Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Review: Understanding the Mass

“Understanding the Mass”
by Fr. Charles Belmonte
Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, 1989

As Catholics, we attend mass frequently: on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and more often if we are able. The rituals are comforting and familiar. We know the prayers and when to sit and stand and kneel. With some minor local variations, we can walk into a Catholic Church anywhere in the world to attend mass and know what is going on. Yet, how much do we truly understand about the mass, the reasons why we do what we do? Have you ever wondered why certain prayers are included or why certain rituals take place? Have you struggled to understand the idea of transubstantiation (the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ)? “Understanding the Mass” will provide the answers to your questions.

Vatican II instructed that “everyone should understand well the liturgy and the ceremonies of the mass.” Fr. Charles Belmonte wrote “Understanding the Mass” to “make this understanding easier for the man on the street, for the ordinary Christian who often does not have access to more complete manuals on liturgy.” He succeeds in his task. He writes using down-to-earth language, explaining the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Mass as Sacrifice. He also explains how to prepare for attending mass. Belmonte then goes on to describe the mass step by step from the entrance procession to the final thanksgiving. He offers historical perspective on when and why certain elements were added to the Eucharistic celebration. He explains the prayers and the rituals.

This book was written in 1989 and as such contains no discussion of recent developments in liturgy such as the increased permission to celebrate the Tridentine liturgy. Never-the-less, it is an extremely useful book both for those who have been attending mass all their lives as well as those (perhaps from other faiths) who simply want to understand the Catholic liturgy better. It would also make a great text for a college class on the mass or for an adult education program in a parish setting.

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