Page 12, 3rd December 1976

3rd December 1976
Page 12
Page 12, 3rd December 1976 — Quake interrupted Epiphany Collect

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Locations: Rome, Durham


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Quake interrupted Epiphany Collect

SIR HA ROLI) WILSON is singularly addicted to quoting himself"As I said on March 1 in the House of Commons" or words to that effect. It is not really an endearing habit in a politician. or for that matter ill a journalist. The producers of both of these sorts of people are meant to be evanescent.

But in a thing like this Churterhouse Chronicle I find it difficult, if not impossible, occasionally to refer back.

Sometime ago I wrote rather rudely about the old Roman collects which priests used to gabble (sorry, emotive word, recite) on arrival at the altar. I said something about their being banal or initiating. For this I was reproved by a gentleman who once struggled to teach me history.

And since I am not in rebellion against him, bear no grievance and know that he gave a great deal of joy to my youth and a little learning which would have been more had I been industrious, I wrote and apologised and withdrew my stric Mr C was a convert.

His first headmaster when he was a boy was the formidable person who became ,Dean Allington of Durham.

It appears that Dr Allington was once attending a service in the English Church in Florence when

an earthquake occurred in the mariner that they do Iron) time to lime abroad.

Church shook and swayed

As the building shook and swayed, the English chaplain's voice went forward unrelentingly. lie read the Collect: "0 God, who sccst us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright • .

It was the Fourth Sunday after Upiphany. It was Cranmer who inserted the word "always".

This is reasonably justified. both by the rhythm of the English prose and also far an honest man who had to try to follow the theological insights of Henry VIII, Edward VI and finally failed at the portal of Mary's super-orthodoxy.

The insertion of the word "always" into what was a translation of a Latin Collect has about it the taint of the Pelagian heresy, which in the fifth century was England's great and original contribution to heresy.

It taught that man could achieve II proper relationship with God unaided by the intervention of divine grace. He was also dicey about original sin.

It has always sounded to me a sturdy and independent, English sort of idea. Which fact does not make it right -especially as Pelagius, if he were from these islands. would have been a Celt.

He got a severe drubbing from that irascible and uncharitable old man in Bethlehem, St Jerome. I have a curious inability to remember the nature of heresies, and if I have got this one wrong, well, let it to go.

The man is long since dead and may not have been English anyway. And the English Church in Florence did not fall on Dean Allington.

Ecclesiastical major-general

SO the Archbishop of Malta has resigned at last. He appears to be 91 years old He is a small, indomitable and somewhat authoritarian man. But he is other things too. His proper title is Archbishop Major-General Sir Michael Gonzi, KBL, etc.

He is Knight Commander of the British Empire. He was never offered a Red Hat, but then no Maltese prelate, despite the overwhelming and enchanting Catholicism of the island, had ever been given one.

The great commander of the Knights Hospitallers who marvellously defended the island against the Turks in the greatest siege in history during the reign of Elizabeth Tudor was offered a Red Hat even though he was a layman.

It is true that this man, La Valette, was under oaths of chastity, but he refused the honour. To be Master of such an order was enough. Valetta, the capital of the island, is named after him. The knight who was his secretary, and the only Englishman to command during the siege, is buried beside him.

But Archbishop Gonzi was something more. He was a majorgeneral (unpaid) in the British Ar

my. To have this rank was a perquisite of the office. It arose out of the fact that the people of Malta helped and welcomed the British when Napoleon's French were persuaded to quit the island. They had taken it on their way to their conquest of Egypt. The Knights, that time, put up no resistance. They were infected with the new French ideas of liberty. equality and fraternity and an impatience of every sort of authority 1 he Sovereign Order was dissipated, but the British restored it to the island. The picture of George IV used to be put on a throne in the sanctuary of the Knights cathedral.

But. Malta being far away and not being Ireland, the British were genial to the Catholic Church there. 1 hey made the Archbishop a sort of perpetual major-general.

I remember at a vast parade for a visit of the Queen to the island, Archbishop Gonzi came just before the Governor-General, to await her arrival. As he arrived, in the fullest purple fig, he walked automatically to the front of the parade on the tarmac.

