Senator Ted Kennedy’s recent funeral-cum-canonisation triggered an explosion of Catholic anger and indignation. Righteously so. A showpiece of Modernist triumphalism - right up there with the 1986 Assisi free-for-all - it spoke to so many levels of postconciliar corruption that Bishop Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas, admitted: “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Disgusted by the televised scandal but unwilling to vent his spleen for fear of making a bad situation worse (by starting a public dog-fight with Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston) the Bishop penned a few short commentaries while urging the laity to fill in the blanks. Ultimately, he gave “the last word” to his friend Phil Lawler of Catholic World News, whose scorching analysis we ran last month.
On the most fundamental aspect of all, however, Bishop Gracida was a rare neo-conservative voice. Among the many fine articles which decried the event, it was telling that very few bothered to mention as he did that “Aside from the impropriety of such a grandiose celebration for one of the country’s most notorious dissident Catholics, the ‘celebration’ was filled with liturgical errors and transgressions against the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.”
Given Kennedy's sordid life and work, observers clearly viewed this as peripheral rather than essential to the affair. Understandable, at the purely natural level. Viewed through a supernatural lens, however, it was the focal point. To understand why is not only to reorient Catholic hearts and minds and place the last forty tragic years in Godly perspective, but also to give traditionalist credit where it is long overdue.
Certainly, all faithful Catholics agreed that the Modernist crisis was on rude display at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston. Entire pews buckled under the hypocritical weight of Catholic apostates as the heretical New Church once more denigrated the claims and credibility of the True Church before a vast TV audience. It was agony to behold. And yet, while traditionalist eyes saw first and foremost an indictment of the Novus Ordo, most neo-conservative critics preferred to target other deplorable aspects of the event. They were by no means indifferent to the appalling ‘celebration.’ It was simply not, to their way of thinking, as pressing and relevant as other issues: a naturalistic mindset which surely reveals the chronic debilitation of otherwise orthodox souls through long exposure to the Nervous Disorder.
If readers of journals like this one view liturgical anarchy as the defining feature of such sacrilegious extravaganzas over and above all other considerations, it is because they have retained a truly Catholic understanding of the nature and purpose of the Church. Unlike neo-conservatives they sense instinctively that the Mystical Body of Christ is not so much a divine “institution” as a living organism for sacrifice.. Therefore, to zealously guard the integrity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to defend Christ Himself and thus the entire salvific enterprise of His Body: the Holy Catholic Church.
At the same time, their zeal and watchfulness is informed by an acute awareness, whether conscious or simply innate, of the essential need for solemn and precise offerings of the Holy Sacrifice, not only for grace-filled Catholic lives but also the entire socio-political and cultural life of nations.
It is wholly indicative of the drip-feed impact of Modernism on Catholic souls that this reality has come to sound like hyperbole to neo-conservatives. For while devout and appreciating the central importance of the Mass, they are so inured to the abusive flexibility of the Novus Ordo and so dumbed-down by its banality, that they dismiss the liturgical urgency/priority demanded by such an overarching claim: linking global abuse of the Holy Sacrifice to dire global ramifications.
Yet there is no need to take our word for it. Pope Benedict says it himself. Asked by what standards the Holy Father measures the health of a culture, an authority on his theology and literary works, Australian philosopher Tracey Rowland replied:
In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy , Benedict made the point that the sole purpose - not the major purpose, but the sole purpose - for the liberation of the Jews from Pharaoh was that God wanted them to be able to worship according to his prescriptions.
Thus, I would say that for Benedict the most important question about any culture is, where does liturgy stand within this culture? Is it the highest good? Are we dealing with a liturgical city? Or are we dealing with a culture which is driven by economic factors? Who are the gods of this culture? What is the dominant vision of the human person? How are the sick and vulnerable treated?
Concretely, it is of little benefit to Christians to live in a culture where any kind of liturgical expression is permitted, if, like the Jews under Pharaoh, they are being forced to work like slaves just to provide shelter and food for their families and have no time for prayer and leisure, that is, no time for God, in lives dominated by the quest for physical survival.
In the same work, Benedict said that law and ethics do not hold together when they are not anchored in the liturgical centre and inspired by it.
It would be difficult to find a more concise justification for the Traditional Latin Mass - the liturgical anchor and inspiration par excellence. Or indeed a more succinct vindication of its fervent defenders; Catholics who refuse to conform to a post-conciliar culture in which “any kind of liturgical expression is permitted,” convinced that the Old Mass most perfectly reflects God’s will that they “worship according to his prescriptions.”
Furthermore, the current pontiff makes no bones about the distance we have wandered from liturgical precision as required by this Divine will. "We abandoned the organic process of growth and development over centuries," admitted then-Cardinal Ratzinger in the Preface to Msgr Gamber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, "and replaced it - as in a manufacturing process - with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.”
