A breath of air

The post this week is entirely different from the usual material. This time it is wholly practical. Our computers are filled with information about the Virus, but little has been said about how we can improve our performance if we are unlucky enough to catch it. In fact, what I am about to write may save a life or two. It will help others as well if they take it on as a habit.

You will have read that one frequent element is damage to the lungs. While that damage will affect most sufferers, it is at its worst for older people. And I imagine that will include many of the readers of this Blog. I am now going to give you a simple description of how to help your lungs to be more efficient.

Sitting down in a comfortable chair, consider your lungs. See them as having three layers. The top layer if just below your collar bone. Put both your hands on your chest and breathe in – but only at that high level. Once you are conscious of this level, relieve it and move your hands to the centre of your chest, over your ribs: now breathe in at this level – and feel your central chest expand. Relax. Finally put your hands on your tummy (cf tummy button). Breathe in from the bottom of your lungs. You may be surprised at the amount of air you can suck in.

Practise all three at random, until you are able to choose readily whichever part of your lungs you want to use.Now that you can clearly recognize the levels of your lungs, use all three. Fill your tummy level, add to it your chest level, and add to that your high level. Now, perhaps for the first time, you have really filled all your lungs.

But you haven’t really started – you have the equipment, but you have not yet learned to develop it as a constant habit. And that’s demanding. Even now, after several years, I spend a few minutes every evening extending my lungs this way. I get an extra advantage: practising my lungs for a few minutes, brings me quietness and calm. The anxieties of the day float away – and I am ready for bed.

You may say “What does Quentin know about this – he’s not a doctor or a psychologist.” True, although as a marriage counsellor I used it successfully dealing with moments of distress, and occasionally with friends of mine. But, if you think about it, you may agree that it’s common sense – and well worth trying –particularly at a time when we may need our lungs in their best form.

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to A breath of air

  1. Quentin says:

    And remember, now you have mastered the technique use it in your ordinary life. For example, walking up a hill or walking briskly, don’t start breathing quickly but shallowly. Use this technique of deliberately filling your lungs completely.

  2. G.D says:

    Yes, this and other breath control techniques are known as ‘conscious breathing’. (Gregorian chant, Buddhist chant, any one who meditates, utilises it quite naturally. The health benefits have been studied and noted to go far beyond just the lungs.

  3. Martha says:


    These are some breathing exercises circulating, from a doctor at Queen’s Hospital, which he claims may save your life if you have the virus. I believe J K Rowling credits it with saving hers.
    I hope the link works, and the exercises.

    • David Smith says:

      Thanks, Martha. I’d not realized that lying on one’s back closes off more of the lung’s capacity to take in air than does lying on one’s front. Of course, lying on one’s front can cause an even more serious problem unless one takes care to hang one’s head over the side of the bed, into the void, so that the mouth and nose are not blocked by the pillow.

      By the way, this doctor spoke of “laying” on the bed. We seem, alas, to have lost that useful grammatical distinction for good.

  4. Martha says:


    Thank you Quentin, and these breathing exercises by a doctor from Queen’ Hospital are being widely circulated also. He claims they coud save your life if you have the virus, and I believe J K Rowling credits them with saving hers.
    I hope the link works.

  5. galerimo says:

    Thank you Quentin and thank you Martha – these are very good tips and very kind of you to offer them.

    – is it my lazy nature that makes we want to see more than to listen, in order to learn?

  6. John Nolan says:

    Breathing properly means breathing from the diaphragm. Wind instrument players have to do it, as do singers. (Smokers also, and I know professional singers who smoke. Someone who knew Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau told me that he was a chain smoker.)

    The breath control I acquired when learning the clarinet stands me in good stead now that I sing Gregorian chant. In both disciplines one needs to be able to sustain a long melodic line.

    I gave up smoking 22 years ago and I have no inclination to take it up again, although I treat myself to an expensive cigar on ‘national no-smoking day’, just to put two fingers up to the nanny State.

    ‘A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.’ (Rudyard Kipling)

  7. Iona says:

    Galerimo: “I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember; I do, and I understand”.
    I don’t know who said that, but it’s a useful thing to know when trying to teach somebody something.
    And Martha, thank you for that link.

