Thursday, December 30, 2004

Clerical Stuff...

There are few greater joys that coming across a book one didn’t realise one had. I’d totally forgotten that I’d acquired a copy of AN Wilson’s Faber Book of Church and Clergy which is filled with gems like Msgr Ronald Knox’s poetic response to a rhymed letter of congratulations.

I’m the sort of man they make an Apostolic Protonotary –
I’ve written reams and reams of prose, and quite a lot of poetry:
To walk on garden-rollers is among my minor glories,
And I used to be prevailed upon to write detective stories;
I can also punt canoes (or, as they say in Greenland) kayaks,
And had quite a flair at one time for composing elegiacs;
I can look up trains in Bradshaw*, on occasions locomotory,
As undoubtedly becomes an Apostolic Protonotary.

In short, when I’ve unravelled all the complicated mystery,
About what the Holy Office does, the Rota, the Consistory;
When I’ve studied more theology, and don’t get quite so drowsy on
Attending learned lectures which discuss the Homoousion;
When I’ve somehow put behind me (with my poor command of French) a list,
Of authors whose philosophy is known as Existentialist,
When my learning on a multitude of themes is less bucolic –
There’s ne’er a Protonotary will be so Apostolic.

November 1951.
(* Readers of PG Wodehouse will know Bradshaw to have been a British collection of railway timetables.)

Then there’s the following extract from Francis Kilvert’s Diaries:
April 1874
Then the Vicar of Fordington told us of the state of things in his parish when he first came to it a half century ago. No man had ever been known to receive the Holy Communion except the parson, the clerk and the sexton. There were 16 women communicants and most of them went away when he refused to pay them for coming. They had been accustomed there at some place in the neighbourhood to pass the cup to each other with a nod of the head. At one church there were two male communicants. When the cup was given to the first he touched his forelock and said, ‘Here’s to your good health, Sir’. The other said, ‘Here’s to the good health of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
One day there was a christening and no water in the Font. ‘Water, Sir!’ said the clerk in astonishment. ‘The last parson never used no water. He spit into his hand.’

Finally, a depiction of High Anglican life from Compton Mackenzie’s The Parson’s Progress:
In the morning at sunrise Mark was woken by Dorward’s throwing various articles on his camp-bed and muttering to himself in evident agitation:
‘Can’t say Mass this morning. Can’t say Mass. I’ve forgotten to bring the maniple, No maniple. No Mass. It’s that muddle-headed Mrs Gladstone. I told her to be sure that she packed all my vestments. And she’s forgotten the maniple.’
‘Well, you’ll have to say Mass without it,’ Mark replied firmly.
‘My dear boy, it couldn’t be done.’
‘Don’t be so ridiculous, Dorward. You can’t disappoint these poor people at the last minute. Besides, if it comes to that, you’d be restoring the original use of the maniple by tying an ordinary dinner-napkin to your left arm. You haven’t forgotten anything else? Have you brought the chalice?’
Mark knew that Dorwood was not serious in refusing to say Mass, and after a short argument it was agreed that the absence of a maniple would not invalidate the Mass.
‘Have you got the cassock and cotta for the server?’ Mark asked.
‘No cassock,’ said Dorward. ‘Don’t be so High Church, Mark. You never see the servers in France or Flanders bothering about cassocks.’

Sunday, December 26, 2004

On the feast of Stephen...

Belated Christmas greetings to my small cadre of readers – I hope that the New Year brings you every grace and blessing.
Technically, today is the Feast of the Holy Family, but liturgical law notwithstanding, I still find myself calling it St Stephen’s Day. The British refer to today as Boxing Day, a reference to the fact that servants and tradesmen received ‘Christmas Boxes’ of goodies from their employees on this day. I doubt this custom survives, however to the Irish, the 26th of December is St. Stephen’s Day and is connected with the custom of the ‘Wran’. The ‘wran’ or (more properly) the ‘wren’ still survives in some rural parts of Ireland. Bands of men, young and old, (the wrenboys) put together disguises and travel from house to house, performing music and dances in exchange for a few coins and perhaps some refreshments. The traditional song for the day is the following ditty:
The wran, the wran, the King of all Birds,
On St Stephen’s Day got caught in
the furze,
So up with the pot and down
with the pan,
And give us a
penny to bury the wran.
The ‘furze’ would be better known as the gorse bush and the ‘wren’ is a small brown songbird. Traditionally, the wrenboys would have caught and killed a wren earlier in the day and carried it with them as they made their rounds of the neighbourhood. Nowadays, of course, this is no longer done and a piece of furze bush is pressed into service as a replacement totem for the wren himself. But why this hostility to the wren? Traditionally, the Irish considered the wren to be the smallest and weakest of the birds, and therefore by necessity the most cunning. The tale is told that there was a contest between the birds as to who should be their King. The bird who flew the highest would receive the throne. Needless to say, the mighty eagle soared high above all other competitors. However, the wily wren had secreted himself on the eagle’s back and when the eagle had reached the zenith of his flight, the wren took off and flew a few feet higher again.
This same cunning was to lead to the wren’s disgrace. I have been discussing with a correspondent various Irish Christian folklore and it strikes me that I had forgotten to mention the number of animal takes amongst them. Some are probably familiar to most of the English-speaking world – the origin of the cross on the back of an ass’s back and the robin’s red breast. However, there is a peculiarly Irish tale that for profit the wren betrayed the Holy Family to Herod’s soldiers as they fled into Egypt. There are a number of variations on the tale, but my favourite is the one where the Holy Holy Family hide in a cave and a spider contrives to put a web over the opening of the cave, thus making the pursuers think the cave was empty. Therefore, for his treachery, the wren is ‘hunted’ each St Stephen’s Day. In a variation, it is said that the wren had a hand in St Stephen’s execution too.
Traditionally the proceeds of the wrenboys’ labours went to finance a post-Christmas party – the Wren Ball. Due to their rowdy nature, the clergy attempted to suppress these gatherings in the late 19th and first half of the 20th Century. However, wags, with some justice, suggested that without the courting and matches made at these wren balls, there wouldn’t be as many priests brought into the world!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

