Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Mad Trad 12: K is for Kneeling

Fondly known by alumni as St. Alcan.
Good morning! It's Michaelmas, the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, and also Traddy Tuesday! Traddy Tuesday is the day I write about traditional Catholic practises and devotions.

Lately I've been posting my old "Mad Trad Corner" columns from the Prairie Messenger.  Sadly, I have not saved the readers' letters from those days, but I see from my email archives that there had been quite an indignant response to my Gregorian chant piece, or perhaps it was the Holy Name one that caused the fuss. Surely nobody could have been annoyed by my close reading of "The Holly and the Ivy."

Amusingly, it was not the Trad who was mad, but some of the Prairie Messenger's left-leaning readers.

My column ran over a period of 26 weeks in 2010 and 2011 before the PM decided it was not as much interested in "balance" as it had imagined, which is to say my poor editor was badgered into dropping me. I was a little sad, but it was inevitable, and given the divisions in the Church, it was amazing that my column lasted that long. Monsieur Coren, who was picked up by the PM after all other Catholic media fled screaming from his suddenly-not-so-secretly-Anglican-convert self, lasted only one column. I think what this means is that the right side of the aisle can scream even more loudly than the left.

However, the gauche redoubled its efforts, I have reason to believe, after this piece because it flies right smack in the eye of  "communal meal" theology.  Also, it is no doubt very painful to have to see the weirdo who kneels down before a priest in the communion queue as a human being.

 Standing and Kneeling are Both Acceptable

Before the Council of Trent, ordinary laypeople were so often too timid to approach the Blessed Sacrament that the Council decreed that Catholics must receive the Eucharist at least once a year, “and that at Easter, or thereabouts,” to quote The Penny Catechism. And because it remained sacrilegious to receive the Eucharist in a state of serious sin, the Council also asked that Catholics go to confession at least once a year. The two sacraments went together, giving rise to long queues outside confessionals on Saturday night and large numbers of communicants on Sunday mornings.
The fasting law, which first asked Catholics to refrain from food and drink from Saturday midnight, and was later shortened to three hours before Mass, gave Catholics who chose not to receive communion an alibi, as it were. Non-reception did not, or perhaps not as easily it does now, excite suspicions that one’s neighbour in the pew was in a state of serious sin. Although it took place during public worship, one’s own personal communion was just that: personal.
One contemporary liturgical approach overemphasizes, to quote a popular hymn, “our oneness in the Lord” at the expense of our own personal communion with the Lord. Row after row of congregants automatically clears and joins the communion line. Sometimes even non-communicants process to the front, cross their arms over their chests, and are blessed by the priests (or blinked at by extraordinary ministers who cannot, in fact, give blessings). The pressure to join the queue, to express solidarity with the group, no matter what one’s private feelings, is almost inexorable. Receiving the Eucharist is very much a regimental activity nowadays, and that is perhaps why it seems so odd when a person at the end of the line kneels at the feet of a priest and sticks his tongue out.
It is uncomfortable to be the only person in church who kneels to receive the Eucharist, as I know first-hand. I was that person for a few weeks when I was a teenager, and it embarrassed both my family and the priest very much. Fortunately, my pastor was a kind and generous man, and simply laid the Eucharist on my tongue. Since then I have heard and read many stories of priests and extraordinary ministers passing over kneeling weirdos with a sneer or snarling at them to get up. Such priests and extraordinary ministers cannot have read Redemptionis Sacramentum with any attention.
Redemptionis Sacramentum is a 2004 instruction by the Congregation of Divine Worship, of which Cardinal Arinze was the head. Its English title is “On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist,” and every word is balm to those with a particular devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The whole document is as thrilling as a novel, so I recommend that you read it online. I will quote solely from Chapter 4, as it pertains most closely to the theme of this article:
The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing... “However, if they receive Communion standing, it is recommended that they give due reverence before the reception of the Sacrament…”
In distributing Holy Communion it is to be remembered that “sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who seek them in a reasonable manner, are rightly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them”. Hence any baptized Catholic who is not prevented by law must be admitted to Holy Communion. Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing.
‘Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her…(90-92).
What I hope is clear is that communicants have choice in this matter. Catholics may receive the Eucharist standing, and they may receive the Eucharist kneeling. They may receive on the tongue—which is, in fact, the norm—and in Canada, at very least, they may receive the Sacrament on the hand. What is not okay is to pass over the kneeling Catholic with a sneer, or to bark at him to get up. Perhaps it is time to replace the communion rails, to make him more comfortable.

In the cathedral of my diocese, the communion rail still stands. On the rare Sunday that I am there, I watch as communicants queue before extraordinary ministers or kneel before the altar. Some of those kneeling receive on the tongue, and some of them receive on the hand. The scene is disorderly, but happy and welcoming. I can’t remember how I received or if I received when last I attended Mass there. I don’t receive every week, but that is a personal matter.  
Speaking of personal matters, today is the seventh anniversary of Benedict Ambrose's reception into the Church. Congratulations, dear Benedict Ambrose! It is also a matter of congratulation for me, for when B.A. became a Roman Catholic, he became a highly eligible Catholic bachelor in his thirties, and I snaffled him before other Single Catholic women had a chance to notice.

It is also, therefore, the seventh anniversary of my introduction to the Extraordinary Form, i.e. the Traditional Latin Mass. Before my Edinburgh trip, I had seen it only once, years before, and thought it incredibly dry and dull. However, it made an enormous impression on me in 2007 and became a bright ribbon in the polychromatic braid that was my astonishing European Vacation.

It was the liturgical solution I had been longing for ever since I was introduced to the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, to say nothing of Saint Augustine and other Early Church Fathers. It was the bridge between the old Catholic world of Butlers' Lives of the Saints and the desert to which I fled after my demoralizing misadventures in American Catholic academic theology. Lex orandi, lex credendi, some priestly professor once taught me, and at last I had found a liturgy that powerfully prayed what I believed, in which "liturgical abuse" and scandal are almost impossible as opposed to, I'm sorry to say, almost inevitable. The poor Novus Ordo is like a little baby; it needs a lot of protection.

And now let's all pray the Prayer to Saint Michael together:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and may you, O prince of the heavenly host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into Hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Święty Michale Archaniele, broń nas w walce. Przeciw niegodziwości i zasadzkom złego ducha bądź nam obroną. Niech go Bóg pogromi, pokornie prosimy; a Ty, Ksiaże wojska niebieskiego, szatana i inne duchy złe, które na zgubę dusz krążą po świecie, mocą Bożą strąć do piekła. Amen.

P.S. In case you are dying to know, that is an aluminum statue of Saint Michael the Archangel at the University of Saint Michael's College, University of Toronto. As Saint Michael is an archangel, he doesn't actually look like anything, so actually a few planes of aluminum could really... Oh, sigh.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Photo Snapping Priests

Before I post this photo, I want to reassure non-Catholic readers that Catholics do NOT worship the pope. We do not pray to the pope, we do not burn incense before him, we do not kiss his toe, etc.

However, it is an unfortunate fact of modern life that Catholics, like many other people, get overly excited by celebrities. I once struggled to stop shaking as I made a sandwich, in my barista days, for a Canadian TV star.  My reaction was completely irrational but unfortunately also physical. I was delighted, believe me, when a Scottish TV star dropped by the Historical House, and I behaved perfectly normally. Well, I made him and his whole TV crew cookies.

One place where celebrity status is supposed to mean nothing is at church. I don't mean that everyone is treated equally at church. This is a rather recent (and to me welcome) innovation. But at church you know you're not supposed to be staring at the celebrity when you're praying. When you are at church, you are there to join in communal prayers, not stare at celebrities, or take photographs, or play with your toy truck in the aisles. Unfortunately, it may be harder than ever to get this across because even Catholic priests have succumbed to being distracted by snap-happiness at Mass.

