Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: "The Liturgical Year"

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life - The Ancient Practices Series
by Joan Chittister, OSB
Nashville, TN, 2009

Having read several of the books in "The Ancient Practices Series" edited by Phyllis Tickle, I was excited to get my hands on this latest offering. "The Liturgical Year" focuses, as the title suggests, on the feasts and seasons that make up our liturgical year. Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine, was an interesting choice for the author of this book in this particular series. Overall, this series has had a decidedly evangelical bent and sought to present the ancient practices from a variety of religious traditions. This offering is 100% Catholic which I am sure aggravated many readers of this series. As a Catholic myself, I was thrilled.

Sr. Joan has a mixed reputation among Catholics. Many love her. Many hate her. Some of the books she has written have made my blood boil. Others have been very insightful. This falls into the latter category. It is a well-written introduction to the reasons for our liturgical year and the benefit found in following the seasons of joy and sorrow. Each year that we repeat the process finds us in a different place, with new insights and new wisdom and new challenges to be faced. The liturgical calendar invites us to once again experience Jesus' life and glean the lessons appropriate for us at that moment. "The liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alert, the soul to focus. It does not concern itself with the questions of how to make a living. It concerns itself with the questions of how to make a life."

The main focus of the liturgical year is the Easter experience. Yet the liturgical year contains four major kinds of celebrations. The first celebration is Sunday, the weekly remembrance of the Resurrection. Second, we celebrate two major seasons - Advent, before Christmas, and Lent, before Easter. Third, the sanctorial cycle commemorates the holy lives of those that have come before. Lastly, Ordinary Time which lasts after Christmas until the start of Lent, and then again after the Easter season until Advent bears witness to the "ongoing presence of Christ in the human community today." Chittister explores each of these four celebrations, both from a historical and a spiritual perspective. She examines the importance of balancing joy and sorrow, fasting and celebration, as well as embracing the "normal" state of Ordinary Time.

She also dedicates a chapter to the Marian feasts which celebrate the Mother of God. "The feasts of Mary in the liturgical year are a virtual catalog of the works of God in humanity in the Incarnation of the divine in our midst. She is, the ancient prayer reminds us all, 'blessed among women.' She is simply a woman like ourselves whose acceptance of the will of God changed the trajectory of humanity. The implications for the rest of us are awesome. The implications for women as women are particularly impacting."

I can't imagine life without following the liturgical year. It is so much a part of who I am as a Catholic. As Chittister states in her conclusion, "The liturgical year is the experience, in the present, of the mysteries of the past and their promise that the reign of God will, someday, eventually, be fulfilled in the future. It is in the liturgical year where we come to realize that time, life, the real world, is where we encounter God. And that is the essential, the engendering, the ultimate adventure of life." I would recommend "The Liturgical Year" to anyone who wanted a better understanding of why we Catholics celebrate the year the way that we do.

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