Worship in Medieval and Modern Europe. Change and Continuity in Religious Practice

By Irwin, Kevin W. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Worship in Medieval and Modern Europe. Change and Continuity in Religious Practice


Irwin, Kevin W., The Catholic Historical Review


Worship in Medieval and Modern Europe. Change and Continuity in Religious Practice. Edited by Karin Maag and John D. Witvliet. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 2004. Pp. xiii, 353. $60.00 cloth, $30.00 paper.)

In introducing this immensely important collection of eleven essays John Witvliet asserts what has become something of a truism regarding the study of liturgy, namely, that it is "because worship practices are of interest to a variety of scholarly disciplines: cultural anthropology, visual art and architecture, music, rhetoric, theology, and cultural and social history," its study is "an inherently interdisciplinary task" (p. 2). But few have demonstrated as well as these authors how at least some of these disciplines can be brought to bear in order to refine an appropriate method for studying liturgy-both in the past and in the present.

The book's subtitle-"change and continuity"-reflects well the thesis of the symposium at which these papers were delivered. Each is a case study in liturgical change brought about in the late medieval period as a result of the work of the reformers and the Council of Trent. This is not a book for beginners. The level of scholarship requires some grounding in the political, cultural, theological, and ecclesiastical climate of these times. But anyone with such familiarity will benefit greatly from this inherently interdisciplinary treatment of worship in this period.

Each essay is similarly structured: (brief) introduction by the editors, a selection of primary texts which are the material to be commented upon in the essay, and then the essay itself. The reproduction of such primary source material itself makes an important contribution simply because much writing about worship practices in this period can be over-generalized and not based in specific sources. The accompanying essays almost always offer important nuances and critique to conventional "wisdom" about the changes that occurred in liturgy during this period. The authors almost always note that change accompanied continuity and that even within each liturgical tradition represented here (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, etc.) there was significant variety in the liturgies celebrated.

The essays are helpfully divided into five sections. The first, "starting points for assessing change and continuity," contains essays about daily devotion by lay people in the diocese of Rheims (by Margot Fassler) and a glimpse into worship in Geneva before and after the Reformation (by Robert Kingdon). Each of these essays deals with a small piece of the late medieval tapestry and yet in doing so the authors offer important nuances "tried and true" presumptions from an older generation of authors (e. …

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