Though almost eight years have passed since its release, Cardinal Mahony's Gather Faithfully Together still rings true. Equally insightful, and manifesting an even more practical wisdom, The Implementation of Redemptionis Sacramentum by the same author captures the heart of anyone who truly loves liturgy. Richard Giles offers the same experience with the ecumenical perspective of the Anglican, Roman and Lutheran churches.
From start to finish Giles fulfills his goal to offer "a book for practitioners rather than scholars" (3). The sound scholarship incorporates the major documents of the three churches as well as the sound insight from a wide spectrum of liturgical theologians. His passion remains the burning question, "Does this work?" (3).
Every page of the text convinces the reader that Giles has worked to find what works. The text offers detailed descriptions of the Sunday Eucharist at the Philadelphia Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. Though attentive to his past experience at St. Thomas Parish in Huddersfield, England, the bulk of the text concentrates on his present ministry in Philadelphia. He suggests the trans-Atlantic experience provides evidence that "uncommon worship" can be the norm in most any community. While this reader would agree, he would suggest it probably ought to have a greater diversity than what Giles might propose.
A certain absoluteness concerning style, a trait not uncommon with artists and liturgists, could lead the overly critical reader to miss the genuine wisdom Giles seeks to offer. One unnecessary absolute claim made by the author concerns the posture of kneeling in prayer. While indeed standing for the "Great Prayer of Thanksgiving" seems most appropriate, other moments or contexts for prayer calling for "humble adoration" might find kneeling to be the appropriate posture. Giles suggests that the human person need never be this way in the presence of a loving God (91). Similarly, while certain churches might indeed seek to blur the lines between ordained and non-ordained, at present the Roman church, or at least some in it, find a different need. No doubt Giles would agree that he might want to rethink his suggestion that the elderly and physically challenged locate themselves around the perimeter of the circled altar (66). The language contradicts the inclusive character he believes necessary for Eucharist.
These few shortcomings should not cloud what is indeed a marvelous book. Taken as a guideline, the text refreshes the reader's passion for the sights, sounds, smells and dynamism of good liturgy. The noble simplicity of the described rituals, complemented by the rich photographs of the Sunday Eucharist in action, make one want to rekindle the liturgical flame in one's own place of worship. As with Mahony's work, you know Giles is right.
Throughout, the matter of blurred clerical lines aside, Giles drives home that the worship of the community needs to be the work of the community. He reinforces the simple point that Christian liturgy has no spectators, only participants. For clergy and laity quick to say, "We could never do that here!" Giles incorporates practical suggestions for the little problems that make for easy excuses not to change. Marked off in shaded blocks the author takes up the challenges of children and silence, sharing the peace, distributing communion, and the contemporary search for transcendence in worship. In each instance, as with the whole body of the text, he points out the particular strengths and limitations in the practice of the three churches.
The author's good humor, evident on most every page, suggests the perspective needed by all those with a passion for liturgy. Reflecting on the great power of the Eucharist liturgy, Giles quotes the poet Annie Dillard, "It is madness to wear ladies' straw hat and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews" (9). For Giles, as it should be for every Christian, liturgy unleashes power and passion. And this great work of the community becomes its play taking all beyond time and space that we might better live our present.