Shades of Evelyn Waugh: An Update on the Latin Mass in England & Wales

‘SINCE the Second Vatican Council in 1962, the Roman Catholic church has striven to adapt to the modern world. But in the West—where many hoped a contemporary message would go down best—believers have left in droves. Sunday mass attendance in England & Wales has fallen by half from the 1.8m recorded in 1960; the average age of parishioners has risen from 37 in 1980 to 52 now. In America attendance has declined by over a third since 1960. Less than 5% of French Catholics attend regularly, and only 15% in Italy. Yet as the mainstream wanes, traditionalists wax.’ –  The Economist, December 14, 2012

Joseph Shaw is the 42 year old Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales. An Oxford don, he teaches Philosophy at St Benet’s Hall, the Benedictine house of studies in Oxford University. In this exclusive Regina Magazine interview, Dr. Shaw discusses the Society, its history and the amazing success the Extraordinary Form has met with in recent years.

Q. Tell us about the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales. When was it founded, and by whom?

Three people are principally responsible for the founding of the Society, in 1965: Evelyn Waugh, the foremost Catholic writer of his day (“Brideshead Revisited”), Sir Arnold Lunn, controversialist and skiing pioneer, and Hugh Ross Williamson, media personality and historian.

Evelyn Waugh’s concerns about Vatican II and the liturgical reform are recorded in his diaries and letters, and in a famous Spectator article at the onset of the Council. Much of this material, and responses to his letters from Cardinal Heenan, has been turned into a book, ‘A Most Bitter Trial’ (ed Scott Reid). Waugh didn’t live to see the 1970 Missal, but he was deeply concerned about the 1955 Holy Week Reform, the Dialogue Mass, and Mass in English. He wrote in the Spectator article:

‘Participation’ in the Mass does not mean hearing our own voices. It means God hearing our voices. Only He knows who is ‘participating’ at Mass. I believe, to compare small things with great, that I ‘participate’ in a work of art when I study it and love it silently. No need to shout. …If the Germans want to be noisy, let them. But why should they disturb our devotions?’

That is a key idea: the responses, the English, the jumping up and down, shaking hands and so on ‘disturbs our devotions’: the serious business of engaging prayerfully in the Mass.

Hugh Ross-Williamson was an Anglican clergyman who converted. He had been brought up in a non-conformist (Presbyterian) family, had become a High Anglican, and was finally received inti the Catholic Church when the Anglicans recognised the orders of group of Methodist clergy in India in 1955. He wrote a book about the Roman Canon, ‘The Great Prayer’, as well as plays, history, and journalism; he was on the ‘Brains Trust’ TV programme until his conversion. (His complaint ‘This is 1955, not 1555!’ fell on deaf ears: a Catholic was not acceptable on the programme.)

Williamson was very disturbed by the theology of the New Mass and later wrote a pamphlet arguing that it was invalid. He saw a strong parallel with the liturgical changes made by Cranmer in the course of the English Reformation.

Arnold Lunn was a great apologist, as well the inventor of slalom ski racing; as an agnostic he had a debate with Monsignor Ronald Knox which was turned into a book, ‘Difficulties’, and although many thought he’d done rather well in the debate, two years later he became a Catholic. Even as an agnostic he had been a fierce opponent of scientific materialism, and was very interested in the roots of the decline in religious belief. He researched the way religion was being taught in the great Anglican public schools and published a book, ‘Public School Religion’, about it.

Basically it wasn’t being taught at all because the chaplains in those places no longer had any confidence in their religion – this was in the 1930s. The great contrast, he discovered, was with the Catholic schools, where it was still being taken very seriously. He could see where things were going; like many in the early 20th Century the Catholic Church looked like the last bastion of reason and civilisation, let alone religion. And then the Catholic Church started to incorporate many of the same ideas and reforms which had hollowed out the Anglicans.

