There’s an old joke that all Church historians want to become Catholic sooner or later. And believe me, the lure of tradition and our shared Christian past (and present) can be very attractive indeed.
While–despite Pope Francis’ current visit–I don’t think I’ll be bending the knee to Rome any time soon, I nevertheless benefited recently from reading Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross. Within, the author details both the layout of the traditional Church calendar–a season stretching from Advent to Christmas, Lent through Easter, and the many weeks of “Ordinary Time”–as well as how contemporary believers can devotionally approach this cycle. Practiced by more liturgically-minded churches including but not limited to Roman Catholicism, the calendar is commended by Gross as a way of inhabiting “the still-unfolding story of God and have it inhabit and change us” (16).
I like that this is quite intentionally a handbook for spiritual devotion. For each season of the year, Gross walks through its heart and talks about it as a tradition in Church/culture. He also reminds readers that the Church calendar remains linked to story of Christ and calls us the inhabit that story in spiritual/practical fashion. These discussions are followed by weekly devotional guides to assist believers in working through the important biblical and theological themes inherent in the Church year.
I was first prompted to read this book by my pastor, who is interested in thinking about the connections between the seasons of the Church calendar and the ways in which they can be connected to contemporary practice. Ours is a denominational family that doesn’t tend to give such traditions much import. As a result we may be missing some helpful tools with which to engage our faith.
Personally, I was blessed to have read and reflected upon this focused discussion of the Christian year. While as an historian I’d been aware of some of the shape of it, my personal church background has not really favored thinking about the seasons of faith in this way. As such this book is a Godsend. By being descriptive, analytical, and devotional all at once, it has helped inform me and clarified the place these seasons can have in the lives of believers and, consequently, my faith as well.
You can tell I’m a big fan of this book. Though as an historian I may have wished it to go deeper in its discussion of tradition, as a pastor and person of faith I was enthused by its approach. I plan on engaging with its devotional guide beginning with this Advent season, and look forward to seeing how such themes might connect with my local church. Living the Christian Year is recommended to pastors and parishioners who desire to (re)connect with the traditions of the Christian past and present, who are open to considering a new devotional journey, and who most importantly desire to “inhabit the story of God.”