A History of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Vol.VI: The Communion, Thanksgiving, and Concluding Rites
There is probably no one more qualified than Robert Taft, emeritus professor of Oriental Liturgy at Rome's prestigious Pontifical Oriental Institute, to write the history of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. This is the concluding volume in a series he began in 1975. Although this is the last volume of the series, one more remains to be published: volume 3 on the Anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer. Taft notes some nine articles he has already published on the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, the most employed Eucharistic prayer in the Christian East, and so one can hope that the series will reach completion. Taft has sometimes been called "the Byzantine Jungmann." The truth of the matter is that Taft himself has written far more extensively about the Christian East than Jungmann did about the Roman Rite. One can imagine that someday people might refer to Jungmann as "the Roman Taft."
The current volume on the Communion and concluding rites is both massive and impressive. Taft seems to leave no question untreated—and he deals with every question with extraordinary depth and scholarship, using the time-honored method of comparative liturgy. This volume sheds light, therefore, not only on the Byzantine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom but on the other Byzantine liturgies (St. Basil, the Presanctified), and other Eastern and Western rites as well.
Perhaps the most significant improvement over past volumes in the series is Taft's attentiveness to the history of the "everyday," the incidental literature that gives us not liturgical texts themselves but rather the historical and liturgical context in which they were experienced. This volume is filled with reports from the desert monastics, sermons, and other literature that sheds light on how the Communion rites were celebrated and understood.
In addition to his encyclopedic scholarship,Taft is at his best when writing about method, as he does in the excursus on the skeuophylakion (sacristy) and processions at Hagia Sophia, Constantinople's "Great Church." Here he shows step-by-step how he has come to conclusions that differ significantly [End Page 91] from other scholars such as André Grabar and Neil Moran. As he does elsewhere throughout the history, he provides texts—often in the original as well as translation—and clear, concise summaries of his arguments and conclusions. The general conclusion is a splendid example of theological reflection together with a truly moving coda on his life's work.
The most fascinating and valuable part of the book is Taft's excursus on the frequency of Eucharistic celebration and on the frequency of Holy Communion. As he ably demonstrates, these are distinct questions. His attention to detail makes it very difficult for the reader to hold onto what might have been cherished shibboleths—such as the opinion that solitary celebration of the Mass is an invention of the medieval West or that there ever was a golden age when everyone received Holy Communion regularly. As always, good historical research makes popular and easy generalizations difficult if not impossible.
This volume will serve as a gold standard not only for students of the Byzantine liturgy or liturgical historians in general but also for any scholar or student eager to understand how such a complex phenomenon as Christian ritual works and is understood. The introduction and conclusion should be required reading for any serious student of the liturgy—East and/or West.