“What We’re Reading”

In the midst of the birth of a new Mass setting, an interdiocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, and heaven-knows-what-else, I have managed to read a number of books, of which these are the most interesting:

beyondpiusvBeyond Pius V: Conflicting Interpretations of the Liturgical Reform, Andrea Grillo, translated by Barry Hudock, Liturgical Press, ISBN 978-0-8146-6302-8

This fascinating book is an unexpectedly readable exploration of the fundamental rationale underlying liturgical reform. Grillo’s thought processes can often be dense, but here he has been well served by his translator, a former student of his, resulting in a book that, while small, is remarkably clear. Grillo’s basic premise is that the liturgical reform is at risk both because of rearguard action but also because of a widespread failure to understand exactly what the liturgical reform was for: to enable Catholics not only to understand the rites they participate in but as a consequence for them to be formed by those very rites and so allow the rites to reform the Church. In four brief chapters Grillo deals in depth with different understandings of what exactly liturgical participation is. He is firmly rooted in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and is very clear that liturgical reform is not just about reforming liturgical rites but about reforming the Church’s theology. In this respect he is on the same page as Massimo Faggioli’s magisterial True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium. I was delighted to find that he views the connection between anthropology and theology as crucial, and that he finds the Liturgical Movement essential but insufficient. The book should be essential reading for every liturgist. As a bonus, this is in fact a revised edition of Grillo’s original four-chapter book: he has added a fifth, a devastating critique of Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum.

BrunelleschiBrunelleschi’s Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral in Florence, Ross King, Vintage paperbacks (Random House), ISBN 975-0-099-52678-0. [Also published by Bloomsbury USA with a different subtitle: “How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture”, ISBN 978-1-62040-193-4]

At the end of April this year I had a week’s break in Siena, with excursions into surrounding Tuscany. One of these included the Duomo in Florence, where I climbed to the very top of the dome ― a remarkable feat of engineering. The experience was stunning, and a friend later recommended this book as the best commentary on the dome and its construction. The dome’s architect in fact was an amateur, and his life was one of ambition, ingenuity, rivalry and intrigue, in a context of plagues, wars, political feuds and intellectual ferment. Finally, in 1436, the dome was completed, a tribute to the tremendous labour and technical ingenuity of its creator, It soars elegantly above the city, showing no sign of the bitter personal strife involved in its building but rather standing as a symbol of the glorious age of the Renaissance. Ross King’s tale is brilliantly told and captivated me from start to finish.

ecumenicalcouncilskellyThe Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church: a History, Joseph F. Kelly, Liturgical Press, ISBN 978-0-8146-5376-0

This book is one which I am currently in the course of reading. Joseph Kelly’s style is accessible and readable, and yet his very considerable scholarship shines through. Starting with some preliminary remarks about the nature of Church Councils in general, he takes the reader on a journey from the very earliest gatherings to Vatican II. The way in which he groups the Councils according to the matters they were principally chewing over is extremely helpful, as is his provision of the historical context for the Councils as well as details of their proceedings. Viewing the history of the Church through this particular lens is fascinating and rewarding. I shall enjoy finishing the book.

As well as these, I am also currently reading the revised 2013 edition of Thomas Day’s notorious Why Catholics Can’t Sing and comparing it with the original edition, but you’ll have to wait for the full review on Pray Tell later this year.


  1. “In this respect he is on the same page as Massimo Faggioli’s MAGISTERIAL True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium.”

    I suppose this turn of phrase was meant to be ironic? The only Magisterium is the Church’s, not that of the academic scholars. Their positions are only as viable as their content is in harmony with Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium (cf. Dei Verbum).

    “As a bonus, this is in fact a revised edition of Grillo’s original four-chapter book: he has added a fifth, a devastating critique of Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum.”

    Here we see the magisterium of the theologians in full force. Pope Benedict’s document may have its flaws, but his central point is that the classical Roman Rite not only was never abrogated, but in principle cannot ever be abolished or forbidden. Welcome, pluralism! (Oh, how hard it is for liberals to take their own medicine!)

      1. @Sean Whelan – comment #4:
        He didn’t give permission. He stated that any priest is free to use this missal, and the reason for the motu proprio was to supplant any and all legislation to the contrary, as well as to provide some guidelines as to the use of that Missal (which, of course, is well within the pope’s competence; abolition is one thing, regulation another).

      2. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #6:

        I think you’ve misunderstood Sean’s point, which relates to papal indults. Why would a pope (not this particular pope) need to give permission via indults if the previous usage hadn’t been abrogated? There would have been no need for indults.

        That’s the question which SP signally failed to answer, and Benedict’s statement that the previous usage had never in fact been abrogated was clearly wrong, as scholars have amply demonstrated. He must have been extraordinarily (pun intended) badly-advised. As you know, reactions ranged from jaw-dropping disbelief to roars of scornful laughter. Benedict’s credibility as an intelligent scholar took a huge knock from which he never really recovered, alas.

        So Sean’s question stands: Why would SP even have been necessary if the previous usage hadn’t been abrogated? The existence of the document itself proves that Paul VI did exactly what all his predecessors over the centuries had done: he abolished the former usage in favour of the newer usage.

        Grillo describes Benedict’s actions thus:

        His strategy consisted of a rereading of the history of the last century that, while presented in a profoundly classic style, offers an approach of such novelty that it leaves the reader utterly amazed and confused. One has the sense of being confronted by an authentic virtual reality

        He also states:

        Canon 20 of the Code of Canon Law, a famous 1999 Response of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and the traditional wisdom of Cardinal Giuseppe Siri each insist that the approval of a new liturgical rite (of the Eucharist as with every other liturgy) means that the preceding rite is de facto replaced by the new one. [Footnotes omitted]

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #1:
      Paul did not write MAGISTERIAL (upper case,) so cannot be accused of elevating Faggioli’s work above its highly respected ranking. Why not try reading it, with understanding, of course?

  2. Thanks, Paul and Peter, for the varied ways in which you draw attention to the two legs of the living Magisterium of the Church: The cathedras in church and in university.

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