THE film "Valentino" seems to be enjoying a reasonable success. This is in part due to the fact that the name part is taken by the dancer Rudolph Nureyev. In it he of course has to dance the tango.
For the very young, I should explain that the tango is a slinky, Latin sort of dance which involves bending the lady backwards from time to time and a great deal of swooping about. It can be extremely funny to watch. It was not always so.
On January 28, 1914, the New York Times reported that Pope Pius X, now canonised, looked on the dance as sheer cruelty. It seems he had heard of this dance and wished to judge for himself whether it was immoral.
So two respectable Roman aristocrats were admitted in private audience and, humming some well-known tune, slithered over the Vatican marble to demonstrate the dance to His holiness.
As the couple danced. the New York Times reported it's the paper with all the news that's fit to print" — the Pope's brow furrowed and he looked stupefied. "Is that the tango?" he asked.
"Yes, Your Holiness."
"Well, my children, you cannot find it very amusing. If the tango were made a penance it would be looked upon as sheer cruelty." Reporters really got their stories in those days.
The Pope who came from the Venice area, suggested that they take up instead a lively Venetian dance called the furlana. They said they did not know it.
The New York Times wrote that the Pope "was itching to demonstrate the steps himself, but repressed his desire and rang for a Venetian servant and told him to show the aristos how to dance the furlana.
This dance became known as the Pope's dance and even some anti-clerical politicians were seen to practise it.
The Church was a good deal stricter about dancing at the turn of the century. The Irish clergy used to regard anything but the traditional jig as the first steps to hell. In 1912, the Catholic Encyclopaedia. published in the United States, had this to say: "Round dances, although they may possibly be carried on with decorum and modesty, are regarded by moralists as fraught by their very nature with the greatest danger to morals.
"To them perhaps, but unquestionably still more obviously to masked balls, should be applied the warning of the second Council of Baltimore against 'those fashionable dances which, as at present carried out, are revoking to every feeling of delicacy and propriety."
I thought such strictures were only directed at the lower classes. After all, Queen Victoria used to dance charmingly when young. And it is hard to go really wrong when you are wearing a mask. The furlarta must have been a very sedate dance to win such approval.
A bishop on your side!
BISHOPS come in all sizes and shapes. There are roly-poly bishops and bony bishops and cross bishops and gently dotty bishops and princely bishops and saintly bishops and rather ordinary bishops because someone high up (inspired of Course by the Holy Spirit) thought it was their turn.
I have a passion for making lists. although you have to stop somewhere. But there are very few football-playing bishops, and although Cardinal Hume was probably once a demon in the serum (or is it now called the ruck?) he now sticks to the game of squash,
The other day they ordained a bishop in Malaysia and the Catholic Herald published a row of the smilingest bishops in the nost top-heavy mitres I can remember.
I think they were all Chinese or thereabouts, since Malays tend to be Moslems and utterly committed. But, when allowed and when informed, the Chinese make superb Christians of the most sensible and practical sort.
After the ordination, in the town of Miri in Sarawak, they held a football match. Our picture shows on the left the Bishop Anthony Lee Khok Hin of Sarawak. And that, if your memory is, like mine, a thin rapier which breaks at the first contact with a fact, was the place where they had a White Rajah called Brooke. It worked very well, but the old Colonial Office thought it the equivalent of the Last Gospel and abolished it. And there used to be a claimant for ever wandering around Singapore button-holing anyone who would listen to his tale of the lost inheritance. The player on the right is Bishop Simon Fung of Sabah, After the ordination the clergy played and overwhelmed their congregation in an 8 to 2 avalanche of goals. The Miri laymen could not contain their agile Bishop, who scored three of t he goals. "I warned them before the game," said a jubilant Bishop Lee," that I would need guarding, but they did not take me seriously," Perhaps you cannot really charge a bishop, even in shorts, Some of the players were from the older clergy, and as the game went on the pace began to tell on them. Some of them shed their hoots and played, Malay style, in their hare feet. The Mill Hill Fathers seem to have left more than an indigenous episcopate in that part of t he world.
Pittances for priests
I READ the other day that the Anglicans and Methodists are getting more recruits for their ministries. They tend, as does the Catholic Church, to find that more and more they are mature men who have made some way in the world, but are ready to make financial sacrifices to serve that world and its God.
And certainly the average parson gives the impression of living in respectably straightened circumstances. Lucky the incumbent with a wife who can go out to work? Even their bishops seem to rattle around in their palaces as if they longed for something smaller and cosier, .Fhe Catholics face the problem in a very different way. And probably far too much of their priests' time has to he spent worrying about money. The laity is only just beginning to realise that inflation affects institutions of divine origin as well as gentlemen's clubs. The system varies from place to place. In our diocese, the priest lives off the parish, which may pay his expenses. He has to raise a car himself. He gets the extraordinary salary of £208 a year. There is only one alleviation, The collections at. Christmas and at Easter — go into the priest's pocket. It is a custom that many Catholics have fogotten and many priests think too crass to mention. It used to he a time of heaped-up. collection plates when 1 was young. They seem less brimming now than they used to be, It is none the less an excellent custom. It provides a parish priest with money for clothes and a holiday. The amount varies wildly from parish to parish, and is best left so. And centralisation, any rationalisation with a central fund would remove the very personal element in this giving.
