“I think it is a great cheek of the Germans to try and teach the rest of the world anything about religion. They should be in perpetual sackcloth and ashes for all their enormities from Luther to Hitler.” [and now Kasper!]
Undone by the “Permanent Workshop”
June 2012By Philip Blosser
Philip Blosser is Professor of Philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.
A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes.
Edited, with a new Introduction, by Alcuin Reid.
Most readers acquainted with English novelist Evelyn Waugh know him for his magisterial Brideshead Revisited
(1945). Many know that he became a Catholic in 1930. Few, however, are
familiar with his great love for the Traditional Latin Mass and how
painfully he was afflicted by the liturgical changes throughout the last
decade of his life.
A Bitter Trial is a collection of the personal correspondence
between Waugh and John Carmel Heenan, the archbishop of Westminster,
along with some of their other writings, during the tumultuous 1960s. It
is significant, not chiefly because of what it adds to our
understanding of the Second Vatican Council or its aftermath, but for
the light it sheds on the raw and conflicting emotions felt by so many
of the Catholic faithful and their spiritual shepherds during those
years. First published in 1996, an expanded edition was released in 2011
with a foreword by Joseph Pearce and a new introduction by its editor,
Dom Alcuin Reid.
Both Pearce and Reid contribute substantial insights to the volume.
Traditionalists, however, would reject as premature Pearce’s judgment
that, “with the wisdom of hindsight, we can now see the election of John
Paul II as the date at which the high tide of the modernist
encroachment within the Church began to turn.” Some would even question
whether the tide has yet begun to turn. Others might also think that
Reid lets Heenan off the hook rather too easily for going back on his
earlier assurances that the liturgical changes would be negligible,
assurances Waugh later described as “double-faced.” Reid states that
Heenan, like so many clergy of his generation, found himself in an
Waugh was only in his late twenties when he was received into the
Church. “I was drawn, not by splendid ceremonies but by the spectacle of
the priest as a craftsman,” he writes, using a simile suggested by G.K.
Chesterton. “He had an important job to do which none but he was
qualified for. He and his apprentice stumped up to the altar with their
tools and set to work without a glance to those behind them, still less
with any intention to make a personal impression on them.”
It is easy to forget that the Church in the decades preceding
Vatican II, whatever her problems, experienced what Pearce calls a
“burgeoning Catholic revival” and a nearly unprecedented heyday of
notable conversions. A few weeks after Waugh’s conversion, the British
weekly magazine Bystander observed that “the brilliant young
author [was but] the latest man of letters to be received into the
Catholic Church. Other well-known literary people who have gone over to
Rome include Sheila Kaye-Smith, Compton MacKenzie, Alfred Noyes, Fr.
Ronald Knox, and G.K. Chesterton.” The list might also have included
J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Dawson, Hugh Ross Williamson, Sir Alec
Guinness, as well as many others — not to mention giants like John
Henry Cardinal Newman, Fr. Frederick William Faber, and Gerard Manley
Hopkins not much earlier. Meanwhile, a wave of literary converts
rivaling England’s was sweeping the Continent, and included François
Mauriac, Léon Bloy, Jacques Maritain, Charles Péguy, Henri Ghéon,
Giovanni Papini, Gertrud von le Fort, and Sigrid Undset. “It is a
singularly intriguing fact,” Pearce writes, “that the preconciliar
Church was so effective in evangelizing modern culture, whereas the
number of converts to the faith seemed to diminish in the sixties and
seventies in direct proportion to the presence of the much-vaunted aggiornamento, the muddle-headed belief that the Church needed to be brought ‘up-to-date.’”
Waugh had come to regard the Mass as “what mattered most” in life,
as Fr. Philip Caraman, S.J., said in his panegyric at Waugh’s requiem
Mass at Westminster Cathedral. “During the greater part of his lifetime
[the Mass] remained as it had [been] for centuries, the same and
everywhere recognizable, when all else was threatened with change. He
was sad when he read of churches in which the old altar was taken
down…or of side altars abolished as private masses were held to be
unliturgical or unnecessary.”
