Brief Book Review: Come into the Light

Come into the Light: Church Interiors for the Celebration of Liturgy by Daniel McCarthy, OSB and James Leachman, OSB

What’s the main point? As noted in the Afterword and Onward of the book, Come into the Light is a compilation of 22 articles (7 by Leachman and 15 by McCarthy) which, sometimes circuitously builds up to and ultimately offers a preferred framework for church renovation and construction. These articles were previously published in The Tablet of London (2008-2013), though “many of them with an aim to be included in this collection” according to the authors (p.120). 

All but article 22 are listed with their original title from The Tablet and most have been given a second title to assist in weaving these articles together into a more cohesive aggregate. In the first 17 articles the authors propose some theological, liturgical and historical ground rules and address such specifics as font, altar, ambo and chair. In the last five articles they discuss different ways to arrange a church. 

The book’s ultimate premise is revealed in the last article, Becoming Christians: Font-ambo-altar, in which McCarthy illustrates the authors’ preferred model for church renovation and construction. They call it the Ritual Model because it is completely based on the successive ritual actions of the Church, from baptism to burial. True to the overall mystagogical approach of the book McCarthy describes a visit to a monastic chapel to illuminate this model.  

Each chapter is illustrated with an architectural example to make a clearer connection between the article and the book’s stated intention: church interiors for the celebration of the liturgy. Not surprisingly, all but four of the 23 illustrations are from Italy and The United Kingdom. The articles after all were written for The Tablet of London; the book was published in The United Kingdom; and the authors’ stomping grounds are Italy and the United Kingdom

Kudos. Leachman and McCarthy weave personal experience, historical fact, liturgical theology and ritual action into a well researched, yet widely accessible book. The articles which comprise the book are short and easily digestible. The questions offered after each chapter are helpful and practical suggesting personal reflection, inviting conversation with others or calling for concrete actions.

Most of the book is a sort of mystagogia on liturgy and ritual action, art and architecture. It is not as much prescriptive as it is evocative. Nevertheless, a reader is not left wanting for clarity. The authors make their point of view abundantly clear. And though readers may take issue with some aspects of the book, ensuing personal reflection and group conversation will undoubtedly be stimulating and helpful.

Who’s it for? Students of liturgy, art and architecture as well as parish study groups and building committees will discover this book to be a great resource for personal enrichment and group study, reflection and discussion. 

Quibbles. Article 7: Assembled as One is very important especially in light of the 2017 revised US bishop’s document: Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities which states in par. 3: “…Full accessibility should be the goal of every parish, and these adaptations are to be an ordinary part of the liturgical life of the parish.” However, it was disappointing that the language used in this article to refer to people with disabilities (p. 34) identified the people with their disability. Instead of “the blind” please use “people who experience vision loss.” Instead of “the deaf” please use “people who experience hearing loss.” Instead of “wheelchair-bound” please use “people who make use of a wheelchair.” The person always comes first and a disability never identifies the person. Granted, the article dates back to 2009 and much progress has been made since then. Had it been written today one might hope that more appropriate language would have been used?

In order to avoid unwarranted frustration with the trajectory of thought in the book it is helpful to know from the start that all 22 individual and stand-alone articles were written over the course of five years (2008-2013), even with the future intent to be published together as in the end Come into the Light is a compilation of connected but separate articles rather than a tightly argued book with a clear progression of thought. 

McCarthy, Daniel, OSB and James Leachman, OSB. Come into the Light: Church Interiors for the Celebration of Liturgy. Norwich UK: Canterburry Press, 2016. 137+ xxxvi pages.

REVIEWER: Johan van Parys

Johan van Parys, a native of Belgium, has been The Basilica of Saint Mary’s Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts since 1995. He holds graduate degrees in art history and comparative religious studies from the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. 

One comment

  1. Read excerpts of the book here with links to other reviews, videos: https://liturgyinstitute.com/come-into-the-light/

    We hope this publication will help liturgical scholars make a greater contribution to the renovatiuon and construction of new churches.

    Thank you Johan for your fine review. There is another positive review by Richard Vosko in the current number of Worship.

    Available in the USA:
    https://www.kansasmonks.org/shop/come-into-the-light

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