April/May/June 2021

Beyond the Altar: Perspective for Liturgical Worship

John Ainslie
ISBN: 978-0992905057
Benedicamus 2020
Paperback 320pp £12.50
Pastoral Review bookshop £11.25
If you teach liturgy, you usually discover tensions among students about the position and orientation of the altar at celebrations of the Eucharist, sometimes very passionate and polarised. Should Mass be celebrated versus populum (the priest facing the people) or ad orientem (towards the East – usually with the priest having his back to the people). Polarised debates often involve little or no dialogue, but this new book by John Ainslie is a welcome breath of fresh air.

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Book reviews April/May/June 2021 Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future

Pope Francis in Conversation with Austen Ivereigh
ISBN: 978-1398502208
Simon & Schuster 2020
Hardback 149pp £10.99
Pastoral Review bookshop £9.89
After China came Italy. Who can forget that rainswept night, in March 2020, when Pope Francis broadcast Urbi et Orbi? High Priest and prophet, he wrestled with a stern Providence, uttering a lament on behalf of stricken humanity. Then there was his contribution to the UK debate on Radio 4, his words spoken by Joseph Balderamma. Now we have Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. Three becomes a general rule: Austen Ivereigh suggested the ‘contemplate-discern-propose’ methodology, familiar from the church of Latin America. Hence ‘A Time to See, A Time to Choose, A Time to Act’. And the three ‘Ls’ – Land, Lodging, Labour – or three ‘Ts’ – tierra, techo, trabajo.

In ‘A Time to See’, the Pope introduces Catholic social doctrine, not without studied ambiguity. His lens is his own ‘three COVIDs’, his ‘Time of Crisis’: illness (1957), Germany (1986) and Cordoba (1990–92). ‘Narcissism’, ‘discouragement’ and ‘pessimism’ hinder our ability to engineer change. In ‘A Time to Choose’, Francis looks at the Beatitudes, ‘the preferential option for the poor’ and ‘the common good’. Turning abstract principles of ‘the universal destination of goods’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘subsidiarity’ into concrete action requires ‘discernment of spirits’. Francis’ ambiguities are revealed in quoting Romano Guardini’s idea of el pensamiento incompleto, ‘unfinished thinking’. Integralism remains elusive, and Francis’ best efforts to gain a wider hearing depend on not foreclosing on the preoccupations of the secular agenda. He manages to engage the outside world but manifestly leaves his critics on the left unsatisfied and on the right indignant. He retaliates with attacks on ‘clericalism’, quoting Mahler, ‘tradition is not the repository of ashes but the preservation of fire’, and being particularly severe with those who attacked the Amazonia Synod in October 2019 ‘…[when] the deep respect for indigenous culture and the presence of the native people … was treated by hysterical accusations of paganism, and syncretism’.

Yet, it is not ecclesiastical issues which most engage him. Appalled by the isolation of the elderly and deaths from Covid-19 in care homes, he reminds us that ‘the elderly are our roots’. Under-developed areas need economic progress, but the rest of us should cut back, recover solidarity, subsidiarity and the centrality of the family, and confront the dangers of individualism. Guardini’s ‘contrapositions’ rather than ‘contradictions’ lead to synodality and the three synods: the family, young people and Amazonia. Everyone has chance to talk, listen and discern the voice of the ‘Good Spirit’. From this we discern an Ignatian spirituality.

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God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath

Tom Wright
ISBN: 978-0281085118
SPCK 2020
Paperback 88pp £7.99
Pastoral Review bookshop £7.20
In this journal, many have tried to engage in a theological appraisal of Covid-19, still with us, and Tom Wright has contributed this short and brilliant book which came out early in the unfolding pandemic.

Wright, one of the finest biblical scholars in the country, has a thoroughly biblical perspective on the crisis. In his introductory chapter (‘Where do we start?’), he reminds us of the universality of the virus and the endless responses to it, both in the world as a whole and among Christians; as he remarks in his opening sentence, the word pandemic reminds us of the word panic. He then looks at the Old Testament. Catholics now rarely take part in the Holy Week office known as Tenebrae, dominated by the book of Lamentations, which Wright draws on here. The Babylonian exile was a defining event for God’s people. He writes: ‘…God had done what God said he would do … The book called Lamentations, one of the most moving long poems ever written, looks out upon a city from which people have vanished. That image haunts me now, every time I cycle around the empty streets of Oxford…’ (p. 8). He goes on to cover Daniel, Elijah in 1 Kings, the Psalms and of course Job. As far as Job is concerned, Wright is keen to avoid easy answers; the whole point is that its questions are unresolved. The next chapter, ‘Jesus and the Gospels’ draws on Wright’s earlier work (particularly Surprised by Hope [2007]) and continues to look at the issue of cause and effect. Why has this pandemic happened? Considering the ‘signs’ in John’s Gospel, he points out:

