GREETINGS from Illinois. Were it not out of place to write here about happenings in Britain, I would devote the whole column to Mother Thornton's departure from the Hampstead Cenacle.
There she had sat at the receipt of custom for thirty three years. Neither the A.A. batteries on Hampstead Heath nor a land mine near the Convent could shift her from her cubbyhole. Over the years, an endless procession of priests, nuns, retreatants, converts and crackpots drew courage from her ,sanity.
She saw the start of the Catholic Missionary Society in its modern form. of the Catholic Enquiry Centre and of the Cell Movement and while other, often smaller people, took all the credit, Mother Thornton was the common and hidden factor in other peoples' efforts and success.
Happily she is well and available at Grayshot for the hundreds who will always need her help. Were I in England, I would be winging my way in my minivan to Haslemere. With her departure, London, even at this distance seems a far less attractive place.
THE AGE of the recorded retreat, the canned conference, the taped ecstasy is fast approaching in the United States. Thus, I sat in agony. last Friday, trying to spot and eliminate the gaffes and asides in the previous week end retreat.
One speaks for two days without notes to sixty sturdy retreatants only to find that what was spontaneous in the chapel sounds old and corny in the studio. Americans like it this way and they may be right.
The Argus Press of Chicago, after research on the subject, finds that the spontaneous discourse, though light on verbs and mixed in metaphor, is preferable to the more carefully studied text.
Today, in the States, you may buy ten reels for $8 and the choice of topics is bewildering. Thus, the Liturgical Week, 1965, is now on tape. A summer school for nuns was held in Wisconsin and all the lectures and discussions are available. I see listed in the catalogue a "Do It Yourself Retreat". A conference and discussion at Fordham on Pere Teilhard de Chardin is selling well.
Who buys these tapes? First of all the nuns, all the world over and a number of parishes busily building up a library of tapes. Who listens to canned spirituality such as this?
A commercial traveller, weary of chamber music on the radio, showed me the recorder in his car. He does his spiritual listening as he drives from place to place. I met a baby-sitter who seemed enthusiastic and a mother who switched on Scriptural readings on washing day.
Now back to the studio to tell you how 1 spotted a spoonerism in the nick of time. I had said in my week end retreat, now duly recorded, that Christ allowed the sinful woman to dry his hair with her feet.
ONE MUST in fairness report that the Catholics of Detroit and Chicago take the new liturgy very seriously. Almost every church and chapel now has its altar facing the people, an altar simply and admirably designed. The six brass candlesticks have vanished from the Eucharistic altar and new ones, elegant and slender, stand on the ground. New altar cards have appeared along the front of the sacrificial altar, well printed and slightly raised. A new-style ciborium was in use at Detroit, Mercy College; a large gilt vessel like a saucepan, with a handle and no stem.
I met a priest yesterday who has permission to read his own selection of passages from Scripture for forty minutes in place of the breviary. Concelebration is now common and at it, seminary students, nuns and brothers receive Communion daily under two kinds.
In every place where I have said Mass, communicants receive Communion standing and many carry hymn-cards and sing as they advance. In each Chicago parish, lectors and masters of ceremonies are being trained.
In one place, a girl read the epistle from what we used to call the sanctuary. it was explained to me with what authority know not God knoweth—that communion rails have had it and that the sanctuary starts at the altar steps.
How far these and other reforms can claim canonical approval, I did not pause to ask. The American Catholics, whom I have met, are devout, conservative and placid; they give a liturgical shrug of the shoulder and co-operate when asked.
The storm over Fr. De Pauw is dying; in the first instant it was less concerned with his liturgical opinions, more with the vexed question of liberty. On February 14, the Catholic repositories here introduced a new and frightening exhibit, the liturgical Valentine.
A VISITOR, so much in love with this fascinating country, knows that generalisations are often unfair. Yet I notice after seven years, a strange hesitancy among American Catholics, hidden at first behind an impressive facade.
The fate of many Catholic colleges, universities and schools lies in the balance as much and more than it does at home. In one university there are 17,000 students, not all of them Catholics but paying twice as much for tuition as they would in a State University.
The faculty divides up into forty priests and some three hundred lay professors, not all of whom are Catholic. Of the Catholic students that I have met, a great many have doubts about their faith.
These doubts though sincere seem to stem from non-theological reasons, chiefly from a fear that at a Catholic University there is a party line and one may not think for oneself. As in some English training Colleges, the annual retreat if attempted, proves a farce. In one college. out of several thousand students, two hundred at most turn up for midday Mass.
This restlessness is found mainly at college level but experienced lay catechists assure me that they find it tough going in some of the parish schools. When the English Jesuits announced the closing of Beaumont College, they were, perhaps, not behind the times.
Anyhow such observations as these, though honest, are subjective; American Catholics are well aware of the headaches • ahead.
Ahead for me are five more retreats in Chicago, a three-day visit to St. Louis, five TV programmes, St. Patrick's night dinner and the train to Vancouver in Holy Week. A cartoon in a Chicago paper shows the devil regretting that sin is now out of fashion; free will is no longer practised and everything is either In or Out.