PUBLICATION DATE: MAY 2002
obert Benson has written an introductory book about the Eucharist. In That We May Perfectly Love Thee: Preparing Our Hearts for Communion, Benson has laid out how his typical Sunday pans out. He has laid out his Sunday in seven short chapters. Benson begins by sharing how he prepares for a Sunday service at an Episcopal Church in Nashville. In the following chapters, the reader follows Benson to church and through the worship liturgy and Eucharist. Along the way, Benson is reflecting on the meaning of the Eucharist, expounding on what is happening, noting the similarities between different Christian denominations, and telling stories from his past. He ends with a reference list of works he has used and works that might be helpful for further study. He also includes a discussion outline for small group use and an “Order of Worship.”
Benson is writing on a very important topic, since the Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s Supper, is one of the two things that Jesus commanded his followers to continue doing. However, many churches interpret how to partake in the meal Jesus gave them differently. So Benson tries to focus on the similarities that most churches share rather than focus on the differences. The book is well organized; most chapters follow or describe a certain part of the Episcopal/Anglican liturgy for the Holy Eucharist, with the first two chapters describing Benson’s personal preparation for worship. These first two chapters also allow Benson to introduce himself and the reason for the book to the reader. Benson is usually concise in his stories and explanations; however, some stories he tells seem to have little to do with the intended purpose of the book. So some readers might feel like they are trudging through parts of the book wondering what this has to do with the Eucharist. Benson does have a good way of taking what can be a very controversial and sometimes very theologically heavy and dry topic and making it accessible to a general audience.
Robert Benson is a lay person writing for other lay people, encouraging them to think about what is going on in the Eucharistic service. He does not claim to be an expert on the subject, but just another person sitting in the pew watching as the drama of the liturgy unfolds before him. However, he does give some insights into the history of the Eucharist, both as the Jewish Passover meal and from the early Christian Church traditions. The book is mainly meant to be used as a personal or group devotional companion to the Eucharist.
Since Benson follows the liturgy of the Episcopal Church many non-liturgical churches or individuals might be put off by the idea of walking through the liturgy. He does try to compensate for this in some places, but he always comes back to the liturgy. However, churches which have a high view of the Eucharist and use a liturgy might find this book useful.