    • David Smith says:

      Iona writes:

      // “I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember; I do, and I understand” //

      Mmm, some of us are auditory learners. I hear and I may remember; I see but I don’t take it in; I try to do and I drop the darned thing on the floor.

      • milliganp says:

        Off topic, but still within the scope of this blog, I recently saw a gospel choir and found myself pondering Augustine’s aphorism “he who sings prays twice”. The gospel choir also moved as they sang and I found myself pondering if this might be praying “thrice”?
        I recently got told off for suggesting we occasionally recite rather than sing the “Glory to God in the highest” so that people engage with the words. I feel that having a sung version of a prayer which is never said diminishes it. I can happily sing the Gloria in Latin as it’s words are more familiar to me from repeated childhood recitation.

      • David Smith says:

        milliganp writes:

        // I recently got told off for suggesting we occasionally recite rather than sing the “Glory to God in the highest” so that people engage with the words. //

        Told off? Why? I think it’s a lovely idea. Singing something stretches it out into something different from the text. The text is pulled apart. Singing and speaking are very different things. When I hear a hymn sung, I listen mostly to the music, the melody. The words almost spoil it.

      • milliganp says:

        David, I’m sure you are aware of the old joke “what’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist – you can negotiate with a terrorist”. People who do music in most Catholic churches are indoctrinated with the principle that the Gloria should be sung whenever possible.
        Most of the music used in singing the Mass is also essentially different to chanting – which used to be the norm in Catholic liturgical music. My personal concern is that so many of the words we use in the Mass are lost in effect; firstly they are not heard and once heard, even less is understood.

    • milliganp says:

      Obviously firemen learn to out out fires by constant practice but I have no inclination to practice, in advance, dealing with a fire in my own home. I leave to the imagination of others what might constitute a practical in a sex-ed class!

  8. John Nolan says:

    Paul Milligan

    Interesting. St Augustine probably never said ‘Bis orat qui bene cantat’ but the Roman liturgy is inseparable from the chant which developed alongside it. However, there are those who are profoundly unmusical, and one wonders how they coped before the second millennium when there was no such thing as a ‘said’ Mass, a situation which still prevails in the Eastern Church.

    Those who manufactured the new rite of Mass in the 1960s envisaged that it would be sung, thus obviating what they saw as the ‘Low Mass problem’. Ironically, what we have in most parishes is essentially a Low Mass with a few hymns thrown in, something that the reformers wanted to get away from.

  9. John Nolan says:

    David Smith

    The relationship between words and music is a fascinating one, and is the subject of ‘Capriccio’, the last opera of Richard Strauß. There could be occasions where the musical setting detracts from or even obscures the text; Tennyson famously didn’t like his poems set to music, once remarking grumpily ‘Why do these musicians make me say something twice when I only said it once?’ Tallis’s 40-part motet ‘Spem in Alium’ is a musical tour de force but one is hard pressed to make out the words being set.

    However, even simple cantillation makes a text audible in a way that simply speaking it would not, and singing a text makes it more memorable. I have been singing Credo III from memory for sixty years, and if you asked me to recite it I could certainly do so, but it would require a greater effort. In those years there have been no fewer than three versions of the Nicene Creed in English, and I couldn’t recite any of them from memory. Ditto the Gloria.

    In most cases music enhances the text. The nineteenth-century German romantic poet Joseph von Eichendorff wrote a fine poem in three four-line stanzas entitled ‘Mondnacht’ (moonlit night). Robert Schumann’s setting in his Liederkreis op.39 raises the poet’s vision to sublime heights; it is quite simply one of the greatest songs ever written.

    Similarly, I would defy anyone to read Goethe’s ‘Erlkönig’ without hearing in his mind’s ear Franz Schubert’s unforgettable setting.

    • milliganp says:

      John, when I saw your earlier post, I immediately though of Credo III and determined to look at the current revision of the Roman Missal in English to see if there existed a setting for the creed (I ought to have expected one but in the 10 years since its promulgation, I have never heard the creed sung). There are indeed 2, the second titled “Credo III”. I was trying to work out how to talk of the benefits of chanting but your “However, even simple cantillation makes a text audible in a way that simply speaking it would not” would seem to say what is most important.
      In my own Archdiocese we have a new Archbishop who is happy with using the simple chant settings of the English text and attending his Sunday service online is enhanced by his use of and facility at chanting.

