30 March 2009

The Delight of Morning Mass - Belloc

The Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc is regarded by many as his greatest prose work. Written in 1902 it details a journey he made on foot from Lorraine, down through the Moselle valley, through part of Switzerland, and across the Lombard plain to Rome.

One of the discursive essays of his journey describes his disappointment upon arriving in a small village only to discover that he has missed morning Mass, "for what is a pilgrimage in which a man cannot hear Mass every morning?" Of all that he read on the life of St. Louis he wishes he would have had the chance to speak to him of his habit of getting Mass daily whenever he marched down south. Belloc found this custom to be most delightful though he was at loss to explain the reason for this delight. He continues his narrative with this attempt at understanding,

Of course there is a grace and influence belonging to such a custom, but it is not of that I am speaking but of the pleasing sensation of order and accomplishment which attaches to a day one has opened by Mass; a purely temporal, and, for all I know, what the monks back at the ironworks would have called a carnal feeling, but a source of continual comfort to me. Let them go their way and let me go mine.

This comfort I ascribe to four causes (just above you will find it written that I could not tell why this should be so, but what of that?), and these causes are: --

1. That for half-an-hour just at the opening of the day you are silent and recollected, [an advantage of the Traditional Latin Mass] and have to put off cares, interests, and passions in the repetition of a familiar action. This must certainly be a great benefit to the body and give it tone.

2. That the Mass is a careful and rapid ritual. Now it is the function of all ritual (as we see in games, social arrangements and so forth) to relieve the mind by so much of responsibility and initiative and to catch you up (as it were) into itself, leading your life for you during the time it lasts. In this way you experience a singular repose, after which fallowness I am sure one is fitter for action and judgment.

3. That the surroundings incline you to good an reasonable thoughts, and for the moment deaden the rasp and jar of that busy wickedness which both working in one's self and received from others is the true source of all human miseries. Thus the time spent at Mass is like a short repose in a deep and well-built library, into which no sounds come and where you feel yourself secure against the outer world.

4. And the most important cause of the feeling of satisfaction is that you are doing what the human race has done for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years. This is a matter of such moment that I am astonished people hear of it so little. Whatever is buried right into our blood from immemorial habit that we must be certain to do if we are to be fairly happy (of course no grown man or woman can really be very happy for long--but I mean reasonably happy), and, what is more important, decent and secure of our souls. Thus one should from time to time hunt animals, or at the very least shoot at a mark; one should always drink some kind of fermented liquor with one's food--and especially deeply upon great feast-days; one should go on the water from time to time; and one should dance on occasion; and one should sing in chorus. For all these things man has done since God put him into a garden and his eyes first became troubled with a soul. Similarly some teacher or ranter or other, whose name I forget, said lately one very wise thing at least, which was that every man should do a little work with his hands.

Oh! what good philosophy this is, and how much better it would be if rich people, instead of raining the influence of their rank and spending their money on leagues for this or that exceptional thing, were to spend it in converting the middle-class to ordinary living and to the tradition of the race.

Now in the morning Mass you do all that the race needs to do and has done for all these ages where religion was concerned; there you have the sacred and separate Enclosure, the Altar, the Priest in his Vestment, the set ritual, the ancient and hierarchic tongue, [Latin] and all that your nature cries out for in the matter of worship.

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