The Church at Prayer, Volume III: The Sacraments edited by AG Martimort, translated by Matthew O'Connell (Geoffrey Chapman £15).
HISTORY seems to be unpopular nowadays yet a knowledge of the historical development of the liturgy is necessary for its understanding and indeed for its celebration. The Church at Prayer, long regarded as a classical manual, gives a clear and scholarly introduction to the history of the sacramental rites.
The first chapter on Christian Initiation is important by its very title: baptism, confirmation and the first reception of Holy Communion, in that order, are shown to be the ways whereby men and women are initiated into the life of the Church. The history itself indicates that these sacraments are related and that their separation has more often than not been the result of accidental factors.
Penance also has a long and complicated history but in all its complexities Reconciliation is clearly dominant. As for the Anointing of the Sick and Ordination it is only in our own time and thanks to the work of scholars that the essentials of these sacraments have been fully revealed.
The varying rites of marriage through the centuries suggest that our own rite, which incorporates the ancient formulas of the medieval Sarum books, could undergo further development well within our own tradition. Christian Death, largely through the liturgical texts, is shown in its true perspective.
Other rites, eg monastic profession and Blessings are dealt with and there is useful material on processions, pilgrimages and popular religion; historical material that is hard to come by. It is hardly necessary to say that the book includes commentaries on the reformed sacramental rites that were decreed by Vatican II and we can see how that reform has uncovered important features and aspects of the early rites which were not imitated but used as principles in the re-shaping of our liturgy.
Mgr JD Crichton