Friday, August 12, 2016

Ad clerum 77-3

26. To the Clergy of Stamford Diocese.

Ad clerum 77–3
Monday, January 31st, 1977.

Right Reverend, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers,

I apologize for bombarding you with circulars. Doubtless I started it but I am not solely responsible for its continuation.

You received an anonymous and undated circular on Wednesday which purported to prove that I had no right to permit the Immemorial Mass in this diocese. This, you are well aware, is nonsense, as can be seen from the general law of the Church, article 22 of Constitution of November 1963, article 6 of the General Instruction to the New Ordo of 1969, etc. . . . and by common sense, all of which commit the liturgy to the pastoral care of the chief pastor, the bishop, so long as he is acting within the General Law of the Church.

The circular, however, gives me the opportunity of going into the question of the licitness of the Immemorial Mass in some detail. It has all been said before by Professors Louis Salleron and Neri Capponi and by Father Bryan Houghton among others, but it is more likely that your attention has not been drawn to their publications and, if it has, you have not had time to read them. As you will see, I am attempting to do much more than answer the circular. I am trying to guide you through the labyrinth of documents in which the Mass has been lost, so that you will know how you stand in the event of my death.


It should be remembered that until 1570 no Pope and no Council had ever legislated over the rite in which Mass was celebrated. The astonishing similarity between the rites in the Western Church arose from the fact that no bishop or priest dared to innovate in anything so sacred. If in doubt, they discovered what was the common practice in Rome. The attitude was notably different from that of some contemporary priests who seem to imagine that the Eucharist would be invalid if they failed to tinker with it. Actually, the only attempt to unify the rite came from civil, not ecclesiastical authority. After the conquest of Old Saxony, completed in A.D. 785, Charlemagne was faced with the problem of its evangelization. To facilitate and integrate the missioners’ work he instructed the Anglo-Saxon, Alcuin of York, to unify the rites current in the Empire.

It was the Protestant reformers who first dared to touch the rite of the Sacred Mysteries. Eucharistic forms multiplied with the same rapidity that they do today. It was to restore order in the existing chaos that the Council of Trent called upon the Pope to establish the norm for the celebration of Mass. Hence the first Papal legislation on the subject, the Bull Quo Primum of St Pius V of July 19th, 1570. What did this Bull do?

1.  It consolidated and codified (statuimus et ordinamus are the operative words) the Immemorial Roman Rite.

2.  It made its use compulsory throughout the Latin Church, except

3.  when other rites had a continuous usage of over two hundred years, such as those of Sarum, Lyons, Toledo, Milan, the Dominicans, the Carthusians, etc.

4.  It granted a perpetual Indult to all priests under any circumstances to celebrate according to the Immemorial Roman Rite thus codified.

It is to be observed, therefore, that the so-called “Tridentine Rite” does not exist by the positive law of one Pope which the next is at liberty to undo. It exists by immemorial custom to which the laity who attend have as much right as the clergy who celebrate it. Is it not possible that this point has been overlooked? Anyway, an immemorial right can be extinguished by two means:

    a) by a solemn pronouncement of the Sovereign Pontiff abrogating the customary right on the grounds that its continuance would be contrary to the common good;

    b) by the customary right falling into desuetude—along with the custom the right lapses.

On the other hand, what is of positive law in the Bull Quo Primum is the exclusivity granted to the Immemorial Roman Rite, apart from rites over two hundred years old. This exclusivity can clearly be modified by a succeeding Pope without any appeal to “reasonableness” and “the common good.”

Such was the position on which we were all agreed, Pope, bishops, priests, and laity, up to and including the Council.

In November 1963 the Council promulgated its Constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. It should be noted that this document is a Constitution, the most solemn form of legislation of which a Council is capable. What does it do? Does it abrogate (=abolish), obrogate (=substitute) or derogate (=make exceptions to) previous legislation and notably the Bull Quo Primum? Not a bit of it; it takes it all for granted. It merely speaks of instauratio. The Latin instaurare does not mean to restore in the sense of restoring a ruined building. It means to restore in the way we restore our tissues in a restaurant. In fact it means to refresh. Even the refreshment was to be pretty abstemious as we learn from article 36: “The use of the Latin language shall be maintained (servetur) in the Latin rites.” Article 54 allows for the local dialects “above all for the lessons and community prayers . . . also in the responses of the people.” In fact a vernacular dialogued Mass was permitted although not made compulsory. Please re-read Sacrosanctum Concilium without hindsight: what it says, not what it has been made to say.

So far we have two laws, both duly promulgated in the most solemn form of which the Church is capable:

1.  A Papal Constitution, the Bull Quo Primum of 1570;

2.  A Conciliar Constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium of 1963. The second confirms the first, merely permitting certain specific derogations in the matter of language by its article 54.


1.  Two months later, on January 25th, 1964, Pope Paul VI issued a motu proprio called Sacrum Liturgiam. A motu proprio is a binding Papal document, be it legislative, judicial or administrative. What passes belief is that this is the only one on the liturgy which the pope has issued to date, that is in thirteen years. This unique document fixes the parts of the Mass to be said in the native dialect as recommended by article 54 of Sacrosanctum Concilium: the introductory psalm, epistle and gospel, etc. Unfortunately, it also announced the creation of a special Consilium (with an ‘s’ in the middle, consequently an advisory body) to put into effect the Council’s recommendations. This was duly established on February 29th under the chairmanship of Cardinal Lercaro.

.  It took a little time for the Consilium to warm to its work and its first publication, the Institution Inter Oecumenici of September 26th, 1964, could, with a pit of pushing and pulling, be fitted into the Council’s Constitution. It permitted (but did not enjoin) the whole of the Mass apart from the Preface and Canon to be said in the vernacular. It reintroduced the bidding-prayers, which the Council had never demanded. It also delegated liturgical powers to bishops.

    It was from this moment onwards that serious opposition began to be felt. For instance, I think the Latin Mass Society was founded early in 1965. Several perfectly reasonable priests rang the alarm. Myself, being neither a theologian nor a Canon Lawyer but a clerical accountant, thought Inter Oecumenici unwise but not impossible. I became your bishop.

