NOTRE DAME IS IN FLAMES. The spire has gone; the roof has collapsed. It appears no one has died—Deo gratias—which is a real mercy. The cause is as yet unknown but no doubt we shall no soon enough. The recent spate of attacks on churches in France hangs heavier in the air tonight, but this incident may merely be due to a fault in the current renovation work. It is hard not to dismiss a terrorist attack but by now surely some extremist would be claiming credit for it.
The passion of Notre Dame matters not just for Paris, nor just for France, nor for those who merely love beauty. It matters for our Judaeo-Christian civilization.
It is about a gorgeous gem of Gothic architecture more than 8 centuries old, but it is more than about that. It is about the wonderful works of art and craft within its walls—a stunning Pietà; statues of the 28 kings of Israel; an immense rose window with exquisite stained glass—but it is about more than these. It is about the role and status of the cathedral in the history of France, but it is about more than that. It is about a testament to humanity’s fertile, fruitful and beautiful devotion to God, but it is about more even than that.
On the CBS live coverage on Youtube, a reporter mentioned that a Parisian had told him that the fire has a symbolic significance for Christianity in France and Europe.
LONG-STANDING READERS here will know that the work of Dom Hubert van Zeller of Downside has appeared in these pages, under the nom-de-plume Brother Choleric. His cartoons—charming caricatures really—offered a glimpse into the life and dynamics of the cloister, principally that of Downside itself. The Cracks series began in 1954 but Br Choleric did not finish publishing until the 1970s.
The very first volume, Cracks in the Cloister, was published under a separate copyright in the USA, and that copyright has expired. So, a cartoon and comics devotee, Nat Gertler, has reissued the volume in America. It is a simple, softcover edition but it plays no games with the originals, even down to including the colouring added by van Zeller to some panels. It is available at Barnes & Noble, and also at Amazon USA where a Kindle edition will also be available.
Nat asked if he could edit a previous post here to provide a short introduction for the reissue, which I was happy to agree to as a micro-homage to a monk who has given me much delight, both as Br Choleric and as a serious spiritual author. At the end of this post I append the text of my introduction, not least because of its quotation in full of a letter van Zeller wrote to The Tablet in March 1970 which provides some insight into the change in mood of the Cracks series through the 60s and into the 70s, as well as being relevant to the golden jubilee of Missale Romanum and its new Mass.
IN THE COMMENTS of the post a few days back regarding the 50th anniversary of the new Mass, Richard makes some searching and coherent observations which merit pursuing. Rather than any answer to them being lost in the combox, it seems better to make my brief response to them a post in itself. You may want to read Richard’s comment first.
Richard’s reflections mirror those I elided into the word “curiously,” which is certainly not synonymous with “inexplicably.” I think the lack of mainstream recognition of the anniversary of the new Mass is certainly capable of some tentative explanation. Continue reading “Pursuing a Point”→
IF YOU READ BLOGS or the Catholic press you will probably have seen that it is 50 years since St Paul VI promulgated the apostolic constitution Missale Romanum on 3 April 1969 as an implementation of the reforms mandated by the second Vatican council. By this decree a new order of Mass was proposed, replacing the order of Mass in use for 1500-odd years in the form that emerged with the seal of St Pius V after the decrees of the council of Trent. The UK’s Catholic Herald asked me to write a brief essay on it for last week’s edition, and it can be found on its website but for my own record I include it here below (the headline is the CH’s).
Not surprisingly there were several commemorative pieces to be found here and there. Some which I found were by Dom Alcuin Reid, Joseph O’Brien, and Fr Andrew Menke at Adoremus, while America reprints an article from 1970 by G B Harrison and Professor Peter Kwasniewski offers a more searching and detailed reflection. Curiously, most progressive journals seem not too concerned to mark the anniversary; certainly there was nothing in The Tablet last week.
IN RECENT WEEKS came news of the approval of another miracle attributed to the intercession of Bl. John Henry Newman. This means that there is now a high probability he will soon be canonized. October seems the propitious time for all things Newman, and if it comes on my birthday—13 October—I shall be chuffed indeed!
Also in recent weeks came news that the courts have finally directed New York to surrender the body of Archbishop Fulton Sheen to Peoria, the diocese of his birth and upbringing. This unseemly squabble between two dioceses has not been edifying to Catholics, and a cause of mirth, or worse, to non-Catholics. Hopefully this means the cause for canonization of Fulton Sheen can now advance. The first prelate to engage with modern media, he was new-evangelising before the term New Evangelisation was coined. First on radio broadcasts and then on the new-fangled television, he cut no Catholic corners, but spoke in terms both dignified and comprehensible that made his message attractive. Chalk in hand and standing before a clean blackboard, garbed in full episcopal fig—including ferraiolo—he would be seen as quaint today if he did the same, and probably clericalist, given that the mob simplistically equates clericalism with clerical dress. For his time, however, he was an adept and engaging preacher of the faith and even Protestants were impressed. Of course, since he cut such a fine figure and moved in elevated and even fashionable circles, he was accused of vanity and self-promotion. Self-conscious and self-confident he was; utterly faithful and, when it really mattered, selfless he was in equal measure, if not more.
Both these men are worthy of canonization, not least because they were men of their day, aware of contemporary spiritual needs and adept at serving them. Both were of towering intellects, though Newman spoke more directly to the upper and more educated classes, whereas Sheen had a gift of distilling complex teaching into digestible servings for the ordinary man and woman.
THE THREE ANCIENT mainstays of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Needless to say there is a dizzying array of worthy objects of your almsgiving attention. Some are more obvious than others; some suffer for their lack of, for want of a better phrase, instant gratification.
One of the less obvious objects for almsgiving is a religious house or order. It used not to be so. Monasteries and convents used to be a standard target for benefactions, often to support a liturgical devotion for which monasteries were particularly well suited. The Reformation struck a grievous blow to that wholesome, if occasionally abused, tradition. Secularisation of western society has landed a second blow. Benefactions, legacies and donations are just not as common as they used to be.
In the midst of the gloom the monastic life is giving off small and tender new shoots. New foundations are springing up that seek to reinvigorate the monastic vine. The Benedictine life is far from dead. Some will fail; this is an historical reality. Some others will prosper: taking the right approach at the right time in the right place. Continue reading “Lenten Almsgiving: an Option”→
Sydney seems to have a hotter summer than I remember from my youth. There were hot days then of course, but it seems more unrelentingly hot now. Global warming? Or has absence disacclimatized me?
This trip to Sydney was planned in haste, a result of the slings and arrows of outrageous monastic life. This visit I find myself more engaged by the city’s colonial history. My reverend nephew—also sojourning in Sydney at present for some restorative rest with the family—and I have visited a number of colonial houses both private and public. For example, there was Elizabeth Bay House, a compact but grand house with now-lost extensive gardens, and Vaucluse House, more modestly grand and still with substantial gardens. The former is very much an house, the latter feels far more an home. My reverend nephew prefers the house, my reverend self prefers the home. Make of that what you will.