The attitude of these three was not unusual: one of the great early successes of the LMS was organising a petition to ask Pope Paul V that the Traditional Mass be preserved. This led to the ‘English Indult’ of 1971. The petitioners were all intellectual and cultural figures, mostly non-Catholic; the included Yehudi Menuhin, Agatha Christi, Grwham Greene and Sir Colin Davis. You can see more about that here and here.

Q. Given that England was the first nation to obtain an indult for the Latin Mass, what progress do you see being made, say, since the Motu Proprio of 2007?

We have records for the number of publicly advertised Masses taking place, as we publish lists every quarter, and have done so for decades. A few months ago we put these figures together for The Economist:

• In 2007, there were regular Masses in the Extraordinary Form being celebrated in 26 locations.
• In 2012, the figure is 157

A typical Holyday of Obligation:

• In 2007 there were 10 Masses in the Extraordinary Form celebrated on All Saints Day.

• In 2012, the figure is 60 and counting.

Q. Extraordinary! Are there many more priests learning the Mass?

Since 2007, we have run eight residential training conferences for priests and 200 places have been taken up at these. Many have attended more than one conference, so that represents around 120 individual priests. Of these, we understand that about 100 have gone on to celebrate the old rite at least occasionally, but usually at least monthly, in public.

In addition, the LMS is aware of some 50 or so priests who celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass in public at least occasionally. These are priests who taught themselves privately, or who are older priests who were taught at seminary when they were younger. There is an unknown number of priests (mainly retired now) who celebrate the Extraordinary Form privately. Recently, we did an exercise identifying priests who say the TLM and I think the total is certainly in the region of 200. Before the Motu Proprio we reckon there were about 50 priests.

Q. This is great news. Does this mean that the Mass is now available regularly on Sundays all over England and Wales?

The availability of EF Sunday Masses in stable venues (ie a Mass every week) is still limited, at 33 in England and Wales, plus a handful of ‘rotating venue’ situations (one in Kent, one in Arundel and Brighton diocese, for example.)

Even this represents a big increase on the number before the Motu Proprio.

Q. So, in your experience, how does the Mass gain a foothold? What typically happens?

First, you have groups of the Faithful asking for the Extraordinary Form. This was the usual case until the Motu Proprio, but it was very hard work. A group like this kept the TLM going at the Brompton Oratory, for example, where it was said in the Little Oratory for years – not the main church – and wasn’t advertised.  A group of laity in the Reading area managed in the end to get the FSSP to come to serve them. A group in Oxford had a succession of priests who were retired to say Mass for them in private houses; eventually this was taken over by the Oratory here. The community in Chesham persuaded a local priest to say the EF and, following his recent death, has been proactive in getting priests in week by week to keep it going.

Second, you get individual priests who fall in love with the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. This has now become quite common. There are quite a few priests who do a weekday or Saturday Mass and the occasional ‘big’ thing they manage to arrange; others have taken it a step further and introduced it into their parishes on a Sunday.

For example Fr Bede Rowe, assigned to a remote parish in Clifton Diocese, started a Sunday evening EF Mass and a congregation for this gradually established itself. Fr John Saward in Oxford (the translator, in fact, of Pope Benedict’s ‘Spirit of the Liturgy’) says the EF in his parish of SS Gregory and Augustine twice a week on weekdays and once a month has a sung TLM on a Sunday: it is really entirely his own initiative, though of course he is also mindful of pastoral needs. Another local example is Fr John Osman, in St Birinus, Dorchester on Thames. Fr Osman waxes quite lyrical about how he fell in love with it, and how important it has been for his spiritual life.

A good example of how this happens is Fr Timothy Finigan of Blackfen in London, who was asked some years ago to say a TLM for a funeral. He said: ‘yes why not?’ and had to learn it from scratch. It made such an impression on him that he gradually learned more and introduced it to his parish on a Sunday.

Another important factor is priests influencing each other. We find little ‘hot spots’ of priests learning the Mass because they all know a particular priest who loves it, and spreads the word.