The first liturgical changes remarked upon by Waugh were the
revisions of the Easter vigil in 1951 and the abbreviated new rite of
Holy Week in 1955, with its changes, omissions, and “endless blank
periods,” which left him “resentful of the new liturgy.” Other changes
included the dialogue Masses of the 1950s, which were never made
obligatory until the introduction of the vernacular in the 1960s,
accompanied by persistent confusion occasioned by conflicting statements
from Rome. “Repeatedly standing up and saying ‘And with you’ detracts
from [the] intimate association” of uniting oneself to the action of the
priest, he complained in 1965. Waugh lived through the Second Vatican
Council, which nearly undid him.
One wag suggested that Waugh suffered “Death by Novus Ordo,”
though the jest is more clever than accurate. Pope Paul VI’s New Mass
was not promulgated until 1969; Waugh died three years earlier, about an
hour after attending a private Latin Mass on Easter Sunday celebrated
by his friend, Fr. Caraman. Yet, if the liturgy were understood as a
“permanent workshop” of innovation — as it was by Fr. Joseph Gelineau,
S.J., whom the chief architect of the new Mass, Archbishop Annibale
Bugnini, described as “one of the great masters of the international
liturgical world” — it would be accurate to say that Waugh’s bitter
trial was an effect of the accelerating and seemingly interminable
experiments in what he called “the new liturgy,” which he endured in the
decade until his death the year after the Council ended.
Indeed, Waugh suffered immensely. In a 1965 letter to Archbishop
Heenan, Waugh begged him, “Please pray for my perseverance.” He declared
further that “every attendance at Mass leaves me without comfort or
edification. I shall never, pray God, apostatize but church-going is now
a bitter trial.” Even then, he kept his acerbic sense of humor, writing
to Lady Diana Cooper, “If you see Cardinal [Augustin] Bea [in Rome],
spit in his eye.” Several months later, he wrote to Msgr. Lawrence L.
McReavy, asking, “What is the least I am obliged to do without grave
sin? I find the new liturgy a temptation against Faith, Hope and Charity
but I shall never, pray God, apostatize.” A year later, a month before
he died, Waugh wrote to Lady Diana Mosley, “The Vatican Council has
knocked the guts out of me…. I have not yet soaked myself in petrol and
gone up in flames, but I now cling to the Faith doggedly without joy.
Church-going is pure duty parade.” The Thursday after Waugh died, his
daughter wrote to Lady Diana Cooper, “Don’t be too upset about Papa.….
You know how he longed to die…. I am sure he had prayed for death at
Why did Waugh suffer so? To understand his predicament, and that of a
multitude of English Catholics like him, one must consider multiple
facets of the distress: (1) the sheer fact of change itself, (2)
practical changes in disciplines, and (3) confusions about doctrine.
First, there was the practical damage caused by the sheer fact of
“too frequent changes in the Mass,” as Heenan states in his 1967
intervention at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. All that parishioners
wanted, as he would later write, was “to be left in peace to worship God
in the way [they] know and love.” Pope Benedict XVI has often lamented
that more attention was not given to the uprooting, disorienting, and
disruptive effect of the abrupt and radical changes in the Church’s
liturgical law following the Council. St. Thomas Aquinas himself sharply
cautioned against changing law — any law — even when some improvement
is possible, unless there is some “urgent necessity” or “substantial and
obvious benefit,” since “the mere fact of change in law itself can be
adverse to the public welfare” and lessen the “restraining power” of the
law. We need not rehearse the well-known statistics about plummeting
Mass attendance and vocations following Vatican II to note a connection.
A related question concerns the popular reception of the changes among the faithful. Heenan once told Waugh, “The vast
majority (my priests tell me) enjoys the English in the Mass.” Yet
there is ample testament supporting the contrary claim as well. It was
hardly the case that the police needed to be called to Catholic churches
each Sunday “to hold back the hordes of lapsed Catholics whose faith
had been rekindled at the prospect of saying the Confiteor in English,” as Michael Davies sardonically quipped in Pope Paul’s New Mass.
Waugh wrote to Heenan, “Literally every day I get letters from
distressed laymen who think I might speak for them”; “Please tell [your
fellow bishops] how much distress they cause”; “Please pray for…many
English Catholics who are distressed and bewildered by the changes
imposed on them.”
