Monday, 27 April 2020

"IHS, not NHS," said the priest in England.

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday, and the honour and duty of preaching fell to Fr. Armand de Malleray at the FSSP Mass at St. Mary's Shrine in Warrington, England.

Mark and I, dressed in our Sunday-turn-on-Mass duds, watched intently to hear what he would say. The FSSP, in our experience, speak only to say something interesting, forceful and often uncomfortable to slack-and-idle souls. Click on to Daily Mass at St. Mary's, and you are likely to hear something about the Virus of Sin and fearing not that which destroys the body but that which casts both body and soul into  hell.

Since the bishops locked the churches against the faithful, Good Shepherd Sunday was always going to be delicate. I think Fr. de M managed that part of it very well, hopefully pricking episcopal consciences just deftly enough not to provoke irate phone calls to the Superior General. * However, where the British worship of the National Health Service was concerned, Fr. de M put aside the rapier and picked up the claymore. He was particularly brutal about the Prime Minister's Easter Sunday speech, which did not acknowledge the Christian significance of the holiday but instead called the NHS "the beating heart of this country."

"The IHS, not the NHS, is the beating heart of this country," slashed Fr de M (or something like that--I will get it right for LSN), and went at great lengths to explain what IHS means in this context (Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus Saviour of Mankind, rather than just the first three letters of the Holy Name, which I was taught).  IHS, not the NHS, is our ultimate salvation. He noted also that BoJo was baptised a Catholic. Dear Boris, first Ex-Catholic Prime Minister of England.

Fr de M didn't quite break into "Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land/Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go," but it is clear from his remarks on good vs bad shepherds and the IHS vs NHS that he is on the side of the laity who just want to go to church as freely as we go to the supermarket.

More on this if my editor buys my pitch.

We had a rather meaty lunch, thanks to the local butcher, and then I went outside to plant sweet peas along the north-facing fence. I have since discovered that sweet peas to best in direct sun, so their fate is uncertain. I have planted 25 seeds. If they refuse to germinate (like the runner beans on my windowsill, weep weep), I will plant shade-loving lilies of the valley in late May and snow drops in the fall.

Eventually B.A. came out, attached the hose to the bathtub and watered everything, including me.

Otherwise it was a lazy day in which we were held in thrall by our computers, and it was with great mental effort that we pulled ourselves out of our worn-but-Parker-Knowle chairs and went for a walk. This was nothing special--just along the river past the cherry trees and then back along the High Street to see how it is doing. It was mostly deserted and, of course, everything was shut. We pondered the restaurants sadly until we saw a man with a delivery bag coming out of our favourite fancy Italian pizza joint. I have since discovered that they are too grand (or clever) for a general online delivery service and have their own. Posh pizza will arrive this week.

When we got home, I sank back into an dopamine-fuelled torpor before the computer, and B.A. made dinner. It was pork chops with fennel and shallots with cannellini beans and was thoroughly delicious. We watched Peter Sellers in A Shot in the Dark to save Episode 6 of "The Chosen" for later, so it was more comedy sex-and-violence (although not the graphic Netflix kind) for us. Alas.

I woke up at 5:45 AM to escape a nightmare and couldn't get back to sleep. At 6:15 I gave up, went to the kitchen and made some coffee. But instead of sitting down again, I took the coffee into the garden and visited my various plants. It was too cold to remain, so I went back inside but picked up Wendell Barry instead of my laptop. I read "Conservation is Good Work" and took some notes. Then I re-read two Polish chapters of Baltic: the Dog who Sailed on an Ice Floe.  Next I went back outdoors to finish tidying up the sweet-pea strip by the fence. At 9 AM my alarm went off so I went back in to blog. However, I see that it is now 10:03 PM, so I must go to work.

*Update: I have been transcribing Fr. de M's homily, and actually there is no shadow of a hint of a suggestion in the text that the Bishops of England and Wales have not been doing their jobs. I am very cross with the CCBEW, so I must have heard the homily through that hermeneutic--er--lens (?). Hermeneutic ear trumpet.

Update 2 (Tuesday, April 28): And I submitted my Fr. de M article this morning. As I see it has been imitated already (to put it mildly),  I assert my authorship of the commentary and my presentation of the homily.


  1. I am sorry this comment is so long. I guess this is why editors are necessary! Please feel free not to approve it if it is too much.

