Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Notice: Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael

I am coming to this task a little late (Rorate, LMS Chairman, and others have beat NLM to the punch!), but better late than never.

A new, extremely interesting book has appeared from Preserving Christian Publications: Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael, by Kevin Symonds. As I wrote in my endorsement of it:
This book is not another pious exhortation to recite the Leonine prayers, although the author certainly agrees that they ought to be prayed, as do I. Rather, it is a detailed look at the history of the composition of the well-known Prayer to St. Michael and the exorcism connected with it, and especially the legends that surround these texts. Depending on the period or the author, these legends have been either too uncritically accepted (and embellished), or too hastily dismissed as sensational fabrications. With the care of an historian and the determination of a detective, Symonds shows that the reality is quite a bit more complex. It's an intriguing book that brings the reader close to Leo XIII and his age, while equipping us better for "wrestling against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph 6:12). The appendices offer an array of unusual and valuable texts. All in all, a definitive work on the Prayer to St. Michael.
I would underline that conclusion with a fat black pen: it is indeed the definitive work on this prayer, as Symonds explores the complexities of its history -- the causes that prompted its composition, the urgent need that led to its universal imposition as a prayer after Mass, the continuing relevance its devout recitation has for us today. The appendices are, to me, especially fascinating. Symonds first presents (in Latin and English) the prayers after Mass as established by Bd. Pius IX in 1859, then the prayers after Mass as modified by Leo XIII on January 6, 1884, and finally the last revision to these prayers from 1886, when the St. Michael prayer was first introduced by Leo's command. The substantial appendices (pp. 137-185) include translations of little-known documents: Pope Leo XIII's letter to Cardinal Rampolla, Quantunque le siano (1887), source texts from Cardinal Nasalli (1946) and Father Pechenino (1947), the letter of Pope Pius XII Sacra Vergente Anno, also known as Carissimis Russiae Populi (1952), a complete translation of the third-person account of Pope Paul VI's famous "smoke of Satan" homily of June 29, 1972 as published in Italian in the Insegnamenti di Paolo VI. Moreover, Symonds' book is graced with a splendid Foreword by His Excellency, Bishop Athanasius Schneider (pp. iii-vii)..

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Pope Leo XIII and his tumultuous times, the campaign of 19th-century liberalism against the Church (and, in particular, the Italian and Roman phases of that campaign), devotion to St. Michael the Archangel and the angels in general, and the role of this prayer in the "Prayers after Low Mass" so familiar to countless Catholics for a century and a half..

To read more, see the publisher's product page here. To purchase, go here. (There is also a Facebook page here.)

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