Spiritual books round-up

The profundity of the liturgy: Pope Francis celebrates Mass in New York last year (AP)

Signs of the Holy One
by Uwe Michael Lang
Ignatius/Gracewing, £12.99

The author, an Oratorian priest who once worked in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has subtitled his book “Liturgy, Ritual and Expression of the Sacred”. He brings knowledge and insight to the themes considered here. For a work of 150 pages, carefully argued and drawing upon Church documents, the writings of popes (in particular Benedict XVI’s The Spirit of the Liturgy), as well as writers such as Proust, Dostoyevsky and Flannery O’Connor, Fr Lang has done good service to Catholics who long for the sacred to be returned to the heart of the Church’s worship.

He not only considers the sacred liturgy itself, but also church architecture, church artworks and church music. It is obvious to those who care for how worship is conducted that you cannot separate them: solemn and reverent liturgy demands a certain style of architecture and fitting music. The author is careful not to condemn outright the experimentation that followed the Second Vatican Council, but rather to show where and how it departed from both tradition and legitimate development.

Fr Lang considers subjects including the liturgy in the mass media, such as televised masses, which make the viewers mere spectators rather than participants; the opinions of modernist architects who do not understand the distinction between the sacred and the profane or that churches must be “formed by the Church’s liturgy”; and sacred art.

He emphasises that this last is “essentially figurative”, in keeping with the incarnate nature of the faith. This means that purely abstract art in the modern sense is inadequate. Fr Lang argues passionately for a link between art and beauty. Quoting Jean Clair, he writes, “God without beauty is more incomprehensible than beauty without God”, adding that iconoclasm is a “constant temptation for theologians”.

All who are aghast at the ugliness of some modern churches and who yearn for the profundity of the liturgy to be expressed with appropriate reverence and beauty should read his book.

The Prodigal You Love
by Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble FSP
Pauline Books and Media, £9

This book, full of hope, is to be recommended for all those who have watched someone they love lapse from or reject their faith. Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble knows what she is talking about. From the age of 14 and from a happy Catholic family, she rejected the Church for the next 10 years, convinced that “it was possible to be a good person without God”. Despite this resolution she confesses that she could not ignore “a natural attraction to the supernatural”. She read Buddhist texts, took classes in Eastern spirituality and attended Quaker meetings, as a way of exploring “the long silence that had become a wall between God and me”.

Working with the poor in Costa Rica in her 20s, the author noticed how their Catholic faith sustained them. She joined local women at Mass and was surprised at how happy the young priest seemed to be. He told her he had once been a lawyer, engaged to be married, but could not resist a call to the priesthood. Shortly after this, Noble was filled with two convictions: “God exists” and “God was a Person”. It took two more years for her to accept that she wanted to rejoin the Church she had abandoned in her youth.

Her book is not just a personal reconversion story. It is full of wise and sound advice for those who long for their own “prodigals” to return, alongside reflections on the meaning behind the Gospel parable of the Prodigal Son. We need humility, because “if we do not model humility, then we do little to encourage an attitude of faith in our loved ones”. We must die to our false selves to show them what love really means, for it is not by proselytising that the Church grows, “but by attraction”. We must also pray, cultivate silence when appropriate and find the right words when they are called for.

When we regard our prodigal relations not with their flaws, their sins or their failures, but “as the person God made each to be”, we will be reflecting the gaze that can change them “because it is the gaze of God”.

In Belloc’s Steps
by Jim Malia
New Millennium, £7.99

Jim Malia read Hilaire Belloc’s Path to Rome under the desk at school aged 16 and decided that one day he would follow Belloc’s own pilgrimage of a century earlier. Unlike Belloc, who managed this feat in 29 days – including wheeled transport when desperate – Malia took four years, starting in the year 2000, breaking off for a funeral back in Britain and then resuming in 2003. Anyone who has undertaken a similar project will recognise the blisters, the rain, the pleasure of good wine, the rigours of tent life and the relief of an occasional lift by car. Malia is an entertaining writer. He includes maps and details of welcoming hostelries along the way for those who want to emulate him.