THE TABLET THE I NTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY
Founded in 1840
SWEET SINGING IN THE CHOIR
Britain’s economic woes are deepening, with 2.64 million people out of work this Christmas. In many high streets there has been little sign of festive cheer, with plenty of shops boarded up. Mary Portas, commissioned by the Prime Minister to study the retail habits of the nation of shopkeepers, reported this week that many of Britain’s high streets are dull, uninspiring and stuck in the 1970s. In other words, they are strikingly old-fashioned.
But something else that is as much a part of the British Christmas as a trip to the shops is booming, precisely because it is strikingly old-fashioned. The carol concert has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance, in both concert halls and cathedrals, as well as local parish churches. A survey by The Tablet, reported on page 50, reveals that many people are finding solace in carol services at a time of economic despondency. For, to paraphrase Newman, they point to the kindly light amid the encircling gloom.
Atheist intellectuals will no doubt traduce the singing of carols as an exercise in mawkish sentimentality. That is missing the point. For it is not just the appreciation of others’ singing that marks out enthusiasm for carol concerts this year; it is a desire to participate, whether in a choir or as part of the audience or congregation. Choral singing has become one of the nation’s most popular pastimes. Much of its current popularity is due to Gareth Malone, the choirmaster who has inspired diffident schoolboys, recalcitrant teenagers and now traumatised soldiers’ wives to join forces to sing.
All the television series that have featured his work have shown him helping discover depths of sound and emotion that the participants would never have thought possible. They have also discovered that choral singing is the exact opposite of shopping to excess: it is a work of mutual support and companionship. Recent psychological research into singing has revealed that it enhances well-being, particularly among those with physical and mental health problems, family difficulties and suffering bereavement. It encourages a sense of personal worth and develops concentration. When Mr Malone was once asked what it is that makes the experience of choral music intensely moving, his answer went beyond issues of individual self-esteem and ventured into the communal and the spiritual. It was the feeling that everyone had come together and was united, he said. That powerful, spiritual experience is one which Christians will recognise as something they gain from congregating for Holy Communion but it is particularly enhanced by sharing in songs of worship. This year, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have looked to the laity to invite those who have been away from the Church to return, particularly at Christmas and no matter how long the absence.
The celebration of the Incarnation is an opportunity to be, as Pope Benedict puts it, “vigilant in prayer and exultant in praise”. Joining with others to sing carols such as Christina Rossetti’s “In The Bleak Midwinter”, with its final verse asking: “What can I give Him?”, and its answering refrain: “Give my heart”, is a moment for conversion, whether novice, regular churchgoer or a returner to the fold, and a reminder of the invitation to love which the Christ Child brought to the world.
WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Going by the numbers affected and the scale of the problems they face, this week’s agreement at the climate conference in Durban far surpasses in significance the 26-nation accord – the European Union minus Britain – which emerged from the Brussels summit. The South African event saw a strong role played by the European Union delegation. It managed to persuade the chief polluters, such as the United States, India and China, to agree that there should be a legally binding treaty to keep global temperature rises to no more than 2 degrees Centigrade.
This is the level above which climate change could threaten catastrophe for some of the world’s poorest. There will be hiccups ahead before such a treaty exists, but the necessary first step was probably the most difficult. What was required in the name of global solidarity was for the chief polluters to accept their share of responsibility, and not to let narrow selfinterest stand in the way. In the end, they all did.
It was ironic, therefore, that it was in the name of national self-interest that the British Prime Minister refused in Brussels to participate in a proposed legally binding treaty that is intended to stiffen the solidarity of the European Union. Without British consent, the remaining nations agreed to impose and accept greater discipline over taxation and public spending in order to restore confidence, reduce the cost of borrowing and help to balance national budgets. The aim of this burden-sharing is to rescue the euro from the instability that has been threatening to tear it apart and to avert the damaging consequences that could have for millions of Europeans.
There are reasonable doubts whether the 26-nation agreement goes far enough to secure that, and whether on the other hand it goes too far in infringing national sovereignty to be acceptable to nations like France. There are doubts, furthermore, about how the Europe-wide austerity envisaged by the agreement can generate economic growth. But behind it is the laudable belief that self-interest and solidarity should march hand in hand in the service of the common good.
