Christian Books

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life
Joan Chittister
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009
217 pages

Who might this book interest?  This book would interest those who want to know more about the liturgical year and to better live it out.  The book is a pretty simple read, although I do have several criticisms of it from both a writing and theological perspective.  Admittedly, it would not be the first book that I suggest on the topic.  

My first suggestion would be Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year.  Lord willing, my review of Webber's book will be forthcoming.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Quick Summary: Joan Chittister is both a Benedictine nun, lecture, and author.  She holds a PhD in speech communication from Penn State University and has written over 50 books and numerous articles.  In addition, she has received many awards for her publications and international social work on behalf of peace, human rights, and women’s issues.  As one who has practiced the liturgical year for practically all of her life, Joan Chittister is highly qualified to write this book.

Because it contains thirty chapters, it is hard to summarize this book.  So, instead of covering it chapter by chapter, I am going to make broad statements about the content.  As one would expect, Chittister covers the foundations of the liturgical year, the Advent cycle, the Lenten cycle, and Ordinary time. 

Generally, Chittister does three things throughout this work.  First, she explains the various feasts, festivals and seasons of the liturgical year.  She gives the historical development of them.  This is interesting because they sometimes developed different in the East and West.  Usually, she addresses why they developed differently. 

Second, Chittister connects them to the scriptural events that they flow from.  At its best, the liturgical year arises from the scriptural presentation of the life of Jesus Christ, so it makes sense that there should be an intimate connection with the text.  There are some Catholic feasts that do not rise from Scripture which she also discusses.

Third, Chittister highlights the spirituality of the liturgical year.  What spiritual meaning and use does the liturgical year hold for Christians?  Throughout the book, she points out how the liturgical year contributes to our maturing faith.  The liturgical year is spiritually beneficial to those who consistently practice it over a long period of time.

Evangelical Assessment: In terms of writing, there are a couple of criticisms.  First, the book needed sections to group the chapters.  This would have helped with cohesion and flow.  There are 33 chapters, and it feels overwhelming when you look at the number of chapters.  You wonder, “Where do I start?”  Sections would have provided a context for understanding some of the chapters.

Second, Chittister’s writing style is creatively repetitive and laborious at the same time.  Most of the paragraphs follow this pattern: say it, say it again differently, say it again differently, say it one more time.  There are exceptions such as when she is explaining why we celebrate certain feasts at a certain time.  Generally, I find that she seeks to be creative, but often uses too many words, and at times, unusual vocabulary to say what she wants to say.  I know that she is thoughtful and creative, but I found myself getting rather impatient reading her prose.

Third, she is a Catholic Christian, and I can appreciate that about her perspective.  There were Catholic emphases and feasts that she introduced me too, but as a Lutheran, we do not practice.  At times, I learned about another traditions practice of the liturgical year.  Unfortunately, the Protestant traditions that also practice the liturgical year are neglected.  She does give voice to the Eastern Orthodox Church at times, but neglects several feasts that Protestants do celebrate, such as Reformation Day for the Lutherans.

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