Heenan himself admitted to his fellow bishops in Rome, “If we were
to offer [in England] the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday in the
Sistine Chapel (a demonstration of the Normative Mass) we would soon be
left with a congregation of mostly women and children.” In a 1967
pastoral letter he wrote, “Bishop after bishop in the Synod rose to
complain that his people are thoroughly tired of the constant changes.”
In the same letter, two years before Pope Paul’s promulgation of the Novus Ordo,
he confessed, “I hope…that this will be the last change for a long
time.” Then, two years later, when announcing the forthcoming
implementation of the newly promulgated Novus Ordo, he declared
to his flock, remarkably, “Your Sunday Mass, however, will not be
changed again in your lifetime.” How could he have foreseen the removal
of tabernacles and altar rails, the elimination of Gregorian chant and ad orientem
liturgies, and the introduction of altar girls, lay Eucharistic
ministers, and Communion in the hand, which all still lay ahead! He had
not our benefit of hindsight.
Second, the liturgical changes involved what Waugh and many others
perceived as practical dangers to faith and morals in matters such as
the slackening of discipline in cutting short the Eucharistic fast and
in the introduction of Saturday evening (“vigil”) Masses. “Holy
Communion is taken altogether too casually without, I suspect, in many
cases, proper preparation and thanksgiving,” he wrote. In response to
the explanations offered by ressourcement theologians, who
claimed to be retrieving authentic ancient practice, he retorted, “If,
as they claim, the liturgists wish to emulate the church of the earliest
centuries, would they not do well to fast rigorously?” Waugh told
Heenan that he also detected a new kind of “anticlericalism” that tended
to “minimize the sacramental character of the priesthood and to suggest
that the laity are their equals.” Heenan responded, “Of course you are
right. That is why they are playing up this People of God and Priesthood
of the Laity so much. The Mass is no longer the Holy Sacrifice but the
meal at which the priest is the waiter.”
Third, the perceived threat also involved questions of doctrine. Waugh wrote to The Tablet
that “the dangers threatening the Church were to be resisted on graver
grounds than the merely sentimental, aesthetic, or traditional.” To The Catholic Herald,
he wrote that he doubted that Pope John XXIII “had any conception of
the true character of [liberal] Protestantism,” citing the
demythologizing tendencies in Protestant theologians like Paul Van
Buren, who strip Christianity of its supernatural elements. Again in The Tablet,
he declared, “I detect graver dangers to the Faith [than questions of
aesthetics], chief among them a lowering of respect for the unique
office of the priesthood and episcopate in the talk of ‘the people of
God’ as consecrating the elements.” To Heenan, he wrote that the
distress of Catholics “at finding our spiritual habits disordered” must
be a “minor concern” compared to “the graver dangers to faith and morals
openly propounded at the Council.”
Of notable interest is a trajectory of shifts in Heenan’s position
over the course of his correspondence with Waugh. Heenan first wrote to
Waugh in response to an article in The Tablet, titled “The Same
Again, Please,” which Waugh had written in 1962, lamenting the
liturgical changes and “strange alliance between archaeologists absorbed
in their speculations on the rites of the second century, and
modernists who wish to give the Church the character of our own
deplorable epoch. In combination they call themselves ‘liturgists.’”
Heenan, at the time a participant at the Council, responded with a
sympathetic letter: “The real difficulty (I think) is that Continentals
are twisting themselves inside out to make us look as like as possible
to the Protestants.” Waugh would later pen in the margins of Heenan’s
letter: “He went back on all this.” By 1964 we find Heenan writing, “We
shall try to keep the needs of all in mind — Pops, Trads, Rockers, Mods,
With-its, and Without-its.” And by 1965 we find him echoing the
prevailing progressive bromides touting the benefits of the changes —
such as the “millions who hitherto were mere bystanders…now taking an
active part in the Mass” — and going so far as to compare those who
resisted the Council’s changes to those elderly unfortunates who resist
“slum clearance,” by which they are compelled “to exchange squalor for
A consistent undercurrent throughout A Bitter Trial is
Waugh’s contention that the quiet and faithful “middle rank of the
Church” are precisely those whose concerns were not being heeded by the
Church or her Council. In her afterword, Lady Clare Asquith, Countess of
Oxford, notes that traditional Catholics, as a group, “were too
intimidated by the new movement to speak out”; that they were “by their
very nature the least likely to raise their voices against the pope and
the Council”; and that “both Heenan and Ratzinger afterwards identified
one of the main weaknesses of the Council as a failure to listen to
ordinary parish priests and laity in preference to specialists and
One of the insights to be gained from A Bitter Trial is,
accordingly, the gaping discrepancy between the common experience of
ordinary Catholics and the theories of the specialists and innovators.