3.  Owing perhaps to the opposition, the Consilium remained reasonably inactive for nearly three years. Then, on May 4th, 1967, it produced its Tres Abhinc Annos, better known as the Instructio Altera. This, my dear Fathers, was the revolution. Permission was granted for the whole Mass, including the Canon and the Consecration, to be said aloud and in the vernacular. This is clean contrary to paragraphs 1 and 2 of article 36 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. It was, of course, a derogation from the law, a pure permission, but we were all made to realize that laws were no longer meant to be obeyed whereas permissions were obligatory.

    What is the legal value of such an Instruction? It is not easy to determine. The Consilium, as its name implied, was a counselling body. It should therefore have induced either the Pope to issue a motu proprio or the Ministry concerned, the Congregation of Rites, to send out a Notification. It did neither but issued its own Instruction. Whatever its value, one thing is quite certain: it cannot derogate from any existing law, in the particular case from the Pope’s motu proprio of January 25th, 1964 and from the Council’s Constitution. It was a try-on.

    The trouble is that it worked. Neither the Pope nor the episcopate questioned the Instructio Altera. From that moment onwards the progressive bureaucracy knew that it was master. The bishops, from Rome to Stamford, had abdicated.

4.  The extent of the abdication became almost immediately evident. In October of the same year, 1967, the Consilium produced its Missa Normativa at the Synod of Bishops. It was rejected by 104 votes to 72. What did that matter? It has become law as the New Ordo.

This has the most puzzling history of all. May I remind you, Fathers, that we already have two documents of the highest conceivable authority: the Bull Quo Primum and the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, which are, moreover, in line with each other. What happens next?

On April 3rd, 1969, a Papal Constitution entitled Missale Romanum was promulgated purporting to be the law governing the New Order of Mass, as yet unpublished. In this original version it is not a law at all but an explanatory introduction to a permission. Even the word Constitutio is nowhere to be found in the text, merely in the title. There is no abrogation of previous legislation and no clause ordering the use of the new rite. There is no sentence to show that it is obligatory, let alone exclusive. There is no dating clause to show when it should come into effect.

This, of course, did not prevent the powers that be from saying that it was a binding law. To do so they had recourse to a mistranslation. What is so curious is that this mistranslation was common to all languages. I have read it myself in English, French and Italian; I am told that it is the same in German and Spanish. How can this possibly come about? How can all these expert translators make the identical howler? Your guess is as good as mine.

Here is the sentence, the fourth before the end of the original version, the fifth in the Acta:

Ad extremum, ex iis quae hactenus de novo Missali Romano exposuimus quiddam nunc cogere et efficere placet. . . .

I have underlined the mistranslated words. Cogere et efficere is a well-known Ciceronian phrase to be found in most dictionaries. Even if the translators could not be bothered to look it up, it is perfectly clear that quiddam cogere breaks down into agere quiddam con = to work something together, which is in the context “to sum up.” Equally, quiddam efficere breaks down into facere quiddam ex = to make something out, which is in the context “to draw a conclusion.” The sentence therefore means: “Lastly, from what we have so far declared concerning the New Roman Missal, we should now like to sum up and draw a conclusion.” And what did all the translators make of it? “In conclusion, We now wish to give the force of law to all We have declared . . .”; and in French, Pour terminer, Nous voulons donner force de loi à tout ce que Nous avons exposé . . .” and in Italian, etc. . . . It is strange my dear Fathers, but such is the truth: “to sum up and draw a conclusion” becomes “to give the force of law.”

And what did I do about it? Absolutely nothing for the simple reason that I did not bother to read the Latin until two or three years later. Do not judge me too severely. Have you read it?

But that is not the end. Worse is to come. The Acta for June 1969 were published as usual about two months later. When it appeared a brand new clause had been inserted into the original document as the penultimate paragraph. It reads: “Quae Constitutione hac Nostra praescripsimus vigere incipient a XXX proximi mensis Novembris hoc anno, id est a Dominica 1 Adventus.” That is: “What We have ordered by this Our Constitution will begin to take effect as from November 30th of this year (1969), that is the First Sunday of Advent.” You will notice that for the first and only time the word Constitutio appears in the text, For the first time, too, a word signifying “to order” is introduced—praescripsimus. For the first time a date is given on which the order is to become effective. Thus is a permission turned into a law.

Actually, there are a couple of snags even about this insertion. The word praescripsimus—We have ordered—is not the proper term in Latin, but I shall not bother you with such refinements. More important, it is in the wrong tense. Up to this point the legislator has prescribed nothing at all. It is precisely in this clause that he claims to do so. The verb, therefore, should be in the present tense, praescribimus—“what We are ordering by this our Constitution”: not in the perfect, “what We have prescribed.” The only explanation I can think of for this howler is recognition by its author that he is tampering with a pre-existing text. Moreover, the logical conclusion from the use of the wrong tense can scarcely be what is author intended: since nothing was prescribed, nothing is prescribed; and the legislator, to boot, is still prescribing nothing. What a mess! I wonder how long a civil government would last which thus tampered with its own laws?

There is a last remark I wish to make about this strange document. It winds up with the usual clause de style: “We wish, moreover, that these decisions and ordinances of ours should be stable and effective now and in future, notwithstanding—in so far as may be necessary—Constitutions and Apostolic Regulations published by Our Predecessors and all other ordinances, even those requiring special mention and derogation." At long last—indeed it is the last word—there is a technical term in the Constitution, so we know exactly where we stand: “derogation.” The New Ordo is therefore only a permission after all. It is merely a licit exception, a derogation, to the previous laws which are still in force. They have not been abrogated. But surely it is only a mistake? The author of the praescripsimus clause forgot to alter the clause de style? Maybe, but it proves three things: 1. one’s sins always finds one out; 2. the author has a highly efficient Guardian Angel; 3. it is nonsense to claim that the Bull Quo Primum has been abrogated.

