Monday, June 20, 2011

Repentant Fogeys

The strange attitude of Dr John Casey to the use of altar girls at the Traditional Mass (displayed in The Tablet) set me wondering, as they say, about where he is 'coming from'. Dr Casey himself tells us that he lost the faith in his youth and returned to it only thanks to Summorum Pontificum. He clearly has a very strong emotional link with the Traditional Mass, but is quick to condemn others who have a love for it, calling the opponents of Altar Girls (who are backed, remember, by the Holy See) as 'dissidents', 'rubricists', 'ideologues' and 'misogynists'. Isn't this a bit over the top?

Something very similar is on display with the Stuart Reid, a regular columnist for the Catholic Herald, who has covered the issue more than once. Regular readers of his column have often been told of his love of the Traditional liturgy, but he has enormous suspicion of others who love it. He tells us of those who disagree about altar girls that they 'look for the total capitulation of the Novus Ordo', that they should 'abandon the Church and join the SSPX', that they are 'not on [Pope] Benedict's team' (Catholic Herald, 27th May). Again, this all seems a bit over the top.

Here's a third example: Dr Raymond Edwards, author of a CTS pamphlet entitled 'Catholic Traditionalism'. Dr Edwards tells us that he used to go to the Traditional Mass a lot, and now goes occasionally. He clearly likes it. But he really dislikes Traditionalists: he cannot bring himself to mention any group of them without a snarl. Ignoring completely the quiet work the Latin Mass Society in campaigning for the Traditional Mass within the structures of the Church, he pours scorn on Archbishop Lefebvre, the SSPX, the Sons of the Holy Redeemer, and the Institute of the Good Shepherd in France. Cardinal Castrillon's claim that the SSPX are not, properly speaking, in schism clearly spoils Dr Edwards' fun, so the Cardinal's opinion is dismissed with disdain. Dr Edwards is, however, equally if not more embittered about what Archbishop Bugnini did to the liturgy, and compares the actions of the Bishops of England and Wales in the 1970s to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Steady on, old chap!

What do these three men have in common? Well, what were they doing a couple of decades ago, in the 1980s and thereabouts? Dr Casey was at that time the toast of the right-wing Monday Club tendency among Cambridge undergraduates. Stuart Reid was campaigning openly for Archbishop Lefebvre. Dr Edwards, a younger man, was (I hear from multiple sources) the most reactionary young fogey in Oxford, in the days when standards were high.

Today, all of them repent of these excesses. But when they look at Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass, is it too speculative to imagine that their perception is tinged by their memory of own younger selves? Having emerged from various forms of emotionally charged extremism, they find it difficult to imagine people who are taking the Church's liturgical traditions seriously doing so without mixing it up with fevered nonsense about wider issues in the Church or in politics, and with an eye to their own inadequacies.

The fact is that the Traditional movement in England was never captured by fogeys in pith helmets. It has always been dominated by a quite different demographic, notably large families. This is even more true today than it was in former decades. Messrs Casey, Reid and Edwards find it difficult to grasp this.

The tragedy is that they think they are uniquely qualified to judge traditionalists. 'Been there, done that!' they say - 'I know this lot: they are a bunch of nutters.' In reality, they are uniquely ill-qualified to judge them. If they had any sense they would deal with their inner demons in private, and keep their embittered view about their fellow Catholics to themselves.


  1. Quaretur11:16 am

    Prejudice against traditional Catholics is the last acceptable prejudice in the church. I stopped reading anything Stuart Reid had to say ages ago. Can't say I miss him.

  2. Dylan Parry3:59 pm

    Excellent piece. Thank you.

  3. Alan Robinson4:48 pm

    Isn't it a messiah complex: be like me, I wish there were more people like me, if only there were more people like me. Be traditional, but don't be more traditional than I am. I decide....... Excellent post.