Book Review: A Biblical Walk Through the Mass

Like many parishes in English-speaking dioceses around the globe, ours began a series of talks to help us understand the revised Missal that will go into effect this coming Advent, November 27, 2011. On our first evening together, we reviewed the people’s responses.

Afterwards, one of our lectors asked me, “Sister, what’s with of the “my faults” in the penitential rite (confesseo)? Doesn’t it place too much emphasis on our sin? It sounds so…guilt ridden.”

Questions like this are good for our dialogue as we prepare for the changes, and one of the great side-effects of the revised English texts is, the new library of formative material to help the faithful better reflect and understand what it is we are celebrating.

One such source is the book, “A Biblical Walk Through the Mass – Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy,” by Edward Sri, published by Ascension Press:

The book goes through the parts of the Mass, giving the revised translation and an explanation of the text. First, within the context of the Liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a whole, and secondly, within the context of the Sacred Scripture and Church teaching. For example, the lector’s question regarding the Confesseo is explained in the book under the sub-heading, “My Most Grievous Fault?”:

“…two points about the new translation of this prayer. Both improvements reflect the Latin text of the Mass and help underscore the seriousness of sin…at the beginning of this prayer, we now say “I have greatly sinned.” This reflects David’s repentant words to God, ” I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing” (1Chr 21:8). Second, instead of simply saying, “through my own fault,” we repeat it three times while striking our breasts as a sign of repentance…This line in the liturgy helps us recognize that sinning against God is no light matter” (p.34-35).

The other aspect of the book is, it goes beyond the explanation of the revised parts of the Mass, making it also a fine catechesis of the Mass on a whole. In the introduction to Part III – The Liturgy of the Word, Sri takes eighteen pages to thoughtfully explain the reading of the Word of God and it’s proper place in the overall liturgy of the Mass, where together with the Eucharist – the “source and summit” of the Christian Life – the Scriptures, form “one single act of worship.” (quoting Pope Benedict, Sacramentum Caritatis, p.44) . He explains:

“We need both the inspired word of God in the Scripture and the Incarnate Word of God present in the Blessed Sacrament. In the 1500s, Thomas à Kempis…expressed how much the soul longs to be nourished from both of these tables” (p.53).” 


Sri goes on to review the use of the Sacred Scriptures in the Mass, the liturgical year and feasts; the readings and homily; the Creed and the Prayers of the Faithful. Another example of catechesis from Part IV – The Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Sursum Corda:

“What does it mean to “lift up” our hearts?…In the Bible, the heart is the hidden center of the person from which one’s thoughts, emotions and actions originate. All intentions and commitments flow from the human heart. Therefore, when the priest at Mass says “Lift up your hearts, ” he is summoning us to give our fullest attention to what is about to unfold. This is a “wake-up call” to set aside all other concerns and focus our minds, wills and emotions — our hearts — on the sublimity of what is happening in the Eucharistic prayer.”

This is just one of many insights this book gives to the beauty and purpose of the sacred liturgy of the Mass. The title – A Biblical Walk Through the Mass – promises to tell us about the Mass from a Biblical perspective. It does include many scriptural references to help the reader reflect on the Biblical foundation for Catholic worship., its roots stemming from Jewish tradition, and brings to our memory the Psalms and Old Testament prayers that point to the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and his sharing intimately with his followers of His very self in the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. One last example, noting the change of the words the Priest says introducing the Lord’s Prayer:

“At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say…”

We dare! Sri reminds us of Ancient Jewish practice of not calling God as “Father”, although certainly they believed God is the Father of all the people of Israel. He explains, “it was not at all common for an individual to address God as ‘Father.’ Nevertheless, this is precisely what Jesus calls us to do…” Sri, then, goes on with another catechesis, looking at the seven parts of the Lord’s Prayer.

I have found this book to be very enjoyable reading, a fluid style, easy to understand, that makes it easy for anyone to deepen their appreciation for what we are praying and doing during the Mass. It is also suitable as a source for one’s reflection/meditation. Another point, because of its scripture references, it may be a good book to give to a Protestant friend who has questions about the center of Catholic worship.

There’s also a study guide available in a questions and answers format, that summarizes the changes regarding the people’s responses during the Mass, with a foldout of those changes.  So, check it out!

Is your Parish have a program in place to help with the transition to the new translation of the Mass?