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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The old church versus the new, 12 Jan 2007
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L O'connor (richmond, surrey United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Serpent on the Rock (Paperback)
In this absorbing little book, Alice Thomas Ellis sets out to try and discover what modern-day Catholics think of their religion and the various issues that have arisen in modern times, ecumenecism, feminism etc. Her own point of view is firmly traditional, and she is delightfuly scathing on the subjects that irritate her, like women priests etc.

Although she talks to many people who are enthusiasts for the new ways, and tries valiantly to understand the people who claim that they think Vatican II was a Good Thing, it is clear that she thinks it was a very Bad Thing indeed, and it is hard not to end up sharing her opinion, so passionate is her conviction. You don't have to be a Catholic to be carried along by her enthusiasm, I found myself positively yearning for the old ways when I read her poignant description of what going to Mass used to be like for her in pre-Vatican II days:

"Before the changes I would go to Mass with my missal veil, a small type of mantilla which could be stuffed into a pocket when it had served its purpose of covering the feamle head according to the dictates of St. Paul. Wherever the church was, the form of the Low Mass was the same,from the grandeur of the cathedral to the bare simplicity of the convent chapel. On special occasions we had HIgh Mass with the magnificence of sacred music and ritual, Gregorian chant, exquisite vestments and the time-hallowed movement and gesture of priests and servers. It was easy to pay attention to the proceedings, for each moment held meaning and purpose. Familiarity bred not contempt but reassurance. There was a sense of occasion, and a profound reverence emanating from the altar and echoed by the congregation, because you were in the presence of something of eternal importance. It was quite hard to let your attention wander, since each part and detail of the Mass was imbued with significance. The innovators claim that in the old days nobody paid any attention, but they lie. Doubtless there were some who knew little and cared less what was going on but they were in the minority. The priest officiated with his back to the people, addressing God.

In every Catholic church hung a red sanctuary light signifying the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The altar, which contained the relics of saints, stood against the east wall and the sanctuary was seperated from the body of the church. There were statues of the saints, the Stations of the Cross, candles and flowers and an all-pervading odour of incense. It was by these things that you recognised a Catholic church anywhere in the world and it was in this atmosphere that Catholics knew themselves to be at home. When Mass said in Latin then no matter what your nationality or mother tongue you knew where you were unless you were hopelessly inattentive. There were confessional boxes where you could unburden your conscience and be absolved of your sins, and it was incumbent on priests at any time to hear a penitent who felt he could not wait. There were numberless aspects and signs of Catholicism which are now out of favour and likely to be forgotten if they are not swiftly recovered. In place of the old it seems in many cases that we have a new Church."

If you don't finish reading with book with a poignant yearning for the old ways then you are a lot less susceptible than I am.
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Serpent on the Rock
Serpent on the Rock by Alice Thomas Ellis (Paperback - 20 July 1995)
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