Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Liturgical Asceticism

This book is beautiful. The Catholic University Press of America produces really fine volumes. The heft of the book is perfect, and I've rarely read a book with such fine, crisp script. Books have production values, and this volume is gorgeous.

Happily, the actual content of the book matches its beauty. David Fagerberg is a fine and gifted writer. His prose pops.

Here is what Fagerberg hopes to accomplish. Alexander Schmemann of the Orthodox tradition, and Aidan Kavanagh of the Roman Catholic tradition, single-handedly re-energized liturgical theology in the 20th century. Fagerberg belongs to the Schmemann-Kavanagh school, and wants to add something essential to it.

He believes that liturgical theology rightly understood is actually a three-legged stool, the third leg of which is asceticism. The three things, theology, liturgy, asceticism, perform a perichoretic dance among themselves, and none can be understood individually without the other.

The assembly in worship is a theologian.

A theologian is one who prays.

The ascetic theologically makes liturgy life.

The book is replete with bon mots. Perhaps my favorite:

"Liturgy is doing the world the way it was meant to be done."

Fagerberg's core thesis is rich, if a bit burdened by academic language:

"Liturgy is the Trinity's perichoresis kinetically extended to invite our synergistic ascent into deification."

That's just about right, and it takes him the book to work that thesis out. Although the book, unlike many other works of liturgical theology, is not a theological study of "the liturgy," as in a specific liturgy like the Tridentine Mass or Chrysostom's liturgy, instead since liturgy is life, and the ascetic makes all of life liturgy, it is a study of asceticism that enriches the reader's spirituality and understanding of the relationship between body and spirit, liturgy and life, asceticism and grace.

You will want to read this book twice, it is so good.

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