Book Review: The Feasts by Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina

‘The Liturgy Entertains as Well as Feeds Us’

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By Julie Davis, from The Catholic Writers Guild

The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics by Donald Cardinal Wuerl

«The Church’s calendar is an intricate, complex, and beautiful technology. It is the work of many human hands and human minds trained to deal with holy things. The seasons turn and the feasts interplay like the gears in a priceless clock. They regulate our religious life and enrich our spiritual life.

«They seem to happen automatically, but only because the Church oversees the apparatus, averts temporal collisions, and finely tunes all the components to make the year as festive as it can be.»

I am not sure exactly why but one of the things I have always loved about the Church is the liturgical year. The idea that there are a steady series of seasons and feast days linked with our calendar year enhances the richness of my life. Perhaps it is because my mother taught us to love nature and the turn of seasons simply because she herself loves them so much. Perhaps it is because, long before I was a Christian, I read and reread Rumer Godden’s masterpiece In This House of Brede where the liturgical year is a continual background to the story.

“Don’t you see, it’s like a pageant. Our Cardinal has said the liturgy entertains as well as feeds us … Yes, we’re not angels but humans,” said Dame Clare, “and human nature is made so that it needs variety. The Church is like a wise mother and has given us this great cycle of the liturgical year with its different words and colours. You’ll see how you will learn to welcome the feast days and the saints’ days as they come round, each with a different story and, as it were, a different aspect; they grow very dear, though still exacting.”

Having unknowingly absorbed all that I suppose it is only fitting that I really enjoyed The Feasts. It covers the background and reasons for feast days, the liturgical calendar (and our calendar in general), and how these enrich our Christian lives. Even those of us who are well informed on the subject will find new information as well as good reminders of things we may have forgotten. For example this is supremely logical but just never occurred to me:

«Sunday did not become simply a Christian version of the Sabbath. Christians were wary of enforcing a day of rest, as such enforcement had been turned on Jesus during his earthly ministry (see, for example, Mark 2:23-27). In any event, most Christians could not refrain from labor on Sunday because it was an ordinary workday in the Greco-Roman world.

«Christian observance centered on the Mass, which was in most places offered very early in the morning (before work), but sometimes also in the evening (after work). …»

Certainly The Feasts is a worthy accompaniment to Cardinal Wuerl’s and Mike Aquilina’s previous two books, The Church and The Mass. Taken all together they provide a thorough, accessible, and much needed look at aspects of the Roman Catholic faith which seem very mysterious to outside eyes.

This review was first posted at The Catholic Writers Guild blog.

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