Mistranslation, insertion, error: it is all highly distasteful. Needless to say there has been no apology, explanation or withdrawal. It is those who point out these irregularities who are accused of being disloyal and divisive.

Do these irregularities invalidate the Constitution? Of course not; it is a valid law in the terms published in the Acta. At most it could be maintained that the wrong tense of praescripsimus makes its meaning doubtful and lex dubia non obligat—but it does not much matter as it is only a permission anyway. No, the irregularities do not invalidate the law. All they do is to make me highly suspicious of the present administration.

To sum up:

1.  The Constitution Missale Romanum of April 3rd, 1969 has been duly promulgated. That is why I permit the use of the New Ordo in this diocese.

 2.  It has derogated from the exclusive use of the Immemorial Mass but has not abrogated the Bull Quo Primum. That is why I permit the use of the Tridentine Rite.

 3.  It has not abrogated the Conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. That is why I permit: a) the “hybrid” Mass; b) the reintroduction of the Offertory etc., into the New Ordo—since these are in line with the said Constitution.

1.   One of the reasons why the all-important Constitution received such scant attention was that on April 6th (consequently two months before its publication in the Acta) the New Mass forms were released, preceded by a theological-rubrical introduction called the Institutio Generalis. I am ashamed to say that it was received with unctuous enthusiasm by us bishops, although the Mass rites were practically identical with what our synod had rejected in October 1967. You priests were marginally better; you received it with glum gloom but little protest. Opposition was left to the laity. It became highly vociferous and found expression in the Critical Study presented by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci to the Pope on September 25th of the same year. If you have kept a copy of the Critical Study, please re-read it. You will notice that it does not merely criticize the theology of the introduction but the Mass rites which give expression to that theology.

2.  This opposition did in fact have some effect. On October 20th, less than a month after the Critical Study had been presented to the Pope, the Consilium issued a Instruction, Constitutione Apostolica, delaying the introduction of the New Ordo from November 30th, 1969 to November 28th, 1971, nominally to give time to prepare vernacular translations. In the meantime the New Ordo could be said in Latin. On the other hand, in this document also we hear for the first time that the Immemorial Mass may only be said by aged priests sine populo, without a congregation. This is pure usurpation of power and has no basis in law.

3.  On the following March 26th, 1970, a new edition of the Institutional Generalis was issued. The heretical clause 7—“The Mass is the sacred synaxis or congregation of the People of God”—was made merely ambiguous and clauses 48, 55, 56 and 60 were amended. So much for the permanent value of the most solemn Roman documents under the present administration. Not only is there tampering with the basic law governing the New Ordo, but its theological justification has to be amended within a year of publication. This certainly calls for blind obedience since it is difficult to obey with eyes open. What remains quite inexplicable, however, is that the Mass forms themselves have not been changed. Their theological justification has gone; they are unaltered.

Incidentally, it is in the same year, the year of opposition, that the English Martyrs were canonized and Cardinal Heenan of blessed memory secured his Indult.


1.    As I have said, the opposition was almost exclusively lay. The powers that be could not deal with it as summarily as they could with the clergy. There was over a year of patient waiting to see if the laity could organize themselves. It became clear that with an inadequate supply of priests and no bishop they could not. Hence we got the second revolutionary document. You will remember that the first was the Instructio Altera of May 4th, 1967, which decided, contrary to the law, that the whole of the Mass, including the consecration, should be said aloud and in the vernacular. Well, this time it is a bit worse. On June 14th, 1971, the Congregation for Worship issued a Notification granting to Episcopal Conferences the right to impose the exclusive use of the vernacular in the New Ordo, once the translations had been approved. It thus became illicit to celebrate the New Ordo in Latin. So much for the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. It also repeated the provision in the instruction of October 20th, 1969 that the Old Mass could only be said by aged priests sine populo.

Be it noted that a Notification is a purely administrative document and has no legislative authority whatsoever. Moreover, this particular one was itself undated and unsigned. It is therefore worth less than the paper on which it was printed. The bishops, from Rome to Stamford, remained mute.

2.  Of course, the inevitable result of this particular piece of administrative folly was to throw all Latinists into the arms of the Tridentiners. There was no alternative if the New Ordo was illicit in Latin. It became imperative to divide the opposition, especially as Archbishop Lefebvre had cropped up in the meantime. The laity had thus found a bishop with the promise of future priests. Hence the Notification of October 28th, 1974. This document reverses the previous ruling: the New Ordo may now be said in Latin or vernacular with equality of esteem. The New Ordo, however, is obligatory “notwithstanding the pretext of any custom whatsoever even immemorial”. The importance of this last remark is that for the first time the establishment admitted the existence of immemorial rights, even if only to brush them aside.

 3.   From this moment onwards the assault against the old rite slightly changed tack. At the beginning of this Ad clerum I wrote: “An immemorial right can be extinguished by two means:

    a) by a solemn pronouncement of the Sovereign Pontiff abrogating the customary right on the grounds that its continuance would be contrary to the common good;

    b) by the customary right falling into desuetude—along with the custom the right lapses."

It would not be easy to prove that the Immemorial Mass had been contrary to the common good. Who would believe it? Moreover, by 1974 it was a bit late to start saying so, especially as the Council had said nothing of the sort. The alternative was to crush the custom as rapidly as possible, preferably under the existing administration.

This explains the extraordinary animosity against Archbishop Lefebvre: he is busy perpetuating the immemorial custom. It also explains the astonishing pressure brought to bear on the English hierarchy to petition for the withdrawal of Heenan’s Indult. In its humble way, the Indult too is preserving the custom. I may add that, if it still exists, it is thanks to Heenan’s successor.

4. Great tragedies are heightened by farcical interludes. Four days after the Notification of October 28th, on November 1st, 1974 the Congregation promulgated its two little Eucharists for Reconciliations and three for kiddies.


