Page 8, 30th December 1977

30th December 1977
Page 8
Page 8, 30th December 1977 — A genial and joyful occasion

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A genial and joyful occasion

0 Donovan Patrick

Continued from page I is now dedicated to Our Lady and St Philip Howard.

Philip Howard. by the way, was a glittering courtier in the glittering court of Elizabeth Tudor. If there had been any gossip columns at the time, he would have been in all of them ad nauseam.

But he became a Catholic, perhaps as a result of listening to the disputations of the wellracked Edmund Campion with Protestant divines, and he spent I I years in the Tower of London and died at the age of 39 of malnutrition or poison.

James I let his widow collect his bones from the Tower chapel of St Peter ad Vincula and bury them in the family chapel at Arundel.

It really is a splendid cathedral, with rich red hangings and no sign of the necessary parsimony that goes with most Catholic Gothic Revival churches. It also has a painted crucifix slung in an archway beyond the high altar, it is a good copy of the one that is said to have spoken to St Francis at Assisi.

think this way of suspending the crucifix high in the air, dominating and yet not cluttering, is the best solution to the setting of the Cross for the new liturgy.

It is a rich and splendid and prayerful church, and it is greatly loved as Michael Bowen, the previous Bishop, now at Southwark, found when he asked for £300,000 to stop it falling down and got a good deal more than he asked for.

IT WAS in this setting that Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was ordained to the fullness of the priesthood, mitred and enchaired well, the other day. Arundel Cathedral was crowded to whatever are the equivalent of a cathedral's gills.

These ordinations of bishops are changing subtly. They are becoming not more splendid but more joyous. And Charterhouse knows, since more and more new bishops feel insecure about the Apostolic Succession unless Charterhouse were there!

There was a relaxed procession of clergy. There were more beards than Cardinal Heenan would have wished. The congregation frankly turned inwards and looked for friends: all very genial. A rather disapproving Franciscan waved at me.

There were a large number of Separated Brethren looking at their new ease in all this unbashful Romanism. There was the Cardinal. Did you know his scarlet is made of wool and not moird silk?

There was the Apostolic Delegate in the proper silk. There was Cormac and there was a raft of bishops and the three consecrators from Southwark, Birmingham and Portsmouth. And the people really sang. The cathedral has a welleducated choir and a brilliant and unobtrusive electronic sound system. But the first surprise was when the people said the Confiteor (in English) and the roar of contrition was almost menacing.

There was a reading by the new bishop's sister. And, in the second lesson, the Duke of Norfolk issued some orders from Paul to Timothy. He is a proper Major-General (the Duke, not Paul) and for a time in the war he was my company commander and treasures the memory of my military absurdity which is sad, as I thought I was a creative and original sort of soldier.

The actual rite of the ordination which comes at the end of the Liturgy of the Word is rather like a coronation. in fact it is very like a coronation, and no one likes exactly to define what the anointing and crowning of a Catholic king entails.

There was a good tailor-made litany, intoned by two young clerics. Why do they put in Ignatius of Antioch? Who was he? He keeps coming in nowadays. He is not in paperback.

But there were more familiar names like Fisher, More, Sherwin, Howard, Southwell, Southworth, Garnet, Richard, Wilfred, Dunstan. It began to sound like a school roll-call.

And then there is that curious business when the open book of the Gospels is laid on the or

dinand's head. There is the mandate from the Holy See. It was read by the Chancellor of the diocese, and at least it began in Latin.

The Latin for Brighton is a fearful thing to hear and a worse thing to say. The Chancellor managed it like a scholar and a gentleman.

The kneeling bishop is given the precious trinkets of his office a ring, a pectoral cross, a skull-cap, a mitre and a crozier. These were brought up like presents by lay people and priests. And then Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said the Mass.

Derek Worlock of Liverpool preached the sermon of literary elegance. That will make him cross, but it was also the good stuff. I'll take a couple of paragraphs.

lie said this: "In sonic ways, the bishop must be a prophet. This does not mean that he is an astrologer, guessing at the future and hedging his bets with episcopal immunity. Rather must he be a man of vision, interpreting God's will and pointing the way forward with humble confidence, giving sure direction to that destination which is Christ. So he must he a man at all times, sensitive to contemporary pressures but seeing everything against the all-encompassing if distant back-drop of eternal life.

