Review by David Schütz

Posted by Jeffrey Pinyan at 7:28 AM


In the near future English speaking Catholics are going to face a challenge unlike any since the introduction of the English liturgy forty years ago: the new English translations of the Roman Missal.

It must be acknowledged that there has been much debate about the desirability of a new translation. The fact is that this change is going to take place. Given that this change is not one that can be avoided, how can we turn the challenge of introducing the new texts into a truly positive experience for everyone?

Jeff Pinyan, an young American author, has taken a positive view of the challenge of introducing the new texts as a “teachable moment” for the Church. Inspired by Pope Benedict’s call in Sacramentum Caritatis for a “mystagogical catechesis” on the liturgy, he has written and self-published a study booklet on the people’s parts of the Mass. His aim is that through using this book, individuals and groups may learn more about the origins and meanings of the prayers they say at Mass, and so be enabled truly to engage in the liturgy with that “active participation” which the Second Vatican Council called for.

The focus of “Praying the Mass” is much broader than the new translations themselves. Treating the liturgy section by section, he gives both the English and the Latin text of the people’s prayers, marking with a discreet arrow those places where the are changes from the current text. Alongside the text, he helpfully gives the biblical passages from which the liturgy derives or to which it refers. These scriptural references are a unique feature of this particular study, and serve to build an appreciation for the liturgy as a response to the Word of God.

The author then follows the text of each prayer with an explanation that is detailed, informative and very readable. As well as addressing the words that the people say at Mass, he has included a treatment of the postures and actions we use, bringing out the fact that worship is not just what we say with our mouths but also about what we do with our bodies. “Praying the Mass” does not, however, encourage a cold rubricism, but rather a deepening of interior prayer and engagement with the rite.

A special feature at end of each chapter is a set of questions which relate to the three stages of liturgical catechesis: interpretation, explanation and relation to the experience and faith of the worshipers. These would be very useful in a study group situation and would lead to opening out the ideas and information he has provided. Where necessary he explains the changes that have been made, but this is not an overwhelming feature of the book.

I can see many different applications for this manual. Individuals will benefit from the close study of the liturgy that it provides, but it would also be eminently suited to study groups and adult education classes. There is an opportunity here for parish priests as well. I can easily imagine a series of homilies utilising the scriptural references, examples and questions for reflection that Pinyan provides. An added bonus of the new translations is that they are uniform throughout the English speaking world, which means that there is nothing in this book that will clash with our local usage.

Copies of the book will be available through the Central Catholic Bookshop, but also may be ordered online from the author himself.

The Gospel calls us to make the most of every opportunity for proclaiming and teaching the faith. Jeff Pinyan’s book will be a valuable resource to all who wish to approach the challenge of the introduction of the new translation of the missal as just such an opportunity.