What a useful book for the theologian, especially the sacramental theologian, to have on the bookshelf! Primary Readings is that, but in a far more sophisticated sense than the title might imply to someone browsing titles. It would have been out of line, I suppose, to have called it "fundamental readings" or even "necessary readings," but I would argue that such a title would be a better guide to the book's contents.
The included essays reach back to the 60s and forward to 2003. The selection must have been difficult, but the editor chose wisely. Included are essays by Brevard Childs on the Israel's theology of memory, a number of essays by Robert Taft that draw in the Eastern Orthodox theologies of the Eucharist, fine historical essays by Cyrille Vogel and Godefridus J.C. Snoek, Edward Schillebeeckx's seminal examination of the Council of Trent on Transubstantiation, Louis Bouyer on Cranmer and the Anglican Eucharist, an examination of the Roman Canon by Dominic E. Serra, and after several essays by Robert Taft, two more from the Orthodox Church by Killostos Ware and John Zizioulas.
That list alone should recommend the collection, but for those who may not have read the earlier essays, I can assure you that for this student of the Eucharist, reviewing the article by Edward Schillebeeckx made even more sense to me than when I read it thirty years ago. The more recent essays on historical subjects, written between 1986 and 2003, will inform anything I say or write about the Eucharist. Vogel's essay on the development of the private Mass and Snoek's chapter on the separation of uses of the Eucharist from its origin as a meal are particularly helpful. They raise, of course, the question of reform, and of ad fontes and entail the objectification of the presence of Christ for the purposes of carrying the Eucharist to the sick and exposing it for adoration. Neither historian addresses this problem; for example, Snoek doesn't go beyond the history to speculate on the appropriateness of Eucharistic independence from the liturgical action of the Mass. But both provide both arguments and references that theologians need to give a solid historical base to theological concerns about the various practices that developed. Some were addressed by Vatican II, but not all. Development of traditions does not necessarily mean that those developments are abuses, but every tradition needs a critical review from time to time to prune what leads astray and to encourage helpful practices to flourish. This little volume is an excellent means to encourage such constructive criticism.
For classroom use, this volume would help seminarians and budding lay theologians to consider the history and development of the Eucharist. It would certainly end such mindless affirmations as I heard from one recent seminary graduate: "So you see that the Eucharist has remained unchanged from the very beginnings of the Church." For people who simply want to know more about a practice and its related devotions, this book would give study groups some serious food for their discussions.