A Telling Letter in The Tablet

In the latest issue of The Tablet (22 August) there is a letter from the composer and former director of music for Portsmouth diocese. Here it is:


Melanie had suggested that children be taught more traditional Eucharistic hymns because of their (undeniably) fuller theological content and catechetical utility. Mr Inwood is clearly not impressed, perhaps because if all parishes switched to traditional hymns there would be little work for him to do.

But his last sentence suggests there is more to it than that. It is amazingly bald in its honesty:

That is why there is a whole new generation of hymns that reflect a postconciliar understanding of what we do at Mass.

Here is an expression of the hermeneutic of rupture that Pope Benedict XVI so eloquently warned of in 2005. Mr Inwood seems to think that there is a radical difference between “what we do at Mass” now in our “postconciliar” days, as opposed to pre-conciliar days.

Part of me wants to say that the main agent, or do-er, at Mass is God. But insofar as there is a purely human activity he is right in a sense. We do do things very differently now. Some might here point to the very much emptier churches that we also have now and wonder if we are in fact doing things as we actually should.

Mr Inwood is subtly implying that the changes in what we “do at Mass” in these postconciliar days are mandated by the Second Vatican Council. We might point him to the Council’s great document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and ask to show us where it teaches a new and different understanding  of “what we do at Mass”.

And pace Mr Inwood, it is the same Eucharist at Benediction as at Mass, and at both we adore Christ made present in his sacrificial Body. Let’s go to Pope Benedict again, from a speech he made on 14 March 2009 to the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship (emphasis added):

I therefore willingly accepted the proposal that the Plenary Assembly should address the theme of Eucharistic adoration, trusting that a renewed collegial reflection on this process might help to make clear, within the limits of the Dicastery’s competence, the liturgical and pastoral means with which the Church of our time can promote faith in the Real Presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist and guarantee [to] the celebration of Holy Mass the full dimension of adoration. I stressed this aspect in my Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, in which I gathered the fruits of the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod celebrated in October 2005. In it, highlighting the importance of the intrinsic relationship between the celebration of the Eucharist and adoration (cf. n. 66), I cited St Augustine’s teaching: “Nemo autem illam carnem manducat, nisi prius adoraverit; peccemus non adorando” [ie, “no one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it”] (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 98, 9: CCL 39, 1385). The Synod Fathers did not omit to express concern at a certain confusion which arose after the Second Vatican Council about the relationship between Mass and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 66).

Mr Inwood seems to express so pithily the very postconciliar confusion that Pope Benedict exposes and seeks to remedy. Notwithstanding those ministers who have necessary roles to fulfil in the sacred liturgy, we would all do well to do a little more adoring at Mass. That is a truly active participation.

Melanie McDonagh, against whom Mr Inwood was complaining, was acting very much in accord with Pope Benedict’s exhortation. Indeed one hymn she refers to more than once is Soul of My Saviour, which seems admirably to combine “static adoration” (whatever that is! we are clearly meant to boo and hiss] with “an active, participatory liturgy” (and here we are clearly meant to cheer) – and so remedy the artificial and illegitimate divorce of these two dynamics that Mr Inwood encourages. It is clearly a hymn about receiving the Blessed Eucharist in an attitude of reverent faith and dynamic adoration:

Soul of my Saviour sanctify my breast,
Body of Christ, be thou my saving guest,
Blood of my Saviour, bathe me in thy tide,
wash me with waters gushing from thy side.

Strength and protection may thy passion be,
O blessèd Jesus, hear and answer me;
deep in thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me,
so shall I never, never part from thee.

Guard and defend me from the foe malign,
in death’s dread moments make me only thine;
call me and bid me come to thee on high
where I may praise thee with thy saints for ay.

Vatican II advocated an understanding of Mass and the celebration of the liturgy that was deliberately consistent with the Church’s understanding for all those centuries leading up to this most recent Council. I fear that Mr Inwood is a spokesman for the “virtual Council”, the “Council of the Media” that Pope Benedict identified as working against the “real Council” at which he was actively present.

Which Council do you choose?

12 thoughts on “A Telling Letter in The Tablet

  1. “That is why there is a whole new generation of hymns that reflect a postconciliar understanding of what we do at Mass.”

    Well, if we are doing what the Council wanted we aren’t singing hymns at all at Mass. We are supposed to be singing the Liturgy. To replace the Introit, the Offertory and Communion antiphons, which are for the most part the Word of God with the words of men is absurd. Something written even by a saint is not comparable to the divinely inspired Word of God.

    Mr Inwood is right in drawing a distinction between the Mass and Eucharistic devotions but writing a plethora of new hymns is not the answer. In the EF this certainly did not happen (except