      • John Nolan says:

        There is an English version of Credo III but it is awkward to sing, especially since it has long been the default setting for the Creed when sung in Latin the world over. It’s a late composition (17th century) with a relatively complex melody. Its popularity is because it is in mode 5 with B flat, which equates to the modern key of F Major.

        Credo I, the oldest setting, variants of which were used throughout the Middle Ages, is much simpler and more syllabic and with very few changes can be adapted to English words. It’s printed in the CTS Sunday missal (people’s edition). It’s easy to learn, but as it’s in mode 4 it sounds ‘foreign’ to ears used to ‘modern’ music.

        Nine years ago when the new translation came out, ICEL hoped that the missal chants would be more widely used and people would sing the Mass rather than sing at Mass. Sadly, in most places the four-hymn sandwich would seem to be the norm. I can’t be doing with it and so only attend Mass in Latin, in either form.

      • ignatius says:

        “However, even simple cantillation makes a text audible in a way that simply speaking it would not” would seem to say what is most important.”

        After having looked up cantillation (ritual chant) in relation to the psalms I probably agree that rhythm, tone and timing are important. ‘Simply speaking’ is an interesting phrase though. My own interest over the years, since I have no religious background, has been less with ‘cantillation’ and more with poetry. ‘Simply speaking’ we might perhaps equate with ordinary life? yet it is into ‘ordinary life’ that God speaks and much that is written on prayer/lectio divina etc emphasises ‘ordinary’ speaking. In simple everyday speech we have tone, musicality, emphasis and emphasis; we use them naturally. I suspect that in much off our talking we are not actually much focused, perhaps this is why the call to recollection during worship is so emphasised.

  10. ignatius says:

    I think there are different things afoot for the different ways of worship an engagement. Awhile ago I taught a prison group of about 15 men to recite the psalms together using a form I had learned in a kind of ad hoc manner from a (benedictine?) mob at Douai Abbey. Basically when reciting together the aim was NOT to have your own voice dominant in your ears from the rest of the voices around you; so that what came out was a kind of slow and quiet murmuring together of the psalms. The blokes really liked it. I tell the guys reading at mass or in our prayer group that God already knows the words so we don’t have to proclaim or shout and that a quiet whisper is a good way of instructing ones own soul.

    On the other hand I’m quite fond of singing, alone and at the top of my voice, those hymns that I love most. There is definitely a power to the full throated and unselfconscious giving of the self to song.

    • milliganp says:

      The bit I miss most from the liturgical changes has been the effective demise of Benediction. The hymns sung every Sunday afternoon (and every evening in May and October) become part of one’s personal catechesis, particularly around the True Presence. When you’ve sung “O Godhead hid”, “O bread of heaven” the intellectual complexity of transubstantiation becomes less disconcerting.

    • John Nolan says:

      Ignatius

      When I said ‘simply speaking’ I was making the point that a spoken voice would not carry in a large building, so chant had a practical purpose.

      Singing Gregorian psalmody isn’t easy – unless you’re a monk and do it every day – the five psalms and Magnificat at Vespers are all sung to different tones. Nevertheless, singing in unison is a natural activity whereas speaking in unison is not. Yes, poetry needs to be declaimed, or spoken aloud, but this is not a group activity.

      There is evidence that in the Middle Ages the so-called Low Mass was not spoken, but chanted in a monotone. The chapels which accommodated it were known as ‘chantries’. I quite often attend a Solemn Latin Mass in the new rite. Most of the responses are sung, but the Confiteor and Suscipiat are simply recited, although there is no reason why they, too, should not be sung. I find it easier to sing them, and invariably do.

      ‘A slow and quiet murmuring’ (assuming that everyone is listening to each other and keeping together) is a form of chant. I’m glad it worked so well with your group. The ‘quiet whisper’ is of course what is used in the Canon of the Mass in the traditional rite. Proclaiming it in a loud voice facing the people (as usually happens nowadays) shifts the emphasis in a way that is not necessarily desirable.

