Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

We turn today to another book concerning ritual and customs, still generally high church yet very, very different from last week’s entry on Ritual Notes.  Today’s book is a much shorter affair, barely passing 100 pages: Elements of Offering by Fr. John-Julian, released by Nashotah House Press.  Despite the similar churchmanship, this book is almost completely different to Ritual Notes.  It’s short, written as personal-yet-principled advice rather than as straightforward rubrics.  This book seems more like a pile of educational church bulletin inserts stuck together into a book – there are more typos than I’m used to seeing, a more casual writing style, and (horrifyingly) no Table of Contents or Index.  You just have page through the book to see what’s there.  Fortunately its contents are arranged pretty logically.  I took the liberty of creating the following list.

  1. The Eucharistic Action (1)
  2. Liturgical Meaning (2)
  3. Liturgical Emotion (2)
  4. Liturgical Novelty (3)
  5. Liturgical Accretions (4)
  6. Division of Labor (6)
  7. Silence (6)
    – – – In the Sanctuary – – –
  8. The Fair Linen (8)
  9. The Candles (9)
  10. The Corporal (11)
  11. The Purificator (12)
  12. The Lavabo Towel (13)
  13. Laundering Linen (14)
  14. Vestments (15)
  15. Posture (20)
  16. Altar Wine (29)
  17. The Altar Breads (31)
  18. The Vessels (32)
  19. Sanctus Bells (35)
  20. The Credence Table (36)
  21. The Eucharistic Action (37)
  22. Uncluttered Altar (38)
  23. Incense (40)
  24. Osculations (41)
  25. Missals and Stands (42)
    – – – Walk-through of the Holy Eucharist – – –
  26. Salutations (43)
  27. The Collect (43)
  28. The Scripture Readings (44)
  29. The Sermon/Homily (49)
  30. The Creed (50)
  31. Passing the Peace (51)
  32. The Offertory (52)
  33. The Consecration (53)
  34. Sign of the Cross in the Lord’s Prayer (57)
  35. Invitation to Communion (58)
  36. Words of Administration (59)
  37. Administering the Chalice (60)
  38. The Ablutions (61)
  39. The Post-Communion (63)
  40. Final Blessing (63)
    – – – The Divine Office – – –
  41. A Literary Liturgy (65)
  42. The Phos Hilaron (65)
  43. The Psalter and Office (66)
  44. Meditative Recitation (68)
  45. The Office Readings (69)
  46. The Suffrages (71)
    – – – Other Liturgies – – –
  47. Advent (73)
  48. Lent (73)
  49. Rogationtide (77)
  50. Holy Unction (79)
  51. Miscellaneous (82)
  52. Clericals (83)

Appendix

  1. Appropriate Forms to announce Scripture Readings (84)
  2. Folding Altar Linens (87)
  3. Concerning Advent (89)
  4. When to Bow (91)
  5. Recipe for Gluten-free bread (92)
  6. Music & Liturgy (96)

Each “chapter” here follows a simple format: PrinciplePractice, and sometimes also Pointer.  The principle sets out a rule or reason or goal, the practice is how to achieve or apply that principle; the pointer is further advice.  On the whole the author is mostly a pragmatist.  He has little patience for the high ceremonial of his more Anglo-Catholic forebears.  He is writing for the 1979 Prayer Book which is quite removed from previous tradition, and he therefore advocates an approach to ritual and ceremony that is also quite simplified and streamlined from previous high church practice.  He also comes down on a view of Eucharistic consecration that is somewhat out of line with traditional catholic belief.

As you may surmise from this description so far, this book is both highly useful for us in the ACNA (as our prayer book liturgy is similar in order to the 1979), but also a little frustrating.  Some of his advice is fantastic:

  • “The Eucharistic liturgy is not a soap opera.  Its purpose is not to produce an emotional jag or an ardent “high” for participants.  Good liturgy is dependably repeatable… to attempt to make it “emotionally satisfying” can destroy its built-in and intended objectivity and universality” (2).
  • “And never, NEVER, NEVER use a person’s name when administering Communion!  It is a communal liturgical act, not a private one-to-one intimacy between priest and communicant” (59).
  • “Watch the introduction to Bible books: “A reading from Galatians” is woefully inadequate and actually inaccurate.  It is “Paul’s Letter to the Galatians”” (70).

Some of his advice is oddly over-specific:

  • “Under NO circumstace is it EVER appropriate to divide a Psalm verse at the asterisk, with one voice taking the first half of the verse, and a different voice the second half” (67).

And some of his advice is (in my opinion) ridiculous:

  • “It always seemed awkward, and in the past it was difficult to provide an apologia for the elevation and genuflection before the epiclesis” (55).
  • “The old fashioned (Puritan) practice of announcing Chapter and Verse before a Reading is absolutely pointless unless the Assembly is following the reading in a Bible and the Celebrant wants them to look it up (vile practice!)” (70).

These last two bad examples are indications that the author is not terribly well-informed about liturgy, Anglican or otherwise, before the radical reforms of Vatican II.  Catholic theology of the consecration of the Eucharist was pretty clear back in the day, and the early Prayer Books did in fact call for the announcement of chapter (and sometimes verse) of Scripture lessons.  It’s as if all he knows is the 1979 book, and he’s projecting his understanding of that book upon all that came before it.  That way of thinking is precisely what this Customary and blog exist to rectify today!

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 2/5
This book is very readable; even a ‘newbie’ to Anglicanism will understand what it says and learn a lot.  The below-average rating is due to its lack of index or table of contents; you have to skim the whole book in order find the answer to your question.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
This isn’t a book you pray with, so in a sense this is an N/A answer.  But if you aim to apply the principles of liturgy in this book, you’ll get a formal but essentially-pragmatic style that is common in popular Episcopalianism today, and may be initially attractive to those interested in liturgical worship, but is somewhat shallow and ignorant of actual prior tradition.  The author’s approach to the reading and purpose of Scripture is also a bit weak, in my opinion.

Reference Value: 3/5
If you’re a lay server, like in the altar guild or something, the parts of this book that relate to you are actually really quite useful!  The stuff about the celebrant, though, is somewhat hit-or-miss.  So maybe give this to your lay readers and lay ministers, but not to a new priest.

Over all, it’s a neat book to have, but whenever the author is talking about liturgy and ‘tradition’ straight up, it’s worth double-checking him against actual traditional sources.  And make sure you’re more classical-prayer-book-literate than he is.

One thought on “Book Review: Elements of Offering

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