Doris DONELLY. Sacraments and Justice. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014. pp. 112. $16.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8072-8
Daniella ZSUPAN-JEROME. Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014. pp. 139. $17.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8220-3.

Reviewed by Ella JOHNSON, St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, Rochester, NY 14618.

Donelly's volume, Sacraments and Justice, presents insightful and historically informed reflection on the link between social justice and the seven institutionalized sacraments of the Catholic Church. Comprised of an introduction and seven separate chapters, the volume treats each sacrament individually in its own chapter, presenting an accessible history of each sacrament and its social implications today. Each chapter is written by a different author, some lay (married, parents, pastors) and some clergy; all contributors are well-known and recognized as scholars of liturgical and sacramental theology, who also have keen pastoral sensitivities.

Because they book is both historically grounded and pastorally aware, it would serve as a helpful resource for university and seminary classrooms as well as for adult faith formation and sacramental preparation courses. The real strength of the book is the way it situates the history and theology of each sacrament in the context of relevant issues today (e.g., the renewal of unjust systems and policies). Such a connection is made between the sacraments and its implications by the way each chapter begins and concludes with a concrete example and/or anecdote of a relevant social justice issue today. For example, chapter 3 on “Eucharist and Justice” provides an eyewitness account about a Mass celebrated on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and then makes a specific connection between the communion rite and those who have died trying to cross this border in the past fifteen years.

Because the book is devoted to a treatment of each sacrament individually, it is lacking in a discussion of sacramental theology, in general, and its relationship to justice—i.e., how a “sacrament” or worship itself, outside of its particularities in each rite, must have social implications. The two-page introduction only begins to engage this question. Perhaps that discussion is too abstract and theoretical for this book, which excels in providing real-life examples of sacraments and justice today. In other words, the book offers a brief, yet accurate and engaging treatment on how each sacrament is not simply meant to be passively received but rather actively lived. Those looking to recover Karl Rahner’s sense of “liturgy of life” in an accessible and tangible way for each sacrament will find it in this volume.

 In the second volume reviewed here, through analysis of key ecclesial documents, Connected Toward Communion reflects on the formation of pastoral ministers for the church in the age of social communication. Zsupan-Jerome treats digital communication as a cultural milieu, not just as a tool or medium for proclaiming the Gospel. Her book, therefore, is not simply aimed at teaching ministry professionals how to incorporate digital media into their work, but rather to help them better understand their work as “embedded in a new culture shaped profoundly by digital communication” (6).

The book presents a thorough and chronological overview of the Church’s documents on social communication, beginning with Vatican II’s Inter Mirifica and concluding with the annual World Communications Day Messages. Each chapter distills key points from the document(s) at hand and notes theological positions helpful for continual reflection on the ever-changing terrain of time-bound and technologically-based media.

As a whole, the book is self-consciously focused on professional ministerial formation, using the Church’s fourfold approach for priestly and lay ecclesial ministry formation—i.e., human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral—as its lens for exploring the Church’s teaching on social communication. Connected Toward Communion is sure, then, to be immensely helpful for catechists, pastors, seminarians, and lay ecclesial ministers, who serve the Church today. It is also likely to be a fruitful resource for religious education teachers and seminary professors seeking an accessible, yet thorough historical treatment of Church teaching on media and technology.

Because the book is devoted to formation as it hermeneutical lens, this reader had hoped it would have engaged, to some extent, both ethical and practical issues for persons utilizing social media in their ministries. For example, many priestly and lay ministers seek knowledge about how to handle ethical issues such as cyber-bullying and trolling, not to mention applied knowledge about which social media platforms are most effective for ministry today. Although a few words are offered on ethics and different social media platforms, this study does not serve as a stand-alone resource on these topics. Overall, the book offers a brief, yet comprehensive and systematic treatment of Vatican literature on social communication. Those looking for what the Church has taught formally about the digital age from Vatican II to the present will find it here.