Sometimes the clergy are asked for advice on what to read. What follows is a small selection Fr Rimmer wanted to share with you – by no means exhaustive, and of course reflecting some of my own individual taste! But he hopes it might be useful – if only as a starting point for deepening each other’s faith through reading. Please do feel free to ask the clergy – and each other – for more suggestions and for help.
Liturgy and Prayer in the Parish
It’s good to have access to, and become familiar with, the material that supports our daily life of prayer here in Tottenham. You might want to get hold of some of the following:
The Divine Office – published in three volumes, or in the single black Morning and Evening Prayer that we use in church. The three volume set is not cheap, but includes more extensive daily readings from scripture and the Fathers of the Church. This can all also easily be downloaded as an inexpensive app for smartphones – Universalis.
The Weekday Missal – contains the readings for daily Mass. There is an equivalent for Sundays, too.
NRSV Bible, Anglicised Version with Apocrypha – this is the translation of the Bible that we use at St Mary’s. There are several editions available, some with more extensive notes.
We use several hymn books, but a wonderful treasure house of texts is the English Hymnal – widely available second hand. Most of our hymns at Sunday Mass come from the Celebration Hymnal for Everyone.
There are many helpful books on the Rosary, which we in normal times pray together on Tuesday evenings at 7pm, but which is a wonderful private devotion too. A little book I’ve found useful is A Simple Rosary Book, published by the Catholic Truth Society.
Whilst it’s good to be familiar with the translation we use in church, it’s helpful to remember that it is a translation of the Bible that we’re reading – and being aware of other versions can help us in this. Something I’ve found eye-opening is Robert Alter’s remarkable new translation of the Hebrew Scriptures – but comparing any version can be useful to our sense of perspective.
Some extra prayer books I’d recommend are:
The Heart in Pilgrimage, edited by Eamon Duffy, and
A Pocket Manual of Anglo-Catholic Devotion, edited by Andrew Burnham.
The Bible and Bible Study
Commentaries are plentiful and it might be worth having a browse to see what works best for you. A solid introduction is to be found in The Oxford Bible Commentary (Barton and Muddiman, eds) which is useful in itself but also points to other reading in its helpful bibliographies.
There are some little companions to the individual books of the Old Testament (Old Testament Guides, JSOT Press) which can be a little dry, but are useful introductions.
The New Testament is better served. Again, it’s worth browsing for what works best for you, but there are some good introductions to the Gospels and Epistles by figures in the New Testament for Everyone series.
The writings of St Paul are often neglected or misunderstood, and yet he’s essential – and often very beautiful – reading.
Tom Wright’s What St Paul Really Said is a great refresher by a serious theologian – and has a good bibliography at the end. Karen Armstrong’s writings need to be read carefully, but her book
St Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle is thoughtful and imaginative.
Going a bit more in depth into the books of the New Testament, the Sacra Pagina series is scholarly but very readable, and presented in a way that isn’t overwhelming.
More generally, it’s worth thinking about how we approach the Bible. There are countless books from many different angles, and few should be accepted as having all the answers! But it’s useful to think again and keep our imaginations open as to how scripture can remain fresh in our lives. Books I’ve found useful include
A.N. Wilson’s The Book of the People – how to read the Bible (Atlantic, 2015) and
A History of the Bible (Penguin 2019) by John Barton. The sort of books that at least get us thinking!
Pope Benedict XVI published a three volume Jesus of Nazareth (Bloomsbury) which is a compelling re-introduction to the life of Our Lord through scripture – a work of serious scholarship but also great spiritual depth.
A genre I’ve found very helpful is the kind of writing that engages in detail with the biblical texts but with the emphasis on what’s happening spiritually – one small but memorable example of this is C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms.
A broad word! But we’ve got to start somewhere. An essential companion (probably as more of an encyclopedia than bedtime reading) is the Catechism of the Catholic Church – easily available online and despite its forbidding title a really accessible statement of the truths of our Church.
Although he might fit more strictly into another category, it is worth mentioning here St Augustine, and particularly his Confessions – a remarkable work of spirituality and theology, as lived out. There is a useful little Introduction by Henry Chadwick, part of OUP’s Very Short Introduction series.
There are a bewildering number of introductions to Christianity. As a rule, look for those by serious theologians of the Church Catholic. The better the theologian, the more likely they’ll be to ‘introduce’ us properly. And don’t be afraid to look for ‘introductions’ even if you’ve been a Christian for a long time – they can help refresh us and remind us where we need to do some more thinking and praying. Books like
Rowan Williams’ Being Christian (SPCK 2014) or
Timothy Radcliffe OP’s What is the Point of being a Christian (Bloomsbury 2005) or
Why go to Church? (Bloomsbury 2008) can be helpful. An old classic with enduring worth is
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
On questions of God, a few fairly recent titles worth looking at are
God is No Thing (Hurst, 2016) by Rupert Shortt and
John Cottingham’s Why Believe? (Continuum 2011).
