Mark R. FRANCIS, Local Worship, Global Church. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014. pp.181. $19.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-1879-0. Reviewed by Marie CONN, Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA 19118
The goal of the book, according to Francis, is to “attempt to describe how the culture of the common people who identified themselves as Christians down through the ages influenced the official liturgy of the Church.” (xi) The place of popular devotions in the liturgical life of Christians has long been an interest of mine. A biblical scholar once pointed out that the “official” written documents represent perhaps 10% of any given tradition; it is difficult to know what the “person in the street” believed.
As he begins the book, Francis uses a quotation from George Eliot’s Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, which seemed a brilliant choice for his purposes: “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” This, in turn, reminded me of Thomas Gray’s, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” another recognition of the importance of ordinary people’s lives.
After a careful exploration of what popular devotion means, and what practices might be included among them, Francis takes an historical, chronological approach, with each chapter reviewing a specified period in Western Christianity. His main thesis is that paying attention to popular expressions of piety and their relationship with the liturgy will deepen our understanding of the Christian message.
Francis delineates three levels of liturgical meaning, viz., official, public, and personal. The official refers to the books which safeguard orthodoxy. The public refers to how the gathered community understands worship; this may sometimes be the same as the official level. The personal, as the label implies, refers to each individual’s interaction with the liturgy. Popular religious imagination shapes how individuals respond to liturgical images and gestures.
Each chapter is rich, drawing from many and diverse sources. Through the various chapters, the reader can trace the developments in both official and popular liturgical practices. Francis traces the concept of “syncretism,” the blending of Christian traditions with traditional tribal cultures. Drawing from Max Weber’s writings, Francis also traces the change from the pre-modern worldview, when the world was enchanted, to the post-modern view when the world is disenchanted and the supernatural has disappeared from human existence.
All in all, Francis fulfills his goal. His final chapter describes how Vatican II, with its desire to have every Christian actively participate in liturgical prayer, “profoundly changed the relationship between lay people and [the Church’s] official worship.” (156) Readers will come to appreciate both the value and the complexity of understanding the interplay between popular devotions and the official liturgical life of the church. This book is recommended to students of the liturgy, and would be quite useful in undergraduate and graduate courses.