuries of profound change, from ancient, pre-Nicene Creed Christians, towards and through the Middle Ages and Reformation periods and into the turbulent modern epoch.

A strength of the book is that the author does not try to present a Eucharistic celebration that stayed the same in form throughout the centuries. Instead, he shows that even though the liturgy did undergo well-guided and thought-out changes, the underlying spirituality and theology has been unchanging. This is an important achievement because many religious writers and historians emphasize discontinuity.

McBride portrays different Eucharistic practices of various eras as a positive thing: During the Middle Ages, “As members of the assembly felt alienated from the celebrant and the community, a sense of privacy arose. A need developed to find personal satisfaction in a religious experience apart from the Mass... Worshipers became preoccupied with relics, processions, pilgrimages, attachments to favorite saints, acts in which they could invest themselves and find some intimacy with God.”

This sounds a little critical of medieval Christians and the Church, yet the author is simply pointing out that when society changed more quickly than the religious institutions, people would find a way to live their faith, and that the appropriate institutional changes eventually came.

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