Father Thomas Regan OSB has introduced regular parish celebrations of the Traditional Mass in Abergavenny, Wales. Here he sketches the background to his thinking, stressing the need for a new catechesis.
The study of history is vital. If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we are ever in danger of repeating them. If we fail to appreciate the blessings of history, we are in peril of never being inspired to create them anew. So, it is with some sadness that we learn that British history is not taught in entirety in our schools, but rather, just a snippet from here and there. I’ve even heard it said that in some places the Reformation period is not part of the school curriculum because it is divisive! Revision of history on this scale, simply by not mentioning it, does not serve students well. Our young people have the right and the need to have the full story.
For instance, the plight facing those faithful to the Traditional Mass, especially before ‘Summorum Pontificum’, can be seen prefigured in history.
Remember: Henry VIII rejected Papal authority and the morality of the Church of God. The monasteries and convents were closed and the religious expelled. Most of the bishops and clergy acquiesced. The powerless ordinary people simply had to accept the rulings ‘from on high’. When they did indeed rise against the destruction of their shrines and monasteries, they came to a violent end and were scared into submission. Then, in the reign of Edward VI the altars were trashed and replaced by wooden tables. Genuflection was forbidden. In any case, there was often no Real Presence to adore, for those ordained according to the Edwardian Ordinal were not priests. Churches were whitewashed, and beauty was replaced by the banal.
Poor Queen Mary Tudor tried to repair some of the damage, but even she could achieve little: from the 10,500 monks and nuns in England and Wales prior to the Reformation, for example, she only managed to muster fifty or so to refound Westminster Abbey. Cardinal Pole managed to introduce the tabernacle to this country in 1553, so at least the Blessed Sacrament had some protection from sacrilege.
Queen Elizabeth evicted the monks from Westminster again, and restored the Edwardian ritual wherein the Reformers had no intention of making bishops like those of old, putting to an end the Catholic restoration. Furthermore, the Apostolic Succession was severed, and by Act of Parliament in 1565 the Civil Power decreed that those ordained by the Edwardian ritual “be in very deed and shall be archbishops, bishops, priests, ministers and icons, and rightly made, ordained and consecrated, any law, canon or other thing to the contrary notwithstanding”.
Within a generation or so, there were those who could not remember the holy shrines across the land: the statues of Our Blessed Lady had been destroyed. They did not know what a monk or nun was, for these had been scattered. They did not know the joy of being in the Real Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, or of stepping from a mundane world into a church decorated with frescoes and carvings which helped provide a glimpse of heaven. The landscape was desolate, peppered with ruined religious houses. A generation grew up which had not known the Holy Mass, and subject to the evil propaganda which stated falsely that everything which had gone before was corrupt, and the Church had now been purified.
For the last forty years, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, history has repeated itself, not only in this island, but all over the globe. In so many places the shrines and churches have been reordered, religious houses have been decimated, vocations have declined. Love and respect for the Blessed Sacrament, Our Blessed Lady, the Roman Pontiff, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated with care, dignity and devotion, are rare. In many instances bishops and priests have turned deaf ears to the teaching of the Church and have deprived their flock of their right to the Truth. Yes, history has repeated itself.
The Counter-Reformation sought to address many of these problems. A new Counter-Reformation is required. Pope Benedict’s brave initiative to institute a reform of the reform is underway, but he needs the total support of bishops, clergy and people. Many of these oppose him, but without a doubt, those who support him will be blessed with all the graces needed to rebuild the Church from within.
On a practical note, we have to bear in mind that a huge catechetical drive is required. Neither adults nor children possess the most fundamental understanding of the Mass, Sacraments, Commandments, etc. Indeed, despite their twelve years in the Catholic educational system, you will have difficulty in finding many pupils who can tell you what a Sacrament is! We have to provide colourful, useful and attractive books, pamphlets and catechetical programmes for schools and parishes to give, in a modern way (I use the word modern in a good sense here!), everything required to pass on the Faith in its fullness. Simply reproducing the loved prayer books and manuals of yesteryear is not enough. These are still of benefit to those familiar with them, but the new generation knows almost nothing at all about what matters, and must be assisted in more dynamic ways. Fundamentals have to be taught. We are in missionary territory.
Most clergy, I think, don’t know where to start. Many Catholic teachers are only one page ahead of their pupils (a joke, but there’s many a true word...) Now that we are beyond ‘Summorum Pontificum’, there has to be a new evangelisation of the Catholic community: they have to be taught how to be Catholics again! Just as the Jesuit fathers (together with Benedictine missioners and seminary priests) laboured in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to keep the flame of faith alive, so must we.
Since my ordination in 1979 I have celebrated Holy Mass in Latin (Novus Ordo) every week. Since ‘Summorum Pontificum’ I have celebrated the Traditional Rite publicly and regularly. For those familiar with the Novus Ordo in Latin, the transition is easy, (a form of dialogue Mass is my preferred option.). But in most dioceses the possibility of celebrating the Traditional Rite is available in only a few places. There has to be an orchestrated ‘outreach’, in which the Latin Mass Society will have an important role.
God reward the LMS members who over the last forty years, and often against dreadful aggressors, have fought for the Mass, but the battle is not over. We cannot be complacent. There is still much to be done, yet the targets and our methods must now be considered very carefully in an entirely new way, (the LMS’s Oxford training conferences for priests are an example). Please God, the appointment of bishops according to the mind of the Church who will work in full co-operation with the Successor of Peter, will give the lead.
Note: Cardinal Newman famously referred to the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales in 1850 as the “second Springtime”.
[Taken from "Mass of Ages" February 2008, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine]