March Diary

Thurifer’ goes to the cinema, and the Banqueting House

“Silence” the latest film by Martin Scorsese (once a seminarian) is, as most films nowadays, too long; and, as it deals with the same moral dilemma – the extent to which others should suffer to maintain your own moral integrity – repetitious. That dilemma for two Jesuit priests as part of the Jesuit mission to Japan is explored through graphic scenes of torture and executions that are as ingenious as they are barbarous. The time, effort and perverse creativity to devise so many and various hideous modes of execution, mirrored and surpassed by the so-called Islamic State, is a frightening reminder of man’s fallen nature. Yet we cannot take the high moral ground: it says something that beheading, the guillotine, the electric chair, and intravenous injection were seen as “humane” improvements on previous methods. Although the scenes in Scorsese’s film are less Grand Guignol than those in, say, Quentin Tarantino, film makes them almost sanitised. Is it anything other than the pornography of violence? I have to make a conscious effort not to suspend my disbelief. I cannot forget that these are actors, that this is artifice, art even. Otherwise I fear for my sanity.

***

What of Crucifixion? I once heard a sermon which was a vivid, detailed, medically, and anatomically correct description of Christ’s suffering and death. One of the acolytes visibly blanched and left the sanctuary. Many in the congregation were similarly shaken. It may have been salutary to hear in harrowing detail what was done for us, and it is impossible not to be shocked and shaken by the agony of the Crucifixion as depicted by Grünewald in his powerful, affecting, and terrifying Isenheim Altarpiece.

***

The Society of King Charles the Martyr returned to the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, following its recent refurbishment, for this year’s Commemoration of his Decollation on 30 January. The Mass was sung beneath Rubens’s magnificent ceiling, the Apotheosis of King James I; and the Revd Dr Peter Anthony preached. His beguiling, extended opening paragraphs were an elegantly wrought panegyric, but bad history: or so I thought. Just in time I remembered that he was too good a scholar to blunder, and that he could not have been speaking of Charles I. Before I worked out who it was, he revealed that he had been speaking of Blessed Charles of Austria, the last Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and Croatia, King of Bohemia, and myriad other titles, who for his exemplary character was beatified in 2004. The Mass setting was Lassus. To complete the divine polyphony there were two rollicking hymns. The final hymn was “Christ who rules over earth and heaven / Champion of the broken cause.” It would be an interesting exercise to compare that piece of deathless verse with the Walsingham Hymn to determine at which point they descend into bathos. Another thought: why was the congregation, which included the Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP, overwhelmingly male? They could not have been a dozen women in a congregation of nearly two hundred.

***

For the aficionado of papal conclaves, a highlight of the most recent one was the moment when the elegant and precise Master of Papal Ceremonies, Monsignor Marini, enunciated the injunction “extra omnes.” Robert Harris has written a well-researched novel, “Conclave.” It seems reasonably accurate in its detail. It rehearses the differences between the liberal and conservative “parties” fairly enough. There are a couple of neat twists. As I have recently finished reading about the three Conclaves in 1503 which resulted in the elections of Alexander VI, Paul III, and Julius II. It was a little tame but sufficiently diverting to recommend it.

***

Watts & Co, suppliers of bespoke vestments par excellence, suffered a major disaster last June when, of all months, torrential rain overwhelmed the drainage and sewage system in Westminster. Its showroom in the basement of Faith House was flooded to several feet; and irreplaceable archive material and much stock was destroyed or seriously damaged. A swift relocation to the upper floor of Faith House and to Mary Sumner House opposite enabled them to pick up business fairy swiftly. In the same week as the flood David Gazeley, known to many for his unrivalled expertise and unfailing eye, retired. Watts is now restored to its refurbished showroom and the staff are working hard to re-establish their business, which inevitably suffered in the wake of the flood. Founded by Bodley and with 140 years of service to the Church, it is open for business and deserves our support.

***

The late American essayist Gore Vidal once said, “Every time a friend succeeds something inside me dies.” If “congratulations” is the right word, mine go unstintingly to Bishop Philip North on his impending translation from Burnley to Sheffield. As one new bishop assumes his See, another retires. Bishop Chartres will remain Dean of the Chapels Royal until a successor is appointed. Bishop Pete(r) Broadbent will take the reins of the Diocese, but not the duties of the Royal Household – no doubt to his and Her Majesty’s relief.

2018-10-04T12:25:36+00:00 March 2017 Articles|