“The liturgy, 'through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,' most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 2). The Second Vatican Council also teaches that the liturgy is the source and summit of the Church’s activity. However, Mass attendance is in decline in many parts of the world. Many Catholics must not appreciate what occurs in the Church’s ritual worship and celebration of the sacraments. Even committed Mass-goers may grow weary of humdrum celebrations. It is crucial, therefore, to understand the liturgy and appreciate it. To this end, Christopher Carstens discusses in this interview the five books that he recommends on the nature and significance of the sacred liturgy.

Christopher Carstens is director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin; a visiting faculty member at the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois; and editor of the Adoremus Bulletin. He is author of A Devotional Journey into the Mass (Sophia), as well as Principles of Sacred Liturgy: Forming a Sacramental Vision (Hillenbrand Books). He and his family live in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin.

  1. The Spirit of the Liturgy
    by Romano Guardini
  2. The Spirit of the Liturgy
    by Card. Joseph Ratzinger
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  4. The Wellspring of Worship
    by Fr. Jean Corbon
  5. The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origin and Development (2 vols.)
    by Fr. Joseph Jungmann SJ
    ...and two bonus recommendations....
  6. The Mystery of Christian Worship
    by Fr. Odo Casel OSB
  7. Rite and Man: The Sense of the Sacred and Christian Liturgy
    by Fr. Louis Bouyer
Five Books for Catholics may receive a commission from qualifyng purchases made using the affliate links to the books listed in this post.

Theologians have often struggled to give a precise definition of the liturgy. Do you want to give it a stab?
Well, I agree that it is a very slippery concept. Everybody talks about the liturgy, but it is hard to put a fine point on it. The definition offered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at the beginning of its section on the Sacred Liturgy, is the best one: the liturgy is “the participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God’” (CCC 1069). The People of God are all the baptised, not simply the clergy. The work of God is principally the Paschal mystery of Jesus, although the Father and the Spirit are at work as well. The means of our participation is a sacramental ritual, that is made up of signs, symbols, words, and actions. The Paschal mystery of Jesus is made present through the ritual signs and symbols, and we actively participate in that saving work.

In your various apostolates you deal with the Roman Rite. Similarly, most of the books you have chosen deal prevalently with the Roman Rite. To what extent are your chosen books instructive for Eastern Rite Catholics?
True, I grew up as a Roman Rite Catholic, a member of the Latin Church. That is what I am familiar with. I read about other rites and may have gone to a handful other Catholic rites. Take, for example, the definition of the liturgy: the People of God participate in the saving work of Jesus through a liturgical ritual. That is applicable to any rite around the world, at any time. It is applicable to the Anglican use; to what was called the extraordinary form; the ordinary form; to the Maronite rite; to the Syro-Malabar rite; to Coptic celebrations. In each instance, God's baptised people engages through sacramental signs the unseen reality of the Paschal mystery of Jesus. That, at least, is applicable across the board, even though the specifics vary.

"The Council Fathers speak of the spirit of the liturgy in numerous places. They had something definite in mind."

1 & 2

The first two books on your list could be treated as a single entry. Indeed, recently they have been published together. The first is Romano Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, published in 1918; the second is Card. Joseph Ratzinger’s book of the same name, published in 2000. The latter addresses, in the wake of Vatican II’s liturgical reform, the same questions as Guardini had at the end of the First World War. Card. Ratzinger not only takes Guardini’s book as his model but credits it with having disclosed the sense and richness of the liturgy to him. You have also edited The Seven Gifts of the Spirit of the Liturgy: Centennial Perspectives on Romano Guardini’s Landmark Work. Why do these books top your list?
They set a solid foundation. They are fundamental to liturgical understanding. Their pedigree, history, and authors vouch for this too. Romano Guardini, as Pope Benedict said, founded the liturgical movement in Germany at that time. Germany especially was the source of the liturgical movement for much of the twentieth century. These two books give the fundamentals. If you take a cursory look at news stories about the liturgy, this is very much needed today. There is much debate. It is not unnecessary, but maybe it is on the finer points. The bigger picture is often lost. Each of them, but especially Guardini, lays out common characteristics or features of the spirit of the liturgy. As I wrote in the introduction to The Seven Gifts of the Spirit of the Liturgy, the Council Fathers speak of the spirit of the liturgy in numerous places. They had something definite in mind. Any liturgical practice, discussion, or debate that does not see what these fundamental features are is thin and superficial. Understanding the spirit of the liturgy is foundational for understanding all things liturgical: the Mass, the sacraments, the liturgy of the hours.

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