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Saturday, 5 July 2008

"Worship as a Revelation" book launch

After lunch at St Bede's, I went back on the Northern Line to central London (it was a sweltering day) for the seminar on the occasion of the launch of Dr Laurence Hemming's new book "Worship as a Revelation".

Drawing on an encyclopaedic knowledge of the texts of the liturgy, Dr Hemming applies his keen philosophical mind to questions that are at the heart of the current liturgical debate. The protestation is made at the outset that this is not a programmatic text calling for reform or restoration, and indeed it is not. Rather, it unfolds from a variety of angles, the very nature of the liturgy itself. In the first chapter ("I saw the new Jerusalem"), he says:
The Church makes manifest and completes for the whole earth the meaning once indicated by the Temple in Jerusalem, and the liturgy makes constant reference in its annual round to this Jerusalem, the holy and perfect city wherein the Temple is to be found: in penitential seasons the liturgy speaks of the desolation of Jerusalem, and in joyful ones, her exultation. The Christian is, through the work of the sacred liturgy, inscribed into the heavenly Jerusalem and is made on of her citizens. The true Jerusalem is the pole of the earth, its true centre, and where the meaning of the whole cosmos becomes manifest through God's presence in the sanctuary, which is the temple and the church. Anciently the Temple in Jerusalem is the symbolic manifestation of the Garden of Eden: worship has (or should have) the effect of returning us to the paradise of Eden. (p.2-3)
By way of example, let me quote from chapter 6 ("Sacred Scripture") to illustrate one of the varied ways in which Dr Hemming highlights the centrality of the Liturgy:
Scripture itself has to be interpreted, and a fundamental aspect of that interpretation is the oral tradition which from the very first is mediated in the liturgy itself. The fundamentally protestant view that scripture contains its own interpretation is absolutely foreign to the Catholicism of the West, and no less foreign to the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. (p.69-70)
As a scholar involved in the supervision of doctoral work, Dr Hemming did not arrange for a mere celebration of the publication of his book but invited several scholars to offer critical comments upon it. The resulting discussion was highly-charged and illuminating. The Dominican fathers, Aidan Nichols and Thomas Crean robustly questioned the use of Heidegger in support of the critique of the rationalist character of 20th century liturgical reform and Fr Nichols also raised doubts about the book's commendation of the research of Margaret Barker. I offered my own little contribution on this subject but was rather nervous in view of the sheer weight of scholarly expertise in the room.

I heartily recommend this book - Dr Hemming cheerfully admitted that his writing is sometimes found difficult and that he had tried to be more accessible in this book. It is not always an easy read but it provokes exactly the kind of discussion that needs to be had among those who love the Sacred Liturgy. The book is published by Continuum under the brand "Burns & Oates" (192 pages paperback. ISBN 9-780-8601-2460-3). You can get it from the UK amazon for £10.49 - Link below.)



After the seminar, there was a Missa Cantata in the Little Oratory (photos from that in a minute) followed by a reception. Here, you can see Fr Adian Nichols OP, Bro Lawrence Lew OP, and Fr Hunwicke of the homonymous Liturgical Notes whom I was very pleased to meet, after hearing about him from many good Anglican readers.

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