"As a prophet he may sometimes have to walk alone, ahead of his flock, the better to see the path which must he followed. But he must never lose sight of the members of his flock, his priests and people, or let them lose sight of him. Though he will learn how far to let them waader without straying, he must strive always to he in their midst as Christ the Good Shepherd, and will make sure that -his pastoral contact with them is as real and frequent as may be."

He also said that the name of Cormac meant in Irish "Son of a charioteer". He wished him a long mileage. I run on about all this because we are a sacramental community and because I have a doubtless debased taste for ceremonies as expressing conceptions and facts that even I cannot put into words. The occasion was this strange day of prayer and drama and symbolism and terrible reality. When the bishops set Cormac on his seat at the end of the apse, everyone broke out clapin When they prepared for the Liturgy of the Eucharist there were so many priests and bishops that they laid out the bare-topped altar with so many chalices, ceboria and dishes that it looked like the preparation for a banquet. Which, give or take a fundamental row about the meaning of the Mass, it was.

At the end, Bishop Cormac he already sounds like a Celtic bishop dead these 1,500 years buried under a defaced slab in a ruined choir and being incessantly rained upon and the Irish Government not taking any trouble about its preservation. At the end he came to the front of the altar to say a few words and to bless.

The people broke into wild applause. And he stood there and laughed and held out his arms in a way unforgiveable in a politician and new to the priesthood, and it was humble and self-deprecating.

And then he had to put his mitre on himself. This is not an easy thing because you have to flick those imperial lappets over the hack. (At Arnpleforth once, a novice put the mitre on back to front. Goodness, how cross Fr Abbot was as he glared between the hanging bands.)

But Bishop Cormac flipped his mitre on not quite professionally. And then grinned at the people as if to say: "Didn't think I could do it, did you?". Not many comedians get

such a roar of affectionate laughter. The whole thing was reverent and loving and tense and cathartic.

Attraction of a Midnight Mass

THERE is no really convincing explanation for the perennial attraction of a Midnight Mass. I am not objecting, but I could think of several objections.

First there is the time of ita time when hard-working Christians arc either in bed or meditating industrial action on the night-shift. Also there can he no excessive rejoicing in the hours that precede it!

Then it goes on a long time. Most of them are now preceded by an illiturgical assortment of readings and carols copied, 1 believe, from the service invented after the First World War at King's College, Cambridge.

Then there is the undoubted fact that some priests preach at an unconscionable length because they are certain of a number of nominal Catholics who would only he seen dead in church for the rest of the year.

I once heard a 45-minute sermon at Midnight Mass and the poor man was desperately trying to fit a year's instruction into one Mass.

Yet still the delight persists. There is no particular theological or liturgical excuse for it. True, it is unusual, but then and far more dramatically so are Good Friday and the Vigil of Easter.

have a feeling that there is something almost pagan in this midnight worship. It certainly appeals more to that vague Anglo-Saxon civilisation, and we all know how atavistic and sentimental they are.

And in our church we had the biggest congregation 1 have ever seen there. They lined the walls of our arena church, standing. They were in the porch. There were all manner of Christians there, and some of them would normally be embarrassed to he described as such. We are not normally a dressy congregation. In fact a lot of us would not be allowed into St Peter's as we are. In high summer some of us might almost be on our way to the beach. Indeed, ties on the men and hats on the women are as rare as saints.

And it is not done out of aggression or disrespect but because it is convenient, because there is something pharisaical about over-dressingup for church. As if God really cared! And anyway it comes quite naturally, and no one comments.

But for Midnight Mass, the sense of special occasion had taken over. There were even dinner jackets and evening dresses. And a great sense of community. But it was their numbers that astonished. There were far more than last year. They heaped up the collecting plates, They sang the carols. They listened to the halting plainsong of an ad hoc choir who had clearly had a hard time from the Benedictines somewhere.

They even sang the Gloria and Creed in Latin but, like veterans of the battle of the Somme, the numbers who know those canticles, I fear, grow fewer. I still cannot explain it, but I only hone Christmas was of' such a rare quality. The flowers were good, too!

What a pity Christmas cannot be on a Sunday every year. Don't be impatient of such a suggestion. The date is arbitrary anyway. And, goodness, it simplifies things for the priest and the people.

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