Wednesday 13 November 2019

Let's hear it for the bongs

(Stock image)
(Stock image)
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

We are a queer, conflicted bunch all the same. We're hurtling towards modernity in so many ways, but we still like the comfort blanky of the past. How else can we explain that as Irish people who had voted resoundingly to get rid of the Constitutional ban on insulting God were coming out of the polling station, the vast majority of them said they'd keep the Angelus.

In fact only one in five want to get rid of it, while more than two-thirds said they would like to hold on to it. When Marian Finucane "paused" for the Angelus yesterday (you "pause" for the Angelus; you might "take" or "have" the news, but it's always "pause" for the Angelus) she said, only slightly sardonically, "and now, by the will of 68pc of the people, we'll pause for the Angelus".

And indeed maybe the key is in the word "pause". Life is very fast these days, and we're all busy all the time. Maybe we like this anachronism that we pause twice a day to listen to a reassuring bong, bong, bong. You might even ask: "Shure is it even anything to do with religion at all, Ted? It's like all that other stuff. Communions, weddings and funerals and baptisms. Nothing to do with that whole story about that man in the sky, are they, Ted?"

Indeed, in a world that is changing so fast, maybe the bongs are an anchor, a nostalgic reminder of a simpler time. It's an imprinted folk memory at this stage. Try it. Push a certain button in any Irish Catholic by saying the first few words. Walk up to anyone raised in the faith and say, "The Angel of the lord declared unto Mary", and without even thinking, they will surprise themselves by involuntarily responding, "And she conceived of the holy spirit."

It's like a reflex with us. You could actually use it to test guys who get a bang on the head on the rugby pitch. If they don't instantly respond appropriately, get out the stretcher, you know they're in trouble.

Subconsciously, the Angelus probably reminds people a lot of family too, of a time when you'd try and duck out if you sensed it coming, but find yourself called back just as you thought you were clear. You might even be made to kneel. And then the whole family just sat or kneeled together, murmuring in unison. No iPads, no phones, just that comforting rhythmic muttering.

And say what you will about getting caught to say the Angelus, it was positively a treat next to the Rosary. You never even know how long a Rosary would last. The was the great sacred mystery of it.

The main thing about this exit poll result on the Angelus is that it spares us from having to have some sort of daft referendum on it in the near future. I suspect we've all had enough democracy now for a while.

Sunday Independent

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