Friday, December 19, 2014

There Was a Revolution

The Constitution on the Liturgy seemed to Judith a perfectly reasonable document. Latin and the Immemorial Mass were preserved; a few harmless changes were permitted. In January 1964 Paul VI issued a motu proprio fixing the parts of the Mass to be said in the vernacular: the introductory psalm, the epistle, the Gospel and the like. At Holy Cross, old Canon Slattery stuck to the Latin, however. At the convent, Father Mallon used English, but it was perfectly tolerable once a week.

In September 1964 a new instruction was issued allowing the whole of Mass in the vernacular apart from the canon. It was to come into force on the first Sunday in Advent, November 29th. Judith knew nothing about it as she had stopped taking Catholic papers in the previous June. Canon Slattery had not mentioned it from the pulpit. Reverend Mother had not thought of telling her about it.

On Saturday, December 5th, Judith went to Mass as usual at the convent. She could not believe her eyes or ears. The altar had been moved forward by four or five feet. The tabernacle had been shifted and placed in a corner to the left on a tall, rickety Victorian stand with spindly legs such as convents seem to collect. It had previously supported an aspidistra. There was no crucifix. In its place stood a microphone. It looked like a serpent coming up from the bowels of the earth and rearing its ugly head to hiss at the priest.

Father Mallon tripped in. Judith had always avoided looking at him. But there he was, exactly where the Blessed Sacrament had been. To Judith's eyes the sight was unpleasant: the carefully pomaded hair, the protruding eyes with their condescending stare, the large sniffling nose, the precise little mouth with its deprecatory twist, the podgy hands.

It is common experience that the less pleasant the personality the more its possessor wishes to impose it. Father Mallon was no exception. All his life he must have been waiting for the new liturgy. In the name of God everybody would have to take a good look at him. All his movements had become significant, whether he waved his silk bandanna about before he blew his nose or made genteel movements with his little finger as he poured the wine into the chalice. It was all didactic, teaching common people how they should behave. That was bad enough, but the sound was infinitely worse. Judith could close her eyes, but she could not close her ears. The microphone seemed to add to the refeenement of his voice. Then, Father Mallon had a nervous sniff. It had not mattered in the old Mass as you could not see the twitch of nose and lip. Now, not only could the twitch be seen but the sniff came over the microphone high, clear, insistent; it compelled attention. He blew his nose, too, in a high tenor which made the microphone crackle. And the refeened voice over all!

After Mass Judith went to have her usual cup of tea with Reverend Mother.

"Good heavens, Reverend Mother," she exclaimed, "has Father Mallon gone crazy?"

"Didn't you know, my dear? Since Sunday last that is how Mass is to be said."

"What! A special decree from the council that all Catholics must look at Father Mallon?"

"That is more or less it, my dear. Of course, Father Mallon is a very clever and well-informed priest. There is nothing about turning the altar round, and the canon should be said in Latin. But Father knows an expert in Rome who says that is what is coming, so he might as well do it now. His lordship the bishop is enthusiastic."

"Well, it's ghastly," said Judith.

— Bryan Houghton, Judith's Marriage, 1987, pp. 134–135.