WITH ST. HELIODORUS GONE and Mrs. Begorrah rampant, our liturgical reforms entered a new and more hesitant phase. All may be very different by the time you read this; at the time of writing. we are living on a diet of rumours and hope. We live from hand to mouth, waiting for the reforms, waiting for the vernacular, waiting for the weekly Catholic papers to find out what we must do next.
Our liturgical progress has been slow. A sudden parochial change of heart seems most unlikely and though we make the responses at she dialogue Mass on Sundays, our dialogue is little more than 30 monologues. Mrs. Begorrah answers "Pray for us" no matter what the priest has said. Mrs. Armstrong-Ffrench is a flier; her Latin is fluent and she loves to leave the field behind.
Mrs. Anstey is strong in Latin but weak of larynx ; God certainly hears her prayers but few others can. Dr. Starch is a tower of strength but much of his time must be devoted to his youngest daughter, too small to know the liturgical responses but quite old enough to sing a voluntary, Indeed little Rosemary Anne finds in the dialogue Mass a general encouragement to talk.
Nellie specialises on the reply to the Orate Fratres after which her mind wanders as she thumbs her way through an impressive pile of mortuary cards. All that can be said at present is that some days arc better than others and that we will never fail completely while we have Frank.
Indeed, at the time of writing, there are two distinct hopes for the future; one, the coming mission, the other, Frank. Frank's story is more simple so I put him first. He is a fine young man of 21, Grammar school educated, now studying at a Polytechnic and living at home. Frank is handy with his hands, knows as much as Dr. Beeching about British Railways and more than I do about Plumhampton and its church.
I met him first in the sacristy on the Sunday after my arrival and he has never missed a Sunday since. Indeed, he will come
at any time and undertake any operation with quiet competence.
If shyness is a weakness then it is Frank's only fault. In my first weeks, I was, obviously, too gushing but a priest learns by his mistakes. Frank hates any kind of thanks, anything personal, any trace of kindness or sentiment. When he lets himself go on rare occasions, he might go as far as saying "Well. Father I'll be popping" or "Bye Bye for now".
With Frank about, nothing fails completely for he never knows discouragement. At our dialogue Mass on Sundays, his replies are competently loud Mrs. Begotnab and Rosemary Starch together cannot drown him or put him off his stride. He may lack poetry or any deep intuitive insight into liturgical custom but he approaches God reverendly and polytechnically. He is neither for the liturgy nor against it ; if I handed him a trombone he would play it for God's greater glory at the right moments, then clean it, polish it and hand it back.
On only one occasion in my first year did Frank and I speak earnestly on a serious subject, and this was last Sunday in the sacristy. We had been talking about the coming mission and Frank thought that he could get back from the Polytechnic in
This led me to ask him when he finished his studies and he went as far as to say "in July". When I asked him what he proposed to do next in life, he shrugged his shoulders in reply. Inwardly full of fear, I risked the million dollar question. "Frank," said 1, 'why don't you become a priest?"
Frank turned pale, was plainly embarrassed, spent sevaral, silent seconds fitting his toe-cap into a pattern on the linoleum. When, at last, he answered, it was in a strident voice "Because I'm not good enough, that's why" he said, almost rudely, and looked down at the linoleum again. His answer upset me and my voice also jumped half an octave. "Good God", said I, "you must not say things like that. What about me?"
Frank was almost as surprised as I was myself for a priest rarely expresses his own personal misgivings publicly and hysterically. I went on to tell him that no priest felt anything but utterly unworthy and that here lay the one great trial in a noble life. I went faster and faster in my excitement while Frank concentrated on the lino pattern and his toe.
I found all my faith and zeal returning as I lectured him. My contemporaries would have been a little astonished to hear my lavish praise of the seminary. I even called Joe Plaster a "saintly priest". I felt slightly ridiculous but also very encouraged ; all the world over priests revealed their genuine feelings only when a young man toys with being a priest.
Frank said nothing and in the end I left my eulogy in mid-air. There was another painful silence and, then, Frank remarked casually "Well, Father, I'll be popping" but I am almost sure that he added in a whisper "Thanks a lot".