17 June 2016

Wise Words from Willis

"To me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever, and not be tired." Words of "Willis" ... a character - a sympathetic character - in Newman's semi-autobiographical novel Loss and Gain. My judgement is that Newman used this persona to speak with a personal passion that might have seemed excessive if he had spoken in propria persona. (There is often something very English about our beloved Beatus.)

Many of you will not have heard of Richard Holloway, Anglican former Bishop of Edinburgh, and later a "Christian agnostic". He was once Vicar of S Mary Mag's Church in Oxford; "Western Rite", as we used to say; baroque; the altar cluttered with reliquaries; everything of the best. Holloway, post-lapsation, continued to say Mass, despite being an agnostic, and wrote "The Eucharist ... is the way you express your identity and membership of that body. I happen to believe that it is a beautiful art form as well."

Professor Dawkins once expressed his puzzlement that Dr Antony Kenny, a lapsed RC priest who was a fine Warden of Balliol, seemed unable to get religion out of his system despite the years that have rolled by since he left the Catholic priesthood. And Terry Eagleton, Catholic Marxist of the 1960s ("the Eucharist is a paradigm of a socialist society"), whose precise credal identity some now find elusive, wrote an angry book attacking the playground bullies of the current atheistic intellectual establishment.

What people find hard to get out of their system, whatever their intellectual doubts, is the haunting, absorbing, unforgettable magic of the Mass. We understand this, don't we?

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