THE GLAMOUR OF THE FAITH As Told In Carol, Legend, Ritual, Poetry And Customs
BY W. J. BLYTON
REY and black and dull brown ought not to be the Christian's in tellectual wear. It never is or was, where the pulse of Catholic
ism beats healthily. " Earnest " and depressed heresies like Jansenism remain heresies after all; the people who object to beauty and colour in worship are not the lovers of " simplicity " they would fain suppose, but sophisticated—for all genuinely natural souls love music, rhyme, ceremonial and the marks of joy. Those timid persons who are afraid of " magic " in religion are afraid of life, which is full of magic, from gestation and birth to thought and feeling. We English—yes, even some of us who are Catholic—have the handicap of our reserved, selfconscious national character. That character was., several centuries ago, quite different. It was not afraid either of feeling or of showing it openly and gaily, in the vital matters of religion, love and daily life and behaviour. The reformation, the puritan oppression, the industrial revolution, the reign of Gradgrind and the prude, drove us within ourselves. And so the typical Englishman—in the amused foreigner's eyes—became a " stick," jealous of showing a tear, an emotion, or a festal mood. Yet these things do break through, despite ourselves, either in privacy or on set secular occasions, such as a cup tie, a Coronation, an outbreak of war, a political meeting, or a Royal wedding.
But in religion—there we are supposed to keep a stiff upper lip. Quite a big number of Britons are still suspicious of anything lyrical and joyous—a procession, genuflexion. palms, lights, badges, banners, and so forth.,
And yet, the moment you grant the stupendous fact of Christianity to be true, such reactions become absolutely right, natural and inevitable. And wooden be, haviour in face of it becomes unnatural and churlish.
Atrophy More than that: it is a law of psychology that if you deny and repress expressions of emotion.the emotion itself soon dwindles and vanishes. And that is just what we would expect, and just what we see. Bit by bit the remnants of belief have actually been lost among those communities where the Church's wise tradition of happiness, ritual and full expression have been frowned on. That very realist intellectual poet Browning felt this when he spoke, in his Englishman in Italy, of the delight of the People of their Faith— Woke up and come out now.
And down let us go And see The fine things got in order At Church for the show Of the Sacrament, set forth this evening, To-morrow's the Feast Of the Rosary's Virgin, by no means Of Virgins the least.
As you'll hear in the eloquent discourse Which (all nature, no art), The Dominican brother, these three weeks, Was getting by heart. • He describes the brightly decorated churches—homes of the people, the altars ablaze " glorious to behold - And fiddlers and fifers and drummers And trumpeters bold.
Not afraid of Bellini nor Auber, Who, when the priest's hoarse,
Will strike us up something that's brisk
For the feast's second course.
And then the Image of our Queen is carried in pomp: Ali round the glad church lie the bottles With gunpowder stopped, Which will be, when the Image re-enters, Religiously popped; And at night front the crest of Calvano Great bonfires will hang.
On the plain the trumpets join chorus, And more fireworks bang.
We solemn English will do that sort of thing for an aviator, a movie star, a returned general, or admiral, or a prince. But some people will do it for the love of Our Lord or Our Lady. That is the only difference. Nobody is such a ritual lover as the Briton—outside religion!
A great Jewish novelist not long ago told mc he was going to the south of France.
Then look in on Lourdes," I said. He did. He sent me an enthusiastic letter,' saying it had swept him off his feet. " Behold me," he wrote, " walking for hours in the processions with a great lighted candle under the starlight. 1 say! what a Faith the Catholic Faith is. But I wager you don't do this sort of thing anywhere in England." To this, I retorted: "Try the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes any February in Westminster Cathedral. It's a big thing—for the English." He did this too; and, while it wasn't exactly Lourdes, it made him forget Bayswater and Victoria, and the daily ordinariness of London.
The Germans have just as much right as we to call themselves sober and phlegmatic. Yet I know nothing more moving than the Corpus Christi processions one could see until recently in Cologne and the Rhineland. Where belief is genuine, it must be out of action. There is not much to be said for the faith that is kept a profound inner secret—any more than for the human love that won't tell the loved one. Such a faith and such a love are not going to prosper.
The great waves of applause that break out in St. Peter's as the Pope is carried round among the faithful not only express a loyal devotion that already exists, but increase it by expressing it. The processions in our parish churches by giving the people the opportunity to witness visibly their Faith. actually strengthen that Faith in them. It is not healthy that people should merely sit and passively absorb sermons, as is too often the case outside the Church. It is a one-sided life, without expression or activity. Singing indeed is one outlet; and. truth to tell, some of our Protestant •brethree do this really well—they are an example to a few unsongful congregations of ours, But hymns are a very incomplete channel of worship. Movement and pageant and participation are essential.
The Church is divinely wise and human in having her pictures, stations of the cross, images, symbols, festal lights, and other mementoes, to speak continually to the eye of the mind and silently to address the deeper feelings. She invented the wordless sermon of the stained glass window, the carved west front, the figured altar. She is the Mother of the carol—that pure form of Christian folk-song; and who doesn't like to hear at Christmas time, " God rest ye, merry gentlemen." ring out in the grave interior of Westminster Cathedral?
Perhaps it is a fair criticism of many of us that we neglect our live and original Catholic poetry. Some daring, lovely things have been done in this line—from Caedmon many centuries ago to Coventry Patmore and living poets like Alfred Noyes.
They have the authentic familiar touch a touch that shocks the starched soul of Christian. They seize the amazing romance of the Faith. For after all, the religion of the Incarnation is a striking love-story or it is nothing. A marvellous happening calls for a marvelling attitude.
And you get it in the primitive hymns— and in the best of later Catholic verse. The note of ecstacy and lyricism is indispensable here—
When into the woods my Master went, Clean forspent, Forspent with sin and shame,
The olive trees they were kind to him, The little leaves had a mind to him, When into the woods He went—
That is the note of thrilling intimacy which is meant, the note of passion. It is overheard also in the amazing little gem, found in the monastery of St. Gall by an Irish monk centuries ago:— High trees close me round, Far from the ground the blackbird sings; Trilling, it chants its lay Above my well-lined book to-day.
In its soft veil of grey 7/me wayward cuckoo calls aloud; Within my wall of green My God shrouds me, all unseen.
It is in The Burning Babe of Robert Southwell, too, the martyr Jesuit. It is like the red blast of trumpets throughout Richard Crashaw's tribute to Saint Teresa, or his soaring ode on the Assumption. Of course, that same spirit is felt innumerable times in Dante's Divine Comedy. The Faith of the Church imparts to the poem its own awe, exultation and solemnity: his journey begins under the Easter moon of the year of jubilee, on the evening of Good
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