Friday, 15 January 2010

Roma Æterna

I've been away in Rome, so I'm sorry that some of you have had to wait to have your comments put up.
Now our Holy Father has been several years in the job, it has been interesting to see how Rome has adjusted. Perhaps the clearest evidence is to be seen liturgically.
1) I saw only two altars with (the formerly ubiquitous) two candles on one end with a bunch of flowers at the other.
2) More altars than not have some form of the 'Benedictine Arrangement', meaning that there was a crucifix centrally placed on the altar, with candles arranged to either side. Sometimes there were two candles, sometimes fork handles (as at St John Lateran), occasionally six.
3) Almost all churches were open for prayer, and there were usually people praying inside. This is entirely new: I am used to a lot of Roman churches being firmly locked. I got inside all sorts of buildings I had never seen before.
4) 'Tat Alley' (aka Via dei Cestari), a street of ecclesiastical suppliers near the Pantheon, now has all sorts of traditional vestments and impedimenta on sale. The time was when you could only buy these things from the charmingly obsequious staff of Gammarelli's ('Splenditatis Vendor') or the grumpy assistants (no, assistants is not the word; they do not assist, but glare) at Serpone. Arte Sacra was the only place you could buy reliquaries, now they are on sale everywhere. The proprietor said to a colleague that the sixties and seventies nearly put him out of business, but that now trade was very good indeed. Another fellow priest remarked that if people are prepared to pay money for things, it is valuable evidence that they really are prepared to buy into what these things stand for.
Even the iconically-Seventies Slabbinck shop had one or two things that looked nice.
5) Cassocks are still rare on the streets, but I saw many more (male) religious habits than heretofore.
6) I am told that on Saturday mornings early one may see the Traditional Mass being celebrated at many altars in St Peter's Basilica.

On the other side, the Italians still feel the need to chatter chatter chatter all the way through Mass. I don't mean the congregation; I mean the priest. There are scarcely five seconds at any point where there is not noise. I attended a Mass one morning (sort of; I was saying my office in a side chapel) where a priest talked or sang throughout without ceasing. Besides all the normal stuff, there was a lengthy introductory sermon, another before the readings, another after the readings. EP2, of course, rapidly, and then he even had an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion distribute Communion so that he could lead the congregation in the hymn, bawling into the microphone. Bizarrely, the tune was 'Oft in the stilly night'.
A priest we met on the street commented how the Italians tend to dislike solemn liturgy, but are addicted to talking and talking at Mass; the current rite of Mass addresses this need perfectly.


Steven said...

I too have observed the growth of what has become called the Benedictine Reforms [or is it a revolution?]. Whilst not universal they have crept in and given a renewed confidence to priests who now feel allowed to do their job rather than perform to us. It is very encouraging. This, along with the proposed new translation of the Novus Ordo, might just be the source of inspiration and insight that goes some way to addressing the lack of vocations issue.

Andrew McNabb said...

Sorry to post this non-sequitur on your blog, I hope your readers will not find this objectionable. My name is Andrew McNabb. I am an American writer and the great grand nephew of the great Dominican priest, Fr. Vincent McNabb (d. 1942: prolific writer, lead speaker for the Catholic Evidence Guild at Hyde Park, Distributist and close friend of Chesterton and Belloc.) I am the author of a short story collection, The Body of This, that many are considering "Catholic" literature. Joseph Pearce, in his cover blurb, describes the book as “as radically transforming as viniculture, transforming the water of everyday experience into the wine of life.” In Standpoint Magazine (July/August,) Piers Paul Read referred to the book as “exquisite.”

The book is noteworthy because, as can be seen in the variety of outlets where it has been reviewed, it has found a home with both a Catholic and a secular audience. There is not much writing these days that can make that claim. Sadly, Catholic or Christian writing has largely been reduced to the syrupy, the sentimental. More about me and the book (with links to reviews—including the review in the current issue of New Blackfriars Review) can be found at and, importantly, can be purchased here.

My publisher is small and the promotional budget is modest. Whatever resources the publisher was willing to put toward the book have been expended in the States. I know that the book can find an audience in the U.K. Please help me to spread the word. Thank you! And if you do manage to find the time to post—please include the Amazon U.K. link!

