Nostalgia and Grace, by Carolyn Lee (page 14)

Resurrecting a Ghost (continued)

By this time I was teaching in an Irish university where most of the students were, at least nominally, Catholic, and so I set about involving them in some live “liturgical reconstruction”. It felt so ironic to me that now that I had actually become a Catholic myself, the great Latin liturgies that I loved and knew so well were no longer practiced in the Catholic Church, which had set them aside for a dilute, vernacular substitute. But I hoped that on the college campus, with the cooperation of the chaplains, we could occasionally have a Mass in Latin with the full panoply of Gregorian Chant sung by a group of students. The chaplains were helpful, even enthusiastic, but also a trifle nervous. Would it be too long and incomprehensible to them?

We took the risk and went ahead. There were a few wonderful occasions, but on the whole I had to acknowledge a feeling of artificiality, of putting on a show. Interestingly enough, some of our best moments were masses for the Dead. We would be thanked afterwards by the mourning relatives, who had felt great blessing in the ancient form and its chants that they (and their deceased loved one) had known all their lives.

Our success with the traditional Requiem Mass summed up the whole venture. It was less promising than what I had seen in the Oxford colleges. There the choirs and clergy were at least striving to preserve something. I was trying to resurrect a ghost! More and more I felt my idealism, and the inescapable sorrow in it. Real life and religion could not be built on nostalgia.

But I was still moved and comforted by the Catholic mystical writers, by their imagery of the union of the soul with Christ. I fantasized wistfully about the Christian contemplative life and would visit monasteries (living ones this time!) whenever I could.