These represent something of the backlash against the ‘New Atheists’ like Richard Dawkins, and dispel the often in fact very weak arguments they had relied on.
Unapologetic, by Francis Spufford, is a very readable riposte to many of the assumptions and questions people have about our faith.
David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God (Yale, 2013) is another, taking things a little deeper and more spiritually.
The Modern Theologians (Ford/Muers, eds) is a good introduction to the major theologians of the twentieth century. Likewise
Fergus Kerr’s The Catholic Theologians of the Twentieth Century.
And, though not always the most excitingly written textbook, Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction, is pretty comprehensive and comes with some good suggestions for further reading.
The Church Fathers
‘The Fathers’ were the Church’s early theologians who helped come to define and classically preach the truths of the Christian faith. We’ve mentioned Augustine, but there’s a great wealth of other writings to be discovered.
Perhaps for a first taste, Penguin Classics’ Early Christian Writings.
For more explanation, several relatively new books include
Teachings of the Church Fathers, by John R. Willis, SJ (Ignatius 2002) or
When the Church was Young, by Marcellino d’Ambrosio (St Anthony, 2014). The huge amount of material shouldn’t put us off – as well as being ‘important’ these men (and some women) offer wonderful insights into the Christian life and the beauty of Christian theology.
The Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, and the works of St Justin Martyr – are good places to start reading some of the originals.
Mattins, or the Office of Readings (see above) is also a good way to begin to become familiar with this tradition.
Spirituality – and the Saints!
Another broad topic – and I can’t hope here to include something that will speak to everyone. But finding reading that nourishes our spiritual lives is worth spending some time on.
It might be worthwhile for some looking for an anthology such as
The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (MLC 2006) or an introduction like
The Study of Spirituality (SPCK). Whereas others might prefer to throw themselves into a spiritual classic. Famous examples might include
Julian of Norwich, Thomas a Kempis or Margery Kempe.
The nun Therese of Lisieux – whose image we have in the Lady Chapel at St Mary’s – died aged only 24 and had already written the wonderful Autobiography of a Soul.
Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God is a simple but very powerful account of the ‘ordinary’ spiritual life, and favourites of mine include
Jean-Pierre de Caussade SJ, the Abbés de Tourville and Huvelin, and St Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life.
Thomas Merton wrote extensively about the spiritual life and is well liked by many.
Love’s Redeeming Work: the Anglican Quest for Holiness (Oxford 2001) is a large collection of Anglican theological and spirituality edited by Geoffrey Rowell.
More recent spiritual guides that I feel are worth mentioning are
Gerard W. Hughes, God of Surprises,
Kenneth Leech’s Soul Friend, and
To be a Pilgrim, by Cardinal Basil Hume. All of these are widely and inexpensively available. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest wrote very extensively and unevenly – but his little
The Inner Voice of Love is a great classic for the dark times life involves – and his
With Hearts Aflame a powerful encouragement to prayerful engagement with the Mass.
Rowan Williams in Silence and Honey Cakes (Medio Media 2003) and Penguin Classics’ The Desert Fathers are good places to start learning about the spirituality of the Desert Fathers – ancient texts but often very useful today!
It’s wonderful and inspiring to read about the lives of any saint – and we can find different figures that speak to us all individually about our faith. St Francis is a great inspiration to many – and he is written about a great deal!
Paul Sabatier’s The Road to Assisi (Paraclete Press 2003) is worth looking up. There are biographies of St Martin de Porres, whose statue is in the north aisle at St Mary’s and near the altar at the Good Shepherd – one good one being
St Martin de Porres: In the Service of Compassion, by the French Dominican Jacques Ambec.
On praying, more specifically, you might find the following quite practical introductions useful:
Beginning to Pray – Anthony Bloom
Say it to God – Luigi Gioia, Bloomsbury 2017
A few books on Mary that might be of interest –
Mother Mary Francis P.C.C. wrote a wonderful collection of meditations in Cause of Our Joy (Ignatius 2018) –
whilst John Macquarrie’s less devotional but theologically solid and very useful Mary for all Christians is a good place to start for those with questions about how Our Lady fits into the plan of salvation.
Rowan Williams’ Ponder these things (Canterbury 2002) is a lovely little set of reflections on Mary in orthodox iconography.
If you’d like to know more about Walsingham, try Colin Stephenson’s delightful The Walsingham Way, and the recent Walsingham: Pilgrims and Pilgrimage by Michael Rear (Gracewing 2019).
Important to be careful about history written particularly from an anti-Catholic bias, but essential to be informed about the past.
The Early Church by W.H.C. Frend is a good introduction to the earliest centuries. For a general read,
Diarmuid MacCullough’s A History of Christianity isn’t bad, nor is his Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, both published by Penguin. These both have extensive bibliographies!
MacCullough’s arch-enemy Eamon Duffy is another historian worth looking up – from seminal works like The Stripping of the Altars – which changed our understanding of the English Reformation – to the highly entertaining Saints and Sinners: a History of the Papacy.
If you would like to know more about the Catholic Revival in the Church of England – to which we at St Mary’s and the Good Shepherd are the heirs – an enjoyable read worth finding is Glorious Battle, by John Shelton Reed.
Anglican Papalism by Michael Yelton comes with Fr Morris’ recommendations.
And Colin Stephenson’s Merrily on High is an iconic and very funny book which every Anglo-Catholic should read!
It’s worth keeping an eye on what Christian thinkers are saying about the way our faith engages with the modern world.
Robert E. Barron’s To Light a Fire on Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age is good stuff – or on a different bent try
Rowan Williams’ Faith in the Public Square.
Sheila Cassidy has written a few very good books, and one, Good Friday People, is particularly good on what it is to be Christian and to deal with suffering. One for this time of pandemic, but for any time of grief too.
And I’ve been recommended Jean Vanier’s Life’s Great Questions.
Good to keep abreast of what The Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda – to which our Parish belongs – are publishing and talking about. You might subscribe to New Directions, Forward in Faith’s Magazine, or to the Catholic Herald for example.
Colin Podmore (ed.)’s Fathers in Faith, Resources for Reflection on Women in the Episcopate, may have had its day, but is a thoughtful set of essays on an important topic – and makes clear our wider Anglo-Catholic priorities.
Reading novels can be a good way into theological themes! A few I’d recommend are:
Silence, by Shusaku Endo – powerful story of the Jesuits in Japan – made into a film by Martin Scorsese.
A Glassful of Blessings, by Barbara Pym – on the surface silly, but a fun and well-observed account of the Church of England.
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene’s masterpiece about a maverick priest in South America.
The Nun’s Story – Kathyrn Hulme – became a film with Audrey Hepburn as Sister Luke.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson – moving but uplifting account of a dying pastor writing to his young son.
The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
The Cardinal, by Henry Morton Robinson – story of an ordinary American boy who rises to the heights of the Vatican. Also an Oscar-winning film.
For the intrepid – The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Before the door of God (Yale 2013) is a wonderful reminder of the wealth of Christian poetry we have at the disposal of our lives of prayer.
George Herbert’s poetry is rightly famous. Love (3) is perhaps one of the most beautiful Christian poems. We sing some of his poems as hymns at Mass. John Drury (Music at Midnight, Penguin) and Mark Oakley (My Sour-Sweet Days, SPCK) have written interesting introductions to his life and work.
John Keble (who you will find in a stained glass window in the chapel at St Mary’s) wrote The Christian Year – a Victorian bestseller. The poetry isn’t the most beautiful in itself, but there are wonderful meditations on each part of the Church’s year.
I love Gerard Manley Hopkins – his best known poems are beautiful.
And T.S. Eliot (a churchwarden himself) writes long and complex but very beautiful poetry (try Ash Wednesday or the Four Quartets) about the Christian life.
There are plenty more, of course – but just important not to discount poems as ways into prayer and understanding our faith.
Priesthood and Vocation
An Anglican classic is Michael Ramsey’s The Christian Priest Today, which is still useful – a helpful framework to begin thinking about priestly priorities.
Open to Judgement is a collection of sermons and essays by Rowan Williams. There are many interesting pieces, but the two on Vocation in the ‘Callings’ section are extremely thoughtful on what is for all Christians to be called.
Lots of less serious but fun and in many ways useful books to be found which help enliven our faith and perspective on the world. These are a few I’ve recently found jolly.
Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography is a great read, as, in a different way, is
John Drury’s Painting the Word – a surprisingly good meditation on the spiritual and theological meanings of great paintings.
James Martin, SJ’s The Jesuit Guide to Nearly Everything is a fun read which helped me think about faith in the everyday.
These are a few examples, but reading, both fun and more serious, can be an important support and encouragement to our lives in faith.
Do be in touch with questions, or suggestions of areas that we haven’t covered!