Tuesday, July 09, 2013
Sensualist Ol' Me
I am very concerned about social justice to the point where some of my friends think there is something a bit pink about me, some American readers of a Reagan stripe regard me as a raging red 'Commie', so those social justice aspects of the Franciscan Papacy suit me well.
As important as the Petrine office is, I feel that Ultramontanism is a serious distortion of Christianity, so again Papa Francisco scores with me, in so far as he seems to be reforming the 'court' aspect of the Papacy, having a second home not over the office seems a really good idea. I think the Ultramontane Spirit of Vatican I is far more damaging than the poltergeist of VII.
I have argued that the first responsibility of the Pope is the diocese of Rome, I have gone as far as suggesting that all those chubby Monsignori ought to get out of their offices and start catechising and evangelising those in Rome, so again he scores.
However, I have vices, I am a wicked sensual creature, I can have deep and moving spiritual experiences, I remember once being in France with a certain bishop, now Cardinal, and at a pretty low spiritual ebb and someone pouring me a glass of a fine vintage Margeaux and suddenly in the first three sips all my spiritual burdens just seem to fall away. It was a deeply spiritual experience. The opera too, I find can speak more to me than hours of spiritual reading, the sheer beauty. In opera the combination of the arts is profoundly rich, there is something both so utterly human and yet divine. So too a beautiful piece of Bach or Mozart or Haydn, or even Jamie MacMillan take take my breath away. Ordinary things too, a piece of wrought iron or carved wood, even a well made piece of furniture, a 'regency' chest of drawers I own, the way the drawers move, I find speaks somehow of God - think of it, God, the craftsmanship, the geometry of careful measurement, the choice of woods, the way the thing fits together, the care that has been lavished on it down the years until I brought for 120 quid, they just move and fit so perfectly. I really can understand Manley Hopkins getting a high on his 'dappled things' and 'all things counter, original, spare, strange'.
It'll be no surprise to you that I find High Mass, even Sung Mass, in the EF spiritually exhilarating, even more so than Grande Opera., it is like a well-made chest of drawers, I am afraid it is not quite same in the Ordinary form, (all that stopping and starting, a bit like a c.o.d from Ikea that doesn't quite work).
I find the accoutrements of Mass can be astonishingly moving too; a decent handmade set of vestments, silverware, brassware, even hand sewn linen can draw me closer to God, it is the craftsmanship. I own a battered old Pugin style chasuble it is so worn I rarely wear it, but it has been so carefully and lovingly repaired, it is like a must confessed soul. A server, a Master of Ceremonies, a pair of acolytes who know and understand what they are doing, a competent choir; it is the "work of human hands" thing, that is in the OF offertory prayers, that moves me; sometimes to tears of repentance. I find beauty in the liturgy far moving than words, even a Pope's words. I know, it is a Catholic/Orthodox thing, the words are ephemeral the action of the the Liturgy eternal. Historically both East and West understood we were all sensuous creatures and transferred sensuality to the liturgy, so liturgy can be describe as 'signs and symbols perceptible to the senses'.
So I am afraid that though Pope Francis scores with me on many accounts, liturgically I prefer not to see or hear what happens at Papal Mass nowadays. It leaves me cold - William Walton described all Italians as the enemies music - the music is literally painful, which I suppose for someone who can meet God in glass of good wine, a bit of reality is not a bad thing but I can understand and sympathise with Katrina's longing for a bit of damask and can sympathise with those who find the new puritanical style difficult. A Greek Orthodox friend finds it Iconoclastic, I don't think it is that, merely that the Pope has ideological difficulties with Grand Opera.
Beauty is the servant of religion and the sister of Truth, it would be sad to see it as an enemy during Francis' days as Pope, but then I admit it, I am a wicked sensual all too human creature, but then Truth and Beauty go together I fear if we sacrifice Beauty we will loose Truth too. Francis' celebrations might suit him but in those who are less humble, less concerned with Truth they can easily be used as a model for self indulgence and all kinds of extempore personalism.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake