Dom Gregory DIX. The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Bloomsbury 2005, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2015. Pp. 764. $35.96 pb, $76.73 Cloth. ISBN 978-0-567-66157-9. Reviewed by Winifred WHELAN, St. Bonaventure University (emerita), 1415 W. Rascher Avenue, Chicago IL 60640-1205.
This 764 page work was first published in 1945 and has had seven reprintings, the latest being in 2015. This latest edition has been cited 558 times (Google Scholar). The author, Dom Gregory Dix (1901-1952), was an Anglican monk of Nashdom in Buckinghamshire England, an Anglo-Papalist community, that is, a community who wanted the Church of England to remain Roman Catholic.
Dix looks into every available source to tell the story of what happened at the time of Jesus’ last supper with friends before his death, how the “shape” of the supper developed into a full blown liturgy, how it developed through the middle ages and down to the present day. The author maintains that the last supper was not the same as the passover meal. Jewish people met each week to celebrate a chabura (friends) meal in which they took bread and wine and passed these around the table. It was at Jesus’ last meal that he gave this practice a new meaning by saying “Do this in remembrance of me.” The author insists that Jesus is not instituting a new custom, but investing a universal Jewish custom with a new meaning for his own chaburah. The apostles continued this practice and only gradually, when they had to accommodate more members, did they begin to gather in the homes of wealthy people. And only gradually, then, did the chabura meal become separated from the actual Eucharist where Bishops and deacons appeared. But even as it developed, and to the present day, through all of the twists and turns of history, the essential shape of the liturgy has remained the same: the offertory, the prayer, the fraction, and the communion.
Dix makes a particular point of saying that the liturgy is a corporate act. “Any particular Eucharist is not the act of the local church only, even in its organic unity; it must be the act of the whole Catholic Body of Christ, throughout the world and throughout the ages. . . . Though a schismatic church may have taken the greatest care to preserve a ‘valid’ succession; . . .it is yet deprived of the full res, the ‘spiritual benefit,’ of the Eucharist - . . . if its sacraments be done outside that unity.” This loss of perspective as well as the loss of an historical perspective in general, contributed to the break-up of Western Christendom.
In many places the author delves into the traditions of various countries. For example, to explain how the Eucharistic prayer developed, he describes the Roman tradition, the Egyptian, and the Syrian. In the chapter on the development of the ceremonial, he examines the history of the development of the mitre, the cope, the dalmatic, etc. There are many descriptions of how the traditions of the liturgy came to be in the various countries.
The book is well worth reading and the study that might be put into it. The detail and the sources are documented so that scholars can access them. They are there to be agreed with or criticized, which many have done.
What was confusing for this reviewer was, when Dix refers to men, whether he includes women. The chaburah meal, for example, was a weekly meal that Jewish people ate with friends. In some places he refers to women, but even then there is doubt as to what he means. Perhaps in the next reprinting this will be clarified.