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  • Liturgy and Society in Early Medieval Rome by John F. Romano
  • Thomas F. X. Noble
Liturgy and Society in Early Medieval Rome. By John F. Romano. [Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West.] (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2014. Pp. xii, 308. $134.96. ISBN 978-1-4094-4393-3.)

In an original study John F. Romano says, rightly, that historians have paid too little attention to liturgy, whereas liturgists seldom put their treasures on display for historians. He begins with the travails of Pope Martin I, normally located in the realms of theology and papal-imperial relations. Romano notes the breaking of the apocrisiarius’s altar, the attempt to murder Martin at Communion, and the stripping of the pope’s pallium. Liturgy, Romano says, was the great symbol of unity, and it was precisely that symbol that the emperor sought to break.

The book’s thesis is that “liturgy was the social glue that held together the society of early medieval Rome” (p. 6). The strongest chapter in the book is the first, dealing with the papal Mass. Drawing heavily and appropriately on Ordo Romanus I, Romano describes the papal Mass as celebrated in churches all over the city following impressive processions along Rome’s streets. While Rome’s liturgical celebrations shared features with those of other great cities (one thinks of the work of John Baldovin cited by Romano), local developments were organic and original. Particularly interesting are two developments in Romano’s discussion: his characterization of the papal Mass as a “multimedia event” (p. 29) and his demonstration that the participation of the laity was greater than is usually assumed. The papal Mass, he argues persuasively, had social and political dimensions.

Romano’s second chapter treats “The Shaping of the Papal Court by Liturgy.” He opens by stating that scholars have neglected the role of the liturgy in shaping the papal court, have been embarrassed by it, or have been critical of it. This is a bit unfair. Once he gets past apologetics, however, Romano has a lot of original things to say. The chapter turns around his assessment of the processions that attended the stational liturgies of the city. Ordo Romanus I provides a detailed portrayal of those liturgies and Romano delves into the text to talk about rank and hierarchy, the differentiation of officialdom, and the participation of the laity. He notes tensions as well: monks are virtually invisible; deacons are more visible than priests; bishops have rather circumscribed roles; women’s presence is negligible despite what is otherwise known about them: they made donations, baked bread for the Eucharist, and some of them at least received Communion from the hand of the pope. But can processions associated with stational liturgies be equated with the [End Page 907] “court” that sat daily in the Lateran precincts managing the burgeoning business of the Roman Church?

Chapter 3 argues for “Unifying the City through Liturgy.” Romano says that Rome’s bishops consciously designed a liturgy that expressed unity. Romano focuses on the stational liturgy, but his discussion differentiates Rome in degree but not in kind from other churches and largely repeats what he said already about the unity fostered by the papal Mass. Chapter 4, “Defining a Society through Worship,” concludes, “What emerges from this chapter is that the pope and other members of the clergy sought to map out the boundaries of a new world formed through orthodox Christian liturgy” (p. 168). This is what the popes and their collaborators were doing, but Romano’s arguments are rarely based on liturgical sources. Chapter 5, “Prayer in Roman Society,” draws on sacramentaries (especially the Gregorian) and argues that prayer could deliver both temporal and spiritual benefits. Given that the examples are drawn from all over the Mediterranean world, what is “Roman” here? The vectors of prayer placed by Romano in evidence are strictly vertical—running between the person praying and God—so where is Roman “society”—the horizontal bonds?

The book concludes with four appendices. The first (“Rereading Michel Andrieu’s Edition of the First Roman Ordo”) fairly assesses Andrieu’s achievement and notes where issues remain to be resolved. The second constitutes a “New...


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