Communicating with God: One Person at a Time (Chapter 6, page 2 of 14)


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Chapter 6

1960-65 marked, for good or ill, a period of continuity in the parish. The parish priest and two curates were there, unchanged, for five years. Our Dutch priest had left, having done a good job in every way, not least in promoting the devotion to the Sacred Heart and perfecting his English. A newly ordained priest came to fill the post of junior curate and for the next five years we two members of the lowest ranks of the clergy gave each other mutual support, covered up each other's mistakes and aberrations and presented a united front to the 'Old Man'. It also meant that as junior curate he never celebrated a genuine marriage ceremony for years. The 'good' Catholics had a Nuptial Mass celebrated by the parish priest. His assistant as a civilly Authorised Person - me - did all the 'mixed' marriages while the 'convalidations' (of which the least said the better) were done - quietly and with little ceremony - by the civilly unauthorised junior curate. All kinds of other perks/duties/responsibilities sprang from this tight hierarchical set-up but they never interfered with our 'united front' and made no difference to the hard fact: curates were the lowest form of clerical life.

The appointment of a permanent priest meant that my 'district' was much reduced as was the duty of giving instructions to all those happy non-Catholic males who wanted to marry a Catholic girl. These 'mixed marriages' were discouraged but could not, of course, be banned. Non-Catholic young ladies went for their instructions to the sisters in the convent. For a whole year all the men came to me. Most people worked a three shift system in the steelworks so everything else had to adjust. Some pressure was often brought to bear by the Catholic side on the poor swain who was courting their daughter to 'turn' - become a Catholic. This meant keeping to the rule - for ever engraved on my mind - of giving 'at least 24 instructions of at least 40 minutes each lasting at least three months' before applying to the Bishop for permission to receive the new convert into the Church. Mere pre-nuptial instructions were a lot less but meant that a mixed marriage dispensation had to be applied for (with genuine reasons and safeguards to the faith of the Catholic) and the ceremony itself had to be stark; no Mass, no candles(!), no great celebration. [One of my early clashes with authority was the refusal to ban candles during such weddings. It seemed to be a gratuitous if in itself insignificant insult and eventually the liturgical laws and practices came to be in line with my rebellious attitude!]

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