Book: From Age to Age: How Christians Celebrated the Eucharist

Edward Foley. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1991.206 pages.

This fine book would be improved by a more clear subtitle. In the old-fashioned tradition of long book titles, it should go something like this: A Brief but Accurate History of Roman Catholic Worship, with a Brief Glance at Some Protestant Worship Traditions.

Of course, to cover all of Roman Catholic worship in some two hundred pages is a tall order, and experts in the field will find countless gaps and oversights. But as an introduction to the field the book serves its purpose well. The arrangement of the book is highly structured—each chapter covers a different era but always in the same order: general historical overview; architecture; music; worship books; liturgical vessels; concluded by a fictional vignette of a person from the period seen in a worship experience.

The design of the book is attractive: it contains ample "white space," all quotations are set off in the margin, and music and architectural illustrations help to clarify the text.

Protestant readers who still think that all Catholics hold to a uniform position will be surprised at the author's perspectives. A Roman Catholic teacher at Catholic Theological Union, Foley does not hesitate to expose the deterioration of public worship in pre-Reformation times. The usurpation of the liturgy by the clergy and "professional" musicians, the exclusion of the people from active participation in worship, the superstitions connected with relics, the abuses of selling indulgences—all of these are recorded as historical and theological deformations of worship. Quoting another author, he calls the late medieval period an era of "dissolution, elaboration, reinterpretation, misinterpretation" (p. 102). He also lauds Luther for "emphasizing that the laity—not the hierarchy or nobility—comprised the church" (p. 116). Later, when discussing the modern liturgical renewal, Foley again stresses the restoration of the role of the people in worship.

Foley's treatment of Protestant worship traditions is knowledgeable and even-handed, with most of his attention directed to Anglican and Lutheran liturgy. But even these are discussed too briefly and the Free Church, revival, and fundamentalist streams are ignored completely. Even though the eucharist is devalued in these traditions, they deserve more attention than Foley accords them.

Although much of Foley's survey of worship can be found in other sources, his presentation stands out as being unusually clear and helpful. His most distinctive contribution may be his tracing of the design of communion vessels in relation to various theological views on the Lord's Supper. In this connection it is disappointing that he does not cover as thoroughly the design and placement of the communion altar /table.

Readers already familiar with the history of worship will find 'From Age to Age a handy refresher course and will probably gain some additional insights. Those new to the field will read it with great profit.

Harry Boonstra (hboonstr@calvin.edu) is former theological editor of RW and emeritus theological librarian of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.