There was a bellow of "General Salute. present arms". He stood theca:, a tough, diminutive man, holding his biretta to his chest while the band played, I think, the first half of God Save the Queen, which is a General Officer's due.

Now that Malta is independent, his successor will not be a majorgeneral (unpaid), nor has the faintest chance of a knighthood. He is likely, however, to get a Red Hat, which after all, is almost as good.

In his day, Archbishop Gonzi was in effect a prince-bishop. He did not actually rule the island, but the British recognised the power of his See in a country where every little village seems to have a vast and domed baroque church rising proudly over its hovels.

There is an over-production of priests who have a tendency not to want to be missionaries, even in England. And lately, there has been sad discord within this noble but small enclave of the Universal Church.

Tussle with a suffragan

I was taken to lunch with the Archbishop the last tinie I was in Malta. lie lived in a palace among all the other palaces. It had huge rooms which opened one out of another. It had vaulted ceilings and a noble stairway and a great entrance hall behind fortress gates and acres of dark and doubtless edifying painting. Lest I he misunderstood and suggest that he was living in the sort of luxury that drives the modern priest up the wall, I must report that it was barely furnished, in some decay and that no one in their right mind would choose to live there. It simply went with the job.

The Archbishop has a dry wit and says what he thinks, which can be

strong enough to curl your hair. He has also an ally in the radical Prime Minister, Mr Mintoff.

Mr Mintoff has demanded of Rome the right to be consulted about the next appointment. The British exercise this right, hut this is thought to have passed away with the coming of independence. When I met him he was in the middle of a tremendous tussle with his suffragan bishop. Priests of the utmost holiness told me detailed stories that I could not possibly use. Basically the trouble seemed to have been about money. The suffragan bishop is now a papal diplomat.

The Church in Malta was fragmented financially. There were dozens of funds and charities and bits of property and a ceaseless building of vast churches.

In fact Rome does not have a good track record in Malta. It once excommunicated a British Governor for doing his constitutional duty in promulgating some British law about marriage or something. And he was Lord Strickland, who was as grandly. Catholic as they come and is now buried among the Archbishops in another Maltese cathedral,

Requiem for Fr D'Arcy

THEY buried Fr Martin D'Arcy from Farm Street Church early this week. Once again I felt that curious unbelief that the box held the mortal part of an old friend. The church was not crowded, but it was a pretty distinguished congregation as this world knows distinction. Cardinal Hume presided at the Mass.

The coffin was set on a catafalque and covered with a great black and gold pall. He would have liked that which I think is one of the silliest remarks you can make about death, though everyone uses it in a desperate attempt to make everything seem ordinary. It no

longer matters what he would have liked. His mind is on other things now.

Anyway, the Requiem went its fairly austere way. Fr Copleston of the Society of Jesus preached at length. Hymns which FlD'Arcy would not have much liked were sung. The Cardinal performed the ritual absolutions on the coffin with prayer, holy water and incense. And then his body was carried down the church and off to Kensal Green.

In a way I hate funerals. There are far too many of them. You can do as much for the dead by staying at home and having masses said or simply by remembering them in your prayers. They can be appalling when relations have to walk out behind a coffin containing a child or a parent or a spouse. And yet they have a purpose. Of course their chief purpose is prayer. But more and more nonCatholic funerals become secular and artistic celebrations with only an occasional nod in the direction of God. And even Catholic funerals have social overtones.

They are also acts of human courage. They are assertions by humanity that death is not unendurable. They assert the dignity of mortal man. Everyone in the church kno■vs that he too will be treated in much the same way some day. The easy thing wou\d he to treat the dead body as wastelnd hurry it away out of sight. The brave thing is Iii) treat it with the sort of honour that is seldom given to the living.

The pain is not assuaged, but it is changed and given dignity. The desire for such a treatment of what should be terrifying seems to exist in almost all cultures and religions.

The Catholic Requiem is still superb in its assertions and its acceptance of reality. When they took the coffiri away, they sang a hymn to St Ignatius that Fr D'Arcy had written himself. It was in Latin,

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