18 August 2020

Canon Dudley Simon (1)

"A Pontifical High Mass, as it is celebrated today [these word are taken from a book published in ... 1959!!!], with all the adjuncts of light, colour, scent, movement and music, is one of the greatest artistic achievements of the human mind, worthy to be set beside a Symphony by Beethoven, or the Parthenon at Athens, or the frescoes of Michael Angelo. The Liturgical Reformers, like all other Reformers, will need watching lest their zeal leads them 'to root up the wheat also.'".

The author of these words was the Reverend Canon Dudley James Symon, whose life ran interestingly in tandem with that of Mgr Ronald Knox. I am planning to share with you more extracts from the same little book, because, as I think most readers will agree, they are both edifying and thought-provoking. And, also, because Symon was a predecessor of mine at Lancing College. Indeed, he will have taught the great Basil Handford, whose colleague and friend I was privileged to be until his death in 1994.

Symon, like Knox and Handford, was a Greatsman, and his love of the Classics shines through what he writes. He was born in 1887 (Knox, in 1888), and from St John's College did Mods in 1908, Greats in 1910, and trained for the Sacred Priesthood at King's London. Like Knox, he was priested in 1912; unlike Knox, he went off to a four-year Midlands curacy.

The beginning of the War found him at Chigwell School, as Knox was at Shrewsbury. The reason for this becomes clear as we read Waugh's biography of Knox: being in Holy Orders, such young men were excluded from rushing to enlist. And so, like lots of elderly scholars of distinction, they 'did their bit' by taking teaching jobs in order to free young lay schoolmasters to go and fight. Waugh, again, draws a vivid picture of the agonies that followed as the casualty lists, of friends and of pupils, were read out.

Symon moved to Lancing in 1917 (when Waugh was a student there). The great Chapel  had been dedicated in 1911; it looked and looks like amighty Cathedral from North France: 'French Gothic of the thirteenth century'. Sir John Summerson testifies to its pure grammatical accuracy, and calls it "a late-comer to a great International family of buildings. It takes is place among them with perfect confidence and grace". Noyon ... Beauvais ... Saint Denis ... Westminster Abbey ...

Beneath the high, white, arrogant vault of Sussex chalk, Symon will have seen the chairs of the students who had been there at the Dedication in 1911 and whose names were carved on them. As the lists of the dead were posted, those who had been at Lancing had brass plaques Pro Patria attached to their names. Quorum animabus propitietur Deus.

Later, I will give you more of Symon's liturgical comments. His sentence at the head of this post, on the beauty of the Traditional Roman Rite, especially when solemnly offered, reminds me of a day a few years ago, in the ICKSP Church in Limerick. After his solemn Mass there, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke murmured to me: "So beautiful ... so beautiful ... why ... ...".

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