ONE of the surprises of this last Holy Year was that Cardinal John Henry Newman was not canonised. It was widely rumoured that he was to be "raised to the altar" and although Vatican rumours are treated with a fastidious care by experienced Vatican-watchers, there was a real basis for this expectation.
I have never been able to find out where these rumours come from. All the men I know in the Vatican are of irrefragable discretion despite the best dinners I can afford.
It is a mystery akin to that of who writes and disseminates those limericks of doubtful taste. Perhaps there is a special rumour department for making them up. There is certainly one for denying them as was done sharpishly over the briefly accepted rumour that the Pope was very tired.
However. Pope Paul early last year told Rome's Newman symposium that Newman "with all his heart devoted to the light of truth, today becomes an even brighter beacon for all who are seeking an informed orientation and sure guidance amid the uncertainties of the modern world The year before he is said to have told a member of Newman's Birmingham Oratory when asked about the chances of canonisation: "It is a dream that I should like to fulfil," Certainly Newman's reputation has grown steadily. He is accepted as one of the very greatest of the Victorians and they produced a clutch of astonishingly great men in a burst of intellectual energy that was the equal of the reign of Elizabeth I.
Newman made himself felt at a time when Catholic theology was at its nadir. And, like St Thomas Becket and St Thomas More, he seems to be even more admired abroad than at home. Cardinal` Willebrands, now Primate of Holland, got his doctorate writing about him.
He could be described as the theologian of the Second Vatican Council, though he had refused to attend the preliminaries of the First. Ile was a sophisticate, not an emotionalist. He was intellectual and patristic, always going back to sources.
He was delicate about the question of Papal Infallibility to which some of his contemporaries gave an almost universal application like the one who said he would like to have a new infallible Papal pronouncement arrive every morning on his breakfast table.
He did not believe in the necessity of a total uniformity of all views within the Church. There was aprophetic quality about his endless ratiocination.
The Cause of his canonisa
lion was introduced in Rome in 1958. Now these Causes are a long way from being public inquiries, But nagging always is the suggestion that Newman was over-sensitive, quick tO take offence and prickly as a prima-donna. His countless supporters would deny all this, but then all those with whom he had public or private disagreements from Wiseman and Manning to the bishops of Ireland, to Fr Faber at the London Oratory cannot all have been entirely wrong every time.
Fr Faber was greatly loved in his time. So was Cardinal Newman, but the love given Newman has survived while Faber has become a curiosity. And, anyway, I do not think it greatly matters. it would take a long time to get used to calling him St John Newman. He did. however, believe in the existence of miracles.
First Communion memories
WE had a First Communion in our parish the other day. It was given to an engaging eight-yearold boy called Sebastian who. when he serves Mass, wriggles about the altar like an elver on dry land.
Things have not greatly changed. He was definitely primes inter pares at that Mass when he knelt with his family. Quite rightly he loved it and had the usual party afterwards and got the usual presents.
made my First Communion in the chapel of the Holy Child nuns in Cavendish Square. Women had not then been liberated, and I am not sure that they really felt they were equal to men in the sight of God. This was about 1925, and I was a member of the kindergarten.
It was a stylish sort of convent. I can just remember my First Communion. As the only boy, I got a prim-diem to myself behind a tall candle with a lily tied to it and had a large white silk bow on my arm. The girls, dressed as brides in short dresses, knelt in a pew behind me.
Then we had breakfast and my place was the centre of a little thicket of bondieuserie. They must have contained some sort of self-destructive apparatus. Not one of them has survived and they included a formidable mother-of-pearl holy water stoup. I cannot remember much more, except, precisely what we had for breakfast.
Sebastian, I think, will do much better. He has two more religious high spots to look forward to his Confirmation and marriage. There is another one too, but he will not appreciate it. Until then I pray that he will continue to enjoy his religion as much as he does now. A SF:RH S of seven prayer pamphlets -Getting in touch with God" has been recently published by the La Retraile Sisters.*
The booklets were written to help to start girls and women on the way to prayer, and are for all ages for the over-tens, teenagers. young
,idults, young wives, mothers and children. women in middle life and older women,
Commonsensical but cosy, the booklets begin with the simple everyday situations and feelings which could be a way through to communication with God. Rut prayer. they admit, isn't easy to smart or to develop.
'Ile over-tens booklet asks:
with some of his young parishioners at his retirement party, at All Saints Church Hall, Hampton. Bishop Guazzelli, Auxiliary of Westminster, who celebrated a special Mass for Fr Gomes during the party is seen holding a vellum scroll with parishioners' signatures, who also presented him with a cheque for £300. A parishioner made him a cake with the dates of his arrival at and departure from Hampton iced on the two tiers. Fr Gomes will spend his retirement at Isleworth, Middlesex. "Have you a picture of your favourite pop star or TV star on the wall?" And then asks: "Is God your pin-up?"
The way through to prayer for older people is stillness and restfulness, the booklet suggests. Time is what old people have, and prayer could grow from this time for reflection.
