Give Us Back Our Feast Days

These past two years, Catholics in England haven’t celebrated Ascension Day. This has meant the breaking of a tradition stretching back more than a thousand years. Even during penal times, when the Faith was persecuted, this 40th day after Easter was marked as a holy day, and all who could manage it went to Mass, … Read more

The Italian Concerto

  Very often, if my wife is out doing errands in the middle of the day, I will make up my lunch on a tray and carry it into my study. There I can put a CD on my portable player — it is the only system I have, and it sits in a shelf … Read more

The Island of Saints

This year marks an anniversary for Catholics in Britain: 230 years since the first Catholic Relief Act. In 1778, the law banning Catholic worship and making it a capital offence to be a Catholic priest was relaxed for the first time since the reign of Elizabeth I. For several years I worked at the House … Read more

An Odd Reminder

  Well brought-up children are taught to say thank you, along with all of the other greetings and responses that attend polite life. Such responses must be imposed at first, of course, and learned by rote, but soon enough they become habitual, and virtually unconscious. This does not, however, mean that they are fraudulent. Somehow … Read more

Our Lady of Ransom

The revival of the Catholic Faith in England in the 19th century saw the establishment of various feasts and traditions, in the conscious desire to restore and revive things that had been lost. One such feast day was that of Our Lady of Ransom. This ancient medieval title was restored to Mary, and a Guild … Read more

A Photo in Transylvania

  A sumptuous travel magazine — to which, I need scarcely add, we do not subscribe — arrived in our letter box the other day. Things are so beautifully laid-out these days that one cannot always tell whether a given item is actually just a piece of advertising.   In any case, the cover shows … Read more

An Advent Note on Ikhnaton

One’s thoughts don’t ordinarily run much to the pharaohs in connection with Advent. Insofar as Egypt might crop up at all, it would seem more fitting to hold it for the Flight into Egypt after the Nativity.   In any case, I received a card this past week from a Discalced Carmelite nun friend of … Read more

In a Country Church

I am seated in the chancel of a glorious medieval church, just behind the great rood screen, one of only a handful in England that survived the Reformation. Originally, it would have been topped by a great cross, with figures of Our Lady and St. John alongside. Today, its intricate carving and delicate arches welcome … Read more

Ecce Quam Bonum

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”   We hear this bracing sentiment often enough in musical and liturgical settings, most notably in the seraphic motet by Tomás Luis de Victoria, or in the spare sequence of chant. When it is conveyed to us under these modalities, … Read more

The Three Monkeys

  Trinket shops at roadside tourist spots used to sell items like shellacked coasters cut from cross sections of white pine or birch logs, or faux-bark mottoes inscribed with uplifting sentiments, or bawdy farmyard postcards. That sort of thing. Perhaps they still do.   Among the trinkets, one could always find the three monkeys telling … Read more

Tocqueville’s Catholic America

Alexis de Tocqueville was born—and died—a Catholic. He lost his faith as an adolescent, but it had already broadened and enlightened him (indeed, his childhood tutor was a beloved priest) and made him the brilliant political observer he would become.   Tocqueville was an aristocrat from a family that had stood by the Bourbons and … Read more

England at Prayer

In The Stripping of the Altars—the single most important book in English Reformation studies in the past 50 years—Eamon Duffy demonstrates the vitality of popular religion in England in the years leading up the Reformation. Duffy’s thesis, comprehensively researched and cogently argued, turned inside-out—or, more precisely, upside-down—the received opinion concerning the Reformation in England, namely, … Read more

Anti-Catholic Nastiness in England

  Catholics in Britain have recently begun commenting on what they see as a growing trend: Over the past couple of years it has become worryingly routine to hear crass and vulgar attacks on the Church, attacks that would be regarded as wholly unacceptable if they were made against the Jewish or Islamic faiths.   … Read more

Legislating Intolerance: Is Marriage a Dying Institution in England?

  There’s a problem at the moment in Britain with our sense of national identity. The problem is a compound of many things, of course: an all-pervasive culture of pop music and TV soaps, muddle about the way history is (or isn’t) taught in schools, a substantial and growing Islamic presence, confusion about our role … Read more

Robert Francis Wilberforce

It was through his brother-in-law, Louis Bancel Warren, that I got to know Robert Francis Wilberforce (1887–1988), and none too soon, for he was closing in on his 100th birthday—a genetic habit of the family, for his mother died in her 100th year, and his father was 91 in a time of rudimentary medicine. Louis … Read more

King Michael

Some months ago, my wife and I found ourselves watching a television program hosted by Ollie North. I am under the impression that he has a series on military affairs, or heroes, or something in that vein. In any event, on this evening he was interviewing King Michael of Romania.   Unless they are as … Read more

Marriage, Divorce and a Seaside Town

Paignton is a pleasant seaside town in Devon, in the western part of England. Its wide, sandy beaches are packed in summer, and most of its 1930s houses offer bed-and-breakfast or are rented out as holiday apartments. There are boat trips across the bay to Brixham, where William of Orange landed in 1689—a statue commemorates … Read more

Notes Upon Hearing Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto

How shall we speak of Mozart? We are always struck by his sprightly lyricism, of course, which offers us immeasurable delight but at the same time brings tears to our eyes—the tears that arrive when we find ourselves hailed with pure beauty. Grandeur, hilarity, bliss, poignancy, joy—what words suffice?   I was listening to Mozart … Read more

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