Mass during the pandemic has generally been more old than new rite, extraordinary rather than ordinary. It turns out that many modern habits are rather dangerous. This includes communion in both kinds: receiving the Precious Blood is both unnecessary and a good way to spread germs; congregational singing, which the Methodists are much better at anyway, sends infection all over the church, while the laity muscling in on activities that rightly belong to the priesthood allows them into the sanctuary, which riskily reduces social distancing.
This has had the unintended consequence of restoring reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. The absence of extraordinary ministers, who had become entirely routine, recognises that the Body and Blood of Christ are too sacred to be handled by any but priests in all but genuinely most exceptional circumstances. Perhaps this is a restriction that can be kept when all the others have been lifted.
Neither that would mind the loss of bidding prayers which are often routinely platitudinous and make Mass longer for no real benefit. When taking six children, brevity is more welcome than it was when I was a bachelor. This is, perhaps, why my troop seem to prefer the Tridentine Mass because it is usually short.
In Somerset we are well provided in this regard thanks to our excellent bishop, Declan Lang. He is a wonderfully holy man who runs the Clifton Diocese well and seems to have attracted many priests who regularly say the Old Rite. He seems to be a liberal in the best sense, who allows people to do reasonable things even if they are not ones he would choose to do himself. He even has a new community at Glastonbury, where I often go, that is flourishing and has reinvigorated Christianity in its oldest English centre where it is widely believed that Christ was taken by Joseph of Arimathea.
Yet at Downside the closure of the monastery is desperately sad. The number of monks has declined in recent years and they will now move elsewhere. As I was baptised and married by Downside monks, I am particularly sorry to see them depart. This is especially because Father Boniface Hill regularly says Mass for me in my small chapel in West Harptree. This is helpful during the cricket season when four of my five sons’ dedication to Our Lady of Lord’s (St. Mary le Bone) is improperly greater than to Our Lady of Lourdes.
The 850th anniversary of the death of Thomas Becket has sparked a renewed interest in relics. The British Museum has to clean the glass case in which a part of his skull is housed as pilgrims kneel and kiss it. This is a worthy and pious activity and I am certain that relics are an aid to faith. Often the individual specimens are tiny, nonetheless, they help link the faithful with the past. Many are well attested and modern testing methods can help. Some relics of St John the Baptist found in Bulgaria were dated to the first century AD. while the DNA analysis showed the bone was of a Middle Eastern man. I also have a small relic of St John the Baptist. It is too small to be tested but worth venerating.
In the Middle Ages, if a request for a saint’s intercession was unsuccessful, the grumpy pleader would sometimes throw the relics on the floor in rage. It seems an unlikely way to receive better future service, but when yet another cricket ball is lost in the hedge and St Anthony, on whose feast day I am writing, fails to rally round, I do sympathise with them.
Somerset has a number of important and interesting saints. Glastonbury naturally leads the field with St Patrick and St Dunston, who famously took the devil by the nose with a pair of fire tongs, but my own constituency can claim two. St. Alphege was born in Weston, so possibly just in Bath, and was murdered by the Danes in 1012 for refusing to pay an extra Danegeld, hence they threw ox bones at him. He is the first tax martyr, while St Wulfric, who was a hermit, was born in the village of Compton Martin.
The Prime Minister’s wedding seems to show that anti-Catholicism no longer exists in this country. Fortunately, no one now minds. This was not so true in my father’s lifetime. When applying for a Sussex constituency he was asked if, as a Catholic, he could attend the Lord Lieutenant’s funeral. Before he could reply, a helpful member of the audience called out: “Of course he can, the Lord Lieutenant is the Duke of Norfolk.”
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