This photograph was taken in Philadelphia, and since I have many readers in Pennsylvania, I thought I'd ask: who are the concelebrating priests/bishops taking photos in this picture?

Technology has its pluses as well as its minuses, and it is rather shocking what influence it always seems to have on public deportment. Mobile phones--particularly used in long conversations in public places--are paradoxically anti-social. One of the most shocking photo comparisons I've ever seen is that of a crowd welcoming Benedict XVI and the forest of arms raised in the air to photograph the new Pope Francis. It turns out that this was not an exact comparison, of course.

Update: I have to say I am feeling rather sorry for the "Selfie Priest." I don't see why he should be singled out.

Poland in Four Days...

And I have total writer's block. Someone give me something to write about because, when I am not thinking about what a really terrible ear for languages I have, all I can think about is getting from the Sw. Jan Paweł II airport to Podgórze after dark.

This is not false humility. Bizarrely I can't understand even English lyrics on the radio the first time I hear them. My selective hearing is yet another reason why it is so much easier to read foreign-language texts than to understand to foreign-language radio, not to mention instructions.

And with that happy thought, I will now examine a guide to the airport. 

I like travel, but it really, really stresses me out.

Update: Okay, I have figured out my route. It is really quite easy.  

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Chapter 7 of Your Sunday Serial

And here you are, the latest edited installment of that  international sensation--or so my mother tells me, and she should know as she is across the sea--of The Bodice Ripper.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

What the Heck, It Could Be Fun

I wish adolescent women weren't soooo in love with the drama of it all. What is it about teenage brains that makes so many of us speak in tabloid headlines? "Annie and Avi BROKE UP!" "Sue got a C in BIOLOGY!" "Sally's parents drove her to the convent AND SHE CRIED ALL THE WAY!"

There must be a way to channel all this adolescent drama into something worthwhile--like compositions, or paintings, or anything, anything but gossip and meltdowns.

Adolescence seems to last a very long time nowadays, and I cringe whenever go to Yahoo to access my email because the Yahoo News headlines address me as if I were thirteen. "Instant Karma to Boy who Hit Blind Kid" is one of the current ones. At least with print news, the headlines last only one day. I am not thirteen, but I am easily excited, which is a fault, and I don't like it pandered to.

When I was a teenager, young women in Canada did not have the option of growing, exciting, new (or old and stubborn) tradition-loving religious orders. The religious orders really seemed down for the count in the 1980s. Joining one seemed almost unthinkable. If you enjoyed spending all your time with elderly women--unusual in an 18 year old--or you weren't embarrassed by all the New Age stuff they seemed to enjoy--unusual in a well-catechized Catholic--then one of us might have thought it was for her. However, the only girl my age I know who attempted the life did so in a self-flagellating way, rumoured to be because she had despaired of ever getting married. Hence, "Sally's parents drove her to the convent AND SHE CRIED ALL THE WAY!"

Well, no wonder. Last one to die, please turn out the lights.

However, since 1990 there has been a  a religious life miracle, and all kinds of young women are running away to convents, not out of a sense of despair but out of a sense of having found something really good.

These do not include the girls I know who talked it up as undergrads, presumably as a way of creating drama and interest around themselves. I knew two girls who yakked and yakked about how they were going to become nuns, and I was not at all surprised when they didn't. The women I know best who did become nuns went with a minimum of fuss and fanfare.

What I would love to encourage is more young women visiting religious communities "just to see", bringing perhaps a sympathetic friend, who might also like "just to see."  Cloistered convents don't, of course, let you in and out like a jack-in-the-box, but they have guest houses and they are happy to meet with women who might appreciate their life. I've noticed from my visits to the Benedictines at Ryde that the nuns are happy to meet with each other's married friends, too. Really, there's quite a holiday atmosphere at such times, and Benedictines do have a tradition of hospitality.

But the only way to do this respectfully and fruitfully is without drama. There is so much nonsense built around women's religious life--as if it were "throwing your life away" or making a huge, nasty, painful sacrifice. Currently I am reading a depressing novel called One Day, and its heroine spends years working in a bad Mexican restaurant in London, hating every moment. Okay, that's what I call throwing one's life away. The nuns I know live happy fruitful lives, singing, praying, studying, doing housework, harvesting apples and keeping bees.

Naturally there is a sacrifice involved for women who join religious orders. There's sacrifice involved when you get married too--although you may not notice this as much until after you've been married for awhile. Any commitment involves sacrifice. Meanwhile, I have seen two nuns take vows and they did not look scared or solemn or self-sacrificing or teary. They looked blissfully happy. So so much for DRAMA.

Wise teenagers go to check out colleges and universities before they apply to them. They at least look them up on the internet and read reviews. And nobody makes a big deal out of this. ("OMG! Sally's going to WESTERN this weekend!!!!") It would be fantastic if Sally could go visit the Benedictines--a splendid career option, if you ask me---with as little fuss. ("What you doing this weekend, Sally?" "Ah, Sue and I thought we'd go stay with the sisters down at Appley Rise for the weekend, see what it's all about, you know?" "Oh, that's cool. Beats hanging around the house all day." "That's what we thought.")

I know the world tells us we are absolutely nothing without a man in our bed, but the world is a big liar, as we know from the Gospel of Saint John. So it would be a great, good, counter-cultural act to look up growing religious orders on the internet (i.e. those with twenty-somethings in them), grab a sympathetic pal, and write asking for permission to visit for a few days or a weekend. Just to see.

No drama allowed. If you think your nearest and dearest will make a huge fuss, just tell them you're going on retreat to think about your future. Which you are.

Welcome once again, Phatmass! Welcome also to the Dominicans!

P.S. I'm too old, cranky and cradle Catholic to be romantic about religious life. I just think the Benedictines of Saint Cecila's Abbey are lovely women and their Rule very beautiful. Oh, and I don't think religious life is necessarily the happiest life (if such things can be measured). I believe, because the Church teaches this, that it is the best way of life.

Oh, and Sister Mary Catherine OP and any other religious are perfectly welcome to excerpt and link to this post on their websites!  :-D

P.S. 2 Back again after having a think about the "happiest life."  Living a "happy life" depends a lot on circumstances beyond one's immediate control, but also on oneself and the people one chooses to live among. Just because you're happy with one man, doesn't mean you'd be happy with another, and if one religious order makes you unhappy, this doesn't mean they all would.

Having read an awful lot of Bernard Lonergan, SJ, I take feeling very happy and grateful to God as an indication that you are on the right path: vocation entails a "falling in love." When I first arrived at the Historical House, I was very happy, and when I visited Saint Cecilia's Abbey with my husband (and later by myself), I was happy there, too.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Waiting for my Brain to Flip

Being underemployed gives me a lot of time to spend on my quixotic goal of becoming reasonably fluent in Polish. (Yes, it's Polski Piątek once again.) And for three weeks I have been doubling my efforts because on October 1st I am going back to Poland. This time the occasion is Polish Pretend Daughter's wedding, and as I have never been to a Polish wedding, I am very excited.

My month-long goal has been to review  Polish in 4 Weeks, Intermediate  in four weeks, memorize as many of the dialogues as I can, and learn some of the Polish songs to be played at PPD's wedding. I looked up a slew of them on Facebook yesterday and copied the lyrics into my pretty notebook.

