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.

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