You may well ask, in this plethora of Constitutions, Institutions, Instructions and Notifications, has the Pope done or said nothing? The two questions are rather different. What he has done is restricted to: a) the motu proprio, Sacram Liturgiam, of January 25th, 1964, which in practice was rendered nugatory by the Consilium’s Instructio Altera; b) the Constitution, Missale Romanum, of April 3rd, 1969, presumably along with the clause inserted into the Acta. What he has said is a very different matter. In 1969, there is the Allocution of April 28th, of November 19th, and again of November 26th. As the years roll by, so do the Allocutions. However, they are all summed up in the Consistorial Allocutions of May 24th, 1976, to which the anonymous Canon Lawyer refers. It is a little more harsh than the rest because it was directed against Archbishop Lefebvre. I translate the relevant passage.
It is in the name of tradition itself that We require all our sons and all Catholic communities to celebrate the liturgy according to the renewed rite with dignity and fervour. The use of the New Ordo is by no means left to the discretion of priests and faithful. The Instruction of June 14th, 1971, has provided that the celebration of Mass according to the Old Rite should only be allowed, with the permission of the Ordinary, to aged and sick priests when celebrating with nobody present. The New Ordo has been promulgated to replace the Old after mature deliberation and in order to fulfill the Council’s decisions. It is in exactly the same way that Our predecessor St. Pius V made obligatory the Missal recognized by his authority after the Council of Trent. By the same supreme authority, which We have received from Christ, We decree the same prompt obedience to all the other reforms, be they liturgical, disciplinary or pastoral, which in recent years have grown up out of the decrees of the Council.
And what is one to say to that?

Well, in the first place the translators have been at it again. In the passage concerning Pius V, the Latin has: “. . . St. Pius V made obligatory the Missal recognized (recognitum) by his authority” —which is perfectly correct; whereas the Italian has “. . . reformed (riformato) by his authority”—which is perfectly incorrect but suits the argument better. The whole point is that Pius V reformed nothing at all: he codified the Immemorial Rite; whereas a little later in the same passage Paul VI admits that “the New Ordo has been promulgated to replace the Old.” So the New Ordo is not even a reform but a “replacement” or substitution—for which the technical term is abrogation. But not even a Pope can abrogate an immemorial custom—unless there are two or more immemorial customs running concurrently and one is substituted for the other. A new usage cannot abrogate an immemorial custom unless the latter is first abrogated, abolished; only then can the new usage fill the void. Therein, I think lies the real importance of the text: the admission that the New Ordo is not a reform of the Mass but a substitute for the Mass. Anyway, the statement is nonsense: Pius V did not make the old Ordo exclusive since he allowed all rites over two hundred years old to continue. Neither has Paul VI made the New exclusive since only eighteen months previously he had permitted the rites for Reconciliations and kiddies.

I suppose I should mention briefly a few other points. A Consistorial Allocution is a speech. It is not a law. In the present case it illustrates Paul VI’s deep affection for the New Ordo. This is perfectly natural: most parents believe that they beget nothing but swans. More significant is that His Holiness should make no appeal to the only laws on the subject to which have been duly promulgated: his own Constitution of 1969 and the Council’s of 1963. Concerning the latter he uses a euphemism: “the reforms . . . which in recent years have grown up out of the decrees of the Council.” But one has has every right to question a “growth” which, in his own words, is a “substitution.” His Holiness is therefore led to appeal to what he calls the “Instruction” of June 14th, 1971. This is most unfortunate. As we have seen, the document issued on that date was a mere Notification, itself undated and unsigned. Its legal value is nil. It does, however, contain the gratuitously cruel clause that aged and infirm priests may (with permission, of course) say the immemorial Mass provided nobody is present. This His Holiness does not blush to repeat. Lastly, the emotional appeal of the passage consists in calling upon the faithful to discard the tradition of worship in the name of the tradition of obedience. Does His Holiness not realize that the tradition of obedience is even more delicate than that of worship? He complains bitterly that he is no longer obeyed. No wonder: tradition as such having been undermined, the tradition of obedience has vanished. It is all terribly sad.


At this point, Fathers, I can well imagine you saying: “The old Bishop naturally makes out a good case in his own cause. But how can I tell that his opponents could not do as much? I certainly have no time to verify the documents he mentions, let alone the ones he does not. It is beyond me. I shall just obey, even if I am called a weathercock.”

Well, I think you can judge the truth of my contention from the least expected of sources: the Lefebvre affair.

Everyone knows that the real trouble with Archbishop Lefebvre is that he sticks to the Immemorial Mass and is training priests to do the like. Agreed? Of course.

Then, why is it that he was not suspended for that? Wasn’t he? No, he was not.

A devious way was found. He is not a diocesan bishop and consequently has no title, no right, to ordain priests. To get round this difficulty he founded the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X as a diocesan congregation in the diocese of Fribourg. Thus, as bishop-superior of his congregation he could ordain his own subjects. Rome then suppressed his congregation (legally or illegally is beside the point), so that he no longer had the right to ordain. He did ordain. He was suspended.

You see the point? It is precisely because Archbishop Lefebvre could not be suspended for saying the Immemorial Mass that a devious means had to be employed. The Establishment is determined to crush the Old Mass: it cannot do it straight so it will do it crooked.

Nunc quiddam cogere et efficere placet.

A. The summing up.

1.  You will have noticed that in all the documents I have quoted it is taken for granted that the Mass is the private property of priests. It is not. The priest is the executor of the Testament of God Incarnate but the faithful are just as much beneficiaries under the will as he. It is they, the faithful, who have the right to the Immemorial Mass. They can demand that the legacy be paid in a currency which has held its value from time immemorial. They are aware that we live in an age of inflation and bright new notes are soon devalued.

2.  The Immemorial Mass has not been abrogated—even if it could be. Its use is therefore licit as well as valid.

3.  The attack against it is devious: to suppress the custom thanks to the abject conformism of bishops and the servile obedience of priests.

B. Conclusion

1.  What I ask of you is to maintain the custom of the Immemorial Mass. You need not say it exclusively so long as you say it sometimes—always mindful, however, that the faithful have a right to it.

