Saturday, May 19, 2007

More retreat reading: Know Him in the Breaking of the Bread

I saw this title mentioned at Rich Leonardi's Ten Reasons some time back as perhaps an accessible book for most Catholics explaining the Mass. So I ordered it, to see if it would be workable to recommend to my parishioners.

I found it a quick read--I went through it in a couple of hours this afternoon on the beach; so, yes, I'd call it "accessible." Still, it covers a fair amount of ground in 200+ pages, not only the Mass from beginning to end, but some about Eucharistic adoration, about using Latin in the Mass, about Vatican II and the changes that came in its wake, and about the Lectionary.

Father Francis Randolph (a pseudonym) begins by describing some problems familiar in this country (he is in the U.K.): declining Mass attendance, folks reporting being "bored" at Mass, and not understanding what it's about.

He describes something amazing to me, from his country: "many Catholic schools have a declared policy of not actually teaching the children anything about the Catholic religion...the school provided religious education, meaning that it could help children to live their existing faith and deepen it, but it was not its task to instill that faith in the first place" (p. 13). He pays the U.S. quite a compliment, saying, "when I hear a young American voice through the confessional grille, it is usually better informed and more conscientious than its English contemporary, though it is not necessarily more successful at living up to its ideals!" (p. 14).

Well, I shan't go through the whole book with you, but it does a good job explaining everything that goes on at Mass, giving a rationale for why we do things as we do, and explaining a number of the changes that came in the wake of the Council -- some of which he regrets or thinks miscarried. For example, he suggests perhaps we have too many readings at Mass, adding to confusion and tiring the faithful.

He rather early "shows his hand" as regarding his own preferences, particularly touching on the issue of which way the priest faces. Of course, this is a perfectly valid option, yes even under the current rite of the Mass--but not many Catholics know that, and unfortunately, the issue of "toward the people" or not is even more a "hot-button" issue than using Latin and chant. So it may be that his offerings on that subject--a brief part of his book--may be enough to put some off. That would be too bad, because there's nothing in this book that is in any way problematic, although obviously some might look at the same information or sources and reach different conclusions.

Perhaps the salient observation, offered specifically in regard to the value of Mass in Latin--even, and especially if you don't understand it!--but generally in regard to the issue of "not understanding everything" or "being distracted," was his point about the different levels of engagement with prayer. This is a common-sense observation, yet many forget about it, and try to engage in prayer mainly at the intellectual level--they try to engage the words and concepts, and apprehend them as one does in a conversation.

Of course this is important; but it is not and should not be the only level on which we pray. Randolph points out that for many people who are much more contemplative, they find trying to do this distracting and difficult, and much prefer to pray without direct engagement with the words; they don't sing, they take in the music; and for them, Mass in Latin is extremely helpful. He makes the very sound point that many people are contemplatives without realizing it, and don't particularly articulate their needs--so they end up saying, simply, "I don't know why, but I like Mass better in Latin."

Father Randolph makes the obvious right point--different strokes for different folks--but a further point, I don't recall him making, is that it might be important for everyone to experience the Mass, and prayer in general, on more levels. I.e., it may be those who object most when Mass doesn't appeal directly to them on an intellectual level, who most need chant, or music, or incense, or symbolism, or--gasp!--Latin; because it may help them discover a real dimension of prayer they'd been unaware of.

I shall provide the title as a resource for parishioners--I guess I am doing that now!

Know Him in the Breaking of the Bread by Father Francis Randolph, Ignatius Press, 1998.


Julie D. said...

I liked this book all right, with some of the observations that you made. My favorite of his, and the first book by Fr. Randolph that I read, was Pardon and Peace: A Sinner's Guide to Confession. I liked the side trips he took along the way to his subject as well as the way he covered the main material.

Sharon said...

I have read this book but I preferred "If Your Mind Wanders at Mass" by Thomas Howard.