Nicholas Frankovich on Several Things

At National Review Online. Like so many other writers I’ve discovered at the magazine over the years, Nicholas Frankovich has become the guy to go to for the Catholic culture overview.

On Trump’s intrusion into sports:

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. A few months later, they went to the White House for the traditional round of presidential congratulations. Manny Ramirez was a no-show. Why? He didn’t like the president, George W. Bush, a baseball man himself, a former part-owner of the Texas Rangers? Sox officials said Ramirez was visiting his sick grandmother. Boston won the Series again a few years later, and the president invited the team back to the White House. Again, no Ramirez. Bush’s response? A shrug, a teasing smirk. “I guess his grandmother died again,” he said.

On the decline in Catholic Literature:

The traditional Catholicism that is the setting of that backward-looking novel included a lot of looking backward itself, of course. That’s what made Catholicism traditional. For believers immersed in the faith, the past was alive no less than the present. They could see ghosts. A heavyweight from the Norman Mailer generation of American letters once commented on the Catholic writers of her generation. They were sure of themselves, she recalled, though not preachy. Spend time with them and it was hard to escape the impression that they knew something you didn’t. That’s gone. So the flowers in the garden aren’t what they used to be? Blame the flowers if you like, but it remains the case that the soil has been depleted.

Here he is on reasoning behind the Novus Ordo:

In the 20th century, Church leaders began to advocate an effort, more deliberate and thorough than in the past, to enculturate the faith among the various nations of the Third World: Catholic missionaries should learn, and learn to love, local customs and languages and to translate the faith into forms that would be meaningful and appealing to indigenous peoples. Implicit in their argument was the need for the Church to pour the Romanità out of Catholicism so that vessel could accommodate the new wine of non-Western cultures.

Read Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), the Vatican II blueprint for liturgical reform, and you will notice a lot of concern for the mission lands. References to them dot the document, and in their glow the reader is led to imagine that the point of the many broadly sketched recommendations is only sensible and moderate, generous but not extravagant.

In the mission lands, let bishops adapt the liturgy to local cultures. Trust their circumspection and sober judgment: “Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and devising rubrics.”

No sooner had Western Catholics digested and largely shrugged in agreement to the gist of this plan for liturgical reform than they discovered that Rome now counted them, too, as inhabitants of mission lands, in effect. In America, English was introduced into the Mass by increments, which meant of course that Latin was ushered out at the same pace, until the process was complete in the fall of 1970.

The movement away from the sacred, classical language and toward the vernacular was accompanied by a corresponding change in tone and style, from solemn and formal to less solemn and less formal. William F. Buckley Jr. recorded for posterity a typical reaction of many a Catholic: both a sense of loss and a glum resolve not to be sour about it. Surely some good could come of this?

Follow-up to follow-up to follow-up to previous day’s post

Familia Romana - p. 19


Rome: Tuesday in St. Peter’s

I didn’t bring my camera, so there’s no proof, but after the Scavi tour (!), we took a turn around St. Peter’s. It’s not my favorite basilica, but it’s really, really big. And so, for proportion’s sake, are its statues. What occurred to me: every tribe makes some of its own into giants. But perhaps not always for the same reason. I recall in particular a way-up-there statue of some Foundress. She was massive, but equally massive was the twisted beggar at her feet. Presumably, the order she founded served the poor. She was a giant because she stooped. St. Andrew, above, was a giant because he was willing to die horribly. Of course, every crucifix in every church bears the same significance, but the enormous scale helped break the crust of familiarity.

Yeah, I still need to sit down and actually write this trip out.

Some of the Better Roman Graffiti We Encountered…

…and there was a lot of it.

No, not the “orgy.” The Lego riot police. I’m getting my kid the ’68 Democratic Convention edition – learning can be fun!

Pieta – Orvieto

Rome: Monday: Interior at Orvieto

With a special appearance of my patron John the Baptist, beneath one of the alabaster windows:

Rome: Monday: Possibly the Most Beautiful Built Thing I Have Ever Seen (Continued)

Rome: Monday: Possibly the Most Beautiful Built Thing I Have Ever Seen (Continued)

Okay, so it’s actually Orvieto, not Rome. You take my point. These are scenes from the life of Mary – the marriage to Joseph, and postpartum with Jesus – taken as the afternoon sun set the gold mosaic ablaze. And lest anyone miss out: clicking on the photos makes ’em bigger. Clicking on them again makes ’em bigger still.

