Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers by Mike Aquilina.Servant Books (Cincinnati, 2011). 116 pp., $13.99.
Catholic Update Guide to the Mass, edited by Mary Carol Kendzia. St. Anthony Messenger Press (Cincinnati, 2011). 48 pp., $5.99.
It could be that those charged with instructing Catholics about the new Roman Missal realize that in an age where messages are transmitted with a minimal amount of characters and as quickly as possible, instruction will need to be conveyed as succinctly as possible. Not only can they expect the Tweeters and text-messagers to want information as concisely as possible, but those who use neither of those media also may welcome "the short form" — to use a liturgical term — of instruction. Understanding the Mass is even more basic than The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Traditionthe book Aquilina and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl cowrote earlier this year. Basic but thorough. In a question-and-answer format, Aquilina provides information about which worshippers have wondered, but never knew who or how to ask, e.g., What are rubrics? How does the church pick the Bible readings for each Mass? Why does the priest mix water with wine?
To liturgical scholars and planners, these might not be critical questions, but to the people who occupy the pews and who aren’t privileged to have advanced degrees in liturgy, they could be. And simply stated answers might help them understand what it is they are celebrating, and, in turn, living what they have celebrated.
The simplicity of Aquilina’s questions and answers are not the second coming of the sing-songy style of the Baltimore Catechism. These are substantive, drawing from Scripture, the writings of the church fathers and other sources. Individuals can certainly read and learn from it, but the greater value of Understanding the Mass might be found when used as a guide for group instruction, led by someone with a background in theology and/or liturgy.
While Aquilina uses the texts of Mass prayers from the new Roman Missal, the book is not specifically about that missal. Nonetheless, it will serve as a good general instruction for all who have been celebrating Mass for years, and who wish to grow in their understanding of it.
As a newsletter, Catholic Update has proven its ability to present complicated material in a way that is easy to comprehend or which, at the very least, doesn’t appear so overwhelming that the reader doesn’t even try to comprehend it. Catholic Update Guide to the Mass makes that comprehension possible.
If the instructions each writer contributes don’t spur the reader to reflection, the questions at the end of each chapter will, e.g., How has your understanding of the Mass changed since your first Communion? These questions also are what make this a user-friendly resource for groups meeting to learn about the new Roman Missal.
As individuals and parishes prepare for the introduction of the new Roman Missal this Advent, they are seeking information about it. Both volumes provide that instruction in formats that are inviting, able to reach readers at their level of spiritual development, and at an affordable price. The investment is good catechesis and good stewardship. Olszewski is general manager of the Catholic Herald, the publication serving the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.