Thinking allowed

Liturgy and the 100 best Christian books

Is a story about something which didn’t happen news?

The Church Times has recently published its list of “100 best Christian books”.

Amongst these 100 works there is not a single volume containing or concerning liturgy. The closest is perhaps at number 37 The Prayers and Meditations of St Anselm.

This might be considered a strange omission in a list, particularly in an Anglican compilation, although the compilers deliberately decided to exclude the Book of Common Prayer (meaning presumably the 1662 edition) and favourite hymn books. Even so, it is surprising that there are no books about liturgy and liturgical practice included.

So I invite readers to make suggestions of books of or about liturgy that they think might have been included, and why.


  • Rod Gillis says:

    Terrific list, but is it really surprising there are no liturgical works? Unless I missed something looking down the list, there are no plays either. Its probably just a category thing.

  • As I said, the compilers deliberately excluded liturgy (and the Bible too).

    The invitation here is to suggest texts of or about liturgy to add to that list.

    For starters, my own suggestions would include Gregory Dix’s ‘The Shape of the Liturgy’. Although some of his historical conjecture has been somewhat revised, Dix’s words have been highly influential on the revision of texts and rubrics concerning the way Anglicans, and others, celebrate the Eucharist.

  • James A says:

    I haven’t time to come up with 100 in one go, but here’s a couple of dozen for starters (in no particular order of priority)

    The Church in the Furnace (Ed MacNutt) – highly influential for the Parish Communion & Liturgical movements.

    All of Colin Buchanan’s comparative Anglican Liturgy volumes.

    A Christian Theology of Place (John Inge)

    The Elements of Rite (Kavanagh)

    Temple Themes in Christian Worship (Margaret Barker)

    1 Peter: A Paschal Liturgy (F.L. Cross)

    Search for the Origins of Christian Worship (Paul Bradshaw)

    Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer (Spinks)

    God in Mystery and Words (David Brown)

    After Writing (Catherine Pickstock)

    Doxology (Geoffrey Wainright)

    Being as Communion (John Zizoulas)

    God’s Companions (Sam Wells)

    Stripping of the Altars (Eamon Duffy)

    Liturgy & Society (Hebert)

    The Development of Anglican Liturgy 1662-1980 (Ronald Jasper)

    Christianity & Symbolism (F W Dillistone)

    Mystagogical Catechesis (Cyril of Jerusalem)

    Apology (Justin Martyr)

    Liturgy, Order and the Law (Bursell)

    Sacrosanctum Concillium

  • John Scrivener says:

    There is Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, and the fine little book to which it pays tribute, Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy. I also admired David Martin’s various essays during the Prayer Book controversy and his treatment of the subject in The Breaking of the Image, but there isn’t a whole book to point to. I think Ian Robinson’s defence of the BCP – Prayers for a New Babel – is very good, but I can’t imagine it being read by liturgiologists.

  • Rod Gillis says:

    What to include? I answered the question by scanning my bookshelf, to see what books I retained when I downsized my library at retirement. Dix, The Shape of Liturgy is there worn and well underlined and noted. I would agree its a classic even if now dated.

    I’d add, as well, The American Prayer Book commentary by Massey Shepherd. It’s in a kind of grey area i.e. part liturgy and part comment on liturgy; but it was very useful early in ministry as a resource for the old Prayer Book liturgy and for the commentary on the old BCP lectionary as well.

    I kept as well, Commentary On The American Prayer Book by Marion J Hatchett, a helpful and worthy successor to Shepherd with lots of material applicable to the Canadian Book of Alternative Services which has become the de facto prayer book in Canada and which borrows from the American Book significantly. I had a copy of Hatchett’s, Sanctifying Life Time and Space, and even though I gave it away, I think it could qualify for the list.

    Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed edited by R.C.D. Jasper and G.J. Cuming is on the shelf. And while its a document and not a book, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Vatican II) would be on my list as well.

    Finally is there a solid barrier between books about liturgy and books about prayer? If not, I’d add Malcolm Boyd’s, Are You Running With Me Jesus, Michel Quoist’s, Prayers and Janet Morley’s, All Desires Known, as books that set a tone for liturgical ethos with regard to liturgy and the daily office.

  • Charles Read says:

    I’d agree with James’ list. Dix is now taken with a pinch of salt (Dix reformed?!) but is simply seminal for its influence.

    I still recommend Perry’s Paradox of Worship which packs much into a small space – it was I think the first serious book about worship I read – recommended by Kenneth Stevenson as we began the liturgy module on the Manchester BA.

    Do people think Casel should be here? Or Bouyer? I find them intersting (though Casel is a bit dense sometimes) – but maybe my tastes are odd!

  • John Scrivener says:

    It occurs to me that books on liturgy fall into several categories. For example there are books of liturgical scholarship dealing with sources, history etc – eg Jasper, Cuming, Bradshaw and others already mentioned. (Dix was in this category but his book stood out because it was eloquently written, had a clear thesis (not universally accepted even at the time) and contained a rather intemperate attack on the Anglican liturgy by an Anglican priest. Then there are books which reflect on the character, idea, experience etc of liturgy in general (Ratzinger, Guardini, Brown, Hebert).These can draw on a wide range of disciplines besides theology – sociology, literary criticism and so on.
    Then there are commentaries on, or expositions of, specific liturgies (eg, on the Prayer Book: Sparrow, Wheatley, Blunt, Daniel etc)
    Then again there are ‘how to’ books like Dearmer’s Parson’s Handbook or the recent Good Worship Guide.
    There are overlaps between these of course, and no doubt other categories and subcategories one could devise.

