One of the most noticeable things about the various disasters of the sixties and afterwards is how catastrophic they were for English speaking countries and for England in particular. English Catholics were in the unusually happy position of living in a Catholic country stolen from them by the greed and lust of a foul tyrant who imposed the unwanted ‘new religion’ on his people by force. England was a country where the established form of Protestantism was universally seen for what it was, an absurd compromise engendered by the love of self to the point of contempt for God. It was a nation where the form of government constructed by mediaeval Catholics survived and needed nothing but the conversion of the sovereign and the people for the re-establishment of the Kingship of Christ. No need for revolution or reinventing the theological wheel, just teach, sanctify and govern. Conversions, as the recent statistics published on the LMS chairman’s blog have shown, continued to rise even until the year after the summoning of the Council. This remarkable fact reflects the fact that it was less the specific statements of the Council as the perception of a surrender to modernity that destroyed the self-confidence and the allure of Catholicism in England.
The agonies of continental Catholics about their fallen monarchies and dreadful philosophies and of Americans about the compatibility of their constitution with the teaching of the Church apparently demanded the obscuring of central truths of the faith, truths which were central the evangelical success of Catholicism in the Commonwealth. The kind of civil order represented by the coronation was unacceptable to Americans, the kind of triumphalism that carried all before it in Britain was repugnant to French and German intellectuals keen to have their grubby compromises with alien philosophies ratified by the Church.
Prior to the First Vatican Council Cardinal Manning remarked upon the consequences for the Church of the perception that she might conform her teachings to the spirit of the age.
“A belief had also spread itself that the Council would explain away the doctrines of Trent, or give them some new or laxer meaning, or throw open some questions supposed to be closed, or come to a compromise or transaction with other religious systems ; or at least that it would accommodate the dogmatic stiffness of its traditions to modern thought and modern theology. It is strange that any one should have forgotten that every General Council, from Nicaea to Trent, which has touched on the faith, has made new definitions, and that every new definition is a new dogma, and closes what was before open, and ties up more strictly the doctrines of faith. This belief, however, excited an expectation, mixed with hopes, that Rome by becoming comprehensive might become approachable, or by becoming inconsistent might become powerless over the reason and the will of men.”
Manning’s nightmare came true ninety years later. In a recent article from Rorate Caeli Cardinal Heenan’s reaction to the first performance of the Novus Ordo was recalled.
“At home, it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday we would soon be left with a congregation of women and children.”
One of the distressing things about attending the usus antiquior in non-English speaking countries is the way in which the liturgy is so often obscured by the singing of vernacular hymns over the words of the priest and the popularity of the dialogue mass and the practice of delivering the readings in the vernacular. These practices generate an air of embarrassment around the liturgy implicitly conceding that the ‘reforms’ of the sixties were necessary and the only reason for the use of the earlier form is irrational nostalgia. Perhaps it is because England was a nation created out of pagan barbarism by the greatest of all Popes that the anglosphere has a special capacity and enthusiasm for Romanitas.
A friend pointed out to me last week that Cardinal Heenan was not the only one to remark upon the extraordinary power that the Roman Liturgy retained in England over the affections of men as well as women. Before the First World War R.H. Benson had already perceived it.
“I am continually astonished by the extraordinary predominance of the male sex over the female in attendance at Mass and in the practice of private prayer in our churches. At a recent casual occasion, upon my remarking to the parish-priest of a suburban church that I have always been struck by this phenomenon, he told me that on the previous evening he had happened to count the congregation from the west gallery and that the proportion of men to women had been about as two to one.”
Somehow the abandonment of the conquest of the temporal order by the curia still allows for feminine religiosity but it strips the layman of his proper vocation. There is something militant about the Roman liturgy which is particularly accentuated in the stripped down form of the Missa Lecta. The Church in the English speaking world thrived on the narrative of the long war to reverse the theft of our country by Henry VIII, on the truth that Western Civilisation is ours. The Church created it the protestants and their atheistical offspring are destroying it. Capitulation before modernity and the transformation of the Mass into a protestant communion service dealt the killer blow to the strongest and most faithful Catholic lay culture in the world.