Hmmmm. This weekend I finished The World, the Flesh and Father Smith by Bruce Marshall. I enjoyed it very much, and give it a hearty recommendation. Toward the end, when one of the main characters, a certain Fr. O'Duffy, dies, I had to put my head down and sob over the description of his funeral. So lovely:
There was such a cram in the church that the procession had almost to fight its way to the high altar: the Franciscans were there, the Jesuits were there, the Dominicans were there, the Benedictines were there, the Helpers of the Holy Souls were there, the nuns from the convent were there, the Lord Provost and members of the Town Council were there, the management and team of the Shamrock Football Club were there, the Episcopal Dean and the ministers of all the Protestant churches were there, the Salvation Army was there, the Saint Patrick Co-operative Society was there, the Plumbers' and Gasfitters' Trade Union was there, the chorus girls from the revue at the Duke of York's Theatre were there, the chartered accountants were there, the lawyers were there, the bank managers were there, the Town Territorials were there, the university professors were there, the tram-drivers, the stokers, the chimney sweeps, the school-children, the babies he had baptized and the harlots he had rebuked in the street were there, all surging in a steaming soup because a great and a good and a humble and a simple man had been called away by Almighty God......
When the service was over, the coffin was carried from the church on the shoulders of the Shamrock Football Team, whom the monsignore had used to encourage from the grandstand with both fingers in his mouth. Right through the crowd on the steps the shining coffin was passed and was laid in the hearse, which was to be driven by James Finnegan who had once knocked Battling Sambo out of the ring in the presence of King Edward VII. Immediately behind the hearse the pipe band of the territorials formed up, with the drum major enormous in his kilt and a smasher of a moustache that looked like two Persian cats' tails. Then came the members of the Town Council in their cocked hats and robes preceded by their mace-bearer. Then came the Principal and Senate of the University in their gowns and robes, only their files weren't quite even as the Reader in Icelandic Philology got mixed up with Miss Zizi Ashton, leading lady in the Gay Girls revue, whose place in the procession came immediately afterwards. Then came the chartered accountants, the lawyers and the stockbrokers, sorry dogs most of them, and the bank managers with mincing mien. Then came the plumbers and the gasfitters and the stokers and the tram-drivers, humble and knobby men who tinkered at dull tasks to the greater glory of God. Then came the clergy of other denominations in their ordinary clothes without their robes, because it was a individuals to an individual they were paying their last respects. Then came the nuns stretching like great black-and-white birds on the cover of a book by Anatole France. In front of the coffin went the priests in their cottas and cassocks, the canons in their fur and their purple, the friars in their brown and their black and their white, the monks in their cowls, the acolytes trying to keep their candles lighted in the wind, and last of all the Bishop and his assistants in their stiff black and god. And behind all came the great surge of God's great humble holy unwashed, weeping and snivelling and snottering in their shawls because they would never again hear the voice of Patrick Ignatius O'Duffy telling them that they would burn like faggots if they didn't come to Mass on Sundays.....
When at length they reached the cemetery, the acolytes all had to light their candles again as the flames had long since gone out. The Bishop blessed the grave with incense and with holy water and prayed that the soul of Patrick Ignatius O'Duffy might be joined to the angelic choir; and with the cold trees all about them the clergy and the laity all blubbered like bairns because a holy, humble, yelling, blundering, delicate priest had been gathered by God.
Isn't that just great?
The other thing I liked so much about the book was it's take on liturgy as the poetry of the church. Something that is good because it is beautiful and different from everyday life. It's something that those "modernizers" seem to forget. Even the humblest person needs beauty, and sometimes the only place those of us with little money can get much of that is via the Church. To hear beautiful music, see beautiful windows, mosaics, or art, and hear beautiful, sacred words...it can fill a need that we don't even realize we have.
Anyway, if you come across a copy of this little gem, pick it up.
Next on the pile? Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson. Then I will do a quick re-read of Jhumpa Lahiri's short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies for my book club this month.
I'm also reading, for spiritual purposes, a collection of letters by St. Francis de Sales. I'll tell you more about that one later!