“When young theologians talk…of Holy Communion as a ‘social meal’ they
find little response in the hearts and minds of their less sophisticated
brothers,” wrote Waugh. The issue was not limited to the laity. After
witnessing the “so-called Normative Mass” for the first time in 1967,
Heenan declared that whoever the members of the Consilium and their
consultors were, “few of them can have been parish priests.” Another
complaint was that the academic experts regarded him and most of his
fellow bishops as “mitred peasants.”
Like Fr. Ralph Wiltgen’s The Rhine Flows into the Tiber
(1967), which traces the prevailing influence at the Council to a
coalition of progressive northern European theologians and bishops,
Waugh criticizes the “northern innovators,” and reserves his sharpest
barbs for the Germans: “I think it is a great cheek of the Germans to
try and teach the rest of the world anything about religion. They should
be in perpetual sackcloth and ashes for all their enormities from
Luther to Hitler.” Waugh’s clever criticisms are often balanced,
however, by penetrating insights: “‘Participate’ — the cant word — does
not mean to make a row as the Germans suppose. One participates in a
work of art when one studies it with reverence and understanding”; and
“‘Participation’ in the Mass does not mean hearing our voices. It means
God hearing our voices.” In a letter to The Tablet, he asked the pundits to explain how “participation” is “furthered by today’s peremptory prohibition of kneeling at the incarnates in the creed.”
Throughout the 1960s, Waugh became increasingly worried about the
survival of the traditional Roman rite. He cast about for any feasible
means of survival. If every parish has a “rowdy Mass” for those who like
it, it should also be permitted to have a silent one “for those who
like quiet,” he suggested. With a notable nod to Eastern-rite Catholic
Churches, which also anticipates our contemporary Anglican Use parishes
and a possible canonical arrangement for the Priestly Fraternity of St.
Pius X, he asks, “Why should we not have a Uniate Roman Church and let
the Germans have their own knock-about performances?” He here appealed
to the innovators’ own principles against themselves: “‘Diversity’ is
deemed by the progressives as one of their aims against the stifling Rominità.”
He explained his solution thus: “We do not claim to impose our tastes
and habits on those who find them unsympathetic. All we ask is that in
every church where it is feasible there should be one Mass on every day
of obligation said as in the days of good Pius IX.”
Heenan’s assurances, however sincere, doubtless increasingly rang
hollow to Waugh: “Do not despair. The changes are not so great as they
are made to appear…. I should be surprised if all of the bishops will
want all Masses every day to be in the new rite”; “nothing will
be changed except for the good of souls… the Council will bring all in
the Church closer to Christ, and the world itself closer to the Church
of Christ”; “I expect that before two years have passed we shall begin
to reap results,” he wrote in 1966.
In the concluding pages of A Bitter Trial, we find Heenan’s
1971 letter to Paul VI timidly requesting an indult “occasionally” for
use of the traditional Mass in the U.K. The book’s appendix contains a
1971 “Petition to Pope Paul VI By Distinguished Writers, Scholars,
Artists, and Historians Living in England to Spare the Traditional Latin
Mass.” Notably, the petition argues for the preservation of the old
Mass, which, “in its magnificent Latin text, has…inspired a host of
priceless achievements in the arts…by poets, philosophers, musicians,
architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs.” It
bears the names of more than fifty distinguished celebrities, including
famed novelist Agatha Christie, whom Paul VI admired. The petition, so
the story goes, finally moved him to grant what came to be known as the
“Agatha Christie Indult.”
