For many years, my aunt Maureen was the organist at a very pretty church in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock (famous now as Samuel Beckett’s birthplace). Our Lady of Perpetual Succour has an attractive Italian-type campanile, and is very fine stonework.
And so, on a mild autumn weekday in September, I decided to go there for a morning Mass.
But there was something valedictory about the experience. I wondered if it was the last Mass I would ever attend in Ireland. The Irish government had had a draconian approach to controlling Covid and was about to announce a full new lockdown for Dublin. All Masses were to cease; First Holy Communions, which had been deferred since the spring, were to be severely restricted; as were other sacramental ceremonies.
In the secular world, there was uproar about the proposed closing of the hospitality sector: the famed Dublin pubs had been shut since March and were disallowed their promised September opening.
The Dublin Diocese immediately complied with all Government requirements. No dissent, debate or discussion.
Time was, Irish politicians lived in fear of a reprimand from a bishop. There was even a parliamentary expression for it – “the belt of a crozier”. They would often await a view from the Catholic hierarchy before acting.
Now the boot is totally on the other foot. The Church bends the knee to the state, and automatically complies with all orders.
Yes, there had been a rise in Covid cases, although fatalities continued to be low. The sternness of the measures were questioned by others, but not by church authorities.
There were about 40 people – mostly older – attending that last Mass, all carefully controlled, with ushers arranging the seating. You couldn’t even light a penny candle, for fear the alcohol-based hand-sanitiser would be dangerously inflammatory.
Sensible precautions have to be taken during these times, but it’s sad to see religious practice so diminished, even suppressed. In past times, people risked “dungeon, fire and sword” for their faith; now we don’t care to take any risks at all.
At the end of October, a Belgian court will decide whether the artist Delphine Boël is entitled to the title of “Princess.”
Ms Boel, aged 52, is the natural daughter of ex-King Albert II of the Belgians, and for two decades she has been seeking to establish that Albert is her biological father. Although her mother, Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamp, claims to have had an 18-year relationship with Albert, he was most reluctant to take a DNA test, and only agreed to do so when threatened with enormous financial penalties.
Delphine Boël has had her claim to be publicly acknowledged as Albert’s daughter vindicated. But we live in the age of equality – which even pertains among royal and aristocratic circles – and she has now taken her demand further. She seeks to be given the title of Princess, and to have royal titles transmitted, also, to her children. She wants parity of status and inheritance with the ex-King’s other children from his marriage to the beautiful (and possibly long-suffering) Queen Paola.
Since we consider children born out of wedlock to have the same human rights as those born within matrimony, Ms Boel may have a case. There is also some historical precedent for royal titles being bestowed in such circumstances. Charles II (who fathered 19 illegitimate children) was upset when her heard Nell Gwynn refer to her toddler son as “a little b******”. “Don’t call him that,” said Charles, “call him the Duke of St Albans.”
Morally, it would have been more gracious for Albert to have settled this earlier, and more willingly. Emotionally, Delphine Boel must have been driven by a hurt sense of rejection. But realistically, while you can make someone acknowledge you, you cannot make them love you.
Legally, the lawyers will be scratching their heads thinking of the precedent this could set – even, possibly, retrospectively.
If Christmas is downgraded, we are going to appreciate Nativity cards even more than usual, for contact with family and friends. I hope to heaven the Royal Mail doesn’t, therefore, abolish the Saturday postal delivery, as it’s threatening to do. Abolishing Saturday delivery had a dire effect on Ireland’s postal services.