Often, indeed daily and in shoals, there arrival at The Catholic Herald offices communications from the wilder shores of religion. There are, of course, cross and bad mannered denunciations of the Roman Church and the Pope and of me from various sorts of fundamentalists. Some of these are dotty which does not diminish their sincerity.
There are the Lefebvre lot who treat everyone else as malicious and simple and ignorant. They keep wanting to argue.
There is publicity from a marvellous variety of Marian shrines, some of which have attendant seers. These predict the conversion of Russia or unexampled disasters to this our world because we have sinned so much.
There is at least one of these shrines with some illicit but authentic bishops running about it. And there are the great shrines of Our Lady—Lourdes, Fatima, Walsingham, Loreto, Guadalupe, Knock, Czestohowa, (I am sure I have missed some out) which seem to grow more powerful as the sacred seasons roll by.
I confess I rather enjoy the dotty as well as the noble ideas. I have just been sent a booklet which foxed me. It is the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano. It's a town with an Archbishop and it sounds as if it is reasonably close to Naples. The booklet, as late as 1977, does not say and I can't find it on the sort of maps I have.
The story is that a Greek monk, following the rather amorphous Rule of St Basil, was saying Mass. This was about the year 700 and there were many Greeks in Southern Italy.
He was saying Mass in the Latin rite. When he had finished the consecration, the doubts came back. And then he found that the species had turned into flesh and blood. What quite happened next is not reported. But he tried, in awe, at first to conceal it.
The flesh and blood were put into a precious tabernacle and a church built to house it. Then in 1566 the shores of the Kingdom of Naples were being raided by the Turks. The population of Lanciano fled into the hills with a friar carrying the "relic".
At morning they found they were somehow all back at the gate of the town. So they entered the deserted place and manned the walls and survived.
An account of this has survived from 1631. It is laced with ecstatic remarks like "0 singular and marvellous favour". They also managed to get a good dash of anti-semitism into it. In fact there are quite a few accounts of miracles of this sort.
The "relics" of the flesh and blood were put into a splendid monstrance or °stentorian,. early 18th Century. And shades of the Turin Shroud, this was opened in 1970 and scientists, I suspect of tried and proved Catholicism, in spected the contents.
They found the flesh round in the, shape of a Latin host, not square as is the Greek leavened bread. It was brownish and hard as a board and hollow at the centre. Since it was kept between slices of crystal that were not airtight, there were dead lavae on it. The blood was in five pellets.
Both of these were subjected to scientific tests. Tiny fragments were rehydrated. The scientists and doctors said formally that they consisted of muscular tissue from a heart and drops of blood and that they were human.
They were put back in their elegant container and sealed. The Church has never declared itself on the matter though Dominicans and Franciscans fought like cats and dogs over the question of whether they were in fact the real presence.
They stand now in their ostentorium which itself stands' on top of the real tabernacle in Lanciano, so you do not have to 'commit yourself when you do reverence. There are a lot of medical details about it which I did not understand and found rather horrid.
Lord bless those who scrub
WE ARE having some mild difficulty with the ladies of our parish. It is not that they want to be ordained or even to sing the Evultet. The trouble is that some work, most have homes and children and all are at least as busy as the men. But a sort of clerical machismo, universal in the Universal Church, apportions them highly specialised roles within the parish and it is not always easy for them to fulfil these.
Mary Kenny in her new and remarkable book, Christianity Works, suggests that women are naturally more spiritual than men. She may well be right. Certainly they must have a powerful motivation to take on some of the parish jobs they do. Let us, calmly, look at a few of these.
There is flower arranging. Almost all churches look better for flowers, which is rather odd since they were not designed for the display of 'glads' and 'chills'.
Part of the trouble is getting the flowers. In the cities they have to be bought at hideous expense. Here we use our own and find that most non-Catholics are pleased to be asked for the reasonable run of their gardens. And every now and again they have to be topped up because flowers go on drinking.
There is brass polishing. This is especially true in 19th Century Gothic revival churches which tend to have batteries of brass
flower vases and thickets of brass candle sticks. If you are unlucky. you will also get brass altar rails. Floor scrubbing and taking up the fibre mats to get at the dust underneath. The mop and bucket will not always serve.
Statue dusting. This is sometimes a sore temptation to 'ladies of fastidious taste. But then someone once loved each and every one of those images and gave them. and someone remembers precisely who. There will be outrage if you topple that one.
The altar laundry is easier. I suppose, with all the new utility room machinery. But there are still those acres of linen to be ironed and I have no idea how you get was spots out of cloth. The crossest I ever saw a priest was when an altar boy spilled a stream of wax down his new missal.
Albs, go easy with the starch otherwise Mass will be late and you'll hear a noise from the sacristy like a crew furling the to'gallants in a storm.
This happend to Archbishop Heenan when he was installed at Westminster. It was a good clean fight, and he got the better of his alb in the end. But then he had a lot of help.
Book stall keepers are those thrice blessed ones who push the Catholic Herald at the back of the church.
There are the ladies who will rally round and cook when the bishop is calling. There are part time secretaries for ever trying to get an answer from the bishop's full time secretary or get the bulletin out.
There are amateur organists playing under duress. There are the teachers of catechism who will one day have diamonds in their crowns. There are ladies who sing in choirs.
There are seamstresses — ie, ladies handy with a needle and thread perhaps because they went to an old fashioned convent, They may start with putting a stitch in the braid on a chasuble. They will end doing Father's shirts.
I really cannot imagine how a parish could survive without all their work. Our difficulties are not very real but they certainly do emphasise the differentiation between the sexes.