Thursday, October 02, 2008

Daphne McLeod: liturgy or catechesis?

Daphne McLeod has written an article suggesting that Traditionalists are not pulling their weight in the effort, spearheaded by her group Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, to oppose bad RE textbooks and the like in Catholic schools and parishes. It is discussed on Catholic Action UK, Hermeneutic of Continuity, and Catholic Truth Scotland (the comments on each of these are interesting).

Here is my reply.

Reply to Daphne McLeod.

I hope I am in a good position to reply to Mrs McLeod’s important article, on behalf of Traditionalists, because I assume that she regards me as a positive exception to her generalisation. Speaking about Traditionalists, she says they devote all their time and resources to promoting the Traditional Mass, whereas the smaller but indomitable group of which she is a member devotes all its time and resources to restoring catechesis. As a local representative of the Latin Mass Society, many of my leisure hours are indeed devoted to promoting the TLM. On the other hand, I am also a founder and participant of the St Catherine’s Trust Summer School, which addresses precisely the failure of modern catechesis, in the form of a week-long residential summer school for children, where Catholic history and culture, but above all catechesis, is delivered. Mrs McLeod has not only supported this project in the abstract, but has been a member of staff at the Summer School for the last two years, so I know she approves!

So I, for one, don’t fall into either of these categories: I divide my time between promoting the TLM and promoting catechesis. However, I am not alone in this. The Traditional Catholic Family Alliance, with which I am also heavily involved, is a group of families committed to the TLM who get together to ensure, among other things, but importantly, sound catechesis for their children. Related groups of Traditionalist home-schoolers in different places meet more frequently to give each other mutual support; they recently held their first conference on the subject. The Traditional Catholic community in England is deeply concerned about Catholic education in general, and catechesis in particular. We have no illusions about Catholic schools; we have no illusions about modern RE textbooks; we have no illusions about the nature of modern seminary training; and we are devoting enormous quantities of time and effort into doing something about it. The commitment and sacrifice of Traditional Catholics who teach their children at home, for example, not infrequently crosses over from the admirable to the heroic.

It is very surprising to me that Mrs McLeod should imagine that Traditionalists complacently send their children to ordinary Catholic schools expecting them to receive sound catechesis. This is simply not the case. The key to her mistake here may be indicated by her phrase, describing her own work, that it aims to bring good catechesis back to ‘our schools and parishes’: possibly, Traditionalists may seem thin on the ground in the places her supporters are fighting their battles. But that is not because they are being complacent about the local Catholic school, or the local parish family Mass, but because many of them are so fed up with them that they are teaching their children at home, and taking their children to a Traditional Mass down the road. In both cases these are not easy options: they usually require great efforts to set them up and maintain them. But in terms of ensuring good catechesis for their children, they work.

Those engaged in trench warfare in schools and parishes or elsewhere can lose sight of the wood for the trees. Daphne McLeod tells us that good catechesis is key to the crisis in the Church: I don’t disagree. But this cannot be done in isolation from the other issues which beset us: it is impossible to put in the key-stone, if that is what it is, without the rest of the supporting arch.

It seems to me that Traditionalists are rather good at keeping a perspective on things. Traditionalists’ concern with the liturgy has not prevented them from having a deep commitment to Catholic education, to spirituality, and to the Pro-Life movement.

But what of Mrs McLeod’s argument that the ‘new catechetics’ was the historical cause of our current problems? I have no doubt that the countries which escaped this plague, under communism or in Africa, are better off as a result. No country, however, has escaped unscathed from the crisis in the Church. It is unfortunately very difficult to compare Western countries with countries with completely different social, economic and political conditions, and treat the others as a kind of ‘control group’ for examining the effect of the new catechetics. One reason why the seminaries are full in Poland is that many of them were closed down under the communists. One reason why they are full in Nigeria is because their inmates are given something approaching a Western education and lifestyle. That doesn’t mean the seminarians are insincere—it may only mean that their families are more supportive—but it certainly makes a difference.

But there is a more relevant historical example of people affected by the new liturgy who were not affected by the new catechetics, namely the non-teaching adult population of the Western world in the decade after the imposition of the New Mass. They had received traditional catechesis, but nevertheless a large proportion of them ceased to practice the faith in the course of the 1970s.