All the booklets arc very practical about the physical difficulties. They suggest that anyone wishing to pray should find a comfortable position: "A quiet place in or out of the house. Sit, lie or kneel comfortably in whichever position you feel most relaxed and therefore most alert mentally." The long experience which the La Retraitc Sisters have in giving retreats is reflected in these pamphlets, which could help many to find or rediscover God.
* "Getting in Touch with God," available from "La Retraite," Atkins Road, Clapham Park, London, SW12. Published by Mayhew McCrimmon at 26p each.
Hymns that disturb dean
THERE appears to be a bit of ferment in Manchester. The Anglican dean there, the Very Rev Alfred Jowett wants his Church to throw out some of its hymns because they are "misleading, dangerous and bad for today."
In his Cathedral News he writes: "This is sadly serious. But there are still a great many good hymns and I would like to see people experimenting more and more in writing hymns."
He greatly disliked one called "Hills of the North Rejoice," not out of any Southern chauvinism but for its contents. He quotes: "Lands of the East Awake," and writes: "But they have woken up, so successfully that Japan bids fair to run us out of the motor car market.
"And China could certainly be said to have 'broken the sleep of ages' and to have risen to something they recognise as liberty." He found that some hymns contained lines so ludicrous that he refused to sing them. He cited, "thy frail and trembling sheep" as the sort of thing he rejected.
Singing on the Box
BE that as it may. Every Sunday evening, in the "God Slot, BBCI puts over a programme of hymn-singing which is a genuinely popular programme. It comes from a different church every time. It is a highly professional job and 1 find it fascinating.
I have never attended one of these sessions. But apart from their intrinsic curiosity value and occasional beauty, the camera work must be admired. There is nothing static about them. The cameras are on the move all the time, picking up here a wide open, roaring mouth, there an uninterested boy who will get hell when the family sees him on the screen, here a black face and there one of those grand edible hats that some ladies wear to church, It must all he a hit distracting for the congregation. It is a sin to stare into the camera lens, even to glance at it out of the corner of your eyes. The congregation is in fact on camera, and has to look as if it were alone with God.
Last Sunday it came from the Catholic Church of St Thomas of Canterbury. The congregation behaved beautifully and the singing was pretty good. We got two close-ups of the mayor, some splendid nuns, a man with a fine beard and the happiest looking schoolgirl choir I have ever seen.
It's a large, wide church which hums with activity. It has a forlorn and decayed medieval church tower in its front garden, It has a relic of St Thomas finely set above a side altar. It has a bold mural of Canterbury's host of Archiepiscopal saints. It is not an architectural masterpiece only a very good church to go to Mass in.
It was the old, familiar, now non-denominational hymns which set the place alight. Some Franciscan students sang the Salve Regina startlingly well. This was the first Western song heard in the Americas, since Columbus intoned it on landing, and this is a hymn that must never he thrown out.
There were some modern hymns, and they sounded drivelish. There was also a folk group who meant well. It was clearly a community as well as a parish enterprise. It was enormous fun, and these things are meant to be that as well.
The Maronites at bay
IN 1964 Pope Paul went to Jerusalem only the second Pope ever to have done so. As you will recall, he was dangerously mobbed in the Via Dolorosa. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre took fire
because the special fairy lights fused. Cardinal Tisserant took refuge temporarily in a piety shop where the Arab proprietor tried to sell him a rosary.
It was a scene of total chaos the result of enthusiasm and respect. Even the Jordanian soldiers, technically on guard, joined in anxiously to see this remarkable but ill-defined mufti.
The Pope had to be saved by Italian secret servicemen. And I remember one man who rode the storm like a confident canoe shooting rapids. This was the late Patriarch of the Maronites.
lie was a Cardinal, and so was swathed in scarlet. He wore not a skullcap but a turban made of the same scarlet silk. He was nearly seven feet tall and, being a Middle Easterner. took the excitement as an aspect of life.
He in fact was the head of the Christian sect in The Lebanon which is now engaged in a suicidal internal war in which the great classy hotels are the strongpoints and citadels. They fight to maintain their privileges.
For example, the Maronites have always provided the President, dominated the army and are now a good deal less than a half of the population. They tend to he richer than the Moslems.
It seems generally agreed that the Maronites. in the secular form of the Phalange Party, started it all. The killing is now on a far grander scale than that in Northern Ireland.
They are a fascinating branch of the Church fully, even enthusiastically. in communion with Rome. Their Patriarch is also Patriarch of Antioch a title he shares with the Orthodox, the Syrian Jacobites, the Syrian Catholics and the Latin Catholics, They use Syriac or Arabic in their heavily Romanised liturgy and they have some married clergy.
There is dispute about the antiquity of their orthodoxy. Scholars have accused them in the past of following the doubtless abominable heresy of the Monothelites. They taught that Christ had only one will and energy.
It has also been said that they were tainted by Nestorianism. This taught that there were two persons as well as two natures in Christ. Be that as it may, and most of it seems to have happened in about the eighth century, the remarkable thing is that they have survived the centuries and only tend to grow un faithful when they emigrate.
They have had their share of saints and scholars. It would be a squalid tragedy if such a Church were dissipated or diminished for base and violent political reasons.