Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Lamb's Supper: A Review

Earlier this year a reader recommended a book by Dr. Scott Hahn entitled The Lamb's Supper (Doubleday, 1999).  In light of my upcoming research and the fact that my papers were finished, I finally secured a copy by inter-library loan and read it.  Dr. Hahn's book attempts to offer a fresh approach to the Mass by returning to the last book of Holy Scripture for insights.  He does admit that while seeming to be somewhat novel, his book actually borrows from the ancient fathers and thus rediscovers the past as much as provides new understandings.  The first portion of the book offers a primer on the Mass, obviously anticipating readers who may be less knowledgeable about the liturgical forms.  He writes as a Catholic convert and thus seems conscious of others like himself who may be looking for encouragement to change.  He also writes for Catholics in need of rediscovering the old forms and learning again a meaning they may never have been taught.  To these ends the book is well suited.

I approached the book looking for more extensive connections between Revelation and worship, which Hahn only briefly treats.  Again, one must appreciate that this work is geared toward a broad audience and does not promise to offer deep academic insights.  Nevertheless, he offered some interesting observations worth further research and study.  For example, understanding that Revelation is a book filled with allusions and references to worship, he suggests that the book is divided much like the liturgy into Word and Sacrament (121).  Chapters 1 to 10 concern the liturgy of the Word, while chapters 11 to the end concern the Sacrament.  This is in keeping with his central thesis that "If we want to make sense of the Apocalypse, we have to learn to read it with sacramental imagination" (118).  He notes that "If you go back and read Revelation end to end, you'll also notice that all of God's great historical interventions - plagues, wars, and so on - follow closely upon liturgical actions: hymns, doxologies, libations, incensing...." (120).   On the page prior to this he offers a helpful chart with references to various chapters coordinated with a variety of worship allusions.   Although I was aware of connections between Revelation and worship, it did not occur to me that the Eucharistic liturgy may actually provide a 'grid' upon which the myriad of apocalyptic details might be better comprehended.

For Hahn this approach provided the key that made sense of a book he had studied for years prior to converting to Catholicism.  It was in attending the Mass that the pieces finally came together.  As a Lutheran I could read this book sympathetically and often nod in agreement, even while maintaining a respectful disagreement with certain Catholic doctrinal points expected of such an author.  His other basic theme of the Mass as "heaven on earth" was a theme heard prior from Dr. Just and resonated easily with my view of the sacramental experience.  More than once I found myself thinking, 'I'm going to have to reread some of this and think more about it.'  While I was intrigued by his view, it was just different enough from the approach many of us have been given for years as to create moments of struggle as I tried to adapt the somewhat new hermeneutic to this book.  Still, as Dr. Hahn stressed, this is nothing new.  The ancient fathers said it all before.  Unfortunately we have too often distanced ourselves from the earliest centuries and treated exegesis as if it needed none of the older guides.  The fathers were steeped in the sacramental mysteries and it should not surprise us that they should see it in Revelation where our modern eyes are not as well focused.

As mentioned before, I need to soak this in and process it further.  Hahn has given us a way of viewing this too often confusing book of scripture with a fresh vision that avoids the misguided approaches of the evangelical community, and brought it back to its rightful home in the church's worship.  Perhaps if it wasn't divorced from its place in the worshiping assembly, we might never have wandered so far into such strange fields of interpretation.  


Marilyn Lingenfelter said...

Dear Pastor,

I was pleased to read your review of "The Lamb's Supper" and glad you found it interesting. I did too.

Great review of the book!

marilyn Lingenfelter said...

I meant to add:

Dr. Hahn has a website called The Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theolgy which has an extensive Resource Library, including Lectionaries, which might be helpful in your research, perhaps.

The Rev. Donald V. Engebretson said...

Thank you, Marilyn! I'll check it out.