Faith of Our Fathers is a collection of essays - many (if not most) of them originally published in The Tablet in some form, I believe. Duffy is the English historian known to many, even over here, for his groundbreaking Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, in which he very effectively set the widespread assumption that pre-Reformation England was a swamp of ignorance, superstition and even religious indifference - completely on its head.
This book reflects Duffy's historical groundings as he takes us through various aspects of Catholic belief, examining foundations, eyeing changes.
It's excellent. Personal, in a way, as he traces his own loss and rediscovery of faith (appropriate David Lodge references abound) - and the rediscovery of faith for Duffy always means a deeper appreciation of the 1950's Catholicism which he rejected. Yes, things have changed. But:
...But at the heart of the Catholic faith is its confidence that meaning and value are not arbitrary constructs, that the most fundamental human instincts about right and wrong, about human flourishing and human misery, are rootedin the pattern of creation itself, and in God's self-disclosure in grace and revelation....For all its limitations and simplifications, the Catechism was a coded form of a rich collective wisdom, handed on and received with joy, which went back through the lives and teaching of the saints, to Aquinas, to Augustine, to the apostles themselves. The intellectual confidence, that, despite all its mystery, and miseries, and terrors, the world is a place where we belong, whose meaning and purpose we can know, by the force of reason and by the light of faith, is one of the foundation stones of Catholic Christianity..." (18)
He covers popular devotion, devotion to Mary and the saints, the Eucharist, and Papal authority. He has a lovely chapter on Rome. Two sections in particular stood out to me: his chapter on dying and that on fasting and abstinence.
The chapter on dying concerns the old notion of dying as not something that happens to you, but rather, as something you do. A "good death" was not, as we might assume, one that's easy and effortless, but one in which the dying person is prepared, in which he or she seeks to imitate Christ in his dying.
At the heart of our faith there hangs a man portrayed, in the dominant Western artistic tradition, in the very act of dying. There has been only one truly good death, one death 'freely accepted,' and it happened on Calvary. But it has been a consistent part of Christian teaching that discipleship in some sense involves the imitation of that death, and that free acceptance. Imitation involves art, the conscious following of a pattern, and that needs to be practiced and worked at.
Duffy's last chapter is on Friday abstinence, and in it, he takes a strong position: dropping the obligatory Friday abstinence was the worst consequence of these post-Conciliar years. Why?
In abandoning real and regular fasting and abstinence as a corporate and nomative expression of our faith -- by making it optional -- the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community, the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy. ...
...But that isn't to say that in our march into the needs and opportunities of the twenty-first century we should not try once more to summon up some of the deeper resources of our own tradition, and try to rediscover within it once more some of the supports which helped our fathers and mothers to live the Gospel. We could do worse than start by rededicating ourselves to the shared observance of fasting and abstinence.