I seem to create potential converts by taking people to the Brompton Oratory for Mass, but never would have I thought that someone would ever call that “one of my most romantic gestures”, even though for a long time I have wished that, if I ever found someone crazy enough to want to spend the rest of their life with me, I would get married in that church.
The reason for it is that it is an enchanting building (you can take a virtual tour of it on their website), as well as one of the few places where you can get a NO Mass in Latin said to the East, and more importantly a place infused with deep and tangible sense of the transcendence, like a taste of heaven on earth.
Dorothy Day famously defended the choice to rebuild a grand cathedral in San Francisco following its destruction into a fire saying: “The church has an obligation to feed the poor, and we cannot spend all our money on buildings. However, there are many kinds of hunger. There is a hunger for bread, and we must give people food. But there is also a hunger for beauty – and there are very few beautiful places that the poor can get into. Here is a place of transcendent beauty, and it is as accessible to the homeless in the Tenderloin as it is to the mayor of San Francisco. The Cathedral in San Francisco is one of the few places where the poor can go and sit down and be with God in beauty…”
In my teenage years, I too wondered why we had such rich churches when there were so many social justice issues to deal with. I was Biblically illiterate, and I also had no real understanding of the teaching of the church I was baptised into, especially I was never taught about the real presence despite undergoing catechesis for my first holy communion. I had no idea that the wealth of the Vatican was more perception than reality, but even if that wasn’t the case (and really it is) had no grasp of the implications, and not only the moral ones that Dorothy Day, someone with the biggest heart for the poor and an attachment to radical politics so far from my own, so beautifully expressed; the beauty on display for the faithful to be reminded of the source of all beauty also attracts people who visit out of interest in the art and donate (or pay entrance fees in places like the Vatican Museums) for the privilege of seeing these things. It may also be the case that the beauty around them will plant a seed for their conversion.
The romantic gesture had more to it than just a beautiful church, and a clumsy attempt to explain what was going on as the choir sang the Creed in Latin, and the whole congregation genuflected in unison as if they had rehearsed a choreography, which made me keenly aware of just what beauty there is in many aspects of the rite of the Mass, especially if you are a spectator and not a participant. As we’ll be in the 3rd week of Lent soon, my favourite part of the liturgical year is coming up (Holy Week). It had a lot to do with me sharing something that is important to me. I have noticed in recent times that a prayer prayed a long time ago had been answered, and I do not mean to be arrogant when I say that people have begun to respond to my faith in different ways ever since.
One of my ex-boyfriends once said that they loved to hear me speaking about history, because I glow when I talk about things I am passionate about. Mr Knightley says the same about both history and my faith, among other things. It is (should I say it?) enchanting. It may make some people clutch their pearls, because they usually associate the word enchanting with magic, thanks to the long history of the word meaning that in quite practical terms, and magic is seen as negative, and for good reason. However, the dictionary definition of magic means: “the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”. Magic is a pale imitation of the power of miracles. In the book of Exodus, when God sends the ten plagues on Egypt, the first two of them are replicated by Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 7–8).
In a world of disbelief, people are more and more seeking fulfilment of the thirst for enchantment in the wrong places, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t find “the sense of wonder or delight” somewhere. That somewhere, for me, is beautiful churches like the Italian Baroque architecture of the Oratory, with its dark and smoky atmosphere and silence that fills it, or grand Gothic and Gothic Revival buildings with their tall arches reaching up for heaven, and the incense-filled rites that take place in them.
Today’s blog post has been part of the Love Blog Challenge 2018 on the subject “Enchantment”. Find the rest of the series here.