Notwithstanding his unavoidable yet futile pursuit of a 'reform' of the irreparable Novus Ordo, in his memoirs Benedict also concedes that neither he nor others foresaw the liturgical dangers so clearly posed by Sacrosanctum Concilium:
I became a partisan of the liturgical movement at the beginning of the Council... I saw in the elaboration of the Constitution on the Liturgy, which incorporated all the essential discoveries of the liturgical movement, a magnificent start for the Church assembly, and I counselled Cardinal Frings accordingly. I could not foresee that the negative aspects of the liturgical movement would reappear more vigorous than ever, leading straight to the self-destruction of the liturgy. [Milestones, 1997]
Graphically captured at the Kennedy send-off, these "negative" time-bombs buried in Sacrosanctum Concilium are still exploding on a daily basis; the rotten fruit of an "armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth," as the future pope explained in Feast of Faith .
"I am convinced," concluded the Holy Father eleven years later, "that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy. [...] The prohibition of this missal that was now decreed, ...introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic… [T]he old building was demolished, and another was built… [T]his has caused us great harm .... nothing of the sort had ever happened in the entire history of the liturgy.” [Milestones]
Faith and foresight
All these brutal admissions and conclusions anticipated Benedict's providential election and Summorum Pontificum, the crowning achievement of his pontificate come what may. Among much else, this motu proprio humbly corrected the Pope's erroneous statement above, confirming what traditionalists had insisted from the outset: that the Missale Romanum codified by Pope St. Pius V was never prohibited by Pope Paul VI.
On this point as on everything else, the derided, marginalised trads got it right. As if to underline Christ's joy at His Father revealing to "little ones" what he hides from the "wise and prudent" [Matt. 11:25; Lk 10:21], the early non-conformists immediately understood with simple faith and 20/20 foresight what Joseph Ratzinger and some fellow-travelling progressives and neo-conservatives of good will came to understand only decades later.
Two looming ‘anniversaries’ recall these magnificent pioneers of the liturgical counter-revolt: the original foot soldiers who, "having on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation" [1 Thess 5:8],stood firm before the Conciliar juggernaut as the rest of the laity were frogmarched into Archbishop Bugnini’s catastrophic revolution. For it is forty-five years this month since the local introduction of the vernacular into the Mass - the epochal breach which first allowed the Modernists to storm the liturgical ramparts - and forty years since the official imposition of the New Mass upon the British laity finally entrenched the enemy within.
Instantly alarmed by this alien infiltration of the liturgical citadel, Father Bryan Houghton, one of the most notable counter-revolutionaries of the day, recorded these tragic landmark events in his monthly column in The Eastern Daily Express of Norwich. A distinguished provincial newspaper for which he penned a monthly column from 1958 to 1969, giving its secular readership “the Roman Catholic point of view,” in November 1964 he wrote:
I wonder how many Catholics attend Sunday Mass in England? As far as I can reckon, not far off three million. Even here in Eastern England, where it is known that we are not very numerous, the numbers are increasing fast: more than three thousand in Norwich and Ipswich, over a thousand in Bury and Yarmouth and around five hundred in several parishes.
Clearly, the figures speak for themselves. We love our Mass, that incomprehensible ceremony where we understand only one thing and it is a profound mystery: the real presence of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.
We love our Mass as it is, with its murmuring in Latin, its strange silences and its unpredictable ringing of bells. Well, all that is going to change before the end of this month - the 29th November. The first part of the Mass, up to the Credo, will be said in English.
People are not inclined towards change, and least of all in their religious rites.
In fact, in many religions the rites survive long after the faith; people continue to carry out the traditional actions of their religion long after they have actually lost real faith in the religion itself. And so the vast majority of practising Catholics in this country are deeply upset at the disappearance of the Latin Mass. One does not see off millennial traditions and the habits of a lifetime without shedding a tear. As for me, I think it was in 1936 that I last wept. It will probably happen again on 29th November.
Among the priests I’ve spoken to, a slight majority is in favour of the changes, notably among the younger ones who haven’t yet tired of hearing their own voices. Among hundreds and hundreds of lay people, I have found only four people favourable, very cultured people and in no way representative.
This point deserves, in my opinion, to be underlined. The Mass in English is not in response to a demand from the faithful; it has been imposed by the hierarchy. It is pure clericalism, the like of which we have never before seen. (...)
Having foisted a limited vernacular upon their reluctant flocks in Advent 1964, the bishops then added the Canon of the Mass in English for Advent 1967. “The reason given,” Fr. Houghton observed in his December 1967 commentary, “is that we are in an era of unprecedented change and that even the Mass must change every six months. We will see other changes next Lent of course. And try to guess. No? You’ve already got it? We will have a mini-Mass for children!”
