WHAT a sensational week it has been at London's Festival Hall. Not only an unprecedented presentation of the entire Beethoven cycle but also, in the foyer, an eyepopping exhibition starring Captain Pugwash, created by our own our very own John Ryan.
How proud we are that some of John's well deserved fame should rub off on the Catholic Herald. No wonder our sales and profits are soaring!
Concurrently with John Ryan's, another unusually interesting exhibition made its appearance during the week in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral (entrance inside main door near the gift shop.) It is one of the most ambitious exhibitions yet mounted by the Society of Catholic Artists and you can probably imagine my amazement when I was asked to open it on Wednesday last.
I can imagine few people less deserving of the honour even though I have long been a fervent admirer of this very special, attractive and successful society and friendly with many of its distinguished members, not least its president for some years now, the wonderful Miss Moira Forsyth. (Forgive al I t he superlatives! I fear, in this case, nothing else will do.)
This particular exhibition, being limited to religious art, has attracted entries from only about 50 of the Society's 150 active members.
No less than 100 works are on show and though mostly paintings they also include etchings, metal work, sculpture, architectural photographs. vestments and even some very striking ikons. The exhibition will be open every day until April 28 except April 25 which is the day of the flower festival at the Cathedral.
These crafty Catholics
IT WAS in 1929 that an enterprising group of British Catholic artists got together to stage an Arts and Crafts Exhibition to help celebrate the centenary of Catholic Emancipation.
From this sprang the Society (originally "Guild") of Catholic Artists. I was first introduced to the society's activities by such valued friends of yesteryear as Arthur Pollen and Simon Elwes.
They were among the long list of glittering names that graced the society's membership over the decades.
They included Graham Sutherland. Glyn Philpot. Eric Gill. Dunstan Pruden. W. L. Griggs, Edward Ardizzone. F. X. Verlarde, David Jones. Philip Le Pas, Patrick Rentiens . . Oh, gosh, one could go on for ever and still leave out some vital names.
Difficult, however, not to give special mention to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. 1 he astonishing man who at 22, in 1902, was the successful competitor to design the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.
He later became a Catholic and rang dazzling changes with his versatility in both church and other. very different kinds of, architecture from the first "new'' buildings at Ampleforth to Battersea power station and Waterloo Bridge.
Among others alas no longer with us is Philip Lindsey Clark, though his son Michael inherited his father's prodigious talent for sculpture. Philip was a dashing and remarkable character of the interwar years whose work started appearing in the early twenties both at the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon.
He fought through both wars and designed several outstanding memorials.
My own favourite is the St Saviour's war memorial which appears so unexpectedly but effectively in Southwark's Borough High Street.
Philip Clark attended the first ever general meeting of the SCA and shortly afterwards executed the bronze bust shown here of Cardinal Bourne, the Guild's first patron.
Each succeeding Archbishop of Westminster has been the Society's principal patron and Cardinal Heenan told its members, as soon as the Vatican Council was over, that their talents would be more in demand than ever in order to give artistic expression to the coming liturgical changes.
Come, if you can, and see for yourself some good examples of the fruit of that continuing "joint enterprise." as the Cardinal put it, "of all who love the beauty of God's house."
AS, by now, everyone knows, Fr Patrick Barry is the new Abbot of Ampleforth. Far and wide have been the cries of rejoicing.
A few days after the election I happened to receive a visit from one of the monks who took part in it.
His account was most enlightening as to a procedure of whose details I had had to confess my ignorance. It also revealed a most pleasing lack of any kind of discord or evidence of pre-existent factionalism. It was, in fact, said my informant, "far less political" than the average papal conclave.
What happens, apparently, is that all the members of the community about a hundred in this case come together to discuss, for a day, the merits of the various "candidates". (Those unable to be present may vote by proxy.) Discussion is completely open and the current Abbot is the only person who absents himself from the gathering.
Twenty names were discussed end after a long day, the monks went to bed to sleep on their deliberations.
After next morning's Mass of the Holy Spirit they proceeded to the vote.
"What happens if there is a tie?" I asked. To such cases, the most senior of the two men is elected. If they are of equal seniority, the older man wins. If, by some amazing coincidence, they are both exactly the same age, then, and then only, there has to be a tie-breaker.
It seems this actually happened once in a Benedictine monastery in France.
The election of Fr Patrick Barry was an overwhelming popular triumph.
One of his first actions was to appoint the outgoing Abbot. Fr Ambrose Griffiths. to what is possibly the highest honour that can be conferred on any English Benedictine, namely the (titular) Abbacy of Westminster.
How on earth, one may well ask, can any such title survive? It does so in order to preserve a living link with the ancient Benedictine Abbey of Westminster which was restored by Mary Tudor.
It was lost again under Elizabeth but not completely. In 1607 one monk from this PreReformation English Benedictine Congregation still survived.
Two young English monks of the Cassinese Congregation teamed up with this survivor, Dom Siegbert Buckley, and they in turn. joined up with other English monks exiled in France.
The exiled trained for work on the English Mission and the line had remained unbroken right back to St Augustine by the time, in the nineteenth century, Benedictine monasteries were once again established in England. The latter country had now changed places with France whither after the Revolution, such monks were expelled.
Many found their home in that same England from which they before. Westminsterthree hundred years Westminster Abbey was. of course, the venue for the historic singing of vespers by Anglican and Catholic Benedictines from all over the country on the evening following the instalment of former Ampleforth Abbot Basil Hume, as Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in 1976.
The Cardinal, by the way, was not entitled to vote in the election of the new Abbot of Ampleforth. It appears that when the member of a Benedictine community becomes a Bishop he remains a monk but no longer the member of a specific congregation.
It would indeed be strange were the Cardinal to remain under obedience to the Abbot of Ampleforth.
In an Orwellian situation of church anarchy, just imagine what could happen if he were. The Abbot could then depose the Cardinal and put someone else in his place.
Such attempts were made in Spain and France in the fourteenth century, so one Benedictine monk once told me. But never, he piously added in England!
'Oh happy day'
SOMEWHAT to counterbalance the sadness over the death of Fr Karl Rahner, it is comforting to record that the eminent Jesuit's almost exact (Dominican) contemporary, Fr Yves Congar, is still alive and active. In fact he was 80 last week.
Had it not been for John XXIII, however, comparatively few people would even know his name. For his extremely mild views in a "progressive" direction as a seminary lecturer in the fifties. he was silenced by the authorities.
He went into "exile" and obscurity in Jerusalem and there was a ban on all his writings. His "crimes" included advocacy of such things as ecumenism, structural reform in the Church, greater lay participation and a more human approach to what had previously been considered purely legalistic and abstract problems.
John XXIII called him out of exile to become a member of one of the more important preparatory commissions for the Vatican Council, So swiftly have some developments sped ahead that some of today's French Dominican progressives think of the once banned Fr Congar as a reactionary.