Those of the laity who remember are usually generous. But the result of this sporadic generosity would appal a fireman. However, it is not subject to the 10 per cent wage freeze!
Benedictines' gentle bees
MIDNIGHT MASS this year on television is to come from Buckfast Abbey. Although it is not the largest Benedictine community in the kingdom, it is probably top of the Stately Abbey league. All summer it is crowded with tourists. It is on the site of an old Cistercian house which was used as a convenient quarry after its suppression in 1539. What was left of its walls were pulled down in the 19th century and used to build a rather nasty Gothic mansion.
French Benedictine monks, exiled from France with all the other orders, came here in 1882. They found the old foundations in good order.
They started to build a great church in 1906 and went on building without a break until 1938. What caught the imagination of England was that they built it themselves, one of the monks being a proper mason.
Buckfast was always in the news, Pictures of monks in aprons setting stones were always good for a feature in a magazine or Sunday paper.
It really was a remarkable achievement and they produced a very creditable and romantic copy of a medieval abbey which they managed to furnish sumptuously, Then there was that Buckfast Tonic Wine which was and is French imported wine with secret added ingredients. For a time it was almost an act of merit to get sloshed on it. It still sells well, Then there were the bees. One of the monks became a world famous apiarist who makes and sells delicious honey. More than that, he developed a special Buckfast strain of bees with gentle, Benedictine tendencies. They don't sting much. And it has a school and art shops and is altogether as busy as its own bees.
It joined the English Congregation of Benedictines in 1902. The order is divided into at least 22 congregations and the English claim to be the one with the oldest unbroken lineage. (They were reduced to one monk in a prison at one time.) They claim their foundation in 1300, but allow precedence to the Abbey of Monte Casino, because that was St Benedict's house, That got sacked so often that it now claims its foundation in 1408.
They now have 10 abbeys and one priory and three dependent houses and 514 monks in all. There are also 316 Benedictine nuns in England, which surprised me.
The monks have an elegant hood to their habit which must be maddening to wear since it has long lappets down the front, like floppy ears, which have to be frequently rearranged. In a high wind they can be tied under the chin.
There are 10,324 assorted Benedictine monks in Christendom. Pluscarden Abbey in Elgin, Scotland, is restoring a medieval church and looks very splendid and uncomfortable.
A lot of monks run parishes, and if you would like to know a great deal more about this remarkable group of men and women, why not write to the Editor of the Benedictine Year hook at St Mary's Priory, Leyland, Preston'?
It'll cost you 45p with postage and is positively entertaining as well as being encouraging about the slightly concealed resources of the Church in this kingdom. It also covers the Anglican loondations, of which there seem to he five.
Marriage in the air
I DID not know that Catholics •
did such things. One has heard
of such goings-on among the more fringey Protestant sects in the United States. People get married in the gondolas of balloons, under water, in zoo cages, in television studios, though never yet — as far as 1 know — in a mortuary.
One liked to think that Catholics did not feel much inclined to such vulgarities. We got married, all of us got married, in the parish of our wife's family,
The wife's family paid for the nosh-up and the groom's lot paid for the ceremony, the organist. the choir, the little something for the priest, the pocket money for the altar boys, the candles, the flowers, the honeymoon and all the rest of life.
But I read that in Germany the Bishop of Limburg gave leave for a stewardess and an aeroplane pilot to be married by a Catholic Priest during a flight, They told him they wanted to be married in a Catholic ceremony that would be significant for them for the rest of their lives.
Though why anyone should want to go up in an aeroplane who does not absolutely have to is more than I can imagine. I am firmly of the conviction that if God had intended us to fly he would have given us wings.
Anyway the chaplain at Frankfort airport agreed, though he is not an enthusiast for unusual marriage ceremonies. But he asked the bishop and the bishop said yes. The airport is set in Bishop Kempf's diocese. He did say that the plane had to be within the boundaries of his diocese during the ceremony otherwise it would hccome illicit or something because the madcap couple would be out of his jurisdiction. "During the actual ceremony", the priest said, "we made sure to circle the cathedral in Limburg". And serve the bishop right.
IT IS NOT ONLY the Roman Church that has had its liturgical disputes, Bit by bit the Anglican Church has been changing their Order of Holy Communion.
I am not qualified to write of its theological orthodoxy though it appears to be moving in the direction of our Missa Normative. This gentle Romanising has been going on for sometime with more and more of their priests in chasubles and reversed altars. It may of course be the influence of the Holy Spirit rather than any conscious act of imitation.
But a well-aired disput is taking place about the translation of the "Our Father". We left ours severely alone.
The prayer is so well known, so automatic, so redolent of experience and good childhood habits that it would require some overwhelming argument to change it. Also I think a translation that is both clear and elegant is impossible.
But the Anglicans, in a version of their service called Series Three, put Forward the possibility of this version: Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name, Your Kingdom come,
Your will he done, on earth as in Heaven,
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, Do not bring us to the time of trial but deliver us from evil.
For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.
I confess it does not say anything extra for me. But there was a charming letter the other day in The Times. A mother had been teaching her child the traditional version.
The child appeared to listen with delight and then said: "now say it in English!" I don't know whether this was a case of Out of the Mouths of Babes or an odious child being difficult.
Fines for oaths
The Catholic Press Bureau of Warsaw, which is in close relations with the Polish episcopate, has begun a campaign against oaths. Swearing has become so widespread that it is intended to check it. It has been checked