A book to enlighten your Lenten reading

A book to enlighten your Lenten reading Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP speaks at the Synod in Rome. Photo: OSV News

Recently Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP was in Dublin to give the annual Patrick Finn Lecture at St Mary’s, Haddington Road. It was an opportunity which many took to hear one of the more influential Catholic theologians of today. It was judged by those who attended to have been a great success. 

Those who might wish to continue their encounter with the thoughts of Fr Radcliffe, or perhaps even to encounter him for the first time might like to search out this Lenten book, which comes with a foreword by Dr Rowan Williams, the Church of Wales bishop who is a former Archbishop of Canterbury. (His term ended in 2012.) So the book is a general statement of the nature of the Eucharist that all Christians can come together on. 

Last October Pope Francis selected Fr Radcliffe, a former Master of the Dominican Order, to (in the words of America magazine) “set the tone for his Synod on Synodality, which has been under attack in some corners of the Church”. 

So he is a man very much of this historic moment in the Church’s life. Thus this book will be of some special interest to readers. 

Fr Radcliffe see the Eucharist as a three part drama, which shapes the Christian approach to faith, hope and love – those primary tenets of the faith. 

So in this book, conceived as a Lenten book, he examines exactly what it means “to celebrate the Eucharist”. This is an important matter. How disturbing it is to see the few young people who are still taken to Mass, seem to have so little engagement or understanding of what they see being performed.  

In their boredom lies the germ of decay for the Church. So what is being addressed in this book is an important matter, I suspect, for parents, who are in a quandary, expecting the teachers to teach the children, where they feel they are not equipped to do so. This book then may be an asset to many families. 

Fr Radcliffe notes that many find the service boring and pointless. This is because it is seen so often outside the content of what appears in scripture about the Last Supper (Luke 22: 7-23) and at the Crucifixion (Mark 15:24, Luke 23:33, John 19:18, Matthew 27:35).

The events of Easter Week so central to the matter are what are being enacted in a dramatic way. This is, in a ritualistic way, the play of salvation. That is the Christian teaching that is being explored in these pages. He attempts to answer the challenge of faith for people today. 

Fr Radcliffe lays out his insights in three sections, three acts in fact, of Faith, Hope and Love, which move part by part through that drama. 

The querulous query he seems to answer is that which those bored young people we see might pose to their own family: why go to Church? In other departments of their lives they easily become involved in dramas in which a hero struggles, and in the struggle dies for his followers, or for everyone. But to see this in the context of the Eucharist is the matter that Fr Timothy Radcliffe unravels and reveals.

Here, he says, as much as in any secular drama, “We are sent on our way, especially in receiving Communion, we are formed as people who are capable of love.” 

Fr Radcliffe has left Dublin to return to Blackfriars in Oxford. But he has left Christians in his book insights available to all who care to take them up and read.