Of the 28 lessons in Polish in 4 Weeks, I am on Chapter 22. And of all my activities, the most effective one is writing out the dialogues from memory. It turns out that I learn best not from pictures or single words but from whole sentences in context, e.g. "Nudzisz się ze mną?" ("Are you bored with me?"--Polish in 4 Weeks is relatively hot stuff.)

My inspiration is the thousands of Poles in Edinburgh who speak English. If they speak English, I surmise, then surely I can speak Polish. It is true that English is much simpler than Polish, but its conventions must be as unfamiliar to the Polish-speaking mind as Polish conventions are to the English. I am particularly impressed by the students, who come to Edinburgh thinking their English is perfect, discovering it is not, and then spend all their time reading English-language academic works.

But my biggest inspiration is a "worker Pole" (one of my Polish friends mentally categorized Edinburgh's young Polish migrants as "worker Poles" or "student Poles") who came to Britain at the age of 17, not knowing a word of English. Believe it or not, he got a job in a Great House as a footman--I did not know there were still footmen, but apparently there are--and was given English lessons in the kitchen by the cook.  Although he had absolutely no interest in actual study and had done as little as possible at school, he eventually came to understand and speak English perfectly. He says his brain just flipped.

Now, naturally he was in the target-language environment and he was also 17, which were two advantages I don't share. He is also a naturally gregarious man, and not self-conscious, whereas self-abasing embarrassment seems to be my foreign language default mode. However, I am hoping and working towards the day when my brain just flips. Benedict Ambrose pointed out some time ago that this would have been easier if I had picked Italian. But it was too late. I picked Polish, mostly because PPD said I'd never be able to learn it, and I thought, Oh yeah?

That was four years ago, and I completely understand why PPD thought I would never be able to speak it. PPD has almost all my sympathy on this point. Almost. Bo studiuję codziennie żeby móc mówić biegle po polsku and I am now at the point where I can understand at least the gist of a random song. Yesterday I had a bit of a shock while copying the lyrics to "Rudy się żeni" by Big Cyc because I understood almost all of it.

Rudy's Getting Married

Today a pal rang me
and reported that Rudy's getting married.
Although I don't know the woman 
who would want to be with him.
Rudy [klnie--swears], loudly [chrapie--snores
but she is changing him.
Because [possibly indecent] fruit
the wild lion changes.

Rudy, Rudy's getting married. 

And so on. It's a very funny song. Incidentally, a closer translation of "się żeni" is "getting wived" because there's a different phrase for getting married if you're female: "wychodzi za mąż".

This does not count as a "brain flip" as much as a "marked improvement." I see that I understand another song, "Prawy do Lewego", much, much better now than I did when I first copied down the lyrics. No, I will know my brain has flipped when I am in a Polish city and I understand what everyone around me is sazing, and I am able to post a parcel with no problem. I once posted a parcel from a Kraków post office, and it was quite the undertaking.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Further Thoughts on Acceptance and Exclusion in Dance

When I was 12 or so, I thought I'd sign up for ballroom dancing lessons. My mother thought this a good idea and signed up my brother, too, with the promise that she would increase his allowance. Apparently paying brothers to escort sisters to dancing lessons was one of my mother's beliefs. Sadly, the course was undersubscribed and therefore cancelled. It would be more than a decade before I learned the mysteries of the waltz, the foxtrot, the tango and the polka.

The assumption was that one needs to go to dance lessons with a willing partner, but nowadays many dance classes assure the potential subscriber that partners are not needed. Certainly swing-dancing classes in Edinburgh rotate partners, and if sometimes there are not men enough to go around, some plucky women take the lead role. Still, I see some fortunate women bringing leads with them, which means they are guaranteed someone to dance with them at the subsequent socials, and if they stumble and their leads make faces, the girls can kick them in the shins or give them heck at home instead of cringing and smiling in that horrible, weak, subordinate way women so frequently employ. Please forgive me, kind sir. If I could I would self-combust so as to remove my sub-human self from your celestial orbit.

Given that to get through a swing-dancing social as a solo beginner one might need a skin of rawhide, I am rethinking my advice to Single women to take up partner dancing as a way to meet people. The dance world is very big and varied, though, so I will just posit that different clubs have different philosophies when it comes to welcoming beginners. If you're a skilled dancer already, then by all means do not be afraid to join a club in a new town and go to their socials. In cold Edinburgh, I note that there is an unspoken acknowledgement of the aristocracy of talent. If, however, you are a beginner, you may wish to observe and judge how well the organizers welcome complete novices before deciding to risk the socials.

Naturally there will be classes for beginners. And naturally beginners will drop out again and again and again. Thus, those beginner classes never seem to get old and never stop attracting new money. After almost a year of them, I have noticed that new faces tend to disappear after just one or two classes, and how there is an exodus of learners once the social begins. There is a corresponding influx of the old hands, who for the most part dance with each other.

Meanwhile, I have gone to socials almost weekly for six months, and the only conversations I have had there that went deeper than the smallest small talk have been about Polish literature.  (That said, I had an excellent lunch-time talk about religious faith with a visiting Canadian during a Saturday of workshops.)

The question the Single woman will want to ask herself before she sails out for a night of partner-dancing is, "How much more feeling of being-passed-over-by-men can I take?" You pay your money and you take your chances. Me, £5.50 for a lesson and then an hour of, perhaps, not dancing with a soul, is not a painful investment. The lesson will certainly be worth £5.50, and if no-one at all dances with me afterwards, I just go home to my husband and it doesn't matter. £5.50 and an hour of my life--not a bad risk. If my ego takes a topple, B.A. provides a soft landing.

However, I have quite a lot of rejection in my life already. As a freelance writer, I send out material, and sometimes it is accepted, and sometimes it is rejected. Lately I have forced myself to send out fictional stories--my first great love--to magazines, and the magazines gaily reject them. Recently I got two rejections on the same day. That would have been a bad day to find myself at a swing-dancing social, no fellow beginners in sight.

If you are already in a very comfortable place in your life, with a strong emotional support network, and work or study you enjoy and excel at, a bit of cold-shouldering won't hurt you. You may even find it bracing, in a "I'll show them I'm no lightweight" kind of way. However, if you are feeling kicked by life, then I would recommend choosing some other activity than one that entails you having to ask men to dance or standing around hoping men will ask you to dance--unless you are already a very fine dancer indeed. If you are a fine dancer, then I would definitely recommend dancing as a way to meet people, although heaven knows what the fine dancers I see all talk about.  Maybe the feelings of affirmation and the fun of dancing will be enough for you. 

I will ponder further the subject of clubs and activities most likely to welcome and affirm Single women. For the time being, I would suggest picking something that plays to your strengths. If you are crazy about wildflowers, a hiking club might be appreciative of your knowledge of the little feathery things at the side of the path.

Update: To be fair, I have enjoyed myself enough for the past six months to smile through anything. I  even wrote such positive reviews of a swing performance at the Edinburgh Festival that I totally forgot how miserable and out-of-place I felt there until B.A. reminded me. (Sad and embarrassing story. In short, everyone was invited to attend and support the locals in the show. I went happily and joined the people I recognized from swing-dancing on the bleachers. They either looked at me like I had two heads or ignored me completely. Mortifying.)  I may go in the future, if only to chat with other fish-out-of-water. But really, as you can see, I am too cross right now even to fake enjoyment and high spirits.  I am looking forward to seeing how the Toronto scene welcomes newcomers; I already know that Montreal has developed some fantastic ways to develop their community.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Stephen King's First Novel

Stephen King believes in God but is not  a fan of organized religion. He grew up as a mainstream American Protestant--a Methodist, if I remember correctly--and married a lapsed Catholic. I wonder if he considers himself an actual--as opposed to a cultural--Christian. Heaven knows, he has certainly received hate mail from Christian preachers.

