June 2nd 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Greens: the political equivalent of bilgewater

EDITORIAL Malaysian election sends shockwaves across South-East Asia

GENDER AND SPORT Transgender playing in women's football league gains attention

CANBERRA OBSERVED Beyond tomorrow a bridge too far for politicians to plan

ENERGY Why renewables destabilise the power grid

LAW AND FREEDOM Exemptions: at issue with Dr Zimmermann

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Behind the U.S.-North Korea rapprochement

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Two to tango: Where to now for U.S. and China?

LIFE ISSUES So, is this not pro-life?

POLITICS AND CULTURE The West won the world but may lose its soul

MILITARY BIOGRAPHY Commanders: the men who resolve questions of life and death

HUMOUR

MUSIC Eurovision: Wailing and gnashing of teeth

CINEMA Superhero movies: A Chestertonian consideration

BOOK REVIEW A man for all seasons and hemispheres

BOOK REVIEW Mid-century gem of Catholic fiction

POETRY

LETTERS

ECONOMICS Vatican document nails some of the causes of the GFC

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BOOK REVIEW
Mid-century gem of Catholic fiction




News Weekly, June 2, 2018

THE MASS OF BROTHER MICHEL

by Michael Kent (foreword by Peter Kwasniewski)

Angelico Press, Kettering, Ohio (originally published in 1942)
Paperback: 286 pages
Price: AUD$33.75

Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel

In the first half of the 20th century the Catholic novel reached its zenith. While the works of writers such as Evelyn Waugh have never gone out of print, in recent years some of the works of a number of lesser-known writers have been reprinted. Among these is The Mass of Brother Michel by Michael Kent.

When first published in 1942, The Mass of Brother Michel was one of the few novels written in English (as opposed to novels such as Queen Margot by Alexandre Dumas, which was translated from French) to deal with the Reformation in France.

Michael Kent wrote this novel at a time when there was a critical mass of educated lay Catholics who eagerly read a steady stream of novels that dealt with religious topics from a Catholic perspective.

The novel is set in 16th-century France against the backdrop of the Reformation, and begins with the death of the Comtesse de Guillemont. A devout noblewoman, she dies heartbroken that her dream that one of her sons would be ordained a priest has not come true. Her eldest son Michel aspires to marry a local noble woman, Louise.

However, shortly after his mother’s death, Michel sustains terrible injuries during a boar hunt, particularly the loss of one hand, and two fingers on the other hand. Michel’s father casts him out of the house because he judges the disfigured Michel unworthy to inherit the estate. Louise enters into a loveless marriage with Michel’s younger brother Paul.

Paul offers little emotional support to Louise, becoming involved with a group of Protestant reformers, and having an affair with a woman who takes up residence at his chateau. Ultimately, Louise plans on leaving Paul, finding Michel, and running away with him to start a new life in the New World.

A homeless wanderer, Michel is offered shelter by a group of monks, and eventually joins the order as a lay brother. His aspiration to be ordained a priest is unable to be realised due to his injuries; however, the depth of his faith increases.

One of the tasks allotted to him is to take the bread baked by the monastery into the local town for sale, and it is during one of his journeys into the local town that Louise finds him. His refusal to leave his calling and the dialogue that ensues are catalysts for her to resume the active practice of her faith.

However, both Michel and Louise are ultimately caught up by forces beyond their control. In the part of France in which the novel is set Protestant groups are successfully converting great numbers of Catholics to Protestantism.

With the commencement of the wars of religion in France in the 1560s, Protestant groups attempt to impose religion by force of arms. Those who had hitherto successfully countered Protestant incursions through their defence of the faith, such as Brother Michel, become marked men.

The Mass of Brother Michel is a well- written and profoundly moving novel. Its focus is on the spiritual development of the main characters, particularly the protagonist Michel, and his struggle with his desire to become a priest.

At times the novel is slow moving; however, there is little sense that the characters are contrived.

The novel assumes that readers are familiar with and have an affinity for the Catholic religion, with a particular appreciation for – and as Peter Kwas­niewski notes in his foreword – what we now know as the Extraordinary Form of Mass in Latin, as Latin quotes from the Mass are interspersed throughout the text. At the time that the novel was written, of course, that was the universal form of the Mass.

Michael E. Daniel is a Melbourne-based writer.


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