Q. You have publicly discussed the inclusivity of the TLM; what did you mean?

I’ve certainly noticed that in a big parish with different Masses the congregations tend to separate into different groups according to liturgical preference; this also happens between parishes. This separation can very easily gain a class character – in England, where class is never very far away!

The universal appeal of the TLM is very evident from talking to members of the congregation. You really do have all sorts of people. Some engage with the liturgy primarily in an intellectual way. Others engage primarily in an aesthetic or emotional way. The intellectual and the other aspects of the TLM are not in competition with each other — you can take out of it whatever you need.

There is an excellent book about this by a Dominican (now ex-Dominican) sociologist Anthony Archer, ‘The Two Catholic Churches’, I have discussed it and quoted it here.

Archer says the working classes engaged with the liturgy in a particular way, in relation to what they saw as ‘ritual efficacy’: what was going on at the Altar was real, objective, it made a difference, it made something happen. They focused on that and were absorbed by it.

The things which are supposed to help participation in the New Mass are more appealing to the middle class: they require social confidence, being articulate. There is a class distinction also about what sort of community people are comfortable with — little cliquey groups (middle class) and larger numbers (working class). All the stuff about sharing your experiences at a charismatic prayer meeting or cosy little house Masses is middle class and off-putting to everyone else.

That is Archer’s thesis, and it fits with my own observations.

Q. In many countries, there seems to be no crisis of priestly vocations in circles where the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is supported. Have you noticed this to be the case in England and Wales?

This is certainly true. We have now 10 young men from England and Wales in traditional seminaries, mostly the FSSP; two more are joining them in September. That is totally disproportionate to the size of the EF-going community in England and Wales, compared to vocations coming out of the Novus Ordo congregations.

What is more, a great many seminarians in ordinary seminaries have had contact with the EF and like it, and it has played a part in their spiritual development and vocation. They will be wanting to learn it as soon as they can.

In fact, the only new priest for East Anglia this year said a TLM a day or two after his ordination; he was at the Priest Training Conference the LMS had this year in Leicester. This is increasingly common.

Q.  Many Catholics today no longer see the need for Confession, or Reconciliation, though this does not seem to be the case for those who attend the TLM. Why do you think this is?

Yes certainly EF-goers seem to go to confession more than the average Catholic (who, I suppose, goes pretty infrequently). This is an indication of a wider truth, that the TLM brings with it traditional spirituality, theology, preaching, and so on. The priests encourage it and make it available, the people read the good old books which encourage it, and the Mass itself fosters a sense of sin and a sense of the reality of grace and of sacramental efficacy.

The communities which grow up around the TLM quickly become characterised by traditional attitudes and devotions, a strong pro-life stance, large families, modest clothing, mantillas, all that stuff. This alarms some people, but these are counter-cultural communities giving each other mutual support.

Q. Anecdotally, I have heard many people say that they were converted to Catholicism through the beauty of their experience of the Extraordinary Form. Do you find this to be true?

I can’t say I know many atheists, but a good non-Catholic friend of mine certainly finds the EF more attractive than the OF (he also for a time went to the Orthodox). I know a number of young men who lapsed and came back for the TLM, or could have lapsed were it not for the TLM. A good female friend converted from Judaism in the context of the EF.

The aesthetics and emotionality of many Novus Ordo celebrations can be exquisitely painful, particularly to young men. When they find the TLM, they can fall in love with it instantly – that happened to me, in a Low Mass. That’s not aestheticism, even if we agree we are using the term in a non-pejorative sense: it is glimpsing Christ made present in the liturgy.

‘Beauty’ is perhaps a misleading term here. No doubt some people will go to a Mozart Mass because of the Mozart, but such Masses are actually quite rare. The music and the vestments vary from the ‘decent’ to the ‘not very good’ in a lot of places, and there are a lot of Low Masses going on.

They can be very attractive, nevertheless, because of the contemplative quality, the peace, the reverence, the invitation to pray and be quiet with God. A better term than ‘beauty’ here would be ‘spirituality’: they are attracted by the spirituality of the TLM.

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