Sunday, January 4, 2009

Four Seasons

I had a leisurely drive down to Hobart on Friday, stopping, as is my wont, at all the little towns along the way.

At Campbell Town, for instance, I always stop at St Michael's to pray for the repose of the souls of the three priests buried there - the very first Australian-born priest (a Benedictine), a missionary priest who died in the district in the early years of Federation, and the very last parish priest of the town - who in a way give silent testimony to the up-and-down ecclesiastical history of this State and Commonwealth: a sombre meditation on blighted hopes and the continuing inability of the Church here to propagate itself. (The resident religious sister kindly let me in to the church to say my prayers, and pointed out how the east window was in memory of Dean O'Connell, O.S.B., while the west was in memory of Fr Chetail, M.S.C., the missionary).

Similarly, at Ross I obtained the key to the little stone church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and was struck by the contrast between it (with its typical furnishings) and the cold Anglican fane further up the main street, a larger but Protestant edifice, with non-figurative glass, and a bare cross not a crucifix; the Anglican remnants of altar table, pulpit, eagle lectern, kneeling desk and font reminded me of the stripping of the altars under wicked Henry VIII and his awful brood: no saints, no statues, no images, no tabernacle, no Blessed Sacrament - instead, "the Real Absence". Anathema sit!

Very annoyingly, the famous Catholic church at Oatlands, designed by Pugin and with rood screen still intact, was locked, and inaccessible; ditto for the church at Pontville, where I paid my respects to and said another De profundis &c. for my godmother, whose grave I visit in the adjoining cemetery.

Having arrived in cool and rainy Hobart, I arose next morning for early Mass at St Canice (the dear pious if eccentric retired priest there being happy to hear my confession afterward), and then caught up with Rob, my friend from Perth who's been in Tasmania for Christmas with his folks. It was absolutely freezingly cold - Hobart was windy and cloudy, threatening rain, and the supposed 10C outside felt more like 3 - and I couldn't believe it was the 3rd of January. We hied ourselves to a cafe to escape the drear wintry conditions; if to-day hadn't dawned so fine, sunny, warm and bright I'd have repacked to return to W.A....

Rob and I paid a visit to St Joseph's, the city church and sometime pro-cathedral, and in the afternoon drove over to Richmond, about 20km east of Hobart, to St John's, the oldest remaining Catholic church in Australia. Visiting the adjoining graveyard was a real moral tonic; the oldest gravestones date back to the 1840's or earlier, but are so drunkenly leaning, or broken, or illegible owing to erosion, or utterly tumbled down the steep hillside behind the church, that it's a wonder no bones are sticking out of the eroded earth - the Coal River has cut away a cliffside behind the last and highest graves, and we spotted at least one gravestone down the fenced-off descent... how many early settlers have gone for a postmortem swim one wonders?

So then, for the lesson: if even a century leaves one's final resting place obliterated, what uncertainty to trust to prayers and Masses after death, rather than run one's race now, pray and hear Mass now, when one still has time - and how much time, seeing death-dates of men younger than oneself? And the change in memorial inscriptions from "Rest in peace" and such prayers, to the last few decades' "Always in our hearts" bespeaks nothing more than the loss of certitude in Purgatory and the afterlife, for the corrosive winds of indifference and scepticism now leave people mouthing platitudes about "going to heaven" apparently straightaway, but really only half-believing in any survival after bodily decease. Non-practising descendants increasingly don't even arrange funeral Masses for the dead, just a less-uncomfortable "funeral service" - thus robbing their dead of their rights.

This morning, I heard Mass at Holy Spirit, Sandy Bay, a rather ugly church with second-rate art despite being in a rather well-off suburb. Fr Tate, the parish priest, is a good fellow, sober in manner, and preaches well; but I was inwardly saddened by the mediocrity of the music, despite it being bravely led by a very tiny and elderly group, even though it was very commendable for a Novus Ordo show (traditional Epiphany hymns and singable Ordinary and all); and I found the liturgy, even though carried out at quite a reasonable standard, again - being Novus Ordo - dare I say it pathetic in the true sense: what a pup we've all been sold, having to put up with such substandard fare! It's sad to see the aging priest and congregation doing their best but really missing out on the riches of the Roman Rite. Our Blessed Lord is truly offered and received, but the accidents are not what they could be.

(While the Mass was of the Epiphany, of course I've been celebrating the Holy Name of Jesus, as the Breviary requires.)

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