Rome: Monday: Possibly the Most Beautiful Built Thing I Have Ever Seen (Continued)

Rome: Monday: The Streets of Orvieto

Rome: Saturday – Part V: Italy – No.

Am I the only one who remembers an “Italy – Si!” tourism campaign a while (possibly a long while) back? I would like to humbly submit an updated version: “Italy – No.” We got told “no” a lot – not rudely, and not even dismissively. Just matter-of-factly. “No.” The nice part was that the “no”s were rarely final – usually, we found our way around them, or at least got close to realizing our initial desire. But dayum if we didn’t hear a lot of ’em. It became the great byword of the vacation, the surefire in-joke between marrieds, one of us turning to the other: “You want (fill in the blank)? No.”

Saturday night provided maybe the best of the bunch. We crossed Via Corso with its massed crowds of Friends with Boots (The Wife’s term for the endless parade of thin women tromping around in generally fabulous boots, often topped with even more fabulous patterned hose, mostly likely purchased at the one-on-every-streetcorner lingerie shops that dot Rome like so many 7-11s. Me: “It’s what they do here – lounge around in lingerie all day, then put on boots and go out for fabulous dinners. No one know just how they manage it.”), jamming the sidewalks and forcing the Lessers onto the street. And unlike those cobblestoned alleyways where pedestrian and driver enjoy a certain understanding, the Corso was very much an ordinary two-way street, only without enough room in any way for the buses, cars, taxis, and people that crowded it.

As we headed down Via dei Pastini to Er Faciolaro, I began to wonder. A pleasant enough street, but one tinged with tourism. For the first time, we were being hailed by smiling men in waiters’ uniforms, gesturing at the display featuring the evening menu. Sad that such an inviiting gesture should strike me as deeply suspicious, an indicator of sub-par performance from the kitchen. “If they were really good, they wouldn’t need to be friendly,” seems to have been my underlying thought – though I had never actually formulated such a notion, and certainly had no experience upon which to base such a conclusion. What I had from Zadok the Roman: “Only eaten here once with Fr. Z, but he recommends it as being a reasonably-priced place for lunch or dinner near the Pantheon. I certainly enjoyed my meal there.”

Nobody, welcoming or otherwise, stood out in front of Er Faciolaro – a good sign. Inside, we were seated quickly and attended to by a brusque, graying waiter sporting an excellent moustache. He softened up considerably when I ordered the Brunello di Montalcino – at 48 Euros, it was certainly not the most expensive wine on the list, but perhaps it gave him hope that I was not a complete and total barbar. (I had actually intended to order the less-expensive Rosso di Montalcino, but got flustered during a relatively difficult exchange – he had less English than most, it seemed, and we had woefully little Italian – and pointed to the wrong bottle. After that, there was little that could be done; I had to live with my delicious mistake.)

The menu devoted an entire section to game, which made me happy. Mmmm, quail. But oh – over here: another entire section devoted to beans! And here – beans with quailet! Perfect – if “quailet” was some sort of diminutive for quail. The Italian words were different in each case. So I tried to ask my waiter.

“Is this quail the same as this ‘quailet’?”

“No.” And with that, he reached down with his pen and ran a line through “Beans with quail.”

“Ah. Are you out of that? Or is it just that ‘quailet’ isn’t the same as ‘quail’?”

“No.” And with that, he reached down with his pan and ran a grand, emphatic X through the entire game section.

“Ah. I’ll have the beans with sausage.”

Looking back, I think the most likely explanation – certainly the one that fits best with the idea that he was happy about someone ordering the Brunello – is that the game had all been flash-frozen, and was not quite up to par. That also fit well with The WIfe’s experience.

“I’ll have the pork cutlet.”

“No. Spring pork.” At least he didn’t take a pen to her menu.