2.  This would not require much heroism but a little organization might help. The diocese would be unmanageable if about twenty priests were excluded from the ministry. If rather more, say thirty priests, were willing to join a Secular Institute of which one of the objects were the maintenance of the Immemorial Rite, nothing much could be done against you.

3.  Our Administrator, Mgr Defew, has accepted to found such an Institute. I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to him. I enclose a form which you will kindly return to him if you are willing to join the Institute.

 4.  If fewer than thirty diocesan priests have joined the Institute by April 1st, the project will be abandoned and I shall rely on the courage and integrity of individual priests to preserve the custom of the Mass of Ages.

I have written this Ad clerum on Wednesday and Thursday, January 26/7th. I shall not post it, however, until I have decided whether or not to reopen the diocesan seminary. If I find this practical it is clear that the Institute will be heavily reinforced.

P.S. Monday, January 31st. I have decided to reopen the diocesan seminary. The Rector will be Mgr Charles Bouverie, ex-Vice-Rector of the English College. The five existing students are willing to attend it. Mgr Bouverie and I have accepted five applicants for the Summer Term and a further six for September. The new students understand that their acceptance for the diocese is conditional on their joining Mgr Defew’s Secular Institute.

The only other substantial letter written by Bishop Forester during the week was that to the Mother Provincial of the Veronican sisters in connection with the Sludge affair on Friday, January 28th. It has already appeared as Letter 14.

Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 87102.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How a Pious Jew Entered the Church, and What He Found

I was a practicing, pious Jew, with all the fervour of which a young man is capable.  I loved the Law and clung to it as the vine to the fig tree.  Yet I was assailed by a terrible doubt:  we, the Chosen People, seemed pathetically faithful to the Covenant; it was God who seemed faithless.  Away with the thought:  His faithfulness endures forever!  Yes, that was the basis of all my piety:  God’s faithfulness endures, whatever the human appearances.  Then one day, suddenly like lightning on Lebanon, it struck me (not as ideas strike but as lightning strikes) that if the Covenant had been voided it was because God in His faithfulness had Himself filled the void.  If the Sacrifice of the Covenant had been abolished it could only be because God in His faithfulness had sacrificed Himself.  In a flash, as a Jew, I found myself a Catholic.  I am a convert to the Sacrificial Presence of God Incarnate in the Mass.

    I was in the Midlands at the time, working in a small factory which belonged to an uncle.  I knew no Catholic priest.  I called round at the presbytery and took pot luck.  The priest who instructed me was an astonishing fellow, although I did not recognize it at the time.  I thought all priests were as like peas in a pod.  He disapproved of the mass media, took no paper and possessed neither radio or television.  Although a man of immense culture, he paid not the slightest attention to what was going on around him.  His instructions were magnificent.  I was duly received into the Church on December 8th, 1963.  I stayed on in the Midlands until the New Year.  It was a month in heaven.

    But could I tell my family?  How could I bring shame and sorrow on my dear father’s head?  I decided to change my name and lose myself in London where nobody knew me.  I chose the name ‘Glauben’ partly because it sounds Jewish and I am proud to be a Jew, partly because it is the German for faith.  Thus I arrived in London, penniless and nameless but with the Faith.

    It did not take me more than a month in London to discover that I had not been received but deceived into the Church.  The God of my Midland priest have been the God of Israel, totally transcendent, totally “other.”  The Covenant was, is and ever shall be the Incarnation.  The Incarnation was consummated on the Cross, is consummated at Mass and ever shall be “the Lamb to whom all saving power belongs.”  All this I could understand.  It is the apotheosis of Jewry.

    And what did I find in London?  I found an idolatry worse than that of Baal or Moloch, which were at least “other” than man; a faithlessness worse than atheism, which at least knows what it denies.  I found the Catholic Church rotten with the nadir of idolatry and the zenith of blasphemy: religious humanism, the identification of God with man.  No transcendent God, no Covenant, no Incarnation, no Mass.  And they talk about ecumenism, when even a totem-worshipper would not accept such faithlessness.

    I had rejected the Synagogue one month; the next I was rejected by the Church.  I did not lose my faith. We Jews are used to exile.  I simply hung up my harp, as it were, by the waters of Babylon.

— from Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 67–68.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Does Your Priest Pray? Bishop Forester on the Great Lacuna

18.  To Monsignor Charles Bouverie, D.D.
St. Vitus’ Mental Home, Epsom,
Friday, January 21st, 1977.

Dear Monsignor,

    I have followed your career with deep admiration:  Vice-rector of the English College; Rector of the Diocesan Orphanage; Parish Priest of Thistleford (a dump I know well, as I was once P. P. of Grumby not twenty miles away); chaplain to the Sisters at Hogsholt; and now assistant chaplain at a lunatic asylum.  Everyone knows why.  There is no more honourable career in the Universal Church.

    I also wish to express my profound admiration for the three publications of yours which I have read.  Your book entitled Four Abbots on Chautard, Marmion, Chapman and Vonier is admirable.  Your two long essays on “The Direct Perception of God” and “The Mechanism of Prayer” are splendid.  You are the man I want.

    I enclose an Ad clerum which I issued a week ago.  You may have seen reports of it in the papers.  Now, it seems to me inevitable that I shall have to re-open the diocesan seminary.  I only have five senior students at the moment but, even now in the first week, I have over thirty applicants of varying ages and backgrounds:  ten ex-seminarians, fifteen new vocations between 17 and 21, eight between 23 and 55.  On paper twelve seem admirable and only three more than doubtful.  I need two things: firstly, expert opinion in interviewing these men; secondly, if a reasonable number of them—say six or more—seem suitable, a Rector for my seminary.  Are you interested?  Incidentally, I have given no appointments for interview before the weekend of January 29/30th, so that you may be present to advise me if you so wish.