Britain stands accused of reneging on that understanding, just when it is coming under maximum strain. David Cameron said he perceived an issue concerning the regulation of the City of London where the two principles parted company, and he decided that national self-interest had to take precedence over international solidarity. Public opinion likes a spot of Eurobashing from time to time, and many of his backbenchers hailed his move as a step towards total disengagement.
This he denied. But he did not carry his Liberal Democrat partners with him, and he is therefore under pressure in Parliament from two contrary factions on the pro-Government benches as well as from Labour. Nor does the City of London seem particularly grateful to him. In isolating Britain, Mr Cameron appears somewhat to have isolated himself.
It is true that with a Eurosceptic party and right-wing press clamouring against it, new European Union treaty would have been difficult to pass through Parliament. But when the world economy is edging towards recession, this is not a good time to alienate one’s European friends. When chill winds blow, solidarity has its advantages.
2 | THE TABLET | 17/24 December 2011 COLUMNS
9 CL I F FORD LONGLEY
‘The “Catholic” model of an economic model is one that services the common good’
1 7 CHRISTOPHER HOWSE’S
PRESSWATCH ‘Mistresses aren’t the only ones who find Christmas socially painful’
2 6 P E T ER STANFORD
‘I don’t want to be told that this is really a story about asylum seekers’
2 9 PARISH PRACTICE 3 0 NOTEBOOK 3 1 L ETTERS 3 2 THE L I V I NG S P I R I T 3 3 CHRISTMAS PUZZLES
3 7 N I CHOLAS V I NCENT
Saving the Souls of Medieval London: perpetual chantries at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1200-1548 Marie-Hélène Rousseau
LUCY WOODING St John Fisher: bishop and theologian in Reformation and controversy Vincent Nichols
4 1 F EATURE
Laura Gascoigne Contrasting Nativity scenes
THEATRE Mark Lawson Richard II and Pippin
C I NEMA Francine Stock The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
T E L EV I S I ON John Morrish Christmas preview
CONTENTS 1 7 / 2 4 DECEMBER 2 0 1 1
COVER STORY 4 A birth to change our world Isabel de Bertodano
A woman expecting her first child at Christmas time considers Leonardo’s Madonna Litta and the surprising lessons it offers 6 This island race Ivor Roberts
Britons have long been reluctant to get involved in the affairs of mainland Europe, argues a former British diplomat 8 Two faiths, one goal Edward Kessler
In a recent meeting at the Vatican, the Pope and the Chief Rabbi fell into step in the long march to reclaim Europe from secularism 1 0 Failings and loveliness Paul Bailey
The rows and melancholy that often surround Christmas are dispelled as we contemplate the Incarnation, says one writer 1 2 A time for giving Compiled by Christopher Lamb and Sam Adams
High-profile Christian advocates tell us about the causes they support 1 4 Advent meditation Laurentia Johns
The last in our series of reflections for Advent looks at Compline 1 6 From Ampleforth to Downton Julian Fellowes
A well-timed word from an inspirational monk led to a hit TV drama
1 8 Bread of Bethlehem Gregory Collins
The new abbot of the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion muses on the pursuit of holiness in the place where Christ lived 2 0 Treasured beyond measure Daniel O’Leary
The innocence of the Child fills people with hope 2 1 ‘Making things: that’s who I am’ Amanda Hopkinson
Edmund de Waal, a leading ceramicist and author of The Hare with Amber Eyes, tells us about the faith that has shaped his life 2 3 Lost in the Never Never Land Abigail Frymann
For impoverished consumers trapped in expensive hire-purchase schemes, Church Action on Poverty is offering a lifeline of help 2 5 Imagining Jesus Gerald O’Collins
A theologian analyses the veracity of fictionalised accounts of Jesus 2 7 ‘Glad to be with him’ Sam Adams
The work of a dedicated chaplain at a hospital’s military unit
4 6 THE CHURCH I N THE WORLD
Benedict XVI and the Chief Rabbi unite to save the soul of Europe 5 0 NEWS FROM BRITAIN AND I RELAND
People seek comfort and joy of carol services
COVER: THE MADONNA LITTA BY LEONARDO DA VINCI, ABOUT 1491-95. BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY
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