      • milliganp says:

        John,
        I agree with your sentiments. Learning to chant takes time, which was natural when religious formation took 6+ years in a religious community. Now, everything has to be a course rather than a practice.
        I have met a deacon from the Orthodox community where chanting is the norm. Learning to chant was a significant part of his formation. My idea of hell is to be asked to chant the Exsultet without any formation – even the short version is 7 minutes. I’ve tried singing along to a recording but it’s a bit like having to play a Chopin etudes having once played a simple tune on the piano in a pub.

      • ignatius says:

        Thanks for that John, I agree that what we do in the prison is a kind of rudimentary chant. I’m proud of it actually because of the ‘engagement’ that is created. The act of “listening to each other and and keeping together” as you put it is profoundly and beautifully counter cultural in a prison context. I only wish I could keep time and tone better myself!

        “Nevertheless, singing in unison is a natural activity whereas speaking in unison is not. Yes, poetry needs to be declaimed, or spoken aloud, but this is not a group activity…”
        Thats a good observation, and I think a correct one.

  11. ignatius says:

    This Easter vigil was interesting..We have two churches in our parish so my PP said the mass in one church and I sang the Exultet in the other! It was great. I sang at the top of my voice and loved every second of it. This is the third time I have sung the Exultet and it has taken me around eight solid hours of lessons with a professional singing tutor to get it to my satisfaction. Singing the Exultet comes very high on my list of things to do that make me very happy..
    I feel that the Exultet is in many ways a kind of sung icon in the sense that one ‘writes’ icons not ‘paints’ them. In other word to sing the Exultet, for a deacon, is a kind of sacramental act. It is also a profound privilege and one which should not be excessively ‘musicianised’ if I may coin a phrase. In our parish we have a very musical chap who sang it, no doubt very correctly till I cam along a couple of years ago.I had to quietly insist that this was part of the deacons office and that I was going to sing it to the very best of my ability regardless of anybody’ opinion and to please not set me a key to go from as I had my very own ‘home note’ in mind!.There are some things that need to be sung right from the heart, the exultet is one of them.

    • milliganp says:

      The old saying “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” certainly applies to a singing task like the Exsultet. The year after I was ordained, I spent a significant sum on singing lessons to assist with the Exsultet to little avail. My singing instructor, who specialised in Opera, could find no hint of rhythm or melody in the piece. I did lots of scales and the like in becoming confident to use my voice but the result was as much a trial for the congregation as for myself. The version in the current Roman Missal is even more complex. We have had 2 music graduates attempt it in our parish and neither found it an easy task. It is a pity that the church hasn’t offered a simpler setting as there is little of the joy of the resurrection in both singer and congregation having to suffer a piece so i’ll suited to the talents available in most church communities.

  12. John Nolan says:

    The Exsultet is actually quite a simple chant, and a very ancient one, quite possibly dating from the fifth century. What makes it daunting is its length. and the fact that the deacon is on his own. When it is sung in St Peter’s, Rome, I have often seen the deacon correcting the pitch with a tuning fork.

    Music graduates normally do not study Gregorian chant, and most SATB church choirs who have no difficulty sight-reading Palestrina are completely baffled when presented with a Gradual in square notation. There have been attempts to make the Exsultet more ‘accessible’ by setting a vernacular text to a tuneful ditty, sometimes with congregational participation, but such a treatment is objectionable on a number of grounds.

    When the more or less accurate translation came out in 2011 I downloaded the chant version and sang it through. It actually works quite well. Be that as it may, given the antiquity and unique nature of this great chant, there is a very good case for singing it in Latin.

    I don’t know anything about the formation of permanent deacons, but since they have a distinct liturgical role, they should be taught to sing the Gospel at Mass, and indeed the Exsultet (although they may well have to practise it before the day).

    • ignatius says:

      Yes, I don’t yet sing the gospel at Mass because I prefer to speak it clearly and well. But when I learn how a little better then I may try.

  13. ignatius says:

    “The old saying “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” certainly applies to a singing task like the Exsultet.”
    Ha ha ha!!

