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Catholic Times

The Mass and the Saints

7th December 2008

.......One possible response the re-awakening of Catholic culture has recently been highlighted by Crean's fellow Dominican, Aidan Nichols, in his book The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England. Would Crean agree that this is an appealing idea?

"Certainly! I should be very happy to see more public and domestic signs of Catholicism, such as Corpus Christi processions, shrines and crucifixes in family homes. As for 'high culture', well, we can't will genius into existence. But we can preserve the treasures that already exist."

"I think in particular of Gregorian chant. What if some of the money now spent by dioceses for other purposes was used to pay musicians to go around the parishes, forming a decent Gregorian choir in each one? If it is true that beauty serves to purify the soul then this would be for the sake not just of 'culture', but for the good of souls."

Crean's latest book, The Mass and the Saints, focuses on such considerations. A more meditative book than his previous one, The Mass and the Saints collects together quotations and thoughts on the Mass from various saints, each part of the liturgy being considered separately, including the use of Latin and Gregorian chant. As such, it chimes with many of the Pope's recent actions, such as the motu proprio freeing up use of the Latin Mass. Does Crean think that the Pope's initiatives are an expression of the calls to re­awaken the Catholic imagination?

"Yes, that's exactly right. My aim in writing this book was to go behind the sometimes acrimonious discussions about the sacred liturgy, and let those who have understood it best the saints speak for themselves. I envisaged the book as a kind of symphony in words, in which many different voices would make a whole, some giving literal, historical or mystical explanations of the liturgy, others moral reflections."

"I think that Pope Benedict desires very much that 'the people should pray in beauty', as his predecessor St Pius X said about a hundred years ago. It's perhaps worth pointing out, though, that this is a perennial concern of the papacy. Thus, in the sections on Latin and Gregorian chant, I present some powerful words of both John XXIII and Paul VI."

As well as the fundamental and awe-inspiring nature of the Mass and the Eucharist, two of the overriding elements conveyed by The Mass and the Saints are the importance of tradition and the priesthood.

Fortunately, both are currently going through a much needed process of rehabilitation.

"Tradition and the priesthood are two of the pillars supporting the Church. Whatever weakens them, weakens the Church. I think that priests will benefit from the so-called 'Benedictine reforms' the example that Pope Benedict is setting in the celebration of the sacred liturgy."

"As for tradition, this is a word with many meanings. The ecclesiastical traditions involved, for example, in the liturgy are rightly precious to Catholics St Theresa of Avila said that she would gladly give her life for the least ceremony of the Church. Yet doctrinal tradition is even more important, the fact that we hold the faith and morals 'coming to us from the Apostles'. That is why past encyclicals are still authoritative for us today: magisterial texts don't come with expiry dates!"

As well as Crean and Aidan Nichols, the Dominicans are currently having something of a revival in the country's consciousness, what with the continued writings of Timothy Radcliffe and the presence of a Dominican bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham. Bearing in mind the old adage that the Franciscans talk to the heart and the Dominicans the head, is it fair to suggest, slightly tongue in cheek, that their growing status is indicative of the times?

"Naturally, I'm glad if the Order to which I have the privilege to belong is holding its own. Yet it doesn't exist for its own sake, but principally, according to our Constitutions, 'for preaching and the salvation of souls'. So our talking has to be addressed both to the head and to the heart. By explaining the faith and morals that have come to us from the apostles, we can help people to love God more. If we are doing that, then listen to us!"

One gets the feeling that if Crean keeps producing works of such a high standard, that last piece of advice is going to prove somewhat unnecessary.

A Catholic Replies to Professor Dawkins and The Mass and the Saints are available in the UK from Family Publications (Tel: 0845 0500 879).

Version: 11th April 2009

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