In the news...

An ominous headline - Jews to face new rules in Germany - but thankfully the reality is much more benign...
Cat's gravestone fetches £200,000 at Sotheby's - the headstone in question is actually a medieval carving of St. Peter.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Friday, December 17, 2004

O Bambino mio Divino!

No Italian Christmas would be complete without a hearty rendition of Tu scendi dalle Stelle. Curiously, the lyrics are based on a poem by Bl. Pius IX and the tune was composed by St Alphonsus Ligouri.
1. Tu scendi dalle stelle
O Re del Cielo
E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo
2. O Bambino mio Divino
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato
Ah, quanti ti costo
L'avermi amato
3. A te che sei del mondo,
Il creatore
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore
4. Caro eletto, Pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà,
Piu m'innamora
Giacche ti fece
Amor povero ancora
For those of you who are Italian-imparied there's a (not quite literal) translation here.
There's an mp3 of the Three Tenors singing this hymn halfway down this page.

Correlation found between beards and academia...

The Telegraph reports:
A correlation between having a beard and being a professor has been uncovered by scientists, suggesting a reason for discrimination against women in academia.
A study of 1,800 male academics has revealed professors are twice as likely as lecturers to have bristles.
My personal theory is that women tend to be far too sane and balanced (in general) to become top-ranking academics who (in general) tend to be bonkers.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Kenyan Presbyterian Iconoclasts...

The Telegraph has this unusual story from Kenya which reports that local presbyterians are removing images in their churches because the Scottish missionaries who put them there were 'devil worshipers'.
Many Kenyan Christians believe there is a link between Freemasons and Satanists. Fear of devil worship runs deep in Kenya; a presidential inquiry into the practice ordered six years ago, reported that Satanic rituals, practices and symbols had become institutionalised.
The group took particular objection to the St Andrew's Cross, as well as to depictions of snakes and other wild animals in the stained glass.
Mr Githii insists that since the images had been removed, the atmosphere in the church had improved dramatically.
"These masonic objects gave off some kind of evil power that was affecting worship, a Satanic power," he said. "Now that we have removed them people have been revived and they are singing much more vigorously." He urged the Church in Scotland to follow Kenya's lead to stop congregations dwindling.
Somehow I find it hard to believe that the St Andrew's Cross is behind the Kirk's difficulties.

Google to collaborate with University Libraries...

If this ever pans out, I'm cancelling my life. I'll be glued to my computer until death...
The dream of instant, free access to centuries' worth of learning moved a huge step closer to reality yesterday under an agreement between Google and some of the world's top libraries to put their holdings online.
The internet giant unveiled plans to scan millions of books currently on the stacks of libraries, including the Bodleian at Oxford University, and make their contents available at the click of a computer mouse.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mary at the Foot of the Cross...

It has, perhaps, become unfashionable to refer to the longstanding tradition within the Church that Our Lady was spared the normal pains of childbrith when Our Lord was born. As the pain of childbirth is associated with Original Sin. As God says to Eve in Gen 3:16: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."
Now, I don't propose to go into the whole debate about what kind of childbirth Mary had - I've heard opinions ranging the claim (not in accordance with the Tradition) that it was a perfectly normal childbirth to the condemned proposition of a Medieval German monk who suggested that Our Lord was born of light emerging from the ears of Our Lady.
What is interesting though is this snippet of a Middle English poem:
Nu thu fondest, moder milde,
Wat wyman drith with hir childe,
Thei thu clene maiden be.
Nu thes thiolden arde and dere
The pine werof thu were
Ine ti chilthing quite and fre.
(Now you find, mother mild
What women suffer with their children,
Though you were a pure virgin,
Now you have suffered hard and dearly,
The pain of which you were
In childbirth free and clear
The author is repeating an analogy (or even a strict identification) found in some patristic sources (including, I am reliably informed,Chrysostom) between the pain that Mary did not suffer at Christ's birth and the pain she experienced at the foot of the Cross.
One could, perhaps, speculatively link this with Our Lady's title as Mother of the Church and the patristic notion of the Church being born from the side of Christ on the Cross. From that, one could make the leap to the woman in Revelation (who does suffer the pains of childbirth).

