17 June 2009

Dixit Willis

"To me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever, and not be tired." Words of a character - a sympathetic character - in Newman's semi-autobiographical novel Loss and Gain. My judgement is that Newman used this persona to speak with a personal passion that might have seemed excessive if he had spoken in propria persona.

I was reminded of these words when reading about the latest views of Richard Holloway, Anglican former Bishop of Edinburgh, and now a "Christian agnostic". He was once Vicar of S Mary Mag's church in Oxford; Western Rite", as we say; baroque; the altar cluttered with reliquaries; everything of the best. Holloway still says Mass, despite being an agnostic, and wrote "The Eucharist ... is the way you express your identity and membership of that body. I happen to believe that it is a beautiful art form as well."

Professor Dawkins once expressed his puzzlement that Dr Antony Kenny, a lapsed RC priest who was a fine Warden of Balliol, seemed unable to get religion out of his system despite the years that have rolled by since he lapsed from the Catholic priesthood. And Terry Eagleton, Catholic Marxist of the 1960s ("the Eucharist is a paradigm of a socialist society"), whose precise credal identity now seems elusive, has just written an angry book attacking the playground bullies of the current atheist intellectual establishment.

What people find hard to get out of their system, whatever their intellectual doubts or moral delinquencies, is the haunting, absorbing, unforgettable magic of the Mass. I understand it, don't you?


Christian said...

I notice on Mr Holloway's wikipedia article that he has been appointed to many fertilisation committees etc. Of course a bishop who actually represented what Christians believed would never be given such a position whatever his learning and ability and despite the fact that he would represent far more people. The establishment makes me sick.

William Tighe said...

Why the title, "Dixit Willis;" there is no mention of the Rector of Wing (etc.) in it?

Chris Jones said...

I understand it, don't you?

Indeed I do. I am not, like the men you refer to in your post, an agnostic or a lapsed believer. But like many (most?) believers in this unbelieving age, I have moments when I doubt. Moments when the feeling of God's existence is simply absent, and my intellectual conviction that the Gospel is true, while still there, has no emotional force.

But there is no time when I doubt the reality, the beauty, and the power of the Mass. The Mass carries my faith at times when nothing else will. The Lord is with us in the Mass in a way that the heart perceives when the mind is too weak or wayward to do so.

Malcolm Kemp said...

I would - and do - view with the utmost suspicion anybody who says they never have doubts. I was taught many years ago that we all have them and that each time the faith returns it is stronger than it was before the period of doubt. The person who first told me that had been a student of the famous Fr Kelly of Kelham who apparently used to say that the best proof of the existence of God was in the pig-sty.