    I shall also want to discuss with you the curriculum.  The old system had enormous merits and I am deeply grateful for what I received at my seminary.  Nevertheless it is abundantly clear that the system has FAILED—yes, in capitals.  Every bishop, every priest had been through a seminary course.  Every bishop, every priest came away convinced that he had the answer to every question.  It only required that this be dubbed “triumphalism” and to suggest that questions are meant to be asked, not answered, for every bishop and every priest to be left dumbfounded.  We lacked the techniques to question the questions and still tried to give answers which nobody wanted.  Moreover, our certitudes were closely bound to a given set of symbols.  Change the well-defined Latin term for an undefined Greek one and every bishop and every priest found himself at a loss.  We knew the catechism by heart; mention catechesis and we are no longer sure who made us and why.  We could manage a dogmatic sermon all right but just listen to our homilies!  We were absolutely firm about confession and contrition; all our firmness vanished at the one word metanoia.  We knew exactly what the Mass was; the Eucharist is hazy.  Even the Consecration and the Real Presence have been engulfed in the mist of anamnesis.  All this is patently true, is undeniable.  We had received a solid theological training in our seminaries.  It did not stand the test.  It collapsed overnight without leaving track or trace.   It requires explanation.

    I am not saying that the seminaries were to blame for the collapse.  This would be quite untrue; there are other causes.  What I am saying is that there must have been some lacuna in the system which rendered the whole edifice vulnerable.  That it lay in the seminaries is certain, since they provided the only ground common to every priest and every bishop.  What was it?

    It is quite clear that we all believed in the Trinity; in the Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord; in the Seven Sacraments working ex opere operato; in the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption and so on.  Yes, we all believed in them but apparently in a disembodied sort of way, as abstract propositions not as immediate realities.  An abstract proposition can be more or less true according to the available data; realities cannot be changed because they are the data.  Unless I am talking complete nonsense, the problem thus becomes:  how is it that our seminaries failed to translate the abstract propositions of the Faith into an immediate reality?  Worse still:  how is it that students who arrived with the realities of their catechism soon found them evaporated into abstract propositions?

    I think there is an explanation.  The translation of an abstract proposition into the reality of Faith comes about on the divine side by grace but in the human response by one means only:  prayer.  As far as I know, there was not a seminary in the world which included in its curriculum a course on prayer:  its physics, metaphysics and theology.  Spiffs by spiritual directors and petty devotions are no substitute.  To my mind, the first year at a senior seminary should be devoted almost exclusively to the philosophy, theology and practice of prayer.  Incidentally, when I say “practice” I do not mean that they should be made to pray, because it cannot be done, but that they should be acquainted with how it has been done from the lapidary sentences of the Desert Fathers, through the great mystics, medieval and otherwise, down to your Four Abbots.  Also, I say “almost exclusively” because a little history and general culture would relieve the tension.  That is why I want you.  It is clear from your publications that you have the ideas and ideals which seem to me necessary.  And my opinion of your publications was not belied on the couple of occasions when I had the pleasure of meeting you.

    Incidentally, I have not the slightest doubt but that prayer is the fundamental lacuna in the clergy today.  One only has to look at Vatican II.  There were a couple of thousand bishops, all honorable men, discussing pastoral problems.  The only subject which failed to get a mention was the one that concerned their flock:  prayer.  Why?  Because it never crossed their minds; it is the great lacuna.  Later the New Ordo was produced:  it is a function designed for participation but not for prayer.  One can function it all right, but precisely in the measure that it is functional it is unprayable.  That is the trouble:  for many years now the seminaries having been churning out functionaries, ecclesiastical civil servants, instead of men of prayer, priests of God.

    There are also several purely pedagogic problems which I want to discuss with you.  Do you know that I went through my whole seminary course without having seriously to put pen to paper?  Just end-of-term examinations as a test of memory, that was all.  I consequently never had to to think but merely remember.  And I wonder how many priests have actually read a single work by one of the Fathers or Doctors of the Church?  Now that they no longer say the breviary, their ignorance in that direction must be simply appalling.

    Yes, I want to revive the diocesan seminary.  I want our perennial philosophy and theology to be taught therein.  I also want the lacunae to be filled.

    Please come to see me as soon as you conveniently can.  Please accept the Rectorship as I feel sure that we shall agree on the curriculum.

— Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 60–63.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bishop Forester on Loyalty Upwards and Downwards

7. To George Weir, Archbishop of Derby.
Thursday, January 20th, 1977.

Dear George,

    Your letter caused me no surprise.  You pride yourself on being the rudest member of the hierarchy.  It is a claim in which you rarely fail.  You accuse me of holding the New Ordo to be invalid—which I don’t; of undermining the authority of the episcopate—which I am trying to restore; of being disloyal to Pope, Council, you, my colleagues, and all and sundry—which needs examining; of using the Mass as a banner for revolt—which is nonsense, etc. . . .  It is a fairly formidable indictment, isn’t it, even for you?

    However, I am interested in your accusation of disloyalty.  I know exactly what you mean but I happen to see things exactly in reverse.  The trouble is that people always think of loyalty as being due to themselves.  You automatically think of loyalty working upwards.  This is natural as you spring from a well-to-do family, employers in business and with staff in your home.  I, on the other hand, came from an eminently respectable but very poor background—hewers of wood in Roding Forest.  I, consequently, think of loyalty as working downwards.  I don’t say that the Squire wasn’t tough—he was—but we knew he would see us through:  he was loyal to us humble folk.  Incidentally, it was he, not the diocese, who  paid for my seminary—although he was a Black Protestant and always called us “my bloody Papists with too many blasted brats.”  As for Her Ladyship, she was a deal sight better than Social Security—but I must not bore you with reminiscences.  You see the point?  You blame me for not being loyal to my superiors.  It has never crossed my mind: they are perfectly capable of defending themselves and even breaking me if they so wish—and they doubtless will if I appear to succeed.  I, on the other hand, accuse you of being disloyal to your inferiors, your flock.  It has never crossed your mind, although they are totally defenceless against you.  And your disloyalty, George, is quite irreparable:  thanks to it countless of souls are seared in this life and may be lost in the next.  My disloyalty to you can do little more than melt your collar—if, in fact, I am disloyal.
    Disloyalty to the Pope is a more serious consideration.  Although I  have been a bishop for practically twelve years, I have only seen him thrice and then in a gaggle with other bishops.  He did not impress me as being a particularly congenial type:  intelligent enough, but weak and consequently devious.  He knows his mind all right, but he struck me as the sort of fellow who would get his way by hook or crook because he is incapable of getting it straight.  But that is scarcely the point, is it?  We are not talking about the Pope as a person but about the divine institution of the Papacy.  It is abundantly clear that loyalty to the divine institution is quite distinct from loyalty to its temporary incumbent.  Indeed, the two can run clean contrary to each other as history illustrates on almost every page from St Paul onwards.  My favorite example is the Blessed Colomba of Rieti.  You certainly do not know the story since your reading is confined to watching television.  (You see, I can be as rude as you if I like.)

