In Thanks for a Classic

“THE LORD GAVE, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) The experience of the previous few days has felt more in the line of the taking away, but today has been one of the giving. Today I discovered that friends (who will remain unnamed here to prevent blushes but who live within the realms of Her Majesty but not exactly in Britain, or in a dominion), have bestowed on me the unmerited kindness of a full five-volume set of the newly republished classic by (Blessed) Ildefonso Schuster OSB, The Sacramentary. The godliest kindness, and also blessing, is that which is unmerited.

It has been recently re-released, with an introudction by Gregory Di Pippo, by Arouca Press, the small Canadian Catholic publisher with a most arresting catalogue of works both old new. It is available in both soft- and hard-cover editions, and the price is remarkably modest. I will be speaking from the hardcover edition.

What makes this classic worthwhile today?

Even those who champion the modern, reformed liturgy exclusively would have to admit that the modern liturgy has a history and a lineage from which it draws form and meaning, and they will gain a fuller appreciation of this fact from Schuster’s work. Those who tend to the more ancient use of the Roman Rite will find rich fare directly applicable to the liturgy by which they worship God. It has been found off on a few details as scholarship has uncovered more detail from history, but there are few liturgical classics that have not escaped such progress. It detracts nothing from the general value of the work.

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster (1880-1954) was a monk, and later abbot, of the monastery at St Paul-outside-the-Walls in Rome, and was awarded a pontifical doctorate at the Benedictine Athenaeum of St Anselmo, and reached his academic pinnacle as president of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. In 1929 he was nominated Archbishop of Milan and made a cardinal, and he served in Milan till his death, enduring the trials of fascism and the war. He was beatified in 1996.

His magnum opus is a comprehensive survey of the liturgy that combines scholarship with spirituality. In the main it is a detailed, sequential journey through the sanctoral and temporal cycles, punctuated by topical essays on a wide range of pertinent topics, such as “Sacred Art n the House of God,” “The Vocation to the Priesthood and the Prayer of the Christian People,” “The Easter Triduum in the Roman Missal,” and “Eastern Influence in the Roman Liturgy” to mention but a few and random examples. There is even a section on “The Eucharistic Sacrifice on Occasions of Public Plague” which seems to hold more than a passing relevance today.

Though the full set exceeds 2000 pages, it is divided into very manageable units by virtue of it being structured around the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year, and would serve as an excellent commentary on the daily liturgy. The work of a scholar it may be, but it is not inaccessible to the average Catholic reader with some knowledge of and interest in the liturgy of the Church. If one is taking a more strictly academic approach then it would need to be balanced with more recent scholarship, but the need is not immense from what I have read. Moreover it reflects an important stage in liturgical studies in the twentieth century in which the Liturgical Movement developed with such strength.

As always with Arouca’s publications you can order them direct without international postage hassles as the volumes are printed locally. While you will certainly find the set, and individual volumes, on sale at Amazon, you would not lose by going straight to Arouca Press for more information and to order them.

For the record, this little quasi-review is neither paid-for nor requested. It is a homage of thanks to both benefactor and publisher.

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster—pray for us.

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  1. I was a Carthusian lay brother for a number of years and if there were ‘one’ book I could have taken away with me when I left it would’ve been the Liber Sacramentorum (the original edition of the English translation, I believe): Arouca Press has certainly done the English-speaking world a great service.


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