One of the best things I've read recently about religion and disillusion is my friend Avedon in her blog The Sideshow - some of what I said in my post came out of our chats about this.
Avedon is at http:/www.sideshow/soct03.htm#141346
I don't want the bigotry back and I don't want the priests and nuns and monks and parish worthies meddling in my life. I miss the automatic sense of everything as serious and I miss the comfort food of ritual and I miss the sense of being part of something quite important.
There is a wonderful line in Browning's 'The Bishop of St Praxed's Orders his Tomb' where he talks of lying near the altar 'where god is made and eaten every day'. I've always loved Browning for that - a Protestant who got the emotional appeal of that aspect of Catholicism.
Going back to mass when my aunt died was weird, just because everything had changed - and you can't go home again, certainly not to a Church run from the centre by John Paul Woytola and the evil Ratzinger.
When I listen to Haydn or Bruckner or Vivaldi masses, though, as I do, I miss the simple piety and certainty, even though I know it to be, for me, a drug and a delusion.
And as a teaser for the memoirs, a little chunk of this from when I was twelve and still male...
What has to be stressed is the extent to which my friendship with Peter had in large part to do with serving Mass together - twice a week at the parish church and usually at least once at school. We both enunciated the responses clearly and were always word perfect; we had the knack of being ready to move whenever it was time to bring something to the priest or kneel or stand - we reckoned that we could take five minutes off the average priest's time without even seeming to be rushing him. We were good at other services too - Peter was particularly good at swinging a thurible and I was steady-handed with the incense container.
We took it seriously - at least I know I did - and really believed that we were helping bring Christ's sacrifice to the here and now, and somehow it was part of our piety to be terribly terribly good at what we did, and to luxuriate in the smell of wine and incense and the glitter of church decorations and the huge red and gray Grahame Sutherland looming above us. Sometimes serving mass early on a Saturday or first thing on a Sunday meant holding the communion plate under the chins of people with furry tongues and whisky breath, and making a point of not noticing, or, if one did, offering it up as a mortification.
Being good altar boys was not, of course, the end of it. It was part of the job to be involved in other aspects of the parish, to go and visit the elderly and poor with boxes of groceries, and wash up cups in houses that smelt of old age and tobacco. I got to know the poor red-brick streets between the church and the outer wall of the prison, maisonettes with tiny front-gardens and a surprising amount of grubby ivy, and the gray stucco villas up the hill towards John Perrin, and the dull estates of council houses either side of the Westway, near the yellow-brick modern Anglican church where my mother went.
I also became much more aware of Irishness - previously it was just something I was aware of without quite knowing what it was; Aunt Ursula's husband had a brogue and so did the many cousins to whom I was regularly obliged to hand over those toys which my parents considered I had outgrown. Many of the houses I visited with packets of tea and biscuits were places where DeValera shared the mantelpiece with the pope, and the tricolor hung over the dining-room mirror; the old men I sometimes had to help bathe occasionally had bullet- or buckshot wounds on their bodies, and sang rebel songs in sweet old voices about treachery and brutality and the British.
By having an Anglican mother and farmer relatives in the country as well as the vast clan of Kaveneys, I was excluded from a particular club, that I lived in a zone in between. Every so often, talking to Peter's grandmother or good women of their parishes like the mother of our friend Kevin, I would say something that marked me out as not quite part of things - I would call the day after Christmas Boxing Day and I would be looked at pityingly, and someone would say St.Stephens Day and move on. It was typical that I was embarrassed by all this, and Peter smiled the smile of one who is storing up information.
Because we were good at what we did, we sometimes got asked to serve mass up at Ealing Abbey at services other than the regular school masses - it was always worth doing, because we got a good breakfast afterwards, and we did not have to eat it with the monks. Looking at Kevin or Casimir would have quite ruined a nice plate of bacon.
What we were inchoately aware of was that there was somehow a difference between the Mass as said at Ealing Abbey and the Mass as said in East Acton - the parishioners were posher for one thing and considerably more English. There were fewer old women and rather more young smartly dressed men, and a lot more Chanel and aftershave. It was at times like this, when I realized that I was noticing things like this, and having preferences, that I realized that I was not all that good a Christian, and got guilty, and had to go to confession some more...