(Aurora Books, 206pp, plus appendices, RRP $24.95. Inquiries Central Catholic Bookshop, Melbourne)
Desmond O'Grady's latest book - Rome Reshaped - is an interesting account of the History of Roman Jubilees. A resident of Rome since the 1960s, he is the author of numerous works of fiction and non- fiction, as well as countless articles. In his current book, O'Grady traces the history and development of Jubilees since 1300.
Every 25 years, the Catholic Church celebrates a Jubilee. People flock in large numbers during the course of the year to visit and say certain prayers in the four Basilicas (St Peter's, St Mary Major's, St John Lateran and St Paul Outside the Walls) as well as other churches and sites.
The practice of celebrating Jubilees began at a time in the Church's history when the custom of going on pilgrimage was an important practice. With the fall of the Holy Land to the Muslims in 1291, after almost 100 years of occupation by Christians, an alternative venue for pilgrimage was needed. Jubilees also came to be linked with the Old Testament practice of celebrating a Jubilee every 50 years, in which all debts were cancelled and land was returned to its original owner.
O'Grady argues that the manner of celebrating the Jubilees and the themes central to the celebration of each Jubilee have changed in accordance with the changing needs of the Church and Christians at large. Thus, whereas Jubilees began as alternatives to pilgrimages to Jerusalem, by the end of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Jubilees were linked with the dubious practice of collecting monies donated for indulgences to finance various building programs in Rome, a practice that was partially responsible for Martin Luther's Reformation movement.
The most controversial section of the work is the last. Here O'Grady focuses the reader's attention upon what he understands to be some of the themes central to the celebration of the forthcoming Jubilee, particularly the cancelling or amelioration of Third World debt and apologies for past wrongs done either by or in the name of the Church.
O'Grady argues that Pope John Paul II links the former initiative to the Old Testament Jubilee practice of cancelling all debts. The latter initiative is linked into the ecumenical movement, arguing that it as an extension of the Orthodox/Catholic accord of 1965 (in which the Orthodox and Catholic Churches lifted the mutual excommunications that had been issued in 1054). O'Grady presents the argument that by apologising for past wrongs Christians may be able to put bitter experiences which have fostered divisiveness (e.g., sack of Constantinople in 1204 and the burning of Protestants during the period of the Inquisition) as an important step along the road to reunion.
The author successfully undertakes the challenging task of presenting, as objectively as possible, the pros and cons of these courses of action. Rome Reshaped is an engaging account of the history of Jubilees and makes excellent preparatory reading for the Jubilee.