Sunday 18 July 2021

The Day After

Yesterday morning I had a Polish lesson. My tutor and I discussed the motu proprio in Polish. I'm sure it won't astonish my own readers, but some people do not seem to understand that human beings are capable--even in adult life--of learning European languages they don't speak in the home, like Latin.

After my lesson, I took the train to Edinburgh's West End to meet my luncheon party: the three eldest children of a TLM-attending family, two of whom are my writing students, and the young PhD candidate who is their maths teacher. I'm sure it won't astonish my own readers, but some people might not realise how pleasant homeschooled children are to be around. Spared the brain-destroying effects of smartphones and a poor diet of pop culture, they enjoy speaking to adults about their actually interesting interests. 

Over lunch in a pizzeria, for example, we talked about sabre-fighting in German-language university fraternities: the duels, the slashes, the scars, the casualties, and the scope for excommunication. There was also an interesting anecdote about a young Austrian who decided to walk to Rome with a donkey and present it to the Pope. We also discussed very long-lived animals and the amazing regeneration of a certain kind of jellyfish. The children watch a lot of science videos and are very well informed. 

We did not talk much about the motu proprio, for we did not want to distress the children and my young colleague did not want to get angry again. Alas, it was I who told him about the motu proprio when it came out, and he had spent the rest of the day on the internet like, I imagine, most of the rest of the adult members of our community. 

(As a thought experiment, I'm trying to imagine the bishops making an obvious effort to stamp out the Polish-language Mass in Scotland. Ha! Not going to happen--and it shouldn't. It would be a very cruel thing to do, I must say, even if it means various Polish Catholics never rouse themselves to interact with Scottish Catholics, support Hibs or Celtic, have a drink on St. Patrick's Day, vote for the SNP, etc.) 

After lunch we bundled into a taxi and went to "the Botanics", which means the Royal Botanical Gardens, as the children voted for it over the Art Gallery, and no wonder, as it was an absolutely splendid day. The weather was almost Roman. It was warm without being actually hot--except in the taxi, so we rolled down the windows.   

At the Botanics, I covered myself with glory (to myself at least) by correctly identifying a monkey puzzle tree as such. We all took a desultory interest in the alpine plant collection, but not much in the Queen Mother's Memorial Gardens. The gentlemen of the party admired a pond, and the ladies--keen amateurs--exclaimed over the vegetable gardens. The sun poured down, and I would have enjoyed a little snooze under a tree, but alas, we had only enough time to buy seeds in the gift shop before we had to rush for the children's bus.

In the end, my young colleague called an Uber. It arrived with only 5 seats, so I waved everyone goodbye, took out my phone and summoned Benedict Ambrose to my side. I was in Stockbridge, and B.A. was--I believe--reading the Spectator in the furniture section of the John Lewis department store, enjoying the view and telling helpful salespeople that he was waiting for his wife. 

When B.A. turned up in Stockbridge, burned red-brown from the sun, we bought a bag of ice and went to my colleague's West End flat for a Gin-and-Tonic. We sat in one of Edinburgh's delightful private gardens with our G&Ts and a jug of ice-water and finally hashed out the motu proprio and what was likely to happen to us. 

(Once again I ponder what the Polish community in Scotland would do if, through some idea of "unity", the Bishops told them--and not, say, the small francophone community--that they must go to Mass in English from now on and not sing their doleful hymns--or even their Christmas carols--because they mention sin too often and nobody else can understand them.)

Eventually the sun was lower in the sky, and the breeze picked up, and the ice had melted long since. B.A. regretfully decided that we would not stay for dinner, for he had to bottle 10 litres of elderflower champagne and proofread his diploma assignment. (The COVID-19 lockdowns gutted B.A.'s industry and eliminated his job, so he is now retraining and I am counting every penny.) However, when we got home, we ate separate suppers of leftovers (Friday's vegetarian spaghetti for B.A. and leftover pizzuolo for me) in front of our laptops, reading more online commentary on the motu proprio

At a certain point, I felt we both had had enough, so I shut my computer with a snap and offered to help B.A. bottle his champagne and proofread his assignment, so we could go to sleep with clear consciences. We followed this plan and slept like the dead. 

This morning I got up shortly after six, made a cherry Bakewell tart and said my prayers before checking the most recent online commentary on the motu proprio. A number of bishops have given permission for the TLM (for I suppose we won't be even pretending to call it the Extraordinary Form anymore--more on this below) to continue as usual, and may their days be long and happy. 

Short reflection on Summorum pontificum for those with reading stamina

The reality of Summorum pontificum, which I have lived intimately for almost 13 years, is that it created a tolerant code of behaviour for people who love the Traditional Latin Mass and encouraged large numbers of people not embittered by decades of marginalisation and pain to join our ranks and cheer everyone up. 

The tolerance was in the phrase "Extraordinary Form", which not all trads used, but when we used it, we were at least politely recognising the "Ordinary Form" so cherished by the millions of our co-religionists who still bother to go to church. There was also a lot of tolerance among the young families who soon outnumbered the kind of old-and-cranky who sigh and tut at the slightest infant noise. And being able to celebrate the TLM in our parish churches meant rubbing shoulders with parishioners who preferred the Ordinary Form--although, sadly, some tensions arose, too. I could tell you stories, but I would prefer to save them for work, so they can be read by hundreds of thousands of people. 

The large number of people included young converts who, having become interested in Catholicism through books written before 1970 or saints born before 1900, were bewildered by the Catholicism on offer at their nearest parish churches and went looking for what their books and heroes described. They also included people who were fed up to their back teeth by what was going on in their parish communities--usually involving gross irreverence for the Blessed Sacrament. 

Summorum Pontificum worked--and I say this with all due respect for the SSPX--to keep Catholics who believe all the hard teachings at the heart of the Church, and not in the distant suburbs where the SSPX have their churches. In fact, it really did work towards unity. I will end--as the morning is getting on--by saying that SP also gave young priests something good and solid to help them carry the very heavy cross they chose, something that strengthens their steps and prevents them from stumbling. 


  1. One day I want to go to the TLM and get some holiness rubbed on me from the community.

    1. I presume you are being facetious, but I will say that, after having gone to the Novus Ordo almost every Sunday of my life, I looked to B.A.'s community for my cue to how I should respond to this weird, semi-silent ceremony. After all, it is quite obvious that for most of the NO, the community is the focus, and it taught me to focus on the community, too, to the point of chauvinism. It's very much a "WE" not a "HE"--unless the "HE" is the priest. The community--or congregation, to be precise--was silent and attentive, completely caught up in the actions and prayers at the altar. I was seriously very impressed by them all.

  2. I was neither facetious nor chauvinistic I hope. I actually had to look up those words. I just wrote what I felt.
    BTW, I have been reading you for 20 years I think.
    Thank you.

    1. Oh dear. I'm sorry. I was led astray by your being anonymous and the concept of a community rubbing holiness on someone, which made me think of body lotion.