I am very interested in Stephen King right now because I was so impressed by his book On Writing, particularly his account of his near-death by a habitually careless driver. He said it was as if he had been "almost killed" by one of his own characters, and certainly I feel like I know from Stephen King what Maine is like.

This frightens me a bit, since I have moved from my own city to Edinburgh, and although I have written many, many more stories about Edinburgh than about Toronto, I gravely doubt my ability to capture Edinburgh in words. On the one hand, outsiders see things others can't. On the other, foreign languages don't come easily to my ear, and on the Rough Bus it takes me a moment to determine if the noisy people behind me are speaking Polish or Scots English.


Last night B.A. and I actually quarrelled over whether or not the giggling girl behind us on the Rough Bus had threatened to "mill" her noisy lover. The lover had decided to repeat everything she said, so I heard it twice: "Ah'll f----in' mill ye." "Ah'll f--in' mill ye." Their pal's threat into his mobile phone that he would "f--in' batter" his interlocutor was much more in keeping with the diction of the Rough Bus. And now in the light of day, I wonder if Scotland's Future wasn't saying "melt" not "mill", for "Ah'll f---in' melt ye" is indeed something I have clearly heard. My grandmother, whose mother hailed from Edinburgh, and who probably never used the F-word in her life, preferred "skelp."

The amusing thing, of  course, is that a fair number of Poles (albeit always male) on Edinburgh busses also lard their conversations with expletives. Their F-word is simply the crudest Polish word for "whore." It begins with K and ends with A, and if I spelled it out, my Polish readers would object. Interestingly, it serves as noun, adjective and adverb, without any variation that I have heard so far. I hear only "k***a", never "k***ej" or "k***ę" or "k***ą" or even "k***ami". Funny that.

But I digress.

Yesterday I sat down to read Carrie from cover to cover, and it is even better than the Sissy Spacek film which so terrified me on Hallowe'en 1984. The film gives the impression that the real villain is  Carrie's crazy mother, but the novel makes it crystal clear that--as awful as Carrie's mother is--the real culprit is the scapegoating mechanism of Carrie's peer group. They treat Carrie like a worm from her first day at school, and after 13 years or so, the worm turns.

You would not know from the film that what sets Carrie's ruin in motion was her getting on her knees to say grace on her first day at school. And when I read that, I remembered the impassioned fighting between the evangelicals and the Catholics in my teenage pro-life club over whether or not we should be kneeling in prayer in public. The evangelical girls were all for it, despite the shrieks of mirth and hatred from Rent-a-mob whenever any of us did that. Meanwhile, you can see that King's heart aches for poor Carrie.

Poor Carrie. It is quite clear that her mother's church encompasses exactly two people: her and Carrie. King, who is clearly on the side of the scapegoat, doesn't mock Christianity. He merely takes the more frightening aspects of American Christianity--some Protestant-inspired, some Catholic--and makes up Margaret White's bizarre heresy. Part of the horror for a devoutly Christian reader will be how Margaret warps and shrinks Christian teaching in a way that trembles on blasphemy.

That said, Christians can frighten each other into fits with descriptions of hell. Recently I was terribly spooked by Ann Barnhardt's assertion that the physical torments of hell are merciful distractions from the psychological horror of knowing one could have and should have seen God but now can't.  Meanwhile, I find it funny that atheists think believers are cowards because we hope for heaven. Hello, there is that hell option, too, not to mention the rather more thinkable (but not all that much fun) Purgatory to look forward to. The Lenten homilies of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man scared the dickens out of me, but I am not the whit worse for it.

King begins his tale with a news article about a reported "Rain of Stones", and I was surprised and cheered by that. As starting any big work is frightening, pretending you haven't by penning a fake news report is an excellent idea. There is a lot of foreshadowing in Carrie, thanks to snippets from news articles, government hearings into the Maine disaster, surviving witnesses' magazine articles or biographies, letters. Those work quite nicely, too.

Meanwhile, Carrie is certainly a page-turner. Even though I knew the story, I couldn't wait to see what happened next. I was actually excited to see the extra pages after I thought the story had to be over now. I read so quickly, I forgot the whole point to this exercise was "To See How King Does It." That will have to wait until tomorrow when I can get back to the library.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Mad Trad 11: J is for the Holy Name

Good morning! It's Traddy Tuesday, the day I write about some aspect of traditional Catholic practice. Lately I've been posting my old "Mad Trad" columns from Canada's Prairie Messenger, a periodical not known for traditionalism, but the editor liked Seraphic Singles and so took a risk. Evangelizing in the Prairie Messenger was fun while it lasted; the Spirit of Vatican II set fairly danced with rage. 

One of the mysteries of contemporary Catholicism is why some Catholics go apoplectic when another Catholic professes love for some old Catholic tradition. To be fair, traddies are not unknown to foam at the mouth ourselves, but generally we are fretting about some perceived insult to God, whereas a love of Latin or Gregorian Chant or Saint Augustine is at worst positively harmless. And yet I once saw a Jesuit liturgist go purple and shake with rage merely because a visiting scholar--no less a personage than Eamonn Duffy--praised Benedict XVI's liturgical sense.

Therefore, if you are a would-be convert, or a recent convert, and you absolutely love traditional aspects of Catholicism, please do not be shocked and disappointed when the priest, sister or lay minister to whom you mention your traddy love makes a face, or looks frozen, laughs nervously, or behaves in some other odd way.  This is perfectly normal--insofar as Catholics can be said to be normal. Direct the conversation right back to our Risen Lord, and he or she will relax.

Speaking of our Master, one lesson I learned by moving from Canada to the UK is that British Catholics, particularly converts from Anglicanism, feel very uncomfortable discussing our Lord by His name. In Canada and the USA, I happily talked about +Jesus+ like everyone else; in the UK, people don't like to do that. My husband has an edifying story about people cheering rowers from Jesus College, Cambridge. As the British think it blasphemous to shout "Jesus, Jesus!" when cheering on a college team, supporters would cry out, "The Name! The Name!" instead.

So now I too try to get around using the Holy Name as much as possible, so as not to make the Scots and English Christians around me wince. And naturally when I hear it, I bow my head because Trads are a set of head-bobbers, for reasons my column will explain. When B.A. hears someone blaspheme at work ("GEE-zuz!"), he attempts to repair the damage by interrupting with "...make haste to save us" or some other prayer.  

