Chesterton – “The Napoleon of Notting Hill”: and Where Magic and Poems Come From in the Liturgy

I did not find The Napoleon of Notting Hill by Chesterton to be my favorite novel. There were several long winded and over done passages in my opinion, but that being said – the overall twist that the novel offers were some of the best ever written.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away because that would ruin the fun of the twists for anyone how desires to read this novel, yet I will point out some of the lessons in the masterpiece by Chesterton.

The general idea can be summed up as follows: A humoristic King enacts a whole series of new ways of life simply to have some fun. A young man takes them seriously and ends up starting a series of events that influences the beliefs and attitudes of others towards the new laws through which they also start to take them seriously.

There were always be those who resist new things because they are unaccustomed to them even if those things are more ancient and traditional than the current habits that they have. That was the joke of the King, to take medieval customs and bring them to modern London. Yet, to a young man the new customs can quickly become the only thing they have ever known and so naturally are deeply attached to them even as the older generation does not care for them. He was willing to fit for them and made the elders fit back, in the energy expended by themselves and the young man the elders are converted.

That is becoming the irony of Vatican II, the Vatican II Liturgy is arguable more Apostolic-Roman and Biblically based than the Liturgy of the Trent era. Currently there is a whole generation of young people that only know the Vatican II Liturgy. To claim that we should go back to Trent Style Liturgy in Latin is to cause another disruption to the minds of the faithful that the Vatican II change in Liturgy caused. Do we think the change would go any better? So much of habit (and its influence on faith) is not based upon anything other than repetition and expectation rather than any evaluation of what is truly a better Liturgy or way of singing. A change back would cause a disruption too and then we would have people make the same clown mass claims to the Tridentine mass.

To think that the Tridentine mass is better than the Vatican II one is like the King in Chesterton’s novel. It is as if someone is trying to trick us and play a joke by changing all the rules simply to go back in time. What the young man shows us, is that the real flavor or greatness in any system is the magic and effort we place into it. It takes great people to influence others to take it seriously. That’s the key not the rules but the poetically and purposeful attention that only true belief brings which is only fostered but never created by human works.

If we want great Church Liturgy what the goal or focus should be is not the laws or customs or form but the love and devotion and high ideal which we go into it with – like the young Napoleon of Notting – Nothing Hill – who was still great by his love for the Nothing Hill.

(and yes the Liturgy is not nothing – its Christ present to us so it will be a lot easier for us)

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