The Eucharistic Liturgies: Their Evolution and Interpretation

Bradshaw, Paul F. & Johnson, Maxwell E.
SPCK (2012)
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When I attended my first Easter Vigil in 1960 with an eight-year-olds sense of wonder, I thought that this had been the way of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries, so beautifully was it executed with my beloved grandfather as the MC. Without even questioning the point, I assumed that the reforms of Vatican II which introduced English into the ceremonies a decade later was a radical adjustment to centuries of practice. In this superb book by Bradshaw and Johnson I discovered to my fascination that Pope Pius XII reversed the rituals from morning, where they had been marooned to conform with pre Eucharist fasting regulations, to evening, where the fire and the Lumen Christi came into their own, in 1951. I marvelled then at the precision with which the service was organised such that the decrepit little harmonium sprang into marvellous fanfare for the Gloria on the stroke of midnight as the purple shrouds were torn down and flowers rushed into the church. This was the climax of a week of painful, fully lived drama which has been an indispensable part of my life but which, I discovered, was only properly re-constituted in 1956. The rituals and I have since migrated to the 'Catholic' segment of the Church of England which is testimony to a massive reversal of Reformation ritual and sentiment starkly set out in Brian Cummings' brilliantly lucid critical edition of the Book of Common Prayer texts for 1549, 1559 and 1662, with copious references to the short-lived 1552 edition.

Bradshaw and Johnson begin at the very beginning and take the history of the Eucharistic liturgies up to the present day but their depth and strength naturally lies in an earlier period; indeed, one could say that the older the text, the more fragmented its nature and obscure its origin, the better they are. They give proper weight to the different rites of the early Church, putting the Roman rite in its proper, belatedly canonical, context. It was Charlemagne what done it!

Whether they have been forced by compression or have experienced a burst of self-confidence, the authors' judgemnts, though still properly qualified, are much sharper than they were in their maddeningly prevaricative The Origin of Feasts, Fasts and Season. It is one thing to say that you cannot be certain but quite another to say that nothing can be said until you are.

Building on and sometimes summarising Bradshaw's Eucharist Origins, the strength of this latest enterprise is the lengthy quotation of consecration texts, illustrating how the East and West diverged and how Protestantism, paradoxically in view of its fundamental pessimism, re-integrated some Greek Orthodox Eucharistic theology.

Naturally, much turns on the Roman Catholic obsession, and Protestant anti-obsession, with transubstantiation but Bradshaw and Johnson give equal weight to the discussion of how literally Christ's words of Institution are to be taken and in what way the presence of Christ in the Eucharist has been understood at different times and in different traditions. They go on to delineate a fascinating debate about the Eucharist as sacrifice, a concept which we honour in word but perhaps not in thought. Again, I found myself brought up sharply when I learned that an Epiclesis was not a Eucharist given.

Considering the place which the Eucharist now occupies in Anglican worship, this book is an indispensable teaching and learning tool so that all of us come to understand what is being done and what we are doing when we go to church. This is as indispensable a book to the Anglican worshipper as, in their different ways, Wisden is to the cricket enthusiast or the Cook railway timetable to the European train enthusiast.