Rev. Michael Cullinan
The Sower #43 (April 2010)
Jeffrey Pinyan, an American layman, has written and published (privately, it would appear) an extremely good guide to the Mass, based on the forthcoming English translation. This little work of 150 pages can be used by anyone. It would be very suitable for RCIA groups, but even a Doctor of Sacred Theology can learn something useful from it (for example why the Nicene Creed contains the phrase ‘light from light’).
This is a work of liturgical, indeed mystagogical, catechesis, of the sort that is very much needed today. It is faithful to the sources and principles of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not skewing its presentation either towards or away from tradition. For example, the Extraordinary Form is acknowledged, but purely factually. Pinyan adopts a hermeneutic of continuity with tradition, citing works from the Douay Catechism of 1649 through Richard Challoner and Joseph Ratzinger to, most recent, a 2007 work by Thomas Kocik. He interprets Vatican II in the light of what went before, for example Pius XII’s Mediator Dei, and completely avoids the polemical tone of all too many liturgical publications of recent decades.
This volume concentrates explicitly on the prayers of the people rather than those of the priest, so, for example, there is nothing on the Absolution in the Penitential Rite. After an Introduction subtitled ‘What is “praying the Mass”?’ discussing participation, liturgical catechesis, and the new English translation, Pinyan goes slowly through the Mass in 12 chapters, from the fast before Mass to the mission we receive at the Dismissal. Each chapter ends with ‘Questions for Reflection’ which are often thought provoking and do not simply lead back to the text for answers. There is also an Appendix quoting from Mediator Dei on how the faithful offer the Eucharist as both priests and victims. The text is attractive, easy to read, and remarkably free from typographical errors. The Latin and the new English translation are given for all the people’s responses, with differences from the current 1973 translation marked up. Some of these differences are explained very helpfully: for example why we do not say we believe in the Church.
A short review cannot do justice to all the things one can learn from this book. We are led through the Mass from Our Lord’s entrance into the Temple to his final commission on the Mount of Olives. On the way we learn much not only about the Mass but also about what God gives us: his mercy, his word, his peace, his very self and his blessing. We are shown our need for all these things in a way that is always honest and interesting, and never pietistic or moralizing. There is much excellent use of scripture, some of it beautiful, for example during the explanation of the context of the second part of the Sanctus (Palm Sunday) the text ‘the very stones would cry out’ (Luke 19:40) is quoted, and then vividly illustrated by Chesterton’s comment that they eventually did cry out through the invention of Gothic architecture.
Errors and omissions are hard to find. Sometimes controversy is being avoided, sometimes the rubrics are themselves ambiguous, for example on whether a response to the offertory prayer said aloud is optional or not. The footnote to St Augustine’s dates could come earlier and one piece of his writings is duplicated. The Roman Catechism is cited but omitted from the Bibliography. The way of showing reverence when receiving Holy Communion standing is not universally prescribed as a bow of the head, nor is kneeling for the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer. But the extremely minor nature of these points only goes to show the quality of this work, which I am happy to commend warmly as an excellent and very widely useful piece of modern liturgical and catechetical writing.