The Wife’s verdict: “Best Pork Ever. Sometimes when things are really tender, they don’t have as much flavor. Think filet mignon or veal. This was like a veal of pork, but it was super-flavorful. And it wasn’t even that it had that much sauce – it was just its own flavor, but it was tender enough that you could just pull it off the bone.” Which is not to imply that the sauce wasn’t awesome – a concentrated, caramelized reduction. Add to that a primi of cannelloni in a tomato-bechamel sauce – a favorite of The Wife’s from the legendary Garozzo’s in Kansas City (where we had our rehearsal dinner) – and you had one of her two favorite dinners of the visit. I was hardly less pleased – my plump, white beans arrived robed in olive oil of surpassing delicacy, and accompanied of rounds of dense, sweet sausage. Something like the kielbasa my neighbors used to smoke back in the hometown. And the Brunello just got better as the night wore on. A long, slow, happy end to the day. Zadok had served us well.

As I said: “Italy – No.” But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Big Ol’ Door

(St. John Lateran)

Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday from Matthew Lickona on Vimeo.

I wrote a bit about it for the day job.

Rome: Sunday – A Question

Okay, maybe it’s a dumb question. But still. If you saw this poster:

And if you noted that the only actual place mentioned on the poster was Chiesa S. Spirito in Sassia, AND you knew that said church was just down the street from St. Peter’s, AND the poster said that the Holy Father would be leading the Regina Coeli, would it be too amazingly stupid for words to assume that the Holy Father would be leading said prayers in said church?

As I said, maybe it’s a dumb question. At any rate, the poster, combined with our woeful lack of Italian, explains why we were in said church from 9:10 a.m. to shortly before 1 p.m. on Sunday. What eventually convinced us to leave? They started a second Mass. We hobbled – well, I hobbled (The Blisters and all) – home along the river, and hunger eventually drove us to stop in at a random trattoria, which provided our first culinary disappointment of the visit. Burnt vegetables, a couple of off mussels, and carbonara covered in what looked like separated hollandaise. We thought we’d reached Minimum Safe Dining Distance from the Vatican. Apparently, like young Skywalker, we were mistaken – about a great many things.


This one’s a little harder to prove, because I don’t have photos from the Before phase. But I have a pretty clear memory of our excellent tour guide telling us in 1991 that four alabaster columns had been donated by Someone Ruler of Somewhere when the church was being constructed. Two of the columns were used to flank the main doors, while the other two were sliced into inch-thick slabs, which slabs were used as windows. The effect was little short of magical. The windows glowed, and all that New World gold on the ceiling glowed back, and everything was gentle and luminous and lovely. All changed, changed utterly

Well, not really. The gold is still there on the ceiling, and the incredible mosaic still adorns the apse, and it’s still my favorite baldacchino. But none of it lives in the same atmosphere. Now, the plain glass windows let in light that blares like a trumpet; what was there before was more like a French Horn.

I can’t prove all this, of course. But before we left for Rome, our friend Ernesto told The Wife, “Be sure to stop into St. Mary Major. The windows are made of stone, and the light is wonderful.” You can’t go Rome again?


When I visited Rome in 1991, this was my favorite of the four major basilicas. I went on and on to The Wife about it. Alas. Problem number one: the rose window, installed in 1995:

Hey, look, it’s the cover from Today’s Missal! But leaving aside my own personal private assessment of the window’s particular aesthetic merit, I don’t think there’s anybody who still retains the use of at least one eye who can argue that this particular window looks anything but wildly out of place in this particular church:

I just don’t get it.