    Anyway, Colomba was a Dominican nun who lived in Perugia.  She suffered from almost every type of mystical phenomenon—ecstasy, inedia, levitation and the rest.  The Master of the Dominicans felt uncertain whether her spirit was from God or from the Devil.  This was about 1490, when people still believed in both.  In consequence he would have the girl examined by the Holy Father himself who was on a visit to his favourite son, Cesare.  This was duly arranged.  In the great hall at Perugia, which you have doubtless visited, there sat enthroned the Sovereign Pontiff, Alexander VI, with Cesare on his right, Lucrezia on his left and the Papal Court around.  Colomba was introduced.  Upon sight of the Vicar of Christ she immediately went into ecstasy, as should all good nuns.  I seem to remember that she levitated and railed at the Pope from somewhere near the ceiling.  “You who are the Vicar of Christ and act as the vicar of Satan!  You who hold the Keys of the Kingdom but only unlock the doors of brothels!  You who are captain of the Ark of Salvation and have a girl in every port!  You who. . . .”  After twenty minutes of this sort of stuff, the Papal Court felt rather anxious for poor Colomba’s safety.  How do you get girls out of ecstasy?  However, Alexander Borgia turned to the Master of the Dominicans:  “Have no fear, my son; her spirit is certainly from God since everything she says is true.”

    I sometimes wish that I were an ecstatic Dominican nun.  I could keep going for well over twenty minutes.  What I doubt whether the sixth Paul has the humility of the sixth Alexander.  Admittedly, it is far more difficult to be humble if one sins between the ears than if one sins between the sheets.  Anyway, the point is perfectly clear:  Colomba was in opposition to the person of the Pope precisely out of loyalty to the institution of the Papacy.

    What I find astonishing in our days is that the situation is exactly reversed.  People can attack the Papacy to their heart’s content provided they do not breathe a word against the person of the Pope.  Our own ecumenists see the Pope as a Constitutional Monarch with plenty of whiskers but no teeth.  Hans Küng is even against the whiskers.  Dom Bernard Bresnet thinks that the Papacy should be a committee with, possibly, a lady chairman.  Professor Delumeau would prefer the pope to be the quinquennially elected President of the World Council of Churches.  All these—and I could name others—are in keeping with the present regime, and Delumeau can even expect a lollypop in his stocking at Christmas.  On the other hand, that benign old gentleman, Archbishop Lefebvre, gets into endless trouble for maintaining that the personal administration of the present Pontiff is an unmitigated disaster.

    Enough of all that.  What I am getting at is perfectly clear.  You should think twice before you start talking about loyalty.  It is certainly you are disloyal downwards.  It is also possible that you are disloyal upwards to the divine institution of the Papacy precisely by toadying to its temporary administrator.

    I could fill another couple of pages on your accusation that I use the Mass as a banner of revolt.  The trouble is that you have the mind of a drill sergeant.  You could not care less in which direction the platoon is marching provided it keeps in step.  When, at the edge of a precipice, the troops break formation and scurry off, you accuse them of indiscipline.

    Excuse me if I appear to answer you with a bit of your own coinage, but it does not prevent me from being

    Ever devotedly in Dmno,

— Byran Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 33–36.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bishop Forester on Participation at Mass

    11. To the Reverend Giles Pocock, Parish Priest of Blackwater
    (Blackwater is a “plum” parish with no curates and no schools; just two Masses on Sundays. He was formerly Professor of Fundamental Theology at a major seminary.)

Dear Father Pocock,

I was most grateful to receive your letter because it put my mind at rest. I am afraid of you theologians. You seem to have gone charismatic and to “speak with tongues” which we common mortals fail to understand—although I sometimes suspect that you merely have your tongue in your cheek.

It is very good of you to consent to put the prayers of the old Offertory back in their place in spite of your reservations about their significance. I am delighted, too, that you should approve by and large of my “hybrid.” So your 9 a.m. will be the New Ordo plus the Offertory and the 11 o’clock the “hybrid.” Yes, that is perfectly all right by me. I vaguely hope, however, that from time to time you will give your parishioners the Immemorial Rite should they ask for it. Surely you have a hard core of Tridentiners who are led by the Duchess? Perhaps that is the trouble: you feel it would be unwise to allow the Duchess’ clique too openly, too easily, and too soon.

You give me, however, a quite different reason which both interests me and which I completely fail to understand. You say that on balance you disapprove of the old rite and approve of the new because it is your function “to mediate religion to your people.” Doubtless you have to mediate it to them in catechism classes, sermons, conferences and the like, but surely not at Mass? What you do at Mass is exactly the reverse: You “mediate the religion of the people to the Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ truly present on the altar.”

You seem to me to have defined with wonderful clarity the basic difference between the new rite and the old. If you think of Mass as “mediating religion to the people” then clearly it should be comprehensible, i.e. in the vernacular, and didactic, i.e. with lots of scripture readings and homilies; moreover, the people should demonstrate that they have received the message by constant “participation” at every level and in diverse forms—exclamations, hymns, gestures. If, on the other hand, you think of Mass as “mediating the religion of the people to God,” then, as a matter of fact, there is nothing for it but silence.

