Maxwell E. JOHNSON, Timothy O’MALLEY, and Demetrio S. YOCUM, eds. At the Heart of the Liturgy: Conversations with Nathan D. Mitchell’s “Amen Corners,” 1991-2012. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2014. pp. 190. $34.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-6309-7. Reviewed by Stephen S. WILBRICHT, Stonehill College, Easton, MA 02357
As an esteemed educator and prolific writer, Nathan D. Mitchell has long been recognized as a voice in the Catholic world seeking to stir the Church out of complacency. Mitchell is perhaps best known for his 1982 book Cult and Controversy:The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, in which he explores the historical development of forms of eucharistic piety that compromise “full, conscious, and active” liturgical participation. A decade after this book was published, he began authoring the “Amen Corners” column of the journal Worship, and was forecasted by then-editor Kevin Seasoltz, O.S.B. to be both “refreshing and provocative” (186). Any regular reader of Nathan’s columns would surely agree that he fulfilled this charge with masterful wit, colorful language, and historical acumen.
Maxwell E. Johnson, Timothy O’Malley, and Demetrio S. Yocum, all of the University of Notre Dame where Mitchell is Professor Emeritus, offer here a “refreshing” collection of Mitchell’s writings, introduced by “provocative” commentaries penned by his former doctoral students. The thread that runs through this volume is poetry in prose. As Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P. writes in her foreword: “With the soul of poet himself, Nathan was always on the lookout for the turn of phrase, the image, stanza, or metaphor from other classic wordsmiths that could capture the liturgical insight he wanted to explore” (ix).
Out of the one hundred and twenty-three “Amen Corners” that Mitchell wrote between 1991 and 2012, the editors selected nine columns and placed them under six simple headings: chapter one “Body,” chapter two “Word,” chapter three “Spirit,” chapter four “Beauty,” chapter five “Justice,” and chapter six “Unity.” Once again, faithful readers of Worship will recognize these words as ones near and dear to Mitchell’s heart and academic agenda.
The true gift of this volume is the discovery of Mitchell’s wisdom in the minds of his former students. Each chapter opens with an essay by one of Mitchell’s apprentices and is designed to be, as Johnson suggests in his introduction, “something like thirty percent Nathan and seventy percent their own critical reflections on where Nathan’s thought had led them and where it might go in the future” (xxv). It is important to note, as Johnson himself does, that five of these six contributors are women.
At the Heart of the Liturgy will appeal first and foremost to subscribers of Worship, those readers who have a well-developed sense of the consistent and savvy invitation Mitchell offered to rediscover liturgy as connected to every facet of life. The volume could be handy for periods of contemplation, such as times of retreat, or might even be used by sophisticated liturgy commissions to spark reflection on liturgical catechesis. Although somewhat pricey at $34.95, this is a beautiful, thought-provoking book, a worthwhile investment, sure to broaden the mind and enliven the heart.