Ringo Roundup...

I read this news in an Italian newspaper this morning, and just found confirmation on-line.
Legendary drummer RINGO STARR has made his own version of THE BEATLES' first hit LOVE ME DO - more than 40 years after the original version was released.
Starr was furious Beatles producer GEORGE MARTIN banned him from playing drums on the track in 1962, because he'd just joined the Fab Four and Martin doubted his talents.
But the 64-year-old's currently untitled new album with backing band THE ROUNDHEADS will contain a cover of the song with him providing percussion and replacing PAUL McCARTNEY on vocals. Meanwhile, AEROSMITH's STEVEN TYLER will play JOHN LENNON's iconic harmonica solo.

Pangur Bán

One of the most charming pieces of Irish poetry is the poem 'Pangur Bán'. Written in the Irish language by one of the monkish diaspora scattered throughout Europe in the 9th Century, and is found in a manuscript in an Austrian monastary. Robin Flower's translation nicely captures the tone of the original work which the author composed whilst working in the scriptorium. Flower was an Englishman, but a great scholar of and friend to Gaelic culture and he neatly reproduces the constructions and idiom of the Hiberno-English he would have found in the West of Ireland.
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Uri Geller (that most reliable of sources..) tells about the little golden egg given to John Lennon by aliens...

Oh dear....

A correspondant (biretta doff..) sends me the following link which reveals that British Celebrity couple David Beckham (soccer player) and wife Victoria (formerly 'Posh Spice') have been chosen to play Joseph and Mary in the Madame Tussaud's Waxwork Museum nativity scene in London.
If one looks through the slideshow, one sees that pop-star Kylie Minogue plays an angel; Tony Blair, George W Bush and the Duke of Edinburgh are the wise men; whilst the shepherds are represented by Hugh Grant, Samuel L Jackson (Ezekiel 25:17...) and 'gay' comic Graham Norton.
The Rev Jonathan Jennings told BBC News: "There is a tradition in which each generation tries to re-enact the nativity, but oh deary me."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Latin Acronym...

Guaranteed to raise a titter the next time one attends a clerical tea-party...

A Room with a View & etc...

I've been particularly busy and empty-headed of late, thus the dearth of posts...
It probabably comes as quite a surprise to people who know me that one of my favorite novels is EM Forster's A Room with a View. Incidentally, one of the best-cast movies ever is the Merchant-Ivory production of the same. Anyway, I was flicking through my copy yesterday and came across one of my favourite scenes which I reproduce (because, quite frankly, I've nothing else to post...)
Freddy and Mrs Honeychurch are waiting in the drawing-room while Cecil proposes to Lucy (sister to Freddy, daughter to Mrs Honeychurch) on the lawn:
The curtains parted.
Cecil's first movement was one of irritation. He couldn't bear the Honeychurch habit of sitting in the dark to save the furniture. Instinctively he give the curtains a twitch, and sent them swinging down their poles. Light entered. There was revealed a terrace, such as is owned by many villas with trees each side of it, and on it a little rustic seat, and two flower-beds. But it was transfigured by the view beyond, for Windy Corner was built on the range that overlooks the Sussex Weald. Lucy, who was in the little seat, seemed on the edge of a green magic carpet which hovered in the air above the tremulous world.
Cecil entered.
Appearing thus late in the story, Cecil must be at once described. He was medieval. Like a Gothic statue. Tall and refined, with shoulders that seemed braced square by an effort of the will, and a head that was tilted a little higher than the usual level of vision, he resembled those fastidious saints who guard the portals of a French cathedral. Well educated, well endowed, and not deficient physically, he remained in the grip of a certain devil whom the modern world knows as self-consciousness, and whom the medieval, with dimmer vision, worshipped as asceticism. A Gothic statue implies celibacy, just as a Greek statue implies fruition, and perhaps this was what Mr. Beebe meant. And Freddy, who ignored history and art, perhaps meant the same when he failed to imagine Cecil wearing another fellow's cap.
Mrs. Honeychurch left her letter on the writing table and moved towards her young acquaintance.
"Oh, Cecil!" she exclaimed--"oh, Cecil, do tell me!"
"I promessi sposi," said he.
They stared at him anxiously.
"She has accepted me," he said, and the sound of the thing in English made him flush and smile with pleasure, and look more human.
"I am so glad," said Mrs. Honeychurch, while Freddy proffered a hand that was yellow with chemicals. They wished that they also knew Italian, for our phrases of approval and of amazement are so connected with little occasions that we fear to use them on great ones. We are obliged to become vaguely poetic, or to take refuge in Scriptural reminiscences.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004