I shall not easily forget the election of Pope Benedict coming, as it did, at a particularly intense period of my life.
"Is there any news from Rome yet?" I had asked the Parish Priest, as I saw him out from his visit to anoint my father following the second of the falls which seemed to warn of his coming departure from this world. "Not yet," was the reply. Later, with the patient settled, I went downstairs, switched the television on and saw the pictures from Rome with the sound of the bells ringing. I caught the announcement. It was good news indeed but at the outset it seemed hardly as dramatic as that of Pope John Paul II's election nearly twenty-seven years earlier. The cardinals appeared to have elected the Dean of the College of Cardinals- hardly earth-shattering? Within minutes, however, I found myself warming to him. He wasn't going to be John Paul III but Benedict XVI and his voice had an attractive musical timbre. Most striking, however, was the powerful effect he appeared to have upon some of my least favourite "Catholic" Commentators. They seemed to be positively squirming!
Concerned for my father, I stayed overnight and was therefore able to benfit from the extra television channels on his set. The next morning I found the mass from the Sistine Chapel being broadcast on a "Sky" channel. I switched on in the middle of the holy father's sermon. Gradually it dawned upon me. "IT'S IN LATIN!" I shouted. "We have a pope! We have a CATHOLIC Pope!" That was the moment I was hooked by the fisherman's latest successor.
Now, why should that so excite me?
I was not taught Latin at school. I am not a Traddy or a Triddy. I am just a Catholic- and not even much good at that- but when I was very young, when television was in black and white and Blessed John XXIII was pope my mother explained to me that the mass was in Latin so that it was the same for everyone throughout the world. It has always been a joy to me to be a member of the Church - the Communion of Saints- with its vertical and horizontal dimensions- stretching backwards in time to the Apostles and, in the present, stretching across the whole world encompassing and including people of every race and language. The Latin seems to me to be about that universality. It is about God NOT being an Englishman. It is about us being "strangers and pilgrims in this world" but also about our being "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses". It is about the Tradition: that which has been handed on.
Over the last five years I have heard and read much more from Pope Benedict. Much to my surprise I have found that I was being prepared beforehand - a subject I mean to return to. A little less than three months after that memorable day my father died- on the feast of St Benedict. He had been born during the pontificate of Benedict XV. ( R.I.P.)
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