Above All Other Names

A young priest I know celebrated his first Solemn High Mass according to the Extraordinary Form. He was preceded into the cathedral by a virtual army of priests, most of whom were wearing black birettas. They sat in choir, so whenever during the liturgy the most Holy Name of Jesus was uttered, there was a choir-wide flutter of birettas as the priests uncovered their heads. This impressive display of piety took a comic turn, however, when the homilist, unfamiliar with this tradition, spoke the Holy Name several times in rapid succession. My own priest left off his biretta for the duration of the sermon.
Where I go to Mass, everyone bows the head at the Holy Name of Jesus. Well, almost everybody; I frequently forget. As a child, I long wondered why, since we sang that “in the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,” knees usually didn’t.  As an adult, I recently wondered why the heads around me do. And I was delighted to discover the answer to the second question in the 1274 Second Council of Lyons, where Christians were officially enjoined to reverence the Holy Name:
Those who assemble in church should extol with an act of special reverence that Name which is above every Name, than which no other under Heaven has been given to people, in which believers must be saved, the Name, that is, of Jesus Christ, Who will save His people from their sins. Each should fulfill in himself that which is written for all, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow; whenever that glorious Name is recalled, especially during the sacred Mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head.”
Therefore, bowing your head at the Holy Name is definitely in keeping with the spirit of Lyons II.
But devotion to the Holy Name began long before 1274. As we know from Scripture, “Jesus” is the name through which we are saved (Acts 4.12, Rom 10.9), and the use of which enabled disciples to cast out demons, heal the sick and perform other wonders (Mark 16.17-18).  St. Peter cured a crippled beggar by saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (Acts 3.6).  It was St. Paul who proclaimed that “God gave [our Lord] the name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend…” (Phil 2:9-10).
The Holy Name of Jesus was long written “IHESUS,” and there exists a gold coin from the 8th century with the monogram IHS stamped upon it. St. Anselm wrote a meditation upon the Holy Name around 1070, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux encouraged the devotion in the 12th century. The first hymn to the Holy Name, Jesu Dulcis Memoria, is ascribed to him, but some believe it was written by 11th century Cistercians instead. In the 13th century, St. Guibert of Tournai wrote the earliest extant theological treatise on the Holy Name.  In the 16th century, St. Ignatius of Loyola included the IHS monogram in the emblem of his Society of Jesus.
But perhaps no-one did more to foster devotion to the Holy Name than the Franciscan St. Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444). Whenever he went into a city to preach, he walked behind a banner with the Holy Name emblazoned on it, and preached with the banner prominent beside the pulpit.  He also held up a tablet with a gold IHS painted on it, and encouraged his hearers to give up their sins, to do all things in the Holy Name and to put up similar tablets in their churches and homes.  The devotion spread throughout Italy.
This raised the ire of theological rivals, who accused St. Bernardino of heresy and superstition, and he was called before Pope Martin V. During his trial, I am informed by a devotional pamphlet, 62 doctors of theology made cases against him. However, when it was St. Bernardino’s turn to speak, he rose and “showed so convincingly that the veneration of the Holy Name, as he preached it, was so entirely in accordance with the doctrine of the Church since the earliest times, that the Pope and Cardinals dismissed the charges of the opponents as unfounded and calumnious.” 
His devotion, sanctioned by Rome, spread through Europe and beyond. In the 1950s, the Holy Name Society numbered a hundred thousand members in the USA alone. (Their numbers have dropped since then.)  
Reverence for the Holy Name is not confined to Catholics. Many Anglicans bow their heads when they hear the Name spoken, and the Lutherans celebrate the Holy Name on January 1st. In the Catholic Church, the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus was celebrated first by the Franciscans in 1560, and then by everyone from 1721 to 1969, when the feast was suppressed.  Happily, it is permitted in the Extraordinary Form, and this January 2nd I was delighted to hear Jesu Dulcis Memoria sound forth in church again.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Singles over 60

A neighbour of mine, a recent widow, recently died. I was sad to hear about her husband; I was shocked to hear about her.

"Did she die of a broken heart?" I exclaimed.

It would seem so. And I was surprised because she had adult children, young grandchildren, the home she has lived in for seventy years... But no. She just died. One day she stood up, she fell down and someone called an ambulance, but that was it. May she rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon her.

I knew a widow--my grandmother's best friend--who cried for her husband on her deathbed. Her husband died a lot later than my grandfather did--the widow never really had time to get used to it. Poor woman, it was really a terrible shock, even though the couple was in their eighties.

This will make Benedict Ambrose laugh, but one of the thoughts I had yesterday, as I gave up on a terrible weekend and £55, was how terrible my life could be if my husband died. Imagine if I had gone home from a weekend of being blanked to an empty flat, no kind man to tell me that he would never blank me himself, all the rest of my family at least three thousand miles away. Ick.

Naturally my emergency plan is the Benedictine of Ryde, but I cannot be sure they would go along with being my emergency plan, so my next recourse would be Canada, where my family is, and where I sincerely hope I could find a job among whatever Catholic organization I haven't alienated yet. Hopefully I could keep my "It's so much better in Scotland" remarks to a minimum although--to be frank--what could be more Toronto than loudly dreaming of some country far, far away?

I know a Single woman who has just turned 60, and when I last saw her, she was walking to the bus stop, going home from a night out at the theatre. I was going home from the first dance this weekend, and I recognized her by her beautiful long silver hair, piled in an elegant bun, her chic outfit and her high heeled shoes. She told me she had just put her 92 year old friend in a cab. It was hard for her to remember her friend was 92, and to stop heedless people into crowding past her friend, unaware that the friend's youthful appearance hid fragile, 92 year old bones.

The more I heard about this 92 year old, the more amazed I was. She was just back from a writer's conference up north; she had given an address, having written dozens of successful novels herself. And she loved dressing up, going out, and going the the theatre with such younger friends as my 60 year old friend.

Thinking now about this pair of chic, theatre-going Single women, aged 60 and 62, I feel rather pathetic. One is a retired art teacher who lives on her pension, paints beautifully and has got a splendid exhibit up. The other is a successful paperback novelist. Of course, they are Scots, and this has been their city for decades, but their survival--emotional or financial--does not at all depend on a man.

Oh dear, that sounded very feminist in a "fish needs a bicycle" kind of way, and let us hasten to remind ourselves that Gloria Steinem was rarely without a high-status male of one kind or another and eventually married--some time after she had plastic surgery, I recall, although apparently she had a really good excuse for that: folds of fat making contact lenses impossible, or something.

However, I am impressed that these Edinburgh women have managed to get it all together in a way I have not, and I hope that some of their self-reliance rubs off on me before it is too late!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Shocking Excursion Back into Singledom

Poor Egg is not so good at the Texas Tommy.
Well, well, well. So this weekend did not pan out as planned, so your poor auntie got a reminder of what it is like to be passed over by dozens of men because she lacks the one thing the men are looking for. In this case it was the ability to dance like a woman who has been swing-dancing for several years.

I've been told you can get away with this lack if you are young and pretty (although not always). And certainly you can be much older than me, stouter, etc., and still be sought out as a dance partner. Heaven knows, there were a goodly number of nimble-footed women over 40 on the dance floor, but they were rarely me. 

Nope, what these women had in common was that they were very advanced swing-dancers and the men asked them to dance a lot. And when the men hesitated, they asked men to dance, and all was well. Alas, when I smiled at those I deemed the most likely to dance with me, since I have seen them almost every week for six months, their glances slid right by me.* This is the UK; we don't need words.

Naturally life has taught me that if there is anything you should not moan about, it is being overlooked by men, for your male hearers take this as their cue to overlook you themselves, but I doubt I will have the opportunity to dance with any of my six male readers anyway.  Oh, except the ones in my parish. Drat. Now they know. 

Well, it can't be helped. First priority is solidarity with my Single readers, so I thought they should know that being Single and female can really suck even when you're actually married.  This lesson cost me £55, but I offer it to you for free. 

Meanwhile, if you are a man (and not visibly scary), it doesn't matter if you are old, new, fat, thin, tiny or tall; women at international swing-dancing events will dance with you. They will not say no. They will even smile at you, no matter how basic your routines. They will smile and smile and smile because if there is one place where the patriarchy still means anything, it is on the dance floor. Trust me.

*There was one blessed exception to this. May God bless him. May he live to see his children's children. Oczywiście on był Polakiem. Niech Bóg go blogosławi. Niech on żyje widzieć dzieci swoich dzieci.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Swing Dance Weekend

Why B.A. no like dance?
Well, my dear daily readers, I am taking the weekend off from blogging, for I shall be at an international swing-dancing festival in Edinburgh from this evening on. I have never been to an event like this, and I do hope it will be fun. I am sure it would be more fun if Benedict Ambrose also enjoyed swing-dancing and was coming with me, but that can't be helped.  Fortunately swing-dancing has never been one of my core values.