    This subject is a whole can of worms..or a whole bucket of Grace..whichever you prefer. I’m sure Mr Nolan will have good view on the subject. Last year when I sang it I was doing the occasional what I thought was a pretty silent hum now and then to remind me of my home note which apparently is somewhere round a D.. Anyway, I didn’t think my humming was audible until a week or two later when one or two of the congregation told me how much they enjoyed the hummed bits and was it a new version!!!

    I had been thinking of saying this before and will now speak my mind on the subject of singing this beautiful piece of glory!. Genuinely tone deaf individuals should definitely not sing the exusultet. This is simply to spare everyone’s sensibilities. However, I have only ever met one single tone deaf member of clergy, a local parish priest, we all know he simply cannot sing at all and it is cruelty to make him try.
    I’m not much of singer myself though I did, as a foolish young man, try my hand at busking! But little by little over these past 5 years of ordination I have learned a few basic principles of how to harmonise with others. I have classed as a special grace the fact that I can now join in and encourage others in procession and through the Mass in our parish. I am greatly delighted when, in prison we, as a fluctuating group of around 25 men, manage ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven’ in some sort of heartfelt and shared voice.
    Equally so when someone who is barely literate risks a place at the pulpit to have a go at a reading secure in the understanding that everyone is’on his side’ with the attempt. I have heard many priceless ‘howlers’ of bible readings from the front and we all have a good chuckle about them at tea afterwards.
    I believe, passionately and without hesitation, that worship of the heart given voice is not a ‘performance’ but a joy to the spirit and probably a source of much merriment among the angels!. There is something of the dichotomy between Law/ Grace in all this, congregations can very easily come under the thrall of what I would term ‘deadly religious musicianship’, in which case all round silence is preferable over precise but deadening voice.

    As you can imagine from all this my views on the subject have a lot in common with Marmite. 🙂

  14. David Smith says:

    I know nothing about liturgy or music, but I’m enjoying learning from others here. One thing that strikes me in the conversation is the complexity and collegiality of it all. My earliest experience in the Church took place in a chapel in a boarding school. There, the priest was everything, the language was Latin, and congregational participation was minimal, ancillary, and pre-conciliar. Simple. I liked that. I am, I confess, more than a little put off by anything – in or out of church – that feels unnecessarily complex, and there is a superabundance of that in modern life. I wish the Church were resistant to it, but since the Church is just human beings, it cannot be.

    Nuff said. Back to listening.

    • John Nolan says:

      David Smith

      Had you written ‘complicated’ rather than ‘complex’ I would be inclined to agree with you. A washing-machine may have two dozen programs, yet hardly anyone will use more than three. Even the simplest gadget seems to require a hundred-page instruction manual.

      Yet complexity, properly understood, is an essential part of nature and of art. A symphony has been described as ‘the large-scale integration of contrasts’. The last movement of Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ symphony displays a near-miraculous complexity of counterpoint which has never been equalled. But it isn’t complicated since not a note is superfluous.

      As far as liturgy is concerned, a Solemn High Mass in the traditional Roman Rite requires only the following: celebrant, deacon, subdeacon, two acolytes and a thurifer ; plus a schola (four sngers are more than adequate). It can be done in an hour (slightly more if there is a sermon) and can be described as complex. About fifteen years ago I had an opportunity to compare this with an ordinary parish Mass (said English, usual four hymns). At one stage I counted no fewer than fifteen people in the sanctuary. The so-called Liturgy of the Word was dragged out to well over half an hour. The priest did not begin the Offertory until after the collection had been taken and the obligatory hymn sung.

      The service lasted 80 minutes and it felt like three hours. That’s what I call complicated.

    • milliganp says:

      I may have said this before but in Ireland the standard question of my childhood about going to Mass was “did you hear Mass?” – the Mass was something that happened in the mystery of the sanctuary while you said your personal prayers. We have all but eliminated mystery but have not necessarily increased comprehension.
      For those of us who went through the early stages of the introduction of the vernacular and the reordering of our sanctuaries there was an accompanying explanation – the sense of mystery was not immediately destroyed because we had internalised it in our previous personal understanding and practice. As an example, in the previous form, the words of consecration were said quietly on the altar in a space enclosed in mystery and the consecrated Host (now the Body of Christ) was elevated for us to see and worship – we only knew when to look up because of the signal given by the ringing of bells.
      For those who were formed later, there was little mystery and therefore little to form one’s personal disposition to the events taking place on the altar. Anselm’s “credo ut intelligam” seems to encapsulate the old process, I’m not sure what describes the new.
      I write this because it is obvious from numerous sources, parents presenting children for the sacraments, conversations in the church (including during Mass) and the disposition of people receiving communion that there is little comprehension of the deeper understanding we used to call mystery.

