John D. LAURENCE. The Sacrament of the Eucharist. Lex Orandi Series. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012. pp. 203. $24.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-2518-7. Reviewed by Marie CONN, Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA 19118
Fr. Laurence’s book is a solid addition to material on the Eucharist. Laurence approaches each chapter in the classical manner, reviewing biblical, patristic, and other historical sources before considering church documents and the contributions of more contemporary theologians. Rather than go directly to his explanations of each part of the liturgical celebration, Laurence begins in Part One with a detailed account of the theological background. One chapter leads into the next and each ends with a conclusion that summarizes his points clearly and concisely. Chapter Three is of particular interest. Here, Laurence gives much more attention to the principle lex orandi lex credendi than is found in many works on the Eucharist.
As part of this discussion, Laurence takes on Liturgiam Authenticam, the official guidelines for “authentic” translation of the Roman rite into the vernacular. He cites Italian liturgist Salvatore Marsili, OSB, who argued for “a new liturgical language,” one which is both true to the tradition and at the same time can truly speak to contemporary worshipers. There needs to be a balance between retaining the faith wisdom of the church and avoiding language that is so stilted that it impedes rather than enriches participation by the people of God.
The chapters in Part Two look at four parts of the Eucharistic liturgy, namely, the time and place of the liturgical assembly; the introductory rites; the Liturgy of the Word; and Liturgy of the Eucharist. Throughout these chapters, Laurence never considers his subject in a vacuum, but references connections to other parts of the tradition. In the chapter on the introductory rites, for example, he compares the “absolution” pronounced by the presider at Eucharist with that pronounced by the priest in the context of sacramental reconciliation.
In his chapter on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Laurence makes clear that it is the Eucharistic Prayer as a whole that is the memorial, the consecratory and sacrificial event, the invocation of the Spirit. Here he is reminding readers that it is through the entire Eucharistic liturgy that Christ’s presence is realized. Laurence’s detailed review of the historical debates over the meaning of the “magic moment” of consecration is quite valuable.
In a blurb used on the back cover of Laurence’s book, Notre Dame’s David Fagerberg states that it “provides an up-to-date review of sources for the scholar but is straightforward enough to be accessible to anyone wishing to deepen their experience of the Eucharist.” I disagree. The book is definitely an up-to-date review of sources, but it is dense in its details. It is certainly to be recommended to scholars, to those who teach seminars on the Eucharist, and to graduate students or well-read adults. It is not, however, easily accessible for undergraduate students or for adults who do not already have a good background in Eucharistic studies.
That being said, I repeat that Fr. Laurence has given us a strong addition to our Eucharistic bookshelves and has certainly fulfilled the goals of the Lex Orandi series as outlined in the Preface: “to investigate the sacraments as liturgical events in order to discover in them the faith understanding of Christian life of which they are both the source and the summit” and “to study each sacrament as it unfolds through its total performance, discerning especially its basic structure and how various elements contribute to its overall faith meaning.”