This book is a quite technical work with a practical purpose: by a thorough comparative analysis of the Latin liturgical texts of episcopal ordination beginning in the fifth century through the modern pontifical, McMillan traces two elements of episcopal ordination, the selection and the consecration of bishops, as these elements varied over the centuries. By presenting evidence for the persistence of a two-stage process of episcopal ordination across the centuries, if sometimes in attenuated or vestigial forms, McMillan argues that this sequence “belongs to the substance of that sacrament, and thus belongs ‘to the tradition of the Fathers.’ Restoration of the selection stage and of the communion of consensus that lies at its core appears to be both ‘useful and necessary’ to the life of the entire church.” (288; the quotations are from the recommendations made in Sacrosanctum Concilium, § 50).
Methodologically, McMillan follows the “structural analysis of liturgical texts” proposed by Robert Taft, analyzing the history of liturgical texts by an analysis of individual elements within a ritual as these change and develop over time. McMillan originally intended this work to be a study of all the elements in Latin episcopal ordinations, but found enough significance and material to make the particular element of the presentations of the bishop-elect, first for selection and then a second time for ordination, to make this two-stage process the focus of her research. The liturgical texts’ balancing of these two ritual elements gives evidence for the importance of both aspects of episcopal ordination across the history of ordination in the West.
A striking contribution of this book is the wealth of primary liturgical sources McMillan presents, both in Latin and in English translation. Her method traces the two presentations across numerous times and places in the history of the Latin liturgy, providing both the texts themselves and a comparative analysis of the texts across time and different strands of the Latin west. At the same time, the value of this book to the specialist and the thoroughness with which McMillan presents the textual evidence make the body of the work challenging reading for the non-specialist. The introduction and conclusion are essential in collecting and summarizing the analytical conclusions for which McMillan is arguing, and might profitably by read before entering into the detailed, text-by-text analysis which upholds these conclusions.
I can see three ways in which the important contribution McMillan has already made in this volume might be expanded and further developed. First, this analysis is explicitly and primarily a textual analysis; as such, McMillan engages contemporary work in ritual theory and anthropology only occasionally and obliquely. A next step might be to bring these texts and translations into conversation with scholarship on rituals of selection and presentation more generally, and to see how that might shed further light on the liturgical elements in these processes. Secondly, as perhaps the liturgical theologian most expert in the history of Latin rites of episcopal selection and consecration, McMillan is uniquely poised to widen her comparative lens to look at the development of these rites in the Eastern Christian churches, particularly as the synodical processes of episcopal selection in the East have often preserved the element of communal selection for which McMillan argues. Finally, the theological analysis for recovering a role for episcopal selection might be further expanded; McMillan has thoroughly proven the rootedness of episcopal selection as the first stage of a two-stage process of episcopal ordination in the western liturgical tradition; additional theological analysis, particularly in conversation with contemporary ecclesiological studies of the episcopate and of the local church (as, for example, in Christopher Ruddy’s study of Jean-Marie Tillard, The Local Church), will help in the practical work of restoring a role for the community in the selection of bishops. McMillan’s book, in its selective focus and careful scholarship, is an invaluable foundation for the further investigation of these questions.