Book Review: How NOT to Say Mass

How NOT to Say Mass: A Guidebook for All Concerned About Authentic Worship

by Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J.


There is a newer edition of this book released in 2015.  However I inherited this copy in a round-about fashion and so can’t speak to any changes in the updated edition.

I like these kinds of books as they give me an idea about how others who take worship and liturgy seriously view these things.  The author  is firmly Roman Catholic and presumes only to give instruction as to the Roman Catholic mass.  However it is useful to me as a Lutheran who utilizes the historic structure of mass.  Although our culture has largely moved to idolize efficiency and utility and to disregard symbolic meaning, worship is laden (at least historically) with symbolism and meaning.  We do things a certain way for certain reasons (at least usually).  And while yes, we are free to make changes insofar as the Bible is silent on these traditions, we should do so more in a sense of reverence for the past rather than a dismissiveness.

My wife and I were talking last night about the nature of community and how Christian community is created through traditions over literally two thousand years or more.  We do things a certain way because Christians have done them this way for a long time.  It provides a depth and meaning for deeper than deciding arbitrarily to do things a certain way for our own expediency or rationale.  Worship and liturgy links the Church today to 2000 years of Christian community.  Doing things more or less they way they did them is an affirmation of that community.  It is not a necessity, not a Biblical law, but it is a very tangible acknowledgment that who we are today is directly related to who God’s people have been long before us.

Much of this book will not make sense outside the Roman Catholic Church, as certain words and terms are used without definition or explanation.  Likewise this book won’t make much sense in a non-liturgical setting.  But I’d encourage even those who avoid historic liturgical practices in favor of current or individualized worship service formats to read this, as it in places provides very serviceable reminders about why Christians have done things a certain way.

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