The resultant indult, exclusively for the bishops of England and
Wales, was prepared by Fr. Bugnini, secretary of the Sacred Congregation
for Divine Worship, on the instructions of Paul VI. As Reid notes, in
the letter conveying the concession, Bugnini “urged that prudence and
reserve be exercised in granting the faculty and that any grant not be
given too much publicity.” Permission was given “on strict condition
that all danger of division would be avoided.” One cannot but wonder
what colorful epithets this might have elicited from Waugh had he lived
to witness it. By the same token, one cannot but imagine him grateful
had he lived to witness the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio granting widespread freedom for celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass.
Reid notes that the first edition of A Bitter Trial appeared
during the pontificate of John Paul II, in the wake of the 1996 “Oxford
Declaration on Liturgy,” which asserted that “the preconciliar
liturgical movement as well as the manifest intentions of Sacrosanctum Concilium
have in large part been frustrated by powerful contrary forces, which
could be described as bureaucratic, philistine and secularist. The
effect has been to deprive the Catholic people of much of their
liturgical heritage.” One should like to hope that Waugh’s
correspondence with Heenan, along with his bitter personal trial, might
serve today in some small way to point us to a direly needed retrieval
of that heritage, passed down through centuries of tradition, with its
amplitude of resources, which could be described as organic, cultured,
It makes you weep. When the disruptive changes took place I was in my teens, attending an old established Grammar School founded by a pre-Reformation bishop (Foxe of Winchester) with compulsory Latin. But it was closely connected with the Anglican Church and as a result I have a great respect and affection for the Church of England and cannot gloat over its present predicament.
Waugh was no fool. He was well-read and informed and knew more than most what the neo-Modernists had in store for the Church he thought he knew and loved and which he had joined of his own volition thirty years previously. He died on Easter Sunday 1966 having attended Mass in the pre-Conciliar rite celebrated by his friend Fr Caraman SJ.
By 1969 when I went up to University I realized that there was a severe disjunct between the Catholicism in which I had been brought up and what was presented to us liturgically. Quite frankly, I disliked most of it, despite efforts to understand the reasons for the Novus Ordo. I was reading myself back into the Catholic Church at the same time as its public worship was repelling me.
That is, until I visited the London Oratory in 1973.
<<<“I think it is a great cheek of the Germans to try and teach the rest of the world anything about religion. They should be in perpetual sackcloth and ashes for all their enormities from Luther to Hitler.” [and now Kasper!] >>>
In fairness to Germans, consider the horrific portrait of the Church that Popes Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have painted via their endless apologies for the "sins" and "crimes" that Catholics committed throughout the centuries.
Said Popes have apologized to Jews, Indians, Protestants, Moslems, Eastern Orthodox, atheists, women, Africans, Asians, children abused by priests...on and on...for the horrific treatment that said groups received at the hands of the Church.
Forget about Germans teaching "the rest of the world anything about religion."
Based upon the horrific manner in which certain Popes have portrayed Catholics, the above could be said about the Church.
Cardinal Ratzinger insisted that the Church is filled with rotten people.
Pope Francis has bashed bishops and priests endlessly for the awful manner in which His Holiness has viewed their actions.
Pope Francis has portrayed the Church as a legalistic institution that for centuries inflicted great spiritual and material harm upon the laity.
In light of Popes Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis' apologies to everybody under the sun, Germans, as compared to the Universal Church, come across as saints.
By the way, the most recent major apology from Rome featured Pope Francis last week having begged forgiveness for the awful manner throughout the centuries in which the Church had treated many South Americans.
Americans and Catholics don't apologize for nothing to nobody.
I am especially pleased with Waugh's criticism of "participation". It seemed obvious that it is not contributing noise but apparently not. I do see the same error shot through every aspect of society.
The TLM should not have been eliminated. It should have been supplemented. That was the way to honor diversity and liturgical pluralism and to reach as many people as possible. This seems like such a no-brainer that I must be missing something.
On apologies by the Church, I seem to recall something about planks and motes in eyes that might be relevant.
