Saturday, June 24, 2006

Stephen Maturin's Mass

I've gotten hooked on the Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian, which partly accounts for my last week's silence. But today I ran across something interesting from a contemporary Catholic viewpoint in the sixth novel, Fortune of War.

Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon and naturalist, Catalan and Irish by birth, and Catholic, has been taken prisoner with Jack Aubrey during the War of 1812, and goes hunting for somewhere to hear Mass during his captivity in Boston.

... the priest was already at the altar by the time they reached the obscure chapel in a side-alley, and crept into the enormously evocative smell of old incense. There followed an interval on a completely different plane of being: with the familiar ancient words around him, always the same, in whatever country he had ever been (though now uttered in a broad Munster Latin), he lived free of time or geography, and he might have walked out, a boy, into the streets of Barcelona white in the sun, or into those of Dublin under the soft rain. He prayed, as he had prayed so long, for Diana, but even before the priest dismissed them, the changed nature of his inner words brought him back to the immediate present and to Boston, and if he had been a weeping man it would have brought tears coursing down his face.

Lucky Stephen. He lived in a world where, indeed, a Catholic could voyage 'round the world and take solace in the same Mass in each land he visited. The world Catholics had had for a thousand years, and which we had until such a short time ago. May that world come again, and soon.