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