As it is Polski Piątek, I will update those interested on the progress of my studies, e.g. I have studied up to Day 15 in  Polish in Four Weeks: Intermediate and basically memorized the dialogues up to Day 7. I can argue people into investing their money into a fundusz inwestycyny, and I can explain why I want to go to the mall on Saturday (bo w tygodnie jestem wolna dopiero po 19ej). How useful this will be at my friend's wedding next month has yet to be determined. Happily I have a good stock in positive adjectives, so I can tell various sympathetic listeners that the bride is tak piękna, bardzo pracowita, i całkowice sympaticzna. 

Devotees of contemporary Catholic fiction may be interested to hear that I caught Ignatius Press's own Fiorella de Maria in the Edinburgh railway station as she made her way from the University of St Andrews down south again. We were both up very early and goggled at each other sleepily over coffee. (Which Fiorella bought. Thank you, Fiorella.) We cooked up schemes to promote our books, as we are fond of our books and want them to entertain people and make us money into the bargain. So watch this space for further information, and take note that Fiorella has a new book out,  with themes from the  First World War. 

As soon as I have a copy, I will tell you what I think.  

Meanwhile, the headlines of The Times this morning were all about homegrown terrorism, dearie me. Which just goes to show how up-to-date and contemporary my beloved Ceremony of Innocence is, and if you can afford to buy it yourself, off you go to the library to ask them to buy it. I see it is on sale--how nice! Kup teraz! (Buy now!)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Seraphic's Guide to the Breakup Speech

A tempting approach but no.
I enjoyed this article in Verily, the one fashion-and-lifestyle-magazine I would love to write for. (Email me!). Wouldn't it be cool if I were the Verily advice columnist? Yes, it would.

If you are Single and not happy about it, the article may make you feel a bit baleful. When, you will wonder, am I going to get that cocaine-like rush, eh? Where's my romantic once-a-week intentional hiking date? I like hiking. Hiking is good. Is that guy really her fiancé, or is that a model? 

However, there's an even worse train of thought and it is the glum, Been there, done that, rush gone, still got the guy, don't want to marry him. 

The horror. The embarrassment. The squeamy ghastliness of it all. What the heck are you supposed to do when for months you have been planning your future out loud with your boyfriend and now you realize you would rather stick pins in your eyeballs than go through with it?

Yeah, it's bad.  I know because I have been there. More than once. And I still feel bad about it.  See Psalm 24/25: Remember not the sins of my youth, O Lord. 

We never want to be the bad guy. We are often wrongly haunted by the thought that we are the bad guy. But sometimes we are the bad guy. And if possible and appropriate we have to apologize. (A guy once apologized for breaking up with me. "That was, what, nine years ago," I replied.) The time to apologize is during your break-up talk at the doughnut shop. And will it be hard? Yes. Is it okay to make it sound like this is all his fault? No--although you should be 100% clear to yourself why (A) you thought he was so fantastic at first and (B) what character revelations convinced you that marriage to him would be a big mistake. "You're so boring I could scream" is something for your diary, not for his ears.

I am sorry I behaved so imprudently is probably something that will need  to be said. When you asked me out, I was delighted because I had always wanted to go out with [a college student/ a nice Catholic boy/anyone at all]. I couldn't believe that after [X] years without a boyfriend, someone actually liked me that much. You made me feel wonderful. You did these great things: [list the great things], and I honestly thought that we would get married one day. So when we were making out [or whatever, maybe all you did was hold hands], I thought it was okay because you were such a great kisser [hand-holder] and also because I assumed we were getting married. 

However, all our time together taught me some things about myself that I didn't realize when we met, and it is that I won't be happy as a married woman unless to a man who is [whatever it is he  isn't]/shares my core values [list them]. All I can say is that I am really terribly sorry, and I was so blown away by your [good qualities] that I just didn't think. 

Naturally you would deliver this speech in person, or at very least on the phone, because you don't want him to post your email to the internet in an uncharacteristic fit of rage. And you don't want to write a letter because who knows who will see that? If he keeps it, his eventual wife will find it. (Me, I wouldn't read past, "I am sorry I behaved so imprudently," but apparently there are women who think it is okay to sneak their husband's letters. I don't. ) And perhaps the social conventions of your community condemn these easier options.

You are in this situation because you made a decision--he's perfect for me, we're getting married one day--before all the data was in. That was very imprudent of you, and probably fuelled by such things as relief, vanity, loneliness, sexual attraction, and who knows what. I'm not throwing stones. Glass houses, and all that. I feel pretty rotten about my youthful imprudence. But that's now. At the time I was even more angry at the men for not being the men I thought they were supposed to be than I was at myself. Meanwhile, I thought  helplessly that I was fickle; I wasn't fickle: I just had more information. 

So even if a man is crazy about you, and you feel crazy about him, it is better not to talk about marriage, the future, etc., unless you have known him for some time, and you are 100% okay with the fact that he is [X, Y, Z], and think it absolutely marvellous. When you catch him telling whoppers, you laugh merrily in a comradely way. When you perceive he has no ambition, you are charmed by his relaxed live-and-let-live philosophy and adopt it as your own.  When he... Who am I kidding? Listen, just don't go on about your happy future together until he has made the serious commitment of buying a ring and setting a date, and you have made the serious commitment of saying yes.

Make-believe is so much fun, isn't it? But then Real Life presents you with a bill, and that is not so much fun.  Real Life hands you a bill and slaps you in the face to boot. And very unfortunately, other people may have been colluding with you in your make-believe because they too have made their own make-believe plans, e.g. your prospective father-in-law thinks that your dad will be able to give your boyfriend a leg up in business, or your prospective mother-in-law thinks your babies will be beautiful. Either way, their loyalties are not to you but to their son, and as much as you like them and want them to think well of you, if you have been talking marriage to their love-struck son and then you break it off, say good-bye. Literally you may have to say good-bye. If you do that, though, you are certainly braver than I ever was.

With all your speeches and apologies and people feeling sorry for your ex and him crying and whatever it is men do now--nothing would surprise me--it may be hard to remember the justice of your cause. You are to blame for imprudence--although depending on your circumstances, e.g. you were only seventeen, there are mitigating factors--but not for bravely breaking up. If you don't want to marry a man, but he thinks you do, you owe it to him to tell him that you don't. And your reasons for that are your own and whatever they are, if they are true, they are good enough. If it's because he is poor, and you can't live with that, others may scream at you, but I certainly won't. Better the poor boy marry a woman who enjoys his poverty (or thinks he is rich compared to her, or thinks he is worth it) than to marry a woman who resents him whenever he turns on the TV.

I come from a privileged background where adults are expected to know our cultural heritage, and I need to marry a man who does too.

I come from a humble home where we feel rich because of our Roman Catholic faith in our Risen Lord, and I need to marry a man who does too. 

I come from a traditional background in which men are expected to be the breadwinners, and women are expected to put homemaking and the care of their children first, and although everyone on TV and at college tells me this is wrong, this is the future I want for myself.

This last reminds me of something that is not quite a get-out-of-jail-free card, but might assuage some of your guilt. Society keeps telling us that we are nothing if someone doesn't find us attractive, and so it is no wonder that we are so relieved when a cute guy finds us cute, and start thinking marriage thoughts before we have eaten dinner with his family (or in the absence of family, friends).

Society also keeps shoving stories about girls overcoming their own "prejudices" to date/sleep with/marry boys whose values are polar opposite to our own. Bizarrely these are called "Romeo and Juliet" stories when Shakespeare's whole point is that Romeo and Juliet had everything in common and their fathers' rivalry was based on passion.