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Journey to Freedom

Sergei Ovsiannikov
ISBN: 978-1472983909
Bloomsbury Continuum 2021
Paperback 255pp £14.99
Pastoral Review bookshop £12.99
Some of the most inspiring examples of twentieth-century Christian witness have come out of Soviet prisons. Unforgettable is Iulia de Beausobre’s account The Woman Who Could Not Die of a spiritual experience when called for interrogation; her hands trembled, she was frozen and then ‘the cell fills with a whirling light … An inaudible voice of tragic beauty envelops me with “Peace. My peace be with you!”’, and the experience of Alexander Ogorodnikov, founder and leader of a Christian study group and imprisoned in 1987, who, while many prayed for him, experienced physical warmth in a freezing isolation cell. Sergei Ovsiannikov’s exploration of Christian spirituality in Journey to Freedom grew too from an experience in a Soviet prison: in the 1970s during his military service he was imprisoned for ‘disobedience’, which under the Communist regime could be anything from discussing a banned book to praising life in the West. Suddenly, while in solitary confinement (and not a believer) he ‘heard very clearly the words: freedom can only be in God’. This changed his life. Like C. S. Lewis, ‘joy came over me’, he felt free and learned to face fear.

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Mother Teresa: The Saint and Her Nation

Gëzim Alpion
ISBN 978-9389165050
Bloomsbury 2020
Hardback 300pp £85.00
Pastoral Review bookshop £76.50
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one of the iconic figures of Christianity in the second half of the twentieth century, and not just among Christians. The image of the elderly woman in her simple white and blue habit touched and challenged many far beyond the Church. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979 and upon her death in 1997 was given a state funeral by her adopted nation of India. Her story has been told many times, and it is fair to say that a standardised narrative has emerged, one that concentrates on Mother Teresa’s life in Calcutta, the place she went to serve God and the poor, rather than on the early years in the life of Agnes Gonxe Bojaxhiu, born in Skopje in Macedonia in 1910.

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Peacebuilding and Catholic Social Teaching

Theodora Hawksley
ISBN: 978-0268108465
University of Notre Dame Press 2020
Hardback 336pp £33.00
Pastoral Review bookshop £30.00
Even before opening the book I was conscious that, being published the month before Fratelli tutti, already the scenery of Catholic social teaching and peacebuilding had changed (the previous issue includes an article from Hawksley on this point). Far from being made redundant by Fratelli tutti, however, this is something of a prequel, a well-researched and ultimately very hopeful reflection on our tradition of peacebuilding.

Hawksley’s aim is to chronicle the development of Catholic teaching on peacebuilding and, using the analogy of the Lateran Basilica as a building with the same foundations that has been remodelled over time, occasionally showing cracks that are in need of some construction work, to critically but lovingly identify those areas where some development might be necessary. This is done with obvious affection for the teaching of the Church, looking to understand it as a continuous whole rather than conflictual, whilst recognising tensions in need of attention.

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The Bible and Mental Health: Towards a Biblical Theology of Mental Health

Christopher C. H. Cook and Isabelle Hamley (eds)
ISBN: 978-0334059776
SCM Press 2020
Paperback 272pp £25.00
Pastoral Review bookshop £20.00
In recent years, the subject of mental health has become part of the wider conversation in society and to some extent also in the Church. This has of course been exacerbated in the months of the pandemic when there has been widespread concern that the Covid-19 pandemic will be followed by a mental illness epidemic of epic proportions. However, the subject is not new, and has been part of the Christian conversation not just in recent years but probably for as long as that conversation has existed. Of course, mental health is a modern concept, but that does not mean that some of the conditions it covers are not extensively represented in the pages of Scripture. And so a book on the Bible and mental health is an obvious place to start an exercise in taking stock as to how a modern concept like mental health and an ancient tradition, that of reading the Scriptures in the horizon of the Christian faith, can engage with each other.

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The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines that Divide Us

The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines that Divide Us
Nick Hayes
ISBN: 978-1526604699
Bloomsbury 2020
Hardback 464pp £20.00
Pastoral Review bookshop £18.00
The prophets in the Old Testament often proclaim God’s justice in relation to land – on its ownership and use, on our merely being stewards of it for God, and as a setting for injustice and exploitation of the poor whom God loves. In spite of this, in modern Catholic social teaching the topic has not figured very highly in teaching and theological resources, and certainly not in this country. What is the history of land ownership? What is the history of rights of access to land and the supposed legal offence of trespass?

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The Sunday Gospels for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter

Adrian Graffy
ISBN: 978-0232534764
Darton Longman & Todd 2020
Hardback 112pp £14.99
Pastoral Review bookshop £13.50
Fr Adrian Graffy has given great service to the Catholic Church in England and Wales as a Scripture scholar over many years. While he is a Scripture scholar of the highest calibre – he is a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission – he has also constantly worked to make the Scriptures accessible and stimulating for a great range of readers. Therefore, anything he publishes is to be welcomed with gratitude.

This latest offering is the first of two short books looking at all the Gospel readings for the Liturgy of the Word for the Sunday Eucharist, this one for the great seasons of the liturgical year. In choosing to produce a book which seeks to open up the Gospel texts, the author and publisher have to offer something which has a distinct focus if it is to attract readers in what is a fairly crowded market. This publication therefore makes a series of choices which it is hoped will make it attractive to readers.

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Michael A. Hayes 1957 - 2017


Michael A. Hayes 1957 - 2017

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Rev. Professor Michael Hayes editor of the Pastoral Review.

Many friends and readers of the Pastoral Review and The Tablet will have been shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Michael Hayes early on Easter Saturday.   Read More


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