ABOUT a dozen or so years ago I was taken to a rather fantastic party in New York, whose purpose was to entice the guests to part with as much money as possible in order to back a show on Broadway. It was a musical play written by the man who. as Mrs. Miniver's son, had first come into prominence in that famous wartime film of which, of course, I have only the dimmest recollection! The intended musical's author was also our host, and lavish indeed was the entertainment.
In one of those sumptuous "apartments" in Manhattan's East Seventies that are not to be found even on film sets, the "treatment" was administered to the willing patients. Fast-acting local anaesthetics were available in the form of sledgehammer High Balls and block-buster Dry Martinis. But it was only when the various "stinks in minks" and their broader-titan-long, cigarchewing escorts wore, with the onrush of the champagne, under general sedation, that the sales talk began.
Our author-host went through the musical scene by scene and his eloquence in extolling its sure-fire ingredients as box-office dynamite were only surpassed by his persuasive tones when informing everyone how much money they must on no account lose the opportunity of making.
In one of the scenes, set I think in a Spanish garden. a blushing maiden, in plaintive and touching Lyrics, pours out the worries concerning her love for a young buck in front of a statue of Our Lady. She is terrified of getting pregnant but seemingly unwilling
to resist the pre-marital advances of her intended. She thus prays that as Mary "conceived without sinning," couldn't she, the blushing maiden, he enabled. at least for a little while, to "sin without conceiving?"
Those of the "audience" who were not already in what Mrs. Patrick Campbell used to call a "semi-recumbent position" fell about the place with ecstasy and delight. What a superb lyric! What a helluva, goddarn-good guy this was anyway! Unsteady hands stopped fingering slender necks, and began fumbling about with cheque books. Not even a slurred whimper of objection.
I wrote and thanked my host for the champagne supplied by the "angels" he had obviously already collected, and told him that I was apprehensive on his behalf if, by chance, the show ever were produced on Broadway. I hoped he wouldn't mind my presuming to point out that those who were not in fact shocked by what they might call blasphemy might, at the very least, laugh at his unfortunate lack of familiarity over a certain firmly established belief about Our Lady as held by all Catholics. The show might even suffer as a result.
I did not expect a reply to my unhelpful and busybodyish letter, and in due course the show had its first night on Broadway. Thereafter it enjoyed a run of record-breaking brevity. And that was the end of that.
I allude to this rather bizarre incident for reasons which will be fairly obvious, this being the feast of the ;Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. But as practically everyone outside the Church, and a surprisingly large amount of its actual members who should know better, misunderstand the feast in the same way, would there be, after all these years. a case for changing its name'? To something, perhaps, like the Feast of the Eternal Motherhood of Our Lady?
I'm sure other can suggest much better alternatives; but the whole history of the feast and its attendant theology is so fasciaating and so important that one can't help feeling that sufficient clarification of its name had never really been attempted.
Apart from which, there is surely no feast in the Church's liturgical calendar which more directly impinges on the present agonising question of abortion. If some of our more childish liturgical images have now given way to something more solidly symbolic. we have all the more reason, it would seem, in aid of all those on whom the abortion problem casts its shadow, to invoke the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
* * * The bulk of "letters to the editor" gets bigger all the time, and I can only apologise to those whose excellent letters do not see the light of print. But apologies too to Fr. Dermot McCormick of South Woodford whose letter last week about Ireland was not intended for publication at all. Such inadvertencies unfortunately occur from time to time. I much regret the embarrassment he naturally suffered when his private views became public property.