Brief Book Review: From Easter to Holy Week

From Easter to Holy Week:
The Paschal Mystery and Liturgical Renewal in the Twentieth Century
Anglican-Episcopal Theology and History 5
By Laura E. Moore

Who is this book for? The primary readership for this book will be those engaged in the study of the Episcopal Church’s liturgies in the U.S., and in particular those interested in how the services of Holy Week took shape during the course of the twentieth century.

Because the period when the liturgies of Holy Week “came into their own” in the Episcopal Church was a time of ecumenical advances in scholarship concerning the church year, this is an account that will also interest students of the ecumenical movement from all Christian backgrounds.

Sadly, we are all liable to remain in our “silos” of liturgical practice, so I think reading this book can benefit those who know little about the Episcopal Church as much as those who know a lot. I read it as a Roman Catholic and found much to ponder here in Laura Moore’s lucid and detailed account.

What’s the main point? There is a very strong theological core principle in this study: Holy Week stands at the center of Christian life and worship because the Paschal Mystery is at the heart of what we believe, celebrate, and live. This conviction concerning the centrality of the Paschal Mystery permeates the whole book.

What intrigued you? I was surprised to learn that up until the 1979 prayer book, the liturgies of Holy Week were considered optional, and in most places were not celebrated at all. I was likewise surprised to learn that there is so much variety in practice still today. There is a helpful survey of the Anglican communion at the end of the book, as well as tables representing local churches where some or none or all of these liturgies are celebrated. These illustrate a wide range.

Nothing in liturgical practice happens in a vacuum, of course. So, what did the introduction of Holy Week liturgies seek to augment or displace? I was surprised by the staying power of the Three Hours devotion on Good Friday (in preference to the liturgy of Good Friday), and the Sunrise Service on Easter morning (in preference to the Easter Vigil). There have been attempts to blend or combine these popular practices with Holy Week liturgies, which accounts for some of the variety.

Quibbles. Because we are being asked to consider things on a textual, institutional, global level, and also on a parish level, there is a lot of “sign-posting” in the book (“as discussed earlier” / “as we will see in chapter five” and so on). This is tedious, and I wonder if it couldn’t have been avoided.

I also wondered about the decision to rely exclusively on church websites in Appendix 4 when surveying practice in the United States. How reliable are websites, and does surveying practices through them create a bias in favor of congregations with more resources?

Kudos. The author’s survey of the Liturgical Movement, and of the restoration of the Holy Week liturgies in the Roman Catholic Church, is accurate and complete. She deftly handles a vast amount of source material in telling the story of the development of these liturgies in the Episcopal Church, and details their reception. She manages to make this rather complicated history clear for the reader.

The story the author tells is one of definite, even triumphant, progress in the direction of recovery of the full liturgical richness of Holy Week. Yet at the same time the adoption of Holy Week described in the book is also a story of continuing challenges which she honestly confronts and documents. She holds in tension the multiple emphases found each liturgy, and gives a perceptive overview of what is at stake in each celebration.

I also give the author credit for not only surveying the texts and commentaries from liturgical theologians but also zooming in on four particular congregations in the New York area as exemplars of the trends she discusses.

Moore, Laura E. From Easter to Holy Week: The Paschal Mystery and Liturgical Renewal in the Twentieth Century. Anglican-Episcopal Theology and History 5. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2019. viii + 221 pages. $59.00. ISBN: 9789004409989.

REVIEWER: Rita Ferrone

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