The Liturgical Year, the Spiritual Adventure of the Spiritual Life, by Joan Chittister (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009) 217 pp., cloth $17.99

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The Liturgical Year is part of the Ancient Practices Series published by Thomas Nelson, which, according to Phyllis Tickle (the General Editor of the series) involves seven ancient practices that inform all the Abrahamic faiths (p. xviii).  This volume is devoted to the liturgical year and the liturgy presented from the framework of the Roman Catholic community (p. xv).   This would be expected since the author is a Benedictine nun who believes “the liturgical year is the arena where our life and the life of Jesus intersect” (p. 16).  It is the liturgy that binds the faith community together and deepens our understanding of spiritual life (p. xiv).

As Chittister and the Catholic tradition understand it, “The liturgical year is the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ.  It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually we become what we say we are—followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God” (p. 6).  Pope Pius XI called the liturgical year “the principle organ of the ordinary magisterium of the church” (p. 10).  Chittister promises great things for those who practice the liturgical year.  Not only is there the individual spiritual benefit quoted above but if enough people follow suit it will also bring about world change:  “When that happens then the world will change.  Then the people will be saved.  Then the reign of God promised by Jesus, preached by the apostles, and proclaimed by the lives of the saints will have come.  Then life will be what it is meant to be: the love of God fully alive in us” (p. 22).  There is just one problem—not only are such promises for those keeping the liturgical calendar not found in Scripture, but neither is the liturgical year.  The author makes it clear that every aspect of the liturgy and the liturgical year is rooted in extrabiblical sources and developed years after the close of the New Testament, often centuries later (pp. 19, 64, 78, 102, 108-109, 135-136, 143-144, 159, 172, 186-188, 203-204).  This is not a problem to one steeped in Catholic theology who has full faith in the church’s magisterium, but it is a major problem to those who confess sola Scriptura.

If one is searching for a book on Roman Catholic liturgy and the liturgical observances, this would be a good one.  Chittister writes well, is knowledgeable and provides much information.  She clarifies the major kinds of celebrations, as well as minor feasts, discusses at length the purpose of Lent (pp. 100-106, 112, 125, 131), devotes time to Marian theology and piety (pp. 202-207) including a listing of the sixteen events within the liturgical calendar that are devoted to Mary (pp. 206-207), and much more.  This book will explain why and how the Catholic Church centers its life around the liturgical year.  What it does not do is give scriptural basis and teaching on the liturgy because such is not found in the Word of God.

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