- The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy: School of Prayer, Source of Life by Goffredo Boselli
The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy: School of Prayer, Source of Life
Translated by Barry Hudock
Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014
xvi + 235 pages. Paperback. $19.95.
The chapters of this volume first appeared elsewhere separately as essays, primarily in publications for the monastery of Bose, where the author is a monk and liturgist. Here organized in three parts—“Mystagogy,” “Liturgy in the Life of the Church,” and “A Liturgy for the Christianity That Lies Ahead of Us”—the compilation offers a fine introduction to the meaning of the liturgy in the contemporary context. Boselli begins by lamenting the state of lay liturgical training, which seems dismally poor, in contrast to biblical knowledge, which even at the parish level has increased since Vatican II. To close the gap, he unfolds a mystagogy of Christian worship that draws on patristic and early Jewish sources. Aided by a close reading of the pertinent liturgical texts he provides a “lectio divina” of the Mass and liturgical prayer.
The result is coherent, bearing little evidence of its origins in scattered sources. After an introduction to mystagogy that emphasizes the role of Christ as the true “mystagogue,” the series of chapters treat major elements of the Mass, from the Penitential Act to the Liturgy of the Word and the Presentation of the Gifts. Boselli then treats constitutive elements of the liturgy: the assembly, the priests, and the Missal. The final chapters expand the vision to consider the liturgy in relation to prayer, the poor, and evangelization. Thus, the volume combines a concern for the drama of the Mass with a focus on its components and their link to extra-liturgical concerns.
Boselli’s approach invites contemplation. Mystagogy as “typology applied to the liturgy” (14) guides his approach in Part One. Thus, in treating the Confiteor he identifies an “authentic liturgical anthropology” that sees the assembly primarily as sinners recognizing their own failure. Even relatively minor liturgical gestures bear substantial mystagogical weight: the elevation of the Evangelarium prior to the proclamation of the Gospel is already a “hermeneutical action,” indicating that one should view the word of God as a possession of the community before hearing its contents. The mystagogical method also encourages close attention to the diction of the Roman ritual. For instance, we are [End Page 219] reminded in the treatment of the Benedictus (“Blessed are you, Lord”) that the Lord (and not the gifts) is blessed by the offering of the bread and the wine.
Part Two shifts the focus to the participants in the liturgy. Here Boselli emphasizes the congregation as koinonia, as one with Christ in offering and receiving the Eucharistic gifts. This communion implies a radical transformation in attitude and outlook among members. It also frames the proper role of the psalter and the liturgical texts in the life of the priest, who should see himself as the servant rather than the master of the communion that speaks the sacred words.
The dynamic of the essays leads to Part Three, where the Missal itself is offered as a guide and means for proper, Christ-centered prayer, prompting an “interiorization” of scriptural language to foster a “mens biblica” (171). Transformed by the encounter with the word in the Missal, the assembly together with their priests can direct their self-offering to the service of the marginalized and to the spread of the Gospel.
To be sure, occasional repetitions, especially near the end of the volume, can suggest the book’s origin in essays published for a range of audiences, for whom it would have been necessary to establish basic points. Still, the style and shape of the volume are balanced and consistent. I might have liked some deeper engagement with the broader sweep of liturgical authors, especially medieval and Byzantine sources, to supplement the patristic writers cited by Boselli. Their absence can suggest that writings from the time of Chrysostom to the twentieth century are, perhaps, negligible or even “decadent.”
Boselli’s attractive prose is translated with elegance and clarity, and marks of its Italian origins are minimal...