Saturday, December 1, 2012

Guest Book Review: Witness of the Saints

I've said it here and elsewhere: the second readings from the Office of Readings are the ideal way for ordinary Catholics to enjoy the writings of the Church Fathers, doctors, and saints. I've also wished that these were available as a stand alone volume, to make them accessible to those who do not participate in the Office of Readings.
Thanks to Milton Walsh and Ignatius Press, my dream is starting to come true. A new collection of excerpts from the patristic lectionary is now available. Sounds like it will be ideal for study and lectio divina. I haven't received my copy yet, but sometime guest blogger and breviary historian Jim McAuley has. What follows is his take on this book:

A wonderful new book that helps us to utilize the Liturgy of the Hours has been released.  This book is Witness of the Saints: Patristic Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours by Milton Walsh, Ignatius Press, 2012.  The primary purpose of this book is to show how the patristic lectionary found in the Liturgy of the Hours can be utilized for other purposes.  This book is a compendium of excerpts from the Office of Readings found in the Liturgy of the Hours, (formerly known as the Roman Breviary) also known as the Divine Office.  The Book is modeled along the outline of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  In this, it serves as a very useful reference. 

Interestingly, two things come out in the text.  First, Walsh did not use the Editio Typica.  Not a big deal.  What is more problematic is that he uses the American version of the
Liturgy of the Hours, and no acknowledgement is given to the fact that those Ignatius Press readers who use the Divine Office may find it a little awkward.  This is apparent in two ways.  The first is found in the list of readings from the fathers.  In the section for Pope Pius XII (Volume 1, pp. 149-150), Father Walsh only lists two readings.  If you use the American Liturgy of the Hours, this is indeed the case.  But, if you use the British Divine Office there is another, most wonderful reading from Pius XII, This is found in the Common of Women Saints (Volume 1, page 422*) as the alternative second reading and is titled “A reading from a talk by Pope Pius XII to newly married couples.” Strangely, it is not found in the Common of Holy Women in the American Liturgy of the Hours.  In fact, no alternative second reading is provided in the Common for Holy Women in the American Liturgy of the Hours.  Lest one think it a mistake on the part of the British editors of the Divine Office, the reading in question is also found in that wonderful book, the Book of Prayer, the 4th Edition of A Short Breviary from 1975 produced by St. John’s Abbey.

Second, perhaps as an oversight, the book includes as a church father St. John De Brebeuf, a Jesuit martyr celebrated on the American, Canadian, and Jesuit calendars.  His inclusion seems almost an oversight, as no other American saint in the sanctoral is cited.  But if he is included, why not other saints in the American sanctoral?

Another interesting omission, or oversight, is the total failure to cite any readings from the 1992 supplement of the
Liturgy of the Hours. The reading from St. Maximillian Kolbe would have been a good one to reference in this book.

However, the book shows the increased variety of patristic sources from whom the Readings derive from.  There are many new and superb sources not found in the 1960 Roman Breviary, such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Maximus the Confessor, Alphonsus Ligouri, St. John Bosco, Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. John Eudes, and so on.  Others have an increased presence, such as Fulgentius of Ruspe and Irenaeus of Lyons.   Now, this is not to say that the readings found in the 1960 Breviary are defective.  Some excellent readings disappeared, such as St. Bonaventure’s beautiful sermon on the Immaculate Heart of Mary, some of the works of Gregory the Great and Jerome also disappeared. Nota Bene - to those readers who own a Baronius Press Roman Breviary – In the process of doing this book review I discovered that when Baronius revised the Liturgical Press (Collegeville), Baronius deleted the Scriptural and Patristic index found in the older edition, so keep your old editions around, if you have them!

All In all, I would recommend readers to buy this book.  It is a sturdy hardback and has an easy to read font and layout.  The spine is well built, and you will be able to buy the ribbons that can be placed in books and put them safely in the spine. The price is reasonable at $29.95 for such a book and it would make a good Christmas present for your parish priest, a friend, a family member, or yourself.



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