Many blessings!

For more info about me and The Body of This, please visit

Pastor in Monte said...

Once, and once only, Mr McNabb, for the sake of your great-uncle, and the reverence my father had for him.

Andrew McNabb said...

Many thanks! Fr. Vincent has opened many doors from the world beyond.

A prayer for the gentle repose of your father's soul.

Andrew McNabb

Clerical Observer said...

Having travelled many times in Rome especially I have always noted that peculiar whine/drone that so many Italian priests affect while celebrating the NO. Funny for all that dislike of solenmntiy, until Paul The Destroyer got to work the Papal Liturgies were Aida-esque in splendor, complexity, (and traditional Roman confusion and sotto voce jabbering)...

umblepie said...

Valle Adurni, Sorry to have to raise this matter, but I would respectfully suggest that you read the 'reviews' of Andrew McNabbs book 'The body of this' available on Amazon. Andrew McNabb posted an identical comment on my blog 'Whitepostahoy', and initially I was considering recommending it, until I read the reviews. It is true that nobody denies the literary ability of the writer, but as to the book being 'Catholic' either in content or inclination, that is quite different. I told McNabb that I was not prepared to recommend his book and the reason why - see comments on the latest post (Whitepostahoy)'Simple poems for the Christmas Season'. I also am aware that another Catholic blogger 'Roman Christendom', had the same experience, and after first recommending this book in a short post (based on the provenance of the author), he has since removed the post entirely presumably having seen one of the independent Amazon reviews. To save you trouble and time I have copied and pasted the review in question at the end of this comment. Not all the reviews take this viewpoint, but it convinced me. Be warned, when you go into Amazon and this book appears, you may see that 'there are no customer reviews yet', however if you go in on a different link you will see that there are 6 reviews. The correct link for this is as follows:-
I hope you don't mind me bringing this to your attention. BC

Customer Review

14 of 19 people found the following review helpful:
2.0 out of 5 stars An Architecture of Profanity, June 18, 2009
By Melanie Jones
After seeing the positive reviews of The Body of This I had high hopes for the book and looked forward to reading it. I have to admit that I have been disappointed. Although the book is being pushed towards a devout Catholic audience I fear that many practicing Catholics might be a bit put off by the graphic sex scenes and the four letter words. BUT, if a person does not mind descriptions of bodily parts and bodily functions on practically every page then they will LOVE this book. Yes, the sacraments are included, such as when in the first story a woman goes to Communion right after sexual play with her boyfriend. The description of urine on the pregnancy test did not exactly thrill me but there is no telling how some other people might be inspired by it. I actually have not read such colorful descriptions of bodily functions since I read Nabokov in college. If you liked Lolita then The Body of This is definitely the book for you.

There was something about the book that as I read it I began to feel despair. The stories were not uplifting, just gross. Perhaps the story that most disturbed me was the one about the old man who cracks his head open on the bathroom floor. His wife lies down next to him, naked, blood all over the place. I think she wanted to expiate the fact that she had never taken her clothes off for him during their marriage. Fine. Just call the ambulance first.

I have been told by some literary types that McNabb's book is art, and that it is beautiful, and that if I do not see the beauty then I am a prude or a philistine. Well, then, so be it. The book reminds me of some of the modernist Catholic Churches that were built in the sixties and seventies, twisted structures, ugly as sin. My parents were told that such buildings were Catholic and that they were great architecture and that everybody needed to be more open and progressive. They were deceived. After seeing for myself the old churches of Europe I learned what true beauty was, and will never again be taken in by vulgarity masquerading as art.

If you enjoy profanity then you will relish The Body of This, and if you despise Catholic piety then you will be even more delighted, since it is pretty scarce in the volume.

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Roger Buck said...


As to the original subject of this thread, I thank you for posting it.

I agree with the first poster - it is very encouraging.

All of these "little" signs seem to point to something big.

And maybe even bigger than the Benedictine Reforms. As you point out with the change in spending patterns.

I wish I could find a good long article/book that collated all of these signs and more ...