“What We’re Reading”

Editor’s note: In coming weeks, Pray Tell contributors and readers will share what they’ve been reading these days. 

As has been the case in most summers, my list of books to read this past summer was more ambitious than realistic. A good number of books thus remain to be read on my list, but here are some I did manage to read.

bradshawordinationcoverPaul F. Bradshaw, Rites of Ordination: Their History and Theology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013).

Truth be told, the development of ordination rites is not one of my keenest interests in the field of liturgical studies. This is one reason why I was glad to be offered, in Paul Bradshaw’s Rites of Ordination, a succinct and readable overview of the subject, with lots of interesting details thrown in for good measure. Another reason for reading this book is that whatever Paul Bradshaw publishes should be read by scholars of liturgy. And if I were tempted to teach a course on ordination rites in the foreseeable future, this book would be the textbook. 

criticaltermsgendercoverCritical Terms for the Study of Gender, ed. Catherine R. Stimpson and Gilbert Herdt (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2014); and La Historia de la Monja Alférez. English: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World, Catalina de Erauso (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).

Since I am interested in scholarship on gender, I perused a newly-published volume in the field of gender studies. Titled Critical Terms for the Study of Gender, the book opens with mention of the extraordinary story of Catalina de Erauso, known as the “lieutenant nun.” Her story ended up fascinating me more than Critical Terms for the Study of Gender (whose entry “Religion” I found disappointing). Reading Catalina de Erauso’s memoir, I discovered someone born to a wealthy Basque family toward the end of the sixteenth century. Catalina fled the convent in which she was raised, turned her female clothing into men’s clothes, and crossed the Atlantic to make her life as a soldier in colonial Peru and Chile. Twenty years later, she revealed her secret to a bishop and re-donned a veil. She returned to Europe with much fanfare, yet departed again for colonial Latin America, where she lived out her life as the merchant Antonio de Erauso. Catalina’s memoir actually contains interesting pointers to her liturgical and devotional practices. Not only is she shortly before a religious profession (and able to read Latin well) when she changes course and gender, she describes herself as attending various masses, reciting the rosary, and invoking St. Joseph. When she reveals the secret of her gender identity, it is in the context of a long confession, after which she receives absolution and communion. Having returned to Europe, Catalina makes her way to Rome and is received in audience by Pope Urban VIII. The Pope grants her leave to live her life in men’s clothing. – Reading this memoir confirmed my hunch that our ecclesial tradition has far more gender-bending elements that we have hitherto given it credit for.

shortoislandcoverRussell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, and the Founding Colony that Shaped America (New York: Vintage Books, 2005).

For leisure, I read Russell Shorto’s history of Dutch Manhattan and the almost forgotten colony of New Netherland which predated the “original thirteen” colonies. It was a fascinating read, not only because I live in Connecticut yet have been largely oblivious to the Dutch history of this part of the world. The book also opened quite new ways of thinking about forces that shaped American culture far beyond what was “New Netherlands.” I for one did not realize that the words “cookie” and “boss” have Dutch roots (I did know about “Santa Claus”). Shorto’s book is based on recently translated records of this Dutch colony, records that the writer enfolds in an absorbing and fascinating narrative. I only wish he had told me a bit more about how these Dutch colonists worshipped.


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