What we don’t have is a case where the new catechetics was imposed and not the new Mass. But there is a very simple reason for this: it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do it, because in a thousand ways the prayers and ceremonies of the Mass would have contradicted it. The modernists who imposed the new catechetics did not get rid of the TLM as a convenient ‘red herring’: it was essential to their project.

The counter-catechising nature of the Novus Ordo, as it is usually experienced, has been explored by no less a person than Pope Benedict XVI. In his book ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ he explains how, to give just one example, Mass facing the people creates the impression that the community is worshipping itself in a closed circle. The impression is insidious: it is repeated at every Mass one goes to, and bypasses intellectual arguments. The ‘closed circle’ is established in the mind as the objective reality of worship. The effect of ritual on belief is also the theme of Martin Mosebach’s brilliant book ‘The Heresy of Formlessness’: he talks, for example, of the shattering effect on ordinary Catholics of being told not to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. They are being told, in a way which it is impossible to evade, that the Blessed Sacrament does not have the importance which demands the posture of kneeling. Again, Archbishop Ranjith has written about how communion in the hand undermines faith in the Blessed Sacrament. The effect of the liturgy on faith cannot be ignored: lex orandi, lex credendi.

Mrs McLeod’s article is an appeal for unity among those who uphold the Catholic faith in its entirety and wish to see it restored. I would very much like to echo that appeal. She suggests that Traditionalists should stop expending so much energy propagating the TLM, but energy is not finite as this suggests: it is the TLM itself which provides Traditionalists with the energy which Mrs McLeod acknowledges them to have, and would like to see applied to catechesis. If they seem absent from the fight, it is because they have chosen a different theatre of conflict—homeschooling and the nascent centres for the Traditional Mass—where their efforts are bearing visible fruit. My suggestion, accordingly, is this: that those outside the Traditionalist movement who share Mrs McLeod’s concerns should join us. The TLM is a rallying point for orthodox Catholics: not only does it give us strength and inspiration, but, in purely natural terms, communities and networks or orthodox Catholics grow up around it, providing mutual support and making collective endeavours possible. Anyone wanting to achieve something in the Church needs to connect with this network, not dismiss it.


  1. Here on the west side of the pond our catechetical problems are a bit different. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has an office that is tasked with certifying that elementary and secondary school (grades 1 through 12) textbooks are in conformity with the CCC. Schools, parishes and indeed entire dioceses are not required to use materials on the conformance list but, if they do not, someone is sure to ask embarrassing questions. Hence, just about everyone selects their textbooks from those on the list.

    To achieve its ends the USCCB publishes a list of of 334 criteria that it calls “Evaluative Points of Reference”. For a textbook to be deemed to be in conformity with the CCC it has to meet the criteria in this list that are appropriate to its specific subject matter and grade level.

    The devil in the details arises from, not what is contained in the list, but what is omitted.

    For instance, the CCC defines Faith as "the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself …” (#1814, emphasis added). However, no where in the Evaluative Points of Reference will one find the requirement to present Faith as requiring a belief in everything taught by the Church.

    One may readily imagine the mischief that arises out of this one omission.

  2. Anonymous11:36 pm

    This is a terrific article and a superb response to Daphne McLeod's hypothesis.

    Wonderful! Keep up the good work!

  3. Graham Moorhouse11:49 pm

    I find Daphne's position on this puzzling given that half the committee of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice are Traditionalists!

    God bless: Graham

  4. I spotted this post by chance.

    I know for a fact that Daphne McLeod was given the opportunity to distribute 1000 Penny Catechisms at Youth 2000 one year. Now bearing in mind that the Penny Catechism is one of her pet projects you would imagine that she would jump at the chance. In fact she didn't, and was rather curt about the whole thing, also suggesting that someone else do it. It was at this point that I started questioning the Pro-Ecclessia et Pontifice group. I then discovered afterwards that one of their Flock articles attacked the Latin Mass Society.

    Move five years on, and a local PEEP member stabbed the TLM 'so far in the back' that it has caused great difficulty locally with the TLM at one church.

    They are not traditionalists in any way shape or form to my mind, but just winging conservatives, who do next to nothing to really do anything concrete on the ground. Going by the evidence, I believe that this is a very fair point. Maybe their editorial team need to remind their 'Flock' readers that they are supposed to be supporting the TLM. After all their wish for correct catechesis in our churches is simply just 'pie in the sky'.

    If they can't even be bothered to stick Penny Catechisms in young Catholics hands, then what is the point of them?