The Mass, by Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC and author Mike Aquilina, is a book that I would highly recommend to anyone who is new the Catholic Church or any Catholic who would like to learn the significance of the kneeling, the signing, the greetings, the prayers, the hymns, and the vestments of priests celebrating mass. The history of the mass is discussed, with descriptions of the mass as it was celebrated in the early years of Christianity. Quotes from the early church fathers, along with a few interesting historical facts help explain the reasons behind the traditions of mass that we tend to overlook.
One example of this that stands out is the mixing of water with the wine that is to be consecrated. I had never given this part of mass much thought. However, this book explained the practical as well as symbolic significance of this action. In Christ's time, wine was stored in a concentrated state and then diluted at mealtimes. I had learned about the mixing of water with wine when learning about ancient Rome, but had never associated it with the earliest days of the Catholic Church. I also appreciated how the authors made it a point to mention how priests in concentration camps used to ferment raisins to create the wine that is such a necessary component of the mass. Until reading this book, I had not truly appreciated just how important the wine and bread are when it comes to celebrating the mass.
This book explores each part of mass in order from the introductory rite to the dismissal. I have never studied theology, but had some understanding of what each part of mass was all about. At least, that is what I thought until I started really getting into this book. As I read each section explaining the parts of mass, I had many "lightbulb" moments when I finally started understanding the significance and beauty that I had witnessed, but not understood before. God's grace had, perhaps, allowed me to appreciate the significance and beauty of the "Sanctus" (or the "Holy, Holy, Holy") from time to time. There are times when this part of mass fills me with so much emotion that I am either getting chills or beginning to cry. This Sunday was the first time I went to mass since I finished reading this book and it was a POWERFUL experience. I found myself in awe throughout most of the mass and hanging on every word and action of the priest as he celebrated mass.
This book was an easy read and would be a great addition to the libraries of any children (or adults) celebrating their first Communion as well as those who simply want to learn more about that great event to which they devote one hour of every Sunday. There are facts and histories here that are sometimes lost in a generation when parents either do not know enough about sign of the cross, communion, etc. to answer the questions of their children. I would highly recommend this book as a supplement to first communion classes and for families who want to continue passing down a richer understanding of the mass that is so central to their faith. This book will certainly help you become less of a spectator and more of a participant in mass.
I was offered a copy of this book for review, but all opinions and statements expressed in this review are my own.