Earlier this month say the passing of jurist and scholar Robert Bork, who converted to the Faith fairly late in life. Like many other intellectual coverts, he “thought” his way into the Church, and he claimed one of his main foods for that was Msgr. Ronald Knox’s 1926 classic The Belief of Catholics. EWTN reproduces the book in its entirety on its website, and in the second chapter, “The Shop Window,” Msgr. Knox writes of the allure of mystery:
But there is something else underlying the pomp of our ceremonial which makes, I think, a more powerful impression, though one far more difficult to analyse. I mean the sense of mystery. The effect of long distances, of tapers flickering in the heart of an altar far away, of slow silences interrupted by sudden bursts of sound, of voices coming from unseen quarters, of doors opening unexpectedly, of figures moving to and fro over a business unintelligible to the spectator, of long chants in a language which he does not hear, or does not understand, of tingling bells, and incense-smoke caught in the shifting lights of a high-windowed building–the effect, I say, of all this upon the visitor who has no opportunity and no wish to “follow the service” is to breed an atmosphere of solemn mystery which works, not upon his senses, but upon his imagination. In this respect, Catholic ceremonial does not lend itself so readily to imitation. The intrusion of English, or any other intelligible tongue, breaks the spell of mystery with its too familiar cadences. And yet you will meet with elements of all this in some of the old cathedrals; you will meet it in King’s Chapel, at Cambridge, if you stand outside the screen and listen to the chanting on the farther side of it. Conversely, in a small and ill-built Catholic church you will miss the illusion.