    I have been reading your writing for some years and have much appreciated your work. I’m recently married later in life than I planned and I benefited greatly from Auntie Seraphic’s advice back when I was single. I’m submitting this comment to your blog because, although I don’t share some of your perspectives, I find you to be sympathetic and fair to those with whom you differ. I also miss being able to go to Mass very much and understand how you and other Catholics might be upset at the decisions of some bishops.

    However, I am growing very tired of hearing from strident U.S. Catholics (I can see that the situation in Scotland and the UK may be different) that “we can all go to the grocery store safely.” Usually the writer will tack on the hardware store and, for that a fortiori punch, the liquor store.

    My otherwise healthy 40-something husband is one of those more vulnerable to this new disease. Before I met him, when he was in his late 30s, he caught a common respiratory virus that traveled to his chest resulting finally in open-heart surgery and scarring inside his heart. It’s likely he would not do well with a disease that attacks the cardio-pulmonary system. To me the risk seems akin to crossing the freeway on foot. Maybe you might live, under certain circumstances (no traffic), but more likely you would die.

    The trouble is, we can’t know where that metaphorical freeway is. My U.S. state currently has more than double the reported number of cases of COVID-19 as Scotland – 20K - with a slightly larger population and a much smaller sq. mileage. And of course the U.S. is not performing adequate testing and tracing to help determine local risk.

    I wish those outraged U.S. Catholics had the imagination to put themselves into shoes like mine. Marriage has been a profound blessing. I would like not to erode the chances that we make it to 5 years of marriage, or even 10!

    So, I don’t “just go to the grocery store” and I don’t for a moment think that my limited (twice a month at most) trips are “safe.” My husband does not go at all. Every time I go out, I expose him to a risk that I can’t evaluate and can’t do much to mitigate. I don’t worry about being infected myself, but if I were, I don’t see how I could avoid passing the infection on to him. Any visit to any place where people gather is the same.

    I was grateful when our bishop suspended public Masses, not because I think Mass is “not essential,” but because it lifted the burden of one more difficult decision from us. I don’t think it would be possible to hold Mass inside our very small church and properly space people without eliminating one out of every four pews. I would feel better about the risk if Mass could be celebrated outdoors with people properly spaced, wearing masks, and without singing.


  2. I am highly sympathetic to your point of view, in part because of my husband's own brush with death. He was on a respirator after at least one of his surgeries, and it wasn't comfortable. I never want to see the poor man on a respirator again.

    I can't speak for American Catholics, but the British Catholics asking for the churches to be reopened are very conscious of the safety issues. I agree that lifting the Sunday obligation was the right thing to do, and I do think that eliminating one of out of every four pews is the way forward, when we can go back inside churches.

    Parking lot Masses, with families in cars, seems to me an even safer option for now but outdoor Masses with people properly spaced and not singing sounds preferable to me.

    Another issue is "where". If we lived in New York City or Seattle or London, I can assure you that we'd never leave the house.

  3. Yes, "where" does matter!

    I can't imagine having to watch your husband go through that and I hope (will pray) you both stay safe and healthy through all this.

    It seems some American Catholic commenters who are upset with the bishops also think reports of the virus are exaggerated and their governments' reactions are unnecessary, illegal, and an attempted authoritarian power-grab. I have read complaints that restricting the size of church congregations is ridiculous, etc. I should probably stop reading these people.

    Locally those who tend to be upset with the bishop are also upset with our governor, so I worry that they won't want to be prudent when churches are re-opened. I wish one person's lack of prudence could be limited to that person, but in this situation it's likely to affect others.

    I am very bad with numbers. I meant *keep* only one out of every 4 pews. Our church is truly tiny and has these 18th century style divided pews that I've only ever seen on the East Coast of the U.S. Our parking lot somehow manages to be too small for the ordinary Sunday congregation (true of a lot churches around here - maybe because the buildings predate automobiles?) so parking lot Masses would have to have very limited congregations. But different areas will be different.


  4. East Coast--say no more. I am very sorry for your trouble. If you enjoy advice, my advice is to stop reading all and any news and, if you can do it without going crazy from isolation, keep off social media, too. Obviously you can't do that if you are a member of the media yourself. I've seen some of the American commentary, and it's all a tangled web. One thing I absolutely object to is the police of various nations interrupting obviously safe church services: people in cars. Seven people self-distancing in a church built for 500. Etc.