One of the saddest comments I read when Summorum Pontificum was first implemented was from a priest who said he was newly ordained when the New Mass was introduced. Having spent seven years in the seminary learning the Traditional Mass it was only a short time after ordination that he had to instead offer the New Mass. He said he suffered such a lot over that that he could never ever again say the Old Mass. There was certainly bitterness in his comments even all these years later and I can understand why. Many priests found it very hard and some got a celebrate in order to continue offering the Traditional Mass. One such was St Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. It is reported on some sites that:
"An early collaborator of St. Josemaria Escriva--the first saint to ever celebrate the NOM -- relates the following story: It was in the heady days of the Second Vatican Council, probably after 1965. St. Josemaria Escriva had dutifully learned the New Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and said it for the first time.
The report is that he fretted in saying it. He found it so exasperating that after putting his vestments away, he hurried to his office to call the Office of Rites in order to request an Indult. Upon describing the Mass to his interlocutor, he said with some vehemence, "what is this shit?"
Shortly after his discussion, he continued saying the Mass he'd always said, having acquired the necessary Indult and we are told he never said the New Mass as part of his private Liturgy again.
"While it may be impossible to verify the details, it is well known that St. Josemaria applied very for an indult very early on, and did not say the NOM in his later life."
From the book "Padre Pio: the True Story":
Padre Pio requested and received an indult to continue to celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass because he feared that he could never learn and remember the new Mass.
What saddened him immeasurably was the attitude of dissent and unbelief that seemed to
pervade the Church. More than once he was heard to remark, when he learned of some negative development, "Thank God I am old and near death!"
And it was dissent and unbelief on the part of Catholics formed in the old ways, catechetically and liturgically. This is why our appraisal of present doctrinal and liturgical troubles should be both reverent and critical of the past.
What is the "beef" with Saturday evening "vigil" Masses? I thought in days of old, the ecclesiastical day ran sundown to sundown, not Midnight to Midnight? That is certainly the way it is in the Orthodox Church. Thus, in the Orthodox Church, if a priest celebrates the Divine Liturgy on Saturday night, he cannot celebrate the liturgy on the same altar Sunday morning. One year I attended the Easter Divine liturgy at Atlanta's Greek Orthodox Cathedral---it ran from 11 Saturday might to 2am or so Sunday. And it was not repeated Sunday morning---all they had Sunday morning was Matins. As long as someone is going to church, we should not quibble with whether it is Saturday night, Sunday morning or afternoon...
The problem is that no one really thinks of Saturday evening as the beginning of the Lord's Day. The situation is not helped by the widespread practice of having Mass before sundown.
If you refer to a Saturday evening Mass as a "Sunday Mass", people won't understand what you're talking about. Catechists even speak of "going to Mass every weekend", now, instead of "every Sunday".
Dialogue, in actual fact what we had was a total rejection of the Church and Her teachings and in the end a rejection of Christ.
The BBC has an interesting commentary about the Traditional Mass and notes:
'Why people like the Tridentine Mass
It's a theatrical and poetic experience of great spiritual power
It has more of a sense of the mystery and the sacred
It's more clearly sacrificial than the modern Mass
It's part of a tradition of worship that's centuries old
It's always the same - there's no freedom for personal variations
The language has a brevity and power that vernacular versions don't achieve
Modern texts are often banal
Because it was the same in every country, it produced a sense of community with other Catholics worldwide
Because it's what they grew up with
Because they don't like change
Some people also feel that the modern mass downgrades the status of the priest unacceptably, and weakens the theological content of the service in order to make it more readily understood.
Where this has happened, and it's very much a matter of opinion, it is the result of local liturgical initiatives and not due to the specific changes made by Vatican II.
The experience of the Old Mass is powerfully evoked in this passage:
'Even non-believers like Carl Jung have acknowledged that the Tridentine Mass is a solemn rite of extraordinary power.
The very entrance of the priest, bearing the veiled chalice and paten and preceded by servers, announces that an action of extraordinary importance is about to be re-enacted. It may be re-enacted daily, but it is no everyday action.
From the repeated allusions to offering, oblation, and victim, it becomes clear that the action is a sacrifice. By its nature the Mass is always a sacrifice, but its sacrificial character is more insistently affirmed and articulated in the Tridentine than in the present rite.' Bill Shuter, The Tridentine Mass, Commonweal, 2000"
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