Review: The Beauty of the Word by Anthony Esolen

The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman MissalThe Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal by Anthony Esolen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Guided by Anthony Esolen, a master translator and professor of literature, you’ll go deep into the meaning of each part of the liturgy. Esolen explains the importance of this new translation, and provides context, scriptural references, notes which reference the original Latin text, and more. This is a must-have guide for unlocking the riches of the newly implemented and newly translated Roman Missal. The Beauty of the Word gives a comprehensive, step-by-step commentary to the changes in the Order of Mass (including Prefaces), the Proper of Time, and the Proper of Saints. The unique insights found in this book give the reader a full understanding of the scriptural, liturgical, linguistic, and pastoral rationale of the revised Missal.

I am not sure exactly what I expected however I suspect that, once I have had a chance to reflect upon it, this book is going to deliver more than I realized. Anyone who has the Magnificat Roman Missal Companion published for the change in the liturgy, has an abbreviated version of this larger book.

Anthony Esolen breaks open the prayers of the Mass throughout the year, using the changes in the translation as a starting point. However, he goes beyond simply discussing word choices as he draws the reader’s attention to connections with scripture, the Mass readings, and Christ in our lives. The first half of the book is devoted to the Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, Preface, and Prayer after Communion for every Mass through the year. Special times like the Triduum, of course, have commentary for many other prayers used only then. Thus we are given a rich source of reflection to add to the Mass readings themselves

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Prayer over the Offerings

Grant us, O merciful God,
that this our offering may find acceptance with you
and that through it the wellspring of all blessing
may be laid open before us.
Through Christ our Lord.

…the wellspring of all blessing: Echoing the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well: “The water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). The bridegroom in the Song of Songs, whom Christians interpret as Christ, says of his bride, the Church: “You are an enclosed garden,my sister,my bride, / an enclosed garden, a fountain sealed” (Song 4:12). We pray that the fountain may be opened to us, like the opened side of our Savior on the Cross.

The next section covers the Order of the Mass in detail, commenting not simply upon prayers but upon all the spoken liturgical elements. This book, unlike the aforementioned Missal Companion, contains comments for Mass elements arising only at special times, such as various Prefaces for Lent and Easter or Blessings at the end of Mass for Weddings.

The last section comments upon the Collects, Prayers over the Offerings and Prayers after Communion for the Proper of Saints. As Esolen says, there is not room to comment upon those for each of the saints in the year, which is a real shame. He makes general remarks that apply to all these prayers and then discusses the specific prayers for special feast days. Included among those we might expect, such as for the Annunciation and special feasts for Mary, we find commentary for interesting extras like the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle, Saint Lawrence, and Saint Bartholomew. Certainly it is enough to make me wish for a book of commentary on the saints throughout the year.

This is an extraordinary resource and it is fascinating to see the riches contained in even the smallest prayers read during the Mass. They often catch my ear with personal meaning but this book will help draw me closer to Christ to consider the underlying beauty and depth in every portion of the holy Mass. I will be using this book for daily contemplation and as a prompt to look up the scripture to which the prayers refer. It will be a different sort of Bible study but one that should have immediate application every Sunday at Mass.

Highly recommended.

About Julie Davis

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