Brief Book Review: Liturgy with Style and Grace

Liturgy with Style and Grace, Third Edition, Revised
Gabe Huck

Who’s it for? Liturgical ministers, those training to be liturgical ministers (including seminarians), and those who teach them, members of parish liturgy committees and parish councils, those involved with sacramental preparation and adult religious education/formation concerning worship and sacrament, pastors and parish directors/parish life coordinators seeking to revive or deepen the community’s liturgical understanding and sensibility with a renewed focus on the assembly and its members’ full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy.

What’s the main point? The big picture of liturgical participation as a human, symbolic/ritual, communal activity and the ministries that support it: “The quality of our common prayer of liturgy is sometimes not as strong as it could be, not because we lack a theology or a spirituality, but because we sometimes do the human things without having thought deeply about them. We sometimes forget that liturgy is our common action…, a domain we visit every Sunday but perhaps are never fully at home with. Perhaps this book is simply to help us all feel more at home with liturgy” (viii).

Why is this book useful?  Liturgy with Style and Grace, whose first edition dates back to 1978, is a classic in North American, post-conciliar, pastoral-liturgical renewal. Each of its six parts (“First Things,” “The Elements of Liturgy,” “Who Does the Liturgy?” “The Mass,” “Days and Seasons,” and “The Rites of the Church”) contains numerous two-page articles with the same general format: a page-long article on the topic, questions for reflection and discussion, and a column of inspiring quotations from church documents, popes, theologians, poets or literary figures. This is an ideal arrangement for use in ongoing formation for a parish liturgy committee to read and discuss over time, or for sharing selections on particular topics for ministry training sessions. The articles on specific topics (e.g., “Environment 2: Quality and Appropriateness,” “Those Who Meet, Greet, and Seat,” “Liturgy of the Eucharist: The Breaking of the Bread,” “Easter Time: Fifty days of Unbounded Joy!”) can set a reflective, even contemplative tone as a group undertakes further exploration or instruction on the practicalities of a particular ministry or ritual element important in liturgical planning. Many of the quotations should also motivate continued study and reflection. (Full source citations of the quotations are found in the back pages – hopefully future editions will include the one missed on p. 99 by Peter Mazur from Lent Sourcebook, vol. 1, LTP 1990, p. vi.) Along with other updates from church documents within the articles themselves, the several new and additional quotations are among the main changes in this revision of the third edition, which was co-authored by Gerald Chinchar, CM.

Implications for Our Moment. All of us who work in the field of liturgy owe a real debt to Gabe Huck (read his author bio at Celebration Publications to glimpse why), who in many ways personifies the best of what the North American movement for liturgical renewal after Vatican II sought to achieve. Liturgy with Style and Grace is a touchstone for the pastoral and spiritual dimension of that movement. There is, throughout, a perspective we should continually cultivate that brims with confidence about the reality of the Paschal Mystery and liturgy’s essential role as that Mystery’s ecclesial anamnesis. At the same time, this work acknowledges that we often miss this primary purpose of the liturgy, but long for it even if we don’t realize it has eluded us.

At the time I am writing this review, there is no end in sight to the Covid-19 pandemic (it has been over three months since I have participated in a Eucharist that I haven’t viewed on a screen), and we are in the midst of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and protests following upon the execution of George Floyd and so many other black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. Reading Liturgy with Style and Grace today reminds me forcefully that even as I have been missing attending Mass, so many of the thousands of Masses I have experienced in largely white-privileged suburban churches have been missing the fullness of participation of so many in the Body of Christ, to all our detriment. Huck wrote in his challenging article for the final issue of Celebration (July 2019), “Forget Eternity!” that since the 1980’s the conciliar vision of the liturgy “as a driving power in the church” had been diminishing, and that he “want[s] only that [his essay] be true to the struggles that are now upon us.” Among his challenges: “At best, we keep only a small corner of ourselves for whatever being baptized seems to mean. We white people anyway have very short lists of how to be Catholic. … Where are we in word and action to make reparations to peoples already hurt by our nation’s unceasing wars — from the original peoples of this land to African Americans? And what about reparations to Asian, African, and Latin American peoples where we have had our way?”

With what style and grace, liturgical and otherwise, must we the Church respond?

Huck, Gabe. Liturgy with Style and Grace, Third Edition, Revised. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2018. 144 pages. ISBN: 978-1-61671-436-9.

REVIEWER: David Stosur

David Stosur is Professor of Religious Studies at Cardinal Stritch University, specializing in liturgical theology. He recently published ““Rahner’s ‘Liturgy of the World’ as Hermeneutics of Another World That Is Possible,” in Philosophy and Theology 31 (2020).

One comment

  1. This is an excellent review of “Liturgy with Style and Grace”, especially needed today as we respond to today’s many challenges. Do not miss reading “Forget Eternity!”, Gabe Huck’s final article in Celebration Magazine. It could have been written this morning!

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