  • David Robinson says:

    If there’s anyone involved in liturgy who hasn’t read Gordon Lathrop’s three volumes, ‘Holy Ground’, ‘Holy People’ and ‘Holy Things’ I’d urge them to, for an expansive and deeply theological take on what we think we’re doing. They’re pretty close to the top of my list.

  • rick allen says:

    Very influential in the Catholic Church was Josef Jungmann’s mid-century two-volume “Missarum Sollemnia: Eine Genetische Erklärung der Römischen Messe,” which came into English as “The Mass of the Roman Rite.” Jungmann also wrote a shorter volume, published posthumously in English as “The Mass: An Historical, Theological and Pastoral Survey,” which included discussion of many of the post-Vatican II changes in the Mass of Paul VI.

  • Simon R says:

    James has got us well started. To his list, I would add the three-volume Worship & Theology in England (Horton Davies); J.D.Crighton’s Christian Celebration volumes on the sacraments and liturgy; Symbol & Sacrament (Chauvet); The Idea of the Holy (Otto); A Theology of the Symbol (Rahner); The Byzantine Rite (Taft); Prayers of the Eucharist: Early & Reformed (Jasper/Cumming).

    Not so sure about Jungmann’s volumes on the history of the Roman Rite. Like Dix, his historical method was ‘coloured’ by the socio-cultural expectations of the time and is being questioned. See Eamon Duffy’s essay in Fields of Faith (CUP.

    Also, there is nothing really exciting on music and liturgy at the moment. I’m not convinced by Begbie’s approach. May be I just have a phobia about the Calvinist agenda which says music can only take us so far and everything (including art and music) must be subordinate to Scripture. David Brown gave an interesting paper recently which is a welcome antidote, see

  • John Scrivener says:

    Perhaps Evelyn Underhill’s Worship should get a mention – still very impressive I think.

  • I think I’d like to see some items on liturgical space and liturgical architecture.

    Perhaps Peter Hammond’s Liturgy and Architecture, and/or Towards a Church Architecture.

    Perhaps something as glossy and coffee-table as David Stancliffe’s Lion Companion to Church Architecture. Nice easy read which does tell an important part of the story.

    Robert Proctor’s Building the Modern Church is an impressively heavy volume. I haven’t got through all of it yet, but I have read some interesting chapters in it about RC and Anglican church building in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

    Room for some suggestions on liturgy and art too.

    Liturgy and music has already been mentioned; any suggestions?

  • Rod Gillis says:

    Re Liturgy and architecture, suggest the following titles:

    The Gothic Enterprise, by Robert A Scott, 2003.
    University of California Press

    The Social Origins of Christian Architecture (Vol. 1) by L Michael White. Harvard Theological Studies 1990.

    Shaping a House for the Church by Marchita Mauck. Liturgy Training Publications. 1990

  • John Schuster-Craig says:

    From a Lutheran perspective, Frank Senn’s “Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical,” Fortress Press, 1997.

  • Dru Brooke-Taylor says:

    I’m new to this thread. Being as Communion and Stripping of the Altars are already on the list.

    Even allowing for the fact that some of the books already on the list are the books that people are supposed to read, or would like others to think the read, rather than the ones they actually do, perhaps there’s a more fundamental problem when it comes to books about liturgy. Sadly, isn’t part of the issue that a lot of them just aren’t very interesting or well written. Like worship, is liturgy something best done rather than talked or written about?

  • Rod Gillis says:

    @ Dru Brooke-Taylor “isn’t part of the issue that a lot of them just aren’t very interesting …is liturgy something best done rather than talked or written about?”

    I kinda think both yes and know on that. With regard to doing liturgy, doing it well depends a lot on cultural and community nuances which may run opposite written advice by professional liturgists. Example: A lively and exuberant exchange of the peace in a local community can be one sign of a liturgy well done even when it makes the rubrically correct grimace.

    Conversely, books can be very interesting and helpful. Dix has been mentioned on this thread a few times. Dated though it may be now, I found reading back in the day gave a real sense of history and continuity coupled with freshness, especially at a time renewal was under siege from the Cranmer fan club.

    Alternatively, Parson’s Handbook, Cyril Pocknee’s revision, was a good primer for traditional Prayer Book services until a certain way of doing them became obsolete.

    Strong, Loving, Wise by Robert W. Hovda I found to be both practical and inspirational.

    I found each of the above interesting without ever following them slavishly in practice.

  • Paul Andrews says:

    I’m tempted to say Lamburn’s Ritual Notes, but that’s rather a polarising text.

    My eucharistic thinking is strongly influenced by the writings of Fr Alexander Schmemann, particularly ‘The Eucharist’ and ‘Introduction to Liturgical Theology’

  • Geoff Jones says:

    I have recently read a very helpful book (Table Manners, Simon Reynolds, SCM) which cites Gaston Bachelard’s seminal ‘The Poetics of Space’ in the chapter on the liturgical environment. Bachelard’s work is not about liturgical architecture at all, but it is a profound exploration of how space and place shape our perceptions and form our world-view. It ought to be on any list for books on liturgical architecture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.