      • John Nolan says:

        Paul Milligan

        The expression ‘to hear Mass’ is not a bad one, since hearing is not necessarily a passive activity. ‘To attend Mass’ can mean the same, in other words to listen to and pay attention to what is going on. But its usual meaning is simply ‘to be present at Mass’ which doesn’t imply any engagement. ‘To celebrate Mass’ might be justified on theological grounds, but is confusing since it is the priest who is the celebrant.

        Regarding the general tenor of your post, the de-mystification and de-sacralization of the Mass (which happened in our lifetimes) have damaged the Church far more than the protestant Reformation ever did. Repairing it will be a long process, and there is no evidence it has yet started, since few in high places are prepared to admit there is a problem.

      • Martha says:

        For Masses online, we have decided to say that “we are joining in the Mass”, all very prayerfully and devoutly offerred so far, from wherever our rather erratic connection and sound works on a particular day.

  15. Iona says:

    I say I am “attending” Mass (online), keeping the “attending” in inverted commas.

  16. ignatius says:

    “Regarding the general tenor of your post, the de-mystification and de-sacralization of the Mass (which happened in our lifetimes) have damaged the Church far more than the protestant Reformation ever did.”

    “I write this because it is obvious from numerous sources, parents presenting children for the sacraments, conversations in the church (including during Mass) and the disposition of people receiving communion that there is little comprehension of the deeper understanding we used to call mystery.”

    I find these two comment fascinating. For me 13 years have passed since I set out on this journey into the deep mystery of Catholic faith. I still do call it a dive into Mystery. I cannot comprehend a faith which is simply rationalised into some kind of proceedure to go through.

  17. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes:

    // I cannot comprehend a faith which is simply rationalised into some kind of proceedure to go through. //

    Nor can I, but I have little hope that the Church will resist the pull of the zeitgeist much longer.

    Cultures are fragile. Long in building but quick in tearing down.

  18. ignatius says:

    Yes but that’s not the only thing going on David. I remember working in China just after Tiannmmen Square, real lock down, serious times, one foot wrong could call down dire consequence. Yet, in the remote desert town where I worked, Christian Faith was blossoming..small clusters of believers, forming into groups, meeting in basements because of the risk. Faith springs up in adverse cultures as well as in liberal ones. and cannot be extinguished. It is true that faith has its own culture through which experience is mediated, but true mystery dwells in the encounter of the heart and soul with the living God….Its a funny old business isn’t it!

  19. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius

    There is a tendency nowadays for people to see faith as the culmination of a personal spiritual journey, whereas it is actually the starting point. At our baptism, the first question is ‘What do you seek from God’s Church?’ Answer: ‘Faith.’ The next question is ‘And what does faith hold out to you?’ Answer: ‘Eternal life.’

    I am not sure I understand what you mean by faith rationalized into ‘some kind of procedure to go through.’ In Waugh’s ‘Men at Arms’ (1951) Guy Crouchback’s non-Catholic bother-in-law Arthur Box-Bender can’t understand how Catholics can be so at ease with the awesome. (The occasion is when his son Tony, on embarkation leave from the army, cheerfully remarks that he needs to get to Mass early so that he can go to ‘scrape’ [i.e. Confession] first.)

    Perhaps the matter-of-fact way previous generations of Catholics practised their faith showed a greater awareness of the mystery than is shown by their modern counterparts, who if they practise at all, do so in the context of a worship style (I hesitate to call it liturgy) which emphasizes rationality, immediate intelligibility, overt didacticism and self-conscious group activity.

  20. ignatius says:

    John Nolan,
    “..I am not sure I understand what you mean by faith rationalized into ‘some kind of procedure to go through…” I’m not sure either, John! I think you have brought the beast down in your last sentence:

    ” rationality, immediate intelligibility, overt didacticism and self-conscious group activity…”
    I like the phrase of being ‘over at ease with the awesome’ and suspect it may make its way into a homily one of these days.