Certain kinds of families are depicted as cruel or stupid, and and others, especially those of "the other" are shown to be jolly and fun.  (I know of a WASP couple who walked out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding; their WASP son had been ditched by his wife for the sin of not being sufficiently of her ethnic group. Too bad she didn't admit her core value to herself and him BEFORE they married.) No doubt this is something for communities to think about, but it doesn't point to guaranteed happiness in marriage. (I know of a woman who secretly learned her husband's family's language, and they only found out about it when they were enjoying their usual past time of insulting her in front of her face, and finally she told them off in words they thought only they could understand.)

Therefore you may be more-or-less brainwashed to think that sexual attraction = love and romantic love should conquer all, including what you really, really want in a husband. And, behold, you may have been told what you want (a man with a career he enjoys, a man who shares your faith in God, a man who speaks your parents' language, a man who knows Orff from an ostrich, a man who encourages you in YOUR career)  is shallow, bad, wrong, liberal, reactionary, whatever.  Well, I am sorry, but a husband is for life, and the solution to the Annulment Crisis is to stop people from marrying the wrong person, or from marrying when we are the wrong people ourselves.

So although you may owe your soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend an apology for your initial imprudence, you are perfectly justified in telling him you don't want to marry him. Just make it about you, and what you want from marriage, not about him and how inadequate he may be. Apologize for imprudence, stand firm for your core values. Be more careful of the next man's feelings.

She slides shut the door on the grille. 

She opens it again briefly.

And go to confession.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Dissecting Heyer's "Cotillion"

WARNING:  Spoilers galore. Do not read if you have not yet read Georgette Heyer's Cotillion, aka the one in which Kitty has to marry one of her cousins in order to inherit great-uncle Matthew's loot. 

Really, I mean it. Spoilers. Go away to read the book and only then come back.

My favourite of all Georgette Heyer's novels is Cotillion, and that is saying something, as a Heyer novel is to my adult life as a chocolate Easter egg was to my childhood. My mother's collection of Heyer novels had Easter-egg-coloured covers, and I was delighted to find a copy of her edition of  Cotillion, in perfect nick, in a used book shop last week.

Cotillion is my darling because of the Honourable Frederick Standen, aka Freddy. Much of Freddy's charm stems from the fact that Freddy is an early 19th century Bertie Wooster, only with his own unerring instincts about social life taking the place of Jeeves.  Freddy is funny, kind-hearted, reliable and easily imposed upon by a clever young woman. You can also take him out in public because he is perfectly dressed for any occasion:

The young gentleman who alighted from the chaise must have been recognized at first sight by the discerning as a Pink of the Ton for ... none but a regular Dash, patronizing the most exclusive of tailors, could have presented himself in so exquisitely molded a riding-coat, such peerless breeches, or such effulgent top-boots. [...] When he strolled into the inn, and shed the somewhat deceptive driving-coat, he was seen to be a slender young gentleman, of average height and graceful carriage. His countenance was unarresting but amiable; and a certain vagueness characterized his demeanour. When he relinquished his coat, his hat, his cane, and his gloves into the landlord's hands, a slight look of anxiety was in his face, but as soon as a penetrating glance at the mirror had satisfied him that the high points of his shirt-collar were uncrumpled, and the intricacies of a virgin cravat no more disarranged then a touch would set to rights, the anxious look disappeared, and he was able to turn his attention to other matters.  

Freddy appears to be an airhead, but the reader does not notice this quite as much as she might, for she has already been introduced to Freddy's cousin Lord Dolphington. Lord Dolphington's conversation and behaviour are so strange that one might be tempted to think he has a form of autism were he not a figment of Georgette Heyer's rich imagination. (Meanwhile, the only man I ever met who was as silly as Dolph had enormous aptitude for his studies.) Cotillion was written in 1953, and to use the parlance of 1953, Dolph is a moron.

But Freddy and Dolph are not the only contrasts in the book, and I think it is the contrasts, as well as the plot, that make Cotillion so enjoyable. All the characters are played against each other. Let us examine the principals:

First there is Great-uncle Matthew, an aged and bad-tempered, very wealthy miser, contrasted with his 20-something year old nephews.

Then each nephew is played off against the other, which is easy, as they don't really like each other and most are rivals for Uncle Matthew's fortune.

George, Lord Biddendon: the eldest, ugly and bad-tempered, but the head of his own family and fortune, strongly family-minded, and so not caring personally about the loot. He wants it for his brother Hugh.

The Honourable and Reverend Hugh Biddendon: handsome, athletic, preachy and cold.

Lord Foster Dolphington: a silly-billy only-child who is terrified of his own mother and yet is socially a cut above everyone else, for he is an Earl. (George is only a Baron, as Dolph points out.)

The Honourable Frederick Stanton: well-dressed, highly respectable, and does not (very unusual for a Heyer hero) employ or hire prostitutes (of any class) or conduct affairs with naughty married women. (He is the heir apparent to a title, albeit not as grand a title as Dolph's.)

 John (aka Jack) Westruther: handsome, flirtatious and absent.

Claud Westruther: absent, notable only for the fact he once chopped the head off Kitty's doll.

And naturally all these men are contrasted against an intelligent, mostly uneducated, plainly dressed, but cheerful and high-spirited teenage girl named Kitty Charing, Uncle Matthew's ward.

As an amusing contrast to both bad-tempered Matthew and young Kitty, there is Kitty's rather silly, romantic, poetry-quoting, forty-something governess Miss Fishguard aka Fish.

Jack's absence, plus Uncle Matthew's ridiculous demand that all his nephews offer to marry his adopted daughter Kitty, is the engine of the plot. Kitty has a crush on Jack and is seriously miffed that he didn't turn up with the other cousins to claim her hand in marriage. She is less than thrilled when her other cousins attempt it, especially when the Hon. and Rev. Hugh claims he's not doing it for the money but to save her from a Miss Fishguard-like fate.  So it is not surprising that Kitty A) runs away and B) embroils the kind-hearted but slow-witted Freddy in a plot to make Jack jealous, telling Freddy that she just wants a month's holiday in London.

It's a fantastic plot, really. So much can go wrong, and there is so much scope for character revelation and--even more important--character development. Naturally there is the lovely restrictive structure of early 19th century London high society which makes it almost impossible for unmarried society women to do anything they want to do, while affording men of the same class almost unlimited license. Boundaries are important in fiction. And, as in high school, everyone interesting in Heyer's world enjoys pushing the boundaries as far as they can without getting caught.

Thus we have Freddy's sister Meg, i.e. Lady Buckhaven, as a lovely contrast to Kitty, for she is blonde, married, her husband is away, and men can have all the fun of flirting with her without the risk of having to marry her or public censure for their beautiful lies about dying of love. Life was rather more fun for married women in Historical Houses then that it is now, except for all the dying in childbirth, but never mind that. It's not like my husband is going to China without me for a year. Where was I?

Oh yes, contrasts. Meg is also a contrast to her brother, for he has perfect dress sense, which he imparts to Kitty, and to her mother, Lady Legerwood, who is much older and also has perfect dress sense. Meg's terrible dress sense is also useful for getting Kitty believably dressed in finery on the cheap because rich Meg keeps buying clothes that don't suit her but on second thought will suit Kitty. The problem of dress is extremely important in a Georgette Heyer novel, and something all we girly girls can identify with, or could in 1953.

Lord Legerwood, Freddy's father, is incredibly intelligent (apparently) with real intellectual interests, and so he makes both a nice contrast to Freddy and a reliable witness to Freddy's character development over the course of the novel.

