Juliette J. DAY.  Reading the Liturgy:  An Exploration of Texts in Christian Worship.  New York:  Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014.  Pages  x + 179.  $26.99.  ISBN 978-0-567-06335-9.  Reviewed by Stephen S. WILBRICHT, Stonehill College, Easton, MA  02357


            Well known for her scholarship in the sources of Early Christian liturgy, particularly the catechetical lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem, Juliette Day lectures in Church History at the University of Helsinki in Finland and is Senior Research Fellow in Liturgy at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, UK.  In her latest work, Reading the Liturgy, Day provides a valuable precursor for studying textual material.  Her goal is to demonstrate that liturgical texts, ancient and modern, convey meaning far beyond content or author intention.  In the end, she refers to a text as a “threshold”:  “Because of its physicality, its rubrics and instructions, its proposition of appropriate responses to God and to other people, it requires its participants to pass over or through into God’s presence, to a place where his image and likeness may be restored” (164).

            Thus, Day explores what takes place in the creation and the use of liturgical texts; what does “textuality” truly mean?  Employing the insights of linguistic and literary experts—figures such as Roland Barthes, Paul Ricoeur, and Walter Ong, to name just a few—Day examines the nature of a written “text” in Chapter One and turns to the often daunting issue of “authorship” in Chapter Two.  Particularly interesting is the test-case she provides, namely the tricky Sacramentary of Serapion, as Day reveals levels of authorship, making it impossible to determine its “original creative genius” (30).

            Chapters Three through Five investigate the topics of “genre,” “narrative,” and “intertextuality.”   Day proposes three forms of genre in liturgical texts:  “prose,” “poetry,” and “prayer” (47).  She discovers that despite content change in contemporary liturgical compositions, liturgical texts tend to retain the use of these principal genres.  In terms of the “narrative” quality of liturgical texts, Day uses modern narrative theory, such as that proposed by Stanley Hauerwas and David Burrell, to show that all texts may be classified as “overtly narrative” (Palm Sunday liturgies), “implicitly narrative” (baptismal liturgies), or “non-intentional narrative” (divine office) (69).   This leads to the very interesting discussion of “intertexuality” in Chapter Five.  While the term implies the concept of a text within a text, it also encompasses the many connections that readers make with other texts.  Day examines intertextuality according to the three categories of “purposed,” “playful,” and “ornamental” (91).  She concludes: “Thus attention to intertexuality provides us with a further example of how meaning may be generated or missed in the worship event and how authorial intention and worshippers’ interpretation may not always converge” (101).

            Chapter Six, entitled “Language,” examines the way in which the words uttered in a liturgical event differ from other forms of communication.  Liturgical language is “performative,” making present that of which is speaks.  It establishes bonds of identity between worshippers and between worshippers and God.  Furthermore, it is collective and technical.  “Liturgical texts employ, then, vocabulary and imagery which is not common in the surrounding culture but which is used without comment by worshippers because it is part of their culture infused by scripture and their own traditions” (115).  Chapter Seven, “Paratext,” explores the often-overlooked structural dimensions of a text, such as the title page, notes, instructions, physical layout, and pastoral and theological introductions, all of which convey important clues regarding meaning.  Day helps us to appreciate that seemingly small details such as typeface and spacing are not neutral, they communicate. 

            The final chapter of Reading the Liturgy places the written text in the context of ritual performance, and here the author focuses primarily upon the ritual characteristic of repetition as well as the roles involved in liturgical participation.  For those unfamiliar with the dynamics of ritual studies, this chapter will serve as a good overview of the way in which the verbal and non-verbal animation of a text generates meaning.  In Day’s words:  “The liturgical text hints at the relational, it makes new relationships possible, but for it to be effective the participants are required to engage ritually, imaginatively, and we would say by experience, to complete the meanings only partially conveyed through the text and ritual; they are required to ‘complete the construction of reality’” (159).

            This book will be especially helpful for those scholars of the liturgy who are just setting out to explore the sources.  It will help to make students pay close attention to the complex nature of a written text.  Therefore, Reading the Liturgy might very well be used as the introductory text in a graduate course on liturgical sources.  While this reader was surprised and somewhat disappointed to see no implementation of Kevin Irwin’s 1994 Context and Text:  Method in Liturgical Theology, Day’s adept inclusion of up-to-date findings in the areas of literature, communications, and ritual studies will make this book a valuable resource for those outside of the specialty of liturgical history.  The primary contribution of Reading the Liturgy, and an extremely beneficial one at that, is the challenge it poses to “see” more of what can be read on any written page.