What do I, Edmund Forester, imagine is happening during Mass in the old rite? Quite simple. After a bit of backchat, Epistles and Gospels and things, I uncover the instruments of my craft and lay on the sacrifice of Man’s Redemption in much the same way as a plumber lays on water. Yes, but the people? They start subsiding. Some meditate for a moment but soon give up; some thumb a prayer book without much conviction; some finger a rosary without thinking; the majority just sit or kneel and become empty. They have their distractions, of course, but as far as they are able they are recollected. You see, the state of prayer of the overwhelming majority of the faithful is that of “simple regard.”

Good, they are now recollected. Human activity is reduced to its minimum. Then the miracle occurs. At the fine apex of their souls, imperceptible even to themselves, the Holy Ghost starts making little shrieks of “Abba, Father” or after the consecration, soft groans of the Holy Name, “Jesu, Jesu.” They adore: or rather, to be more accurate, the Holy Ghost adores within them. Sometimes, as I stand at the altar, I can feel the myriad little darts of adoration piercing my back and landing on the Adorable Presence. That is what I mean by “mediating the religion of the people to God.”

“Nonsense, Forester,” I can hear you say, “you are being sentimental.” No I am not; it is merely that I am fairly sensitive. How often have I been almost deafened by the piety of the faithful, now, alas, struck dumb by sing-songs!

I ought to write a thousand boring letters but I must tell you a story. I had been Parish Priest of Grumby for a couple of years. In a remote village lived a certain Mrs Donkin, mother of five children under ten, of whom the last was born after her husband was killed in an accident. They had to walk a couple of miles to catch the bus, which did not correspond at all conveniently with Masses. The mother and elder children carried the baby in turn; the toddlers toddled. Never did they miss Mass except when there was snow. Because of the bus, they arrived rather early for the 9:30 and plonked themselves down in their pew, with a potty for the toddlers, carefully camouflaged in a scarlet bandanna. There they sat. They never moved. Mrs Donkin neither stood for the Gospel nor knelt at the Sanctus. The only kneeling was when Mrs Donkin and the eldest boy were at the Communion rail.

I used to call on them about once a quarter. I was still young and had the illusion that I could “do good.” The second child was going to make her first Holy Communion and I thought it would be a good excuse to give Mrs D. a really decent missal and appropriate prayer books for the rest. To introduce the subject I said to Mrs D.: “I notice that at Mass you don’t use a rosary or missal or anything. What do you do, Mrs Donkin?” Without a moment’s thought or hesitation the answer came: “I sits there and I loves.” When anyone starts criticizing the piety of the laity, the harsh voice of Mrs Donkin rings in my ears: “I sits there and I loves.” St Teresa of Avila could say no more.

No, Father, I do not mediate religion to Mrs Donkin. By the grace of ordination I mediate her religion to the One she loves.

Forgive me, Father, but in my present troubles it is a relief to write about the only thing that matters: the adoration of God.

Devotedly in Dmno,

 —Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 43–45.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dedicatory Foreword: Judith's Marriage

I was ordained a priest on March 31, 1940. In June of that year I was appointed to Slough, an industrial suburb of London, where I founded St. Anthony's parish in the dormitory to the Trading Estate. In September 1954, I was moved to the parish of St. Edmund at Bury St. Edmunds, the County Town of West Suffolk, where I remained until Saturday, November 29, 1969. I resigned and retired as from midnight on that day. Why? Because on the following morning, the First Sunday of Advent, the New Ordo of Mass was supposed to come into force.

"But surely," one may say, "you were being rather intransigent over a bit of mumbo-jumbo?" Perhaps. But it happened to be the touchstone to a basic issue. This issue was that the new reforms in general and of the liturgy in particular were based on the assumption that the Catholic laity were a set of ignorant fools. They practiced out of tribal custom; their veneration of the Cross and the Mass was totem worship; they were motivated by nothing more than the fear of Hell; their piety was superstition and their loyalty habit. But the most gratuitous insult of all was that most Catholics had a Sunday religion which in no way affected their weekday behaviour. This monstrous falsehood was – and still is – maintained by bishops and priests who, for the most part, have never been adult laymen. Every day the Catholic workman had to put up with the jeers of his colleagues, as the more educated with their sneers. Every night they took their religion to bed with them.

I am not in position to judge other priests' parishioners. I am, however, in a position to judge what were my own. No words are adequate for me to express my admiration for the conscious faith and piety of my flock, both in Slough and in Bury. This is where the trouble lay. The reforms were based on criticism; I was unwilling to take any action which make me appear to criticize the wonderful people whom I was ordained to serve. I was perfectly conscious that I learned more about God from them than they were likely to learn from me.

Then there were the converts. I happened to be one myself. The mystery of grace is consequently not absent from my mind. I have no notion of the number I received. A couple of hundred? Perhaps more. They ranged from the highly cultured to, quite literally, tramps. To all I gave the same eternal truths. Perhaps it is pride, but I am unwilling to admit that I deceived them into the Church.

And the marriage converts. This is a breed which is normally despised. I have it in writing in the hand of a bishop. How I admired them! Of course human love has some analogy with Divine Love, or God would not have rooted it so firmly in the human makeup. I suppose I could class myself as an "intellectual convert." What does that mean? Merely that the bankruptcy of my intelligence was filled by God's grace. Marriage converts have more than I to show: their human love looks toward the Divine Love. And they are willing to prove it by an acid test: the creative act. How can anyone despise such people?

Perhaps the reason for my resignation is now clear: I was unwilling to be instrumental in any change which might cause scandal to my wonderful parishioners.

What passes belief is that I know of no book or article published within the last twenty years extolling the virtues and commiserating the sufferings of the Catholic laity. If they dared to remonstrate they were merely told that they were divisive, disloyal and disobedient. Hence the present novel. Its purpose is to show that at any rate one priest appreciates the predicament into which the laity have been put.

I consequently dedicate this little work to my erstwhile parishioners at Slough and at Bury St. Edmunds. It is a small token of my admiration for their loyalty to the Faith and of my gratitude for the example of unquestioning piety which they set me.

Bryan Houghton

Judith's Marriage