Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A Bitter Trial - enduring the liturgical changes

 John Carmel Cardinal Heenan

I came across a review on the "New Oxford Review" site of a book republished last year in an expanded edition - "A Bitter Trial" correspondence between John Carmel Cardinal Heenan and Evelyn Waugh on the liturgical changes in the 1960's. Many of you will have come across the book before but the review itself, by Philip Blosser, Professor of Philosophy at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, is well worth reading to get a flavour of the bewilderment that both Waugh and Heenan seemed to have gone though in suffering the changes to the Mass.  It is commented on by Alcuin Reid, Joseph Pearce and Clare Asquith.

Evelyn Waugh
Here are some tasters:

Waugh was only in his late twenties when he was received into the Church. “I was drawn, not by splendid ceremonies but by the spectacle of the priest as a craftsman,” he writes, using a simile suggested by G.K. Chesterton. “He had an important job to do which none but he was qualified for. He and his apprentice stumped up to the altar with their tools and set to work without a glance to those behind them, still less with any intention to make a personal impression on them.”

It is easy to forget that the Church in the decades preceding Vatican II, whatever her problems, experienced what Pearce calls a “burgeoning Catholic revival” and a nearly unprecedented heyday of notable conversions.  Pearce writes, “that the preconciliar Church was so effective in evangelizing modern culture, whereas the number of converts to the faith seemed to diminish in the sixties and seventies in direct proportion to the presence of the much-vaunted aggiorna­mento, the muddle-headed belief that the Church needed to be brought ‘up-to-date.’"

Waugh suffered immensely. In a 1965 letter to Archbishop Heenan, Waugh begged him, “Please pray for my perseverance.” He declared further that “every attendance at Mass leaves me without comfort or edification. I shall never, pray God, apostatize but church-going is now a bitter trial.”

Heenan himself admitted to his fellow bishops in Rome, “If we were to offer [in England] the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday in the Sistine Chapel (a demonstration of the Normative Mass) we would soon be left with a congregation of mostly women and children.”

Waugh told Heenan that he also detected a new kind of “anticlericalism” that tended to “minimize the sacramental character of the priesthood and to suggest that the laity are their equals.” Heenan responded, “Of course you are right. That is why they are playing up this People of God and Priesthood of the Laity so much. The Mass is no longer the Holy Sacrifice but the meal at which the priest is the waiter.”


Jacobi said...

There were many like Heenan and Waugh at that time. What is surprising now is that they did not rise up and cry out to Heaven out against the appalling destruction being visited on the Church by the Modernist Reformers operating through the liturgy. They largely held their counsel until it was too late!

Even today, the hesitant,near pathetic attempts to re-sanctify the Novus Ordo do little if anything to stop the decline of belief and the steady seepage away, particularly of the young.

Like Waugh, I trust I will never apostatize, but it does go on, and is rather trying!

Personally, I think John XX111, because of his naivety and lack of judgement, has a lot to answer for!

GOR said...

For anyone who did not live through the pre and post Vat II years it is hard to comprehend what happened at that time. In retrospect it seemed as if it all happened at once – a change of tsunami proportions. The upheaval in the Church paralleled the upheaval in society that took hold in the 1960s.

Anything ‘old’ was bad. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a secular mantra which infiltrated the Church as well. St. Augustine’s “Love, and do what you like” became “All you need is love”. But it wasn’t the love Our Lord and St. Paul preached, the caritas that looked outward towards others. Rather it was self-love. It was all about me and getting what I wanted.

The exodus of priests from ministry in the 60’s and 70’s is often attributed to this new sense of liberation from the past. But I think it also had much to do with the way in which the priestly role had come to be viewed. If you had set out to become a priest in the late 50’s, by the time you got to ordination the priest you had set out to be was no longer the same.

Instead of being ‘set apart’ you were absorbed. You were a facilitator, a presider, a glorified social worker in a Roman collar. The ‘worker priest movement’ of the 1950s also played into this. Much like a doctor, a plumber or an electrician you could ‘come in handy’ at times, but for the most part you were hardly necessary. But the role had not changed, just the perception of it.

You’re right, Father. Your ‘job’ is to help people get to heaven and thank God for priests like you who still see it in that light. The example of St. John Vianney is still the right one to follow, regardless of what others may think.