Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year, by Philip H. Pfatteicher. New York: Oxford University Press. 2013. 432 pp. $35.00 (Kindle $13.49).
“We are, all of us, a forgetful people in constant need of being reminded who we are” (1). Journey into the Heart of God looks in depth at the meaning of the liturgical year, interpreting it for today, through its many texts, prayers, and hymns of the Eucharist and Daily Offices. It primarily compares Roman, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgical traditions, but also considers the liturgy in the East when applicable. According to Oxford University Press, there is no comparable book in the Anglican or Lutheran traditions. Lutheran Philip H. Pfatteicher has served as parish pastor, campus pastor, and professor at East Stroudsburg University and Duquesne University in Pennsylvania. He is a widely respected liturgical historian, scholar, and author of many books, including Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship. The church calendar, Pfatteicher instructs, helps us remember what God has done in the past, properly orient ourselves in the present, and look forward to our future, eternity with God.
Pfatteicher explains that the liturgy of the church year has been the artistic work of many over the ages. It is tightly packed with meaning and significance on so many levels that we cannot absorb it all, but continued examination and reflection year after year begins to reveal insight and deeper understanding (10). Music, he states, is a great assistance to us because we connect and learn the melody and words before we can internalize their meaning (8). Together, the words, music, and actions of the liturgy create a living expression of the Gospel. “The liturgical year,” he writes, “is not a mere commemoration of the events of the Gospel; it is in fact the actualization of these events, their renewal upon earth. Thus the act of salvation . . . is an ever-continuing process as its fruits are made real in the lives of those who accept this redemption” (21). We view each celebration of the liturgical year not only in light of what Christ did in the past, but in light of the “Completed Plan,” looking forward to eternity (23).
The liturgical year rests upon our experience of time: the historical passing of time (in which recorded events take place), the “all-at-once” time of eternity, and cosmic time (cosmic cycles and seasons, such as morning and night) (11). Thus, the year is sanctified and given deeper meaning by intentionally connecting it to the life of Christ and to his Church (16). The liturgy also gives new life to many biblical passages by putting them into the context of the liturgical year (39-40). This also came to serve as a theological teaching device, reminding the congregation of the unity of redemption in the liturgy and that the Gospel story is not yet over; the real point is yet to come, although in another sense “our redemption has already been effected in the birth of Christ” (124).
Pfatteicher calls the liturgical year “a circle with a destination” (343), more like an upward spiral: we celebrate the same events, but we are different people and our world is ever changing, so we have different insights and different experiences that we bring to the table. The church year does not just “remind us of the basics of the faith. It is in fact none other than the Lord of the church living in his people, walking with them in their pilgrimage through this world” (345).
Pfatteicher examines the liturgy in great detail, not only the Sundays, but all the days in between (the Daily Offices), explaining how the elements (especially the songs, prayers, and Scripture readings) unify and support the theme according to the church year. He quotes not just Scripture, but poetry, hymns, ancient prayers, and current and historical church documents and worship books to show the beauty and artistry throughout the church’s liturgy. He also includes a helpful glossary of liturgical terms and an index. Pfatteicher recognizes that no one can take in all of the depth of meaning in the liturgy at once, but he contends that is good because “most of us will have many years to do it again and again and make more and deeper discoveries” (40). This type of thinking is in stark contrast to much contemporary church practice of today, which argues that the church must simplify her message so that the simplest of hearers can understand it completely. Pfatteicher criticizes modern editors’ practice of “updating” the language in collects and hymns (or even omitting them) and effectively draining their power and depth of meaning.
One of Pfatteicher’s strengths is his clear explanations of why each part of the liturgy is included (e.g., particular days, cycles, and celebrations). This book is incredibly dense, which is both a strength and a weakness. Although highly orthodox, some of Pfatteicher’s theology, as a Lutheran, does not agree with Baptist theology, in particular the veneration of saints, baptism by sprinkling, and infant baptism. Additionally, Pfatteicher’s writing style, though eloquent, may at times seem idealistic to some as his enthusiasm for his subject is undeniable.
Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year views the liturgy through a musician’s (or worship leader’s) eyes. This book will be an indispensible resource for leaders in the liturgical tradition and those in non-liturgical traditions wanting to recapture some of the rich historical tradition of the liturgy. Students and laypeople wanting to better understand the liturgy will also find it a tremendous tool.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX