Christopher Carstens, director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin has, in A Devotional Journey Into the Mass (Sophia Institute Press, 131pp, £10) written on “how Mass can become a time of grace, nourishment and devotion” with insight, passion and originality. It is not the usual type of book on the meaning of the liturgy, nor does the author defend one rite of Mass against another, nor privilege one way of receiving Communion more than any other. His purpose is simply to awaken the average Sunday Mass-goer from his spiritual slumbers and persuade him or her to understand what really takes place at the altar.

“Active participating” in the liturgy does not mean “general activity” – it means active self-oblation in the response to the sacrifice of Christ being enacted on the altar. Indeed, Carstens’ whole argument is that we should steep ourselves in the Readings beforehand, listen with all our attention and then receive Christ at Communion with reverence and devotion.

Like Cardinal Sarah in his reflections on the appropriate stance of our communication with God, the author emphasises that “silence, both within the liturgy and outside of it, is necessary to hear God’s voice and to formulate our intentions and desires for God”.

And our participation in the liturgy is never merely to increase our personal piety. Carstens makes it clear that “the time spent in Jesus’s presence energises us to meet and address the needs of a disfigured, discordant and distressing world amid the spiritual warfare for souls”. This (slim) book is worth reading and then giving to a recent convert or to someone on the brink of that life-changing decision.

It is good to be reminded of the life and achievements of Cardinal Vaughan in Vaughan: His Life, Work and Mission by Fr Robert O’Neil (CTS, 69pp, £2.50). It was Vaughan who, on becoming archbishop of Westminster in 1892, initiated the building of Westminster Cathedral, and who in 1868 began the Catholic Truth Society, that enduring and familiar part of the Catholic publishing landscape. These are only two of Vaughan’s charitable endeavours. What is extraordinary is that, despite ill health, he achieved as much as he did.

O’Neil mentions that Vaughan was not a popular figure. His manner seemed brusque and his bearing, regal and aloof. He lacked the straightforward friendships and popularity that his predecessor, Cardinal Manning, discovered among London’s poor. Yet behind these deceptive appearances was a humble and sensitive priest who had dreamed of being a missionary in Wales, and who, as Bishop of Salford, modelled his living conditions on the personal frugality and humility of St Charles Borromeo.

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