Brief Book Review: Practical Sacramental Theology

Practical Sacramental Theology:
At the Intersection of Liturgy and Ethics
By Bruce T. Morrill

Who is this book for? These eight essays on sacramental/ liturgical theology presuppose a familiarity with the liturgical reform mandated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council its subsequent implementation. For that reason, this book is not for a beginning student.

Why is this book useful? The eight articles of this book, published by Bruce Morrill in various scholarly journals between 2011 and 2017, represent a helpful overview of new approaches to liturgical/sacramental theology. They provide a well-written presentation of the thought of an impressive range of authors who will help the reader delve more profoundly into the nature of the sacraments and the pastoral implications of this investigation for the liturgy in the 21st century.

What the main point? The author insists that liturgical theology as a discipline has “come of age” in relation to what were once considered the more “serious” sub-disciplines of systematic and sacramental theology. The first and last essays describe a contextual and multidisciplinary method for liturgical/ sacramental theology that is applied in the other articles of the volume that deal with marriage, eucharist, penance, and baptism.

What I appreciated the most. The author’s essay on the sacrament of penance was especially helpful in acknowledging the declining practice of auricular confession among Catholics and offering a pastoral way forward that would respond to the changed expectations of penitents longing for a more profound and communally related process of conversion.The juxtaposition of the work of theologian Monica Hellwig and Pope John Paul II’s post synodal exhortation Reconciliation and Penance was especially helpful in explaining how issues of ecclesiastical power and the agency of the faithful are at play in the evolution of this sacrament.

Kudos. The author has a gift of explaining the thought of an impressive array of scholars. Just to name a few of Morrill’s regular dialogue partners in these essays: theologians such as Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Schmemann, Cooke, and Chauvet; ritual theorists such as Grimes, Bell, Seligman; ethicists Bordeyne and Spohn. For this reason, advanced students of the liturgy would profit from reading these essays by gaining a familiarity with this interdisciplinary endeavor which is liturgical theology.

Morrill, Bruce T. Practical Sacramental Theology: At the Intersection of Liturgy and Ethics. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. 188 pages. $24.00. ISBN: 9781725297180.

REVIEWER: Mark Francis, CSV
Mark Francis is President Emeritus of and Professor of Liturgy at
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois.

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