Rome: Saturday – Part IV: Video Tyme

Scene by scene, then:
1. Colonna dell’Immacolata in the Southeast part of the Piazza di Spagna, to which we walked from the Villa Borghese, including a long jaunt alongside the Aurelian Wall.
2. The Spanish Steps, rising up from the Piazza di Spagna toward the church of Trinita’ dei Monti, covered not with penitents reciting prayers whilst ascending on their knees, but with tourists and teenagers and sunglass merchants watching the sun set over the Roman rooftops. The obelisk in front of the church was undergoing restoration, and was shrouded in scaffolding wrapped with material showing an image of the obelisk.
3. The Mock Penitent, ascending the last step (which also happens to be his first). “Shame on you,” said Mom, and rightly so.
4. Looking out over the Roman rooftops toward the setting sun.
5. The Sacred and Immaculate Hearts over the doorway into the church of Trinita’ dei Monti, panning over to the afternoon sun striking the statue of the Scourged Christ.
6. The Scourged Christ
7. A painting of the scourging, gestured at by a helpful bust.
8. Hauling Christ down from the cross.
9. Interior of Trinita’ dei Monti – The Wife in lower right of frame.
10. Our Lady
11. Cubeland Mystic
12. The Baptism of Our Lord
13. St. Michael. The devils struck me as particularly horrifying – not because they were especially monstrous, but because they seemed very much fallen – once beautiful, now twisted, and horrified at their new condition.
14. The Trevi fountain, to which we walked from the Piazza di Spagna. Just to show that I really was there for that photo.
15. A church we popped into on the way to dinner. Or rather, on our second way to dinner (as opposed to our way to a second dinner…). Our first destination was Ristorante Abruzzi, just down the street from the Gregorian, recommended to us by Zadok by way of Amy. But what the good Mr. Zadok failed to mention (and this was his only slip in a slew of excellent suggestions) was that, for whatever reason, Abruzzi is closed on Saturdays. Disheartening – and hard on the stomach as well. We’d done a fair bit of walking since the Villa Borghese, and were ready to sit and eat. Desperate, we went next door to Cafe Caviar. We were not inspired to great culinary hope. But we were fortified – a glass of fruity House Red (most likely Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, unless I miss my guess) and some serviceable bruschetta gave us the strength we needed to push on to another of Zadok’s suggestions: Er Faciolaro. (More on that anon.) The church was Santa Maria in Via Lata, and it was the first of many, many churches holding Eucharistic Adoration. It’s like they believe in the True Presence or something. I think we came in around Vespers.
16. The rather monumental facade of the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola – another stumble-upon. (Also seen in above photo.)
17. A little levity. It’s a pity my camera didn’t have a better microphone – I do so wish you could hear the club music beat on the sound system, and the swooning cries of “All night…all night…” This was in Cafe Caviar – one more example of the bad music in Rome (the Vespers in Santa Maria in Via Lata being a happy exception.)

Rome: Saturday – Part III

The Galleria Borghese. (We got in for two Euros instead of eight, because it was a Cultural Week. Another small blessing.) A brief moment to savor the secular before we went and got thoroughly Church Drunk (The Wife’s term). Photos were not permitted, so I’m going to work from Google images and just hit a few highlights for us. (Not that photos or Google images will do the pieces justice. Seeing the professionally shot postcards in the gift shops just minutes after leaving was enough proof of that. Something to this pilgrimage business – the necessity of presence…)

The Wife very much admired Canova’s Venus, modeled on Pauline Bonaparte Borghese. The first Google image result of any decent size brings up the following caption: “This is the petrified ‘corpse’ of his former mistress that a horrified Soliman encounters in the Borghese Palace in The Kingdom of This World.” For whatever reason, we were not horrified. I was especially taken with the incredible work done on the cushion upon which the lady reclines. So supple were its lines, so seemingly yielding its surface, that it didn’t even register to The Wife as marble until I started in marveling at it. I suppose this makes me a sad, modern soul, sighing over marble made to look like cotton while remaining woefully ignorant of the aesthetic dynamics involved in the piece as a whole (why was Soliman horrified?) But I’ve never pretended otherwise. Here ’tis:

And as long as we’re the subject of my aesthetic barbarism, I should say that my favorite piece was Caravaggio’s St. Jerome:

I tried to prefer other things. I tried not to be a pious pilgrim, unable to delight in good, honest pagan images because I was forever flitting after Jesus and death instead of full-blooded life. I stared goggle-eyed at Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, and marveled at the fingers of Pluto gripping the thigh of his prize in the sculptor’s The Rape of Prosperina. I pondered the mosaic floors depicting gladiators plying their bloody trade, killing ferocious animals and each other. I wished that the 17th-century (I think) busts of the Caesars had some basis in fact, that I could imagine I was staring into the face of Julius, or Augustus, or Claudius, or even Caligula. I was at first fascinated, and then disturbed, by a black stone relief depicting a bacchanal of plump little children.

But in the end, I was a sucker for Caravaggio’s light, and for the skull on the desk. Over at The Lion and the Cardinal, Daniel Mitsui points to this comment on Caravaggio by Nicholas Poussin, whom Mitsui terms a “perceptive contemporary” of the artist: “I won’t look at it. That man was born to destroy the art of painting. Such a vulgar painting can only be the work of a vulgar man.”

Sigh. I am, it seems, a B-movie Catholic.