Since 1995, the graduate student or generalist in Catholic liturgics has had a friend in James White's Roman Catholic Worship. Now White has published a second edition of his stellar introduction, a survey of four and a half centuries of the Church's liturgical life. It should remain one of the field's most important volumes for years to come.
Drawing on nearly four decades of teaching and scholarship, White is both judicious and probing in his assessments of liturgical developments. The Council of Trent made reception of universal norms part of the battle against emerging Protestant traditions across Europe. The changes were hardly limited to sacramental theology or practice, but infused preaching, church architecture, and music as well. The resulting portrait of the Church's worship life, therefore, yields a complex blend of aesthetic, political, and social elements. In the end, post-Tridentine liturgy is hardly static, but on White's reading, it is dynamic and, at times, even bold. White's book has exploded the idea that Catholic worship was uniform during the period in question.
The book's eight chapters are not entirely chronological in following the changes in the liturgical books. White is more concerned to weave many strands over time, such as how birth and death rituals ("rhythms of the life cycle") changed or how public prayer was altered with the gradual acceptance of the Roman breviary in various parts of the world. Chapters one to four pertain to more strictly historical periods (immediate aftermath of Trent, Baroque, Enlightenment, and Romantic era), but their subject matter can range over two hundred years as White narrates their long-term influences. The remaining chapters build up to the Second Vatican Council and its impact on the contemporary Church's worship. The text is especially strong in its emphasis on the growth of the nineteenth century liturgical movement. The Catholic Aufklärung and its proposals for reform ran afoul of Roman authorities, so that by the middle of the nineteenth century, calls for a vernacular liturgical celebration, revised hymnody, and pastoral efficacy in sacramental administration were drowned out. In their place came the Benedictines of Solesmes who, under Dom Prosper Guéranger, received Rome's approbation to resurrect certain medieval elements, especially chant. Although it took a couple of hundred years after the Council of Trent, worship would be Roman, in substance, if not in style. Another abbey, Maria Laach, would produce notable liturgical reformers as well, especially Odo Casel, whose influence sparked a continued expansion of the movement into America. White's description of the liturgical literature whose genesis originates with these Europeans gives an exceptionally clear portrayal of the worship life of the pre-Vatican II Church of the 1950s, as well as the council's immediate aftermath.
White notes that there is a chill being felt by those most recently involved in liturgical development, especially the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, which is subject to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. A series of recent instructions has retarded the progress once hoped for and White takes issue with the fourth and fifth of these documents, on inculturation and on the use of the vernacular in the liturgical books. More positively, White had access to some new doctoral dissertations since the publication of the first edition. Many of these he directed at Notre Dame and it is a tribute to his students' industry—and their mentor's synthesis—-in that they are to be found sprinkled liberally through the footnotes.
The text is highly recommended for graduate courses in liturgy or in upper level undergraduate courses related to the history of Christian worship. For the latter, it makes an excellent companion to several other introductory texts in the author's own corpus.