Featured Photo: NEWLY ORDAINED Fr. James Mawdsley, FSSP with his father David Mawdsley and his twin brother, Lt-Col Jeremy Mawdsley, RA, MBE
By Beverly Stevens
Photos by Joseph Shaw
He’s an Englishman, from ‘Catholic’ Lancaster, and he survived more than a year in solitary confinement in Burma – sentenced there for protesting the regime’s human rights violations. He’s also just been ordained a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter in Bavaria. Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP shared his thoughts at the beginning of his priestly ministry in this exclusive interview with REGINA Magazine.
REGINA: Can you tell us about your growing up years?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: I was born in 1973. My sister, two brothers and I, raised Catholic, had a happy childhood in Mawdesley, a village in Lancashire.
AFTER ORDINATION: “I was profoundly impressed that the first few priests of the FSSP whom I met were all men of sacrifice. No other kind of priesthood makes sense.”
REGINA: Lancashire remained famously Catholic after the Reformation. Is yours one of the recusant families of England?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: Yes, there is invigorating recusant history there, but I have only read very fragmentary accounts. I would love to know more.
REGINA: How did you discover your vocation?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: After having realised the futility of my own plans and efforts, God benignly convinced me to offer myself for the priesthood. I am sure it was His idea, not mine, so it has worked!
REGINA: How did you come to learn about the Latin Mass?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: Slowly one discovers that the Holy Eucharist is the Life of the world, and offering the Sacrifice of the Mass works man’s Redemption, and denial of transubstantiation is the snare of antichrists, and only worship of the Holy Trinity brings eternal peace. With these truths for context, the more I heard about the Traditional Latin Mass, the more thirsty I grew for it. Once I began attending, it captivated me entirely.
GIVING FIRST BLESSINGS IN BAVARIA: “The more I discover the traditions of the Church, the more I realise the most important answers are already here, and fruitfulness comes through bowing the neck to serve in a self-forgetful obedience.”
REGINA: And the FSSP?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: Searching for a place which taught it, the first thing I learned on the Internet about the FSSP put me right off them. I fell for the calumny that being a splinter from a splinter they have schism in their DNA.
REGINA: So what happened?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: Many months later my spiritual director instructed me to meet with Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP. Quickly I was impressed by his absolute loyalty to the Church and the Pope. Researching into the crucible of events surrounding the foundation of the Fraternity in the 1980s, it dawned on me that the very quality on which Providence called them was in fact faithfulness—the very opposite of schism!
ORDINATIONS IN BAVARIA: “It begins with liturgy and it ends with liturgy. Between those two poles there is the whole world to work in, all the questions of war, hunger, social justice, the environment. People are right to care about these things. I hope we can draw more people into Solemn Sunday worship so that their cares may bear perfect fruit. Without God, we can do nothing.”
REGINA: How so?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: The twelve founders belonged to that small number of priests who remained loyal to the Traditional Latin Mass and also remained loyal to the reigning Pope and all his flesh and blood successors. Also I was profoundly impressed that the first few priests of the FSSP whom I met were all men of sacrifice. No other kind of priesthood makes sense.
REGINA: You have completed a long course of study at Wigratzbad. What were your greatest challenges?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: One challenge is switching from a mode of assertiveness to restraint. The world is smothered by evil and as a layman wishing to challenge that, I saw no other way than being aggressive in confronting tyranny and distastefully self-promotional in politics. However, the more I discover the traditions of the Church, the more I realise the most important answers are already here, and fruitfulness comes through bowing the neck to serve in a self-forgetful obedience. This does not leave one vulnerable to exploitation, for the hierarchy of the Church is predicated on service, as our Lord demonstrated by washing like a servant the feet of His disciples. Within the Fraternity this service by the superiors is evident. Even if one worries that worldly men govern the Church, they remain the legitimate authority. God is their Judge. Our place is obedience.
FIRST MASS: “Among the greatest joys in Wigratzbad is the awesome stillness that descends.”
REGINA: And what will you remember with joy?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: Among the greatest joys in Wigratzbad is the awesome stillness that descends upon a Pontifical High Mass when it comes to the Qui pridie in the Canon. Sometimes one senses heaven here. More regularly, Sunday Vespers is like finding the centre of the world, or the garden of Eden. I mean it is a gift of the Church, designed in the mind of the Holy Spirit before time began. Man is made to praise God, therefore Solemn Vespers makes us happy. I hope it returns throughout the Church.
REGINA: FSSP priests work in parishes; what attracts you to this kind of life?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: The parish priest where I grew up was unlike anyone else I have ever met, until seminary. He had a permanent, deep calm about him, which was so gentle that one scarcely even noticed it. Looking back, I think it must be the fruit of his self-denial and prayers. St James wrote: “For in many things we all offend. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man” (Jas 3:2). In this sense, Fr Ellison seemed to me the perfect man. Thus he exemplifies an attractive ideal. Some shout about the importance of peace; meanwhile Fr Ellison spread it.
REGINA: You were imprisoned in Burma for political activism. How did that affect you?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: In prison in Burma I had plenty of time to ponder how best to fight against tyranny. Some advise that the oppressed can try to sit out tyranny, that is to wait until biology takes care of the problem through the death of the tyrant (or regime). But this is false, as dictators draw successors into their totalitarian form. Rather one must act; but the most effective ‘act’ is entative rather than operative: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
For a priest in a parish desirous to build up the Kingdom of God, it is not necessary to break a bruised reed. We need not fight against tyrants over us, as some in the temporal sphere must do, but simply learn to love. This bears lasting fruit, and creates space for political justice and peace to follow.
REGINA: What are you looking forward to now?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: Whatever God has in mind! God is to be adored. In Warrington we have devoted faithful, friendly local clergy, a supportive archbishop and a great God. What can stop Him being loved? It begins with liturgy and it ends with liturgy. Between those two poles there is the whole world to work in, all the questions of war, hunger, social justice, the environment. People are right to care about these things. I hope we can draw more people into Solemn Sunday worship so that their cares may bear perfect fruit. Without God, we can do nothing; neither can our government; neither can business, farmers or entertainers. With God, all these can serve eternal beatitude.
REGINA: What are your thoughts about this linkage — of right liturgy with right morality?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: The Traditional Mass unequivocally puts God first. There can be no defence of human rights without first defending God’s rights. If some think that our omnipotent Deity needs no defence, perhaps they could contemplate why St Joseph whisked Jesus into Egypt. Not that we serve God to win temporal benefits; but we learn that worshipping God in the way He prefers is our greatest freedom.
This was impossible for me to comprehend before I knew the Traditional Latin Mass. How can I possibly pay back the infinite God for all the good He has done for me? Since ordination, every day “calicem salutaris accipiam, et nomen Domini invocabo”.
REGINA: Any last thoughts?
Fr James Mawdsley, FSSP: Finally, as Pope Pius XII consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and as Pope St John Paul II consecrated the world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, then I hope to see the day when a pope together with the college of bishops will consecrate the world with a special mention of Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, as requested at Fatima.