On 3 April 1969, publication of the constitution Missale Romanum formalised this notion of myriad Masses. The new Roman Missal, protested Fr. Houghton, suppresses "THE Mass and provides four - for starters.” It was too much. With the Novus Ordo coming into force on the first Sunday of Advent, his November 1969 contribution to the Eastern Daily Express was not only his last column but his final farewell:
.... The fact that I will leave my parish before Sunday 30th November, the date on which the new liturgy will become obligatory, has received much publicity. It is true, alas!
Naturally, the Mass remains what it is, whatever the priests and congregation do, because the principal actor is God and not man. Jesus Christ always makes Himself present and offers Himself to the Eternal Father whether we are standing to sing hymns or kneeling down for silent adoration.
The Pope has the right the define the modalities of the ceremony which clothe the divine action. He can, naturally, legislate askew; they tell us that that was the case for over a thousand years when he imposed an incomprehensible liturgy in Latin. But it was the liturgy and no-one was to use any other. In the past, today’s reformers - all without exception - used the old Mass.
There is however an area in which you and I are competent: our reaction to the divine action. From the ambo or even from the altar, they can abuse and mistreat you; the fact remains that you adore in your heart as you alone are able to do.
There is where the difficulty arises. In my role as priest I must serve as the Church demands of me. Nothing would lead me to function in any other way. But, as a simple Christian, with his soul to save, it so happens that I do not pray as the new liturgy assumes.
Having said that, the only honourable way out is to cease functioning. If I were to use the new liturgy with acceptable fervour, I would be acting as a hypocrite. If I were to continue celebrating according to the old rite, I would be disobeying. I want neither one nor the other.
And so, I’m taking myself off as a perfectly loyal priest, with the blessing of my bishop. That is what is so bizarre about this departure. So many priests disappear from circulation because they disobey and break their vows, this one is going because he is obedient and has no intention of breaking his vows. He is a bit sclerotic, no doubt, but he will not end up in the gutter.
All very odd.
And so, while hirelings everywhere badgered their clergy and herded their pliant flocks into Bugnini’s contrived liturgical pen, Fr. Houghton, for better or worse, departed the local scene. For the benefit of new subscribers and the surprisingly large number of older ones who have forgotten all about him, a revised and expanded version of my pseudonymous 1995 tribute to Fr. Houghton immediately follows. This will acquaint or reacquaint readers with his unique place in England's post-conciliar history, while giving context to our extracts from Prêtre rejeté ["The Unwanted Priest"], his highly entertaining and instructive autobiography.
We begin this month with its most profound (and provocative) chapter, in which Fr. Houghton seeks to explain perhaps the greatest mystery of all: how so many priests raised and formed on the Mass of the saints and martyrs so easily cast it off in favour of the liturgical "fabrication" decried by our present Holy Father?
Ensuing editions will feature further liturgical insights as well as his fascinating and hilarious recollections of priestly life.
Bridging the chasm
A frequent contributor to Christian Order throughout his years of exile in France, my esteemed predecessor, Fr Paul Crane, S.J., would take great delight in seeing the scholarship, wisdom and wit of his good friend once more gracing his beloved magazine (with due allowance for translations which surely cannot replicate the elegant prose of the original English manuscript - yet to be rediscovered and published. Oremus!).
At the same time, Fr. Crane would appreciate the practical need for this 'blast from the past' in order to avoid complacency in our post-Summorum universe of vindication and opportunity.
With the likes of Bishop Slattery and Bishop D'Arcy following the Holy Father's traditional lead, as recounted herein, it is tempting to think the worst is behind us. If only! Almost any local Sunday 'celebration' is a sobering reminder that reorienting Catholic hearts, minds and priorities skewed by the liturgical revolution will take a lifetime. Forty years of bedlam has bred a hyperactive, pig-ignorant People of God: a golden-calf community steeped in "self-initiated and self-seeking worship... no longer concerned with God but with giving [itself] a nice little alternative world, manufactured from [its] own resources," as Pope Benedict lamented in Spirit of the Liturgy.
Even among faithful Catholics united in doctrine and morals and fighting the culture war together on so many fronts, the chronic divide of the liturgical war persists. Largely unspoken but always simmering and sometimes erupting, it is the dissipation of this liturgical tension and the reuniting of neo-conservatives with their traditionalist brethren, not the spurious "Christian unity" of a false ecumenism, which constitutes the Catholic priority of our time.
The Boston disgrace was a valuable reminder of the chasm: between those sickened by the wicked administration of a funeral rite to an unrepentant public sinner, and those who viewed the televised abuse of the Holy Sacrifice which accompanied the scandal as a more fundamental breach in the life of the Church and souls. Only when the former mindset - more tribal and institutional - fully comprehends and reconciles with the latter - truly universal and supernatural - will the unprecedented crisis of faith abate and the Catholic restoration commence in earnest.
The Vicar of Christ insists on it.
The fate of the world depends on it.
Lest we forget.
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