Naturally all the revelations about Jack's character, e.g. that he is quite a rake, put him in greater contrast to the sexually pure Freddy. ("Oh, I say, Seraphic. Dash it.")

Really, I am all about Freddy. I am fonder of Freddy than I am of Kitty although I imagine Georgette tried to even things up by comparing Freddy's kindness to Kitty to Kitty's own kindness to the bird-witted if beautiful Olivia, whom wicked Jack wishes to make his mistress. But I think to really win my heart, Kitty would have to make some sacrifice to save Freddy's life. Merely deciding that Jack isn't half the man Freddy is, isn't enough for me. I'm glad for her, of course, but ... she's not Léonie or even Frederica, is she? (Don't talk to me about Mary Challoner. Ugh. Shudder.)

Meanwhile, Georgette does something absolutely brilliant by restaging the opening scene in Uncle Matthew's neighbourhood at the end of the book. The nephews and Kitty are together again, and the climax is just fantastic. Naturally my favourite part is when Jack gets what is coming from him from Kitty, he insults Kitty and Freddy knocks him down. And then the Reverend Hugh, whom I sudden realize I must rather fancy, drops his prosy clerical persona:

"Good God!' said the Rector, forgetting his cloth. "Well done, Freddy! A nice, flush hit!"

It may be odd to think this, not the heart-warming scene between Freddy and Kitty that follows, the most satisfying moment in the whole book. However, it was certainly nice to see Jack get his comeuppance, and to see Freddy assert himself, and for the Rector to reveal that he is actually a human being and a boxer. (I have a high regard for amateur boxers.)

Could it be that the Honourable and Reverend Hugh is one of the progenitors of my own beloved Honourable and Reverend Hewbert? I have never considered this before, but it seems likely. The Problem of the Reverend Hugh Biddendon is that he is both a man and a clergyman, and sometimes one is at odds with the other. And the brilliance of Georgette's creation of him is that this one line, delivered at so violent and thus memorable a moment, tells this story.

Incidentally, there should be no such thing as a "throw-away character"when you are writing--a lesson Georgette teaches us very well. But meanwhile, in terms of writing character-based fiction, contrasts, contrasts, CONTRASTS.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Mad Trad 10: I is for Incense

Good morning! It is Traddy Tuesday, my traditional day for writing about Catholic traditions. Traditions are a wonderful way to unite, not just the living to the living, but the living to the dead--something very important in a faith that recognizes three branches: the Church Militant (us, still fighting the good fight), the Church Suffering (the Holy Souls in Purgatory), and the Church Triumphant (the saints). No matter what weird news comes out of Rome, I am comforted by the thought that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass will continue to be said, even if it has to go more-or-less underground again.

As I was on the bus yesterday, I reflected how strange it must be to be a Scot going home on his lifelong,un-touristy bus route listening to three simultaneous one-sided foreign conversations. As I was trying to study that very same foreign language, I found the semi-comprehensible noise extremely irritating.  Oh the horror of mobile phones on buses.

The importance of sharing common basics of life, like language, in a geographical community was brought home to me yet again, and as usual I mentally fought both sides of the argument: 1. that of the immigrant who chooses to live in the UK (like me), 2. that of the native who feels alienated from his birthplace by dramatic change (also like me--only in my case it was cumulative and exacerbated by age).

At any rate, there is nothing like being a foreign country and hearing Mass said in Latin when you are used to hearing Mass said in Latin at home. So far B.A. and I have heard the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in Latin in Scotland, England, Canada, Spain, Italy and Poland. Oh, and I have heard it in Belgium, too. Numbers were small--except (naturally) in Canada and Poland. The wonderful thing about Latin, and the Extraordinary Latin Mass, is that it belongs--and doesn't belong--at all Latin Catholics equally. The Pole, the Canadian and the Scot can all sing Ave Regina together with ease (or not).  Unlike the poor monolingual anglophone all at sea at the vernacular Mass, or taking refuge in the English Mass for Tourists, at the Traditional Latin Mass, native Catholic and visiting Catholic are as one.

However, my subject today is incense, and even though I wrote this piece for the Prairie Messenger almost five years ago, I remember how much I enjoyed the research. I plunked myself down in the National Library of Scotland and read fascinating articles on the frankincense trade.

As the Incense in Thy Sight

Incense has been burned in worship for thousands of years. The Hebrews, late to the practise, began to use it around 1500 B.C. In the Book of Exodus, God instructs Moses to construct an altar on which to offer incense and tells him exactly which incense to offer: “Take sweet spices, stacte [finest myrrh], and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (an equal part of each), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, season with salt, pure and holy; and you shall beat some of it into powder, and put part of it before the covenant in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy” (30:34-36).
The Book of Nehemiah refers to the offering of frankincense in the Temple (13:4), and in the Book of Malachi, the Lord declares that “from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering” (1:11). In the Gospel of Luke, the priest Zachariah is offering incense in the sanctuary when the angel of the Lord appears and foretells the birth of his son John. And, of course, the Gospel of Matthew reports that the three kings brought the infant Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh (2:11). Incense was both an integral and ancient part of Hebrew worship when Christ was born.
There is no evidence, however, that Christians used devotional incense until the fourth century. Some early Christian writers thought incense too Jewish or too pagan for Christian worship. As offering incense to statues of pagan gods or the Emperor was the sign that a Christian had renounced Christ, it is not surprising that Christians of this period looked upon it with suspicion. However, in the 380s a female pilgrim to the Holy Land reported seeing censors taken into the cave of the Holy Sepulchre, so that the whole basilica was filled with scent. Incense was certainly used in the Sunday vigil offices at the end of the fourth century, and its use slowly but increasingly spread throughout the Christian church.
It is as yet a mystery why Christians began to use incense in the fourth century. I wonder if they were not inspired by a wonderful passage in the Book of Revelations: “Another angel with a golden censor came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel” (8:3-4). Certainly incense had lost its association with persecution, and Christian worship no longer had to be discreet.
Today incense is used at all divine services by Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics. Roman Catholics use it rather less than we were wont to do before 1970. Anglicans occasionally use it, and apparently for the first time in their history some Methodists have begun to use it, too. The smoke of the incense represents the prayers of the people ascending to God, and its burning represents our zeal.
This symbolism is reflected in the prayers of the Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form. During the Offertory, the priest blesses the smoking thurible held by the deacon or server, saying in Latin: “By the intercession of Saint Michael the Archangel, who stands at the right hand of the altar of incense, and of all His elect, may the Lord vouchsafe to bless this incense, and to receive it for an odour of sweetness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Taking the thurible, the priest incenses the bread and wine on the altar, saying, “May this incense, blessed by Thee, ascend before Thee, O Lord, and may Thy mercy descend upon us.” He blesses the altar itself, reciting from Psalm 140: “Let my prayer be directed, O Lord, as the incense in Thy sight, the lifting of my hands, as an evening sacrifice. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round my lips: that my heart may not incline to evil words: to make excuses in sin.” He returns the thurible to the deacon or server, saying, “May the Lord enkindle in us the fire of His love and the flame of the everlasting charity. Amen.” Then the deacon or server incenses the priest, the sanctuary party and the congregation.
Millions of people in most religious traditions have found incense an aid to mediation and prayer. Church incense is tested for purity by a number of agencies and, amusingly, although there is a popular belief that incense is bad for chest ailments, frankincense was once the traditional cure for such maladies. Meanwhile, scent is the royal road to memory, and I can never smell frankincense without immediately thinking of God and His worship.

Update: The transcript of a  scholarly and yet accessible lecture on the Usus Antiquor here. It's long, so settle in with a cup of coffee.