Sunday 31 May 2020

Please Open the Churches

It is Pentecost Sunday, and I went to Mass in my bathrobe.

I'm not proud of this. In fact, I stuck a mantilla in my head to make up for the bathrobe. But the bathrobe (a nice one by the way: silk, pretty pattern) was the outer manifestation of my inward thought which is that I'm sick of watching Mass on the computer instead of going to actual Mass.

The population of Scotland is roughly 5 million. The percentage of Scotland that is Catholic is 15%. The percentage of Catholics who ever go to Mass in Scotland on Sundays is roughly 19% of that. This means 142,500 people---and that's less than half the number of people who went to see Pope St. John Paul II in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow 38 years ago tomorrow.

Scotland was a very different place in 1982, that's for certain.

The percentage of Catholics who always go to Mass on Sunday is unknown, but I'd bet the Warrington Building Fund even they aren't all still watching Mass on computers.

When the Warrington FSSP began a lovely Marian procession, I rushed off to have a shower. When   I returned to the sitting-room, B.A. was still kneeling before the screen. I sat by the window and read some Wendell Berry until I heard priests and altar servers singing the Chartres Pilgrimage's "Chartres T'appelle." 

At that my attention wavered from book to screen to book, but then the organ introduction to "Chez nous, soyez Reine" began, and I was back in front of the computer. I can never hear "Chez nous" dry-eyed. I'm not French, I don't understand all the words, and I never heard it before I first went on the Pilgrimage of Christendom, but all the same it makes me cry.

Please, bishops, open the churches.

There is a lot of misunderstanding in the United Kingdom about Christianity, in part because the United Kingdom has forgotten much of what it used to know. A quick example is that in 1987, Harry Dodson of the "Victorian Kitchen Garden" could reminisce about a sharp-tongued cook remarking that "there is corn in Egypt" in the expectation that his viewers would know what he (and she) was talking about. (It's a reference to the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis.)

One misunderstanding is that all church activities are the same. For example, if COVID-19 is indeed spread by singing, then it is perfectly possible to have church services without singing. Some communities will feel this more keenly than others, but if the rule in Scotland changes from "Nobody is allowed in churches" to "Nobody is allowed to sing in churches yet because singing spreads COVID-19" then thousands of people--and the 142,500 Catholics I mentioned above are the bulk of church-attending people in Scotland--will be free at least to pray in a church.

Prayer without song may seem rather dry to Scotland's 19,000 Pentecostals, but the 142,500 Catholics who actually darken Scotland's church doors will cope. When I think of the Traditional Latin Mass I attended in person from late September 2008 to March 19, 2020, I cannot think of an ordinary activity, performed in public, LESS likely to get my chaplain sick.

When I think of the church I have attended for 11 years, I can see how easily our normal congregation of 70 - 80 could spread out safely, a metre between households. I know how happily we would consent to remain silent, for we are not strangers to the concept of the Low Mass. During the Low Mass, the server makes the responses on the congregation's behalf and there is no singing. Fine.

When there was no Communion of the Faithful, that last Sunday Mass in March, I heard not a single murmur of complaint. We knew that the Archbishop had said no communion on the tongue, and none of us were going to yell for communion on the hand.

I can't blame the various Anglicans, agnostics and opportunists in government for not understanding, on March 24,  that religious services are not in themselves dangerous, and that every religious denomination goes about celebrating in different ways. However, I do blame them very much for not understand this now. It has been over two months since the churches were locked, and as shops and services open up in England and Scotland, it is now clearly a violation of Christians' religious freedom to forbid us to enter our churches to carry out safe activities there. These safe activities surely include private prayer and watching, in silence and 2m apart, Holy Mass conducted at the altar.

The prohibition of Catholic worship must be particularly painful to the faithful in Scotland, where Catholics were treated as second-class citizens until after 1989. (In 1989 Glasgow Rangers signed Catholic Mo Johnson, and a number of Rangers fans burned their scarves in protest.) That the sectarian violence here never reached Northern Irish proportions is a miracle--and a testimony to the long-suffering of Scottish Catholics. For me the worst of this current business is not that the government wanted to shut church doors--that's an old story--but that the bishops have been so slow to open them. I am willing to concede that they've been as terrified as the rest of us, but it's been two months now. Surely the curve has been flattened?

Here we are, 72 days without episcopal permission for priests to say a public Mass in Scotland--something unprecedented even when saying a public mass could get you hanged, drawn and quartered. ("No, John Ogilvie, you must NOT return to Scotland. You must NOT celebrate Mass.") It's a scandal and it's particularly damaging for people like me, who need Mass not because we're good but because we're bad. Mass is not a fun activity like spinning; it's a very real dose of spiritual Vitamin D. Keep your volatile correspondent away from Mass long enough, and she might start to think there's something to this revenge-of-Gaia stuff.

In household news, we went on a marvellous country walk yesterday that tired us out and made sleeping easy. We ate lunch in a tree, and when I fell out of it I landed on very soft grass and was not at all hurt. We bought local bread and free-range eggs from a shop allowed to re-open as part of "Phase 1" and B.A. enjoyed a "Phase 1" coffee and traybake in its walled garden. At suppertime I picked lettuce leaves and radishes for our salad and put radish greens in the risotto. I was horrified by Royal Horticultural Society advice for lawn-keeping, as it recommended poisoning the moss.

We watched in a spirit of skepticism a documentary decrying animal husbandry as the most damaging thing to the environment ever. I am still of the opinion that ethical carnivores are more helpful than vegans, for we make more sustainable farming methods attractive to farmers. Also, pigs, sheep and cows are a lot more native to Britain than avocados and coconut milk.

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