A stunning new volume of spiritual reading

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Dec 19, 2016

Are you still looking for a Christmas gift for a serious thoughtful Catholic? Or do you need some new spiritual reading for yourself? For either purpose I heartily recommend The Wellspring of Worship, by Jean Corbon.

Last year I found this book under the Christmas tree: a gift from my wonderful wife. She hadn’t read it herself, but had heard something about it and thought I’d like it. Did I ever! The book sat on my shelf for a while; I always have a tall stack of books that I intend to read. When I did finally open it, I was captivated immediately.

This book is not a “page-turner,” to put it mildly. It took me months to read Wellspring of Worship. I would read just a page or two in the morning, then stop to think and pray, to spend the rest of the day digesting the thoughts I had encountered.

Jean Corbon, a Maronite Catholic priest who died in 2001, drafted the beautiful 4th section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: the section on Christian prayer. He has a gift for ushering his reader ever deeper into the truths of the faith, explaining and also inspiring. In Wellspring of Worship his focus is on the Eucharistic liturgy; he writes in lyric detail about how the liturgy enables us to participate in the life of the Trinity—how we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can join our meager substance to the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Wellspring is written, of course, by a priest of the Eastern tradition. Although the book is addressed to the universal Church, and Corbon uses examples drawn from the Roman as well as the Byzantine liturgy, his approach gives the Western reader an appreciation for the mystagogy of the East, which can only enrich one’s understanding of the holy Sacrifice that fills—better, let’s say “inspires”—the “two lungs” of the Catholic Church. Corbon’s explanation of why the Transfiguration is so important to the Eastern tradition is an eye-opening exploration of a piety that is very different from that of the Roman Church, but no less authentically Catholic.

Wellspring is for serious readers with a basic understanding of the liturgy. If you are frightened away by terms like kenosis and epiclesis (which are explained in a glossary at the front), you should probably avoid this book. I have never seen the word “synergy” used so often in a single volume, and to be honest, I’m usually suspicious of people who use the term frequently. But in this book it works.

Aidan Nichols, himself a fine spiritual writer, says in a back-cover blurb that Wellspring of Worship “will be recognized for decades as a classic of Catholic liturgical spirituality and theology.” That’s high praise; I don’t think it’s misplaced. As I read Wellspring I found myself wondering how this book, published in an English translation by Ignatius Press in 2005, had escaped my attention for more than a decade. It deserves far more attention than it has thus far received.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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