Saturday, July 4


He Had Always Wondered What Curates Talked About

The following is a conversation between the pastor and three junior curates in a Boston parish around the time of World War I, taken from Henry Morton Robinson's charmingly-drawn clerical potboiler, The Cardinal, 1950, pp. 59-60:

"I'd like to instruct some boys in plain chanting."

The proposal infuriated Monaghan. "There'll be no plain chanting in St. Margaret's. This is a parish church, not a--a basilica." He pronounced the word as if it were the name of a disease.

Father Lyons sipped weakly at his glass of milk. Stephen stepped into the breach. "I'll train some altar boys, Father."

"The job is yours. And no fancy stuff, mind you. Just the responses in decent Latin, and some sense of respect for what they're supposed to be doing up there on the altar. You understand?"

"I understand, Father."

Pastor Monaghan said grace hastily and rose from the table, eager to get at the cigar he kept locked in a humidor in his room. The three curates sat silently looking at one another.

"What's he got against plain chanting?" the milky one asked petulantly. "It's very beautiful. Pius X wrote a Motu Proprio about it, you know."

"So he did," said Steve. "Isn't that the one where he says the mechanical instruments are no substitute for the glories of the human voice?"

"That's it," said Milky eagerly. "The Sovereign Pontiff urges upon all Catholic pastors the importance of training choirs of children in plain chanting. Furthermore"--evidently Father Lyons had the docment by heart--"he inveighs against the laxity of responses from the congregation and says that--"

"Listen, you two," put in Paul Ireton. "Consider the facts surrounding the writing of that Motu Proprio, will you? In the first place, Pius X was a Patriarch of Venice. Remember Venice, the place that held the glorious East in fee? No motorboats in the canals, no electric lights--just a lot of gondolas, singing boatmen, palaces on stilts, and all that. Fine. That's the tradition Pius X was working in. But now you get a man like our pastoricus here, a gadget-loving westerner who doesn't know a square note from a round, living in an industrial town where electricity is cheap. Why in heaven's name should he prefer plain song to the nice ten-thousand-dollar electric organ he's just installed?"

"But plain singing is a heritage from the earliest Church," said Milky.

"Plus three centuries of British--that is to say, Anglican--tradition," said Paul Ireton. "You wouldn't expect a man sprung from landlord shooters to embrace the practices of the landlord, would you?"

"You're being rather parochial," sniffed Milky.

"You mean," corrected Paul Ireton, "I'm being rather Boston-Irish."

Steve sipped his coffee, reserving judgment. He had always wondered what curates talked about; surely it couldn't always be as good as this.

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