Sacred Games: A History of Christian Worship

Article excerpt

Sacred Games: A History of Christian Worship. By Bernhard Lang. (New Haven:Yale University Press. 1997. Pp. xiii, 527. $40.00.)

This is no ordinary history of Christian worship. Lang, professor of religion at the University of Paderborn, is not so much a liturgical historian as an historian of religions. His background affords him a fresh view of the history of Christian worship, unencumbered by the debates characteristic of the profession.

Lang divides the subject into six "games" or basic components in which he finds "the essential meaning of Christian worship" (p. xi). These games are: praise, prayer, sermon, sacrifice, sacrament, and ecstasy. The book thus provides six interpretive essays in an attempt to uncover theological meaning through an investigation of historical and contemporary forms of worship. In the process Lang is most attentive to popular culture as well as to the general philosophical milieu in which forms of worship developed. An example of the former can be found in a number of illustrations that are interspersed through the book and especially the book jacket which portrays an early twentieth-century street procession of young girls approaching their first holy communion. An example of the latter is the extensive use that Lang makes of neo-Platonic philosophy in analyzing the theurgic aspects of the development of Christian worship forms. The result is a series of vignettes of both the origins, historical instances, and contemporary realizations of Christian worship tied together by a clear argument.

Certainly the most intriguing and provocative parts of this study are to be found in the chapters on "sacrifice" and "sacrament Lang's professed aim is to recover a much more "ritual" portrait of Jesus than is normally drawn. For him the origins of the Last Supper are to be found in Jesus' attempt to replace Temple Sacrifice with a new sacrifice of bread and wine, representing self-offering and more available to the poor. In suggesting that the Last Supper represents a replacement of Temple Sacrifice Lang is in agreement with contemporary New Testament scholars like E. …