I'm asked from time to time how books are selected for review in this column, and from time to time I like to repeat the answer.
Editorial forces in Kansas City, in a process not revealed fully unto me, decide which books will arrive at my door courtesy of UPS. Yesterday a box of 31 arrived. A similar box came last week. From them, I chose 20 for comment. The others are listed as "also received."
There is no scientific way for me to determine which books ought to be given attention. Over the years, however, I have devised pieces of a plan. While one still cannot tell a book by its cover, I admit to being influenced by cover design and the look of the book itself, as well as title and the kind of interest that package excites in me.
Liturgical Press, by the way, wins the award for Most Improved Player for covers. Since his arrival there as majordomo, Benedictine Fr. Michael Naughton has put new and welcome emphasis on cover art.
My biases ought to be evident. I am drawn to books on and about the church's liturgical life. And about parishes, including how-to manuals. So also for history, particularly about the church in the United States. I'm always on the lookout for helpful resources both for parish and classroom. I am weary of redrawn 12-step programs and want to see no more commercially inspired books about angels. Self-published book, even good ones, are not reviewed in this column or elsewhere in NCR.
If I cannot clearly understand the first sentence of a book, I tend to put it aside. I sometimes open up to a chapter that sounds intriguing. If it proves to be so, I keep on.
A recent California corespondent sent me compliments for negative comments made about a recent choice. More often, I'll tend to put aside books that seem poorly written or less significant, saving space for those that ought to have attention called to them.
Some might suggest that the process does not sound entirely fair. No argument. Life is not fair. Neither is publishing or reviewing. More books are published annually that we could ever attend to. How would we better determine fair?
On to this month's books. Jesuit Fr. Edward Yarnold's The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation: The Origins of the RCIA (Liturgical Press, 266 pages, $14.95 paperback) is itself awe-inspiring. Yarnold has collected sermons, probably preached in the second half of the fourth century, that explain the sacrament of initiation. Using other evidence as well, he gives a detailed picture of the stages of entry into the early church.
This well-documented historical study is sure to receive respectful attention. Perhaps RCIA teams and neophytes ought to attend to parts of the book. It is sure to edify and challenge and provide a happy sense of continuity as well.
Experience the Mystery: Pastoral Possibilities for Christian Mystagogy (Liturgical Press, 152 pages, $11.95 paperback), by Holy Spirit Fr. David Regan, could be a resource for RCIA teams, many of which known they fall down on mystagogy, the science of mysticism. When the newly made Christians ought to be feeling welcomed and at home with what their new church is about, many lose focus or interest and drift away. Here is a significant pastoral problem.
Regan is a scholar who makes scholarly and interesting comment on the history and vicissitudes of the various aspects of mystagogy. His impressive research will assist in confronting pastoral dilemmas, but his intention is not to offer practical help.
He suggests in his conclusion, for example, that mystagogy cannot remain exclusively in the hands of Catholics who do not have a social conscience. No facet of the world is neglected in an integrated religious experience, and this experience must include stewardship of creation and social responsibility. How this is practically accomplished will be the work of other authors and energetic RCIA teams everywhere.
I have heard Paul E. …