    I would like to hear from you a bit more on how Catholics practiced in a ‘Matter of fact’ way yet still held a greater sense of mystery. Of that I have no doubt yet cannot quite grasp it because my own conversion was dramatic.

    I would be grateful the, john, if you could put a word or two together on the subject or direct my reading a little.; I have to preach quite regularly and am aware there is in this a kind of gap in my understanding which needs filling if I am to speak well to people and not ‘at’ them.

  21. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius,
    Evelyn Waugh (yes, him again!), talking about his own conversion, held that the great ceremonies of the Church did not particularly appeal to him; what drew him was the spectacle of the priest at Low Mass, stumping up to the altar with his tools and his apprentice without a glance to discover how many or how few were in his congregation, to do a job for which he alone was qualified.

    The idea of the efficacy of the Mass ‘ex opere operato’ and how it appealed to ordinary working-class people is explored by the sociologist and former Dominican Anthony Archer. He talks of ‘ritual efficiency’ – what was going on at the altar was real, objective, it made a difference, it made things happen. People focused on that and were absorbed by it.

    • ignatius says:

      Thanks for that, John.
      Did you have any particular Archer text in mind? I’ve just ordered a copy of ‘The Two Catholic Churches’ by him. I did some Sociology at University many years ago, I don’t like it that much but if the chap was a Dominican then he should know his stuff and his writing style looks quite good.

      • John Nolan says:

        Ignatius
        As a history graduate I tended to despise sociology: history with the history taken out, or the amassing of statistical data in ordert to state the obvious in the most obscure way possible.

        I now realize that it is a useful adjunct to history. An American sociologist traced the decline in vocations after Vatican II to the idea that since we are all called to holiness then there is no point in giving away marriage and family without any concomitant gain in sanctity. Why not be like the rest of us?

        Unlike Waugh, I am not a convert. My earliest experience of the Mass was the Missa Cantata I was taken to by my father every Sunday as a toddler. I was captivated by it and the first time I served a (low) Mass in 1959 was the highlight of my young life.

    • milliganp says:

      In the past, at the seminary, in large parishes and in most Cathedrals, it was common to have numerous Masses being said on side altars. It was a spiritual treat to arrive at such a place and see a priest processing to one of the altars. In most cases it was possible to be blessed with the opportunity of hearing Mass for an investment of 15 to 20 minutes of one’s time. It was almost unheard of for anyone, other than the altar server, to receive Communion at these Masses as we had fasting from midnight.
      The only Waugh I have read was his biography of Ronald Knox but based on that and the sentiments in St. John Henry Newman’s Loss and Gain, I can understand his objection to the reform of the liturgy.

  22. David Smith says:

    John Nolan writes:

    // The idea of the efficacy of the Mass ‘ex opere operato’ and how it appealed to ordinary working-class people //

    I think mystery appeals to everyone. Well, with the possible exception of ordinary educated-class people, who believe that the more books and magazine articles you throw at anything and the more elaborately you schematize it, the smarter and wiser and better a person you are.

    Life, at bottom, is mysterious. The human brain doesn’t like that and denies it and never stops devising explanations and labels for everything it can see, touch, and imagine. But the human spirit understands that that’s futile, that in the end, we’re small stuff and we don’t have a clue. If there’s permanent value in anything, it’s not in us.

  23. John Candido says:

    Apart from regular breathing exercises, one other way of enhancing the efficiency of your lungs to draw oxygen form air and expel carbon dioxide, is the practice of intermittent walking as a physical exercise.

    I use an app called ‘GymBoss’ on my mobile phone to set up the number of intervals I will exercise, where each interval is made up of one period of brisk walking followed by one period of slow walking.

    My quick walking lasts 2 minutes & 30 seconds, and my recovery is for 20 seconds. The number of intervals I walk is 25.

    Exercise physiologists tell is that interval training is the most efficient way of increasing any person’s aerobic capacity. This sort of training can be done jogging, waking, riding a bike, or swimming.

    If you are going to start exercising, get a clearance from your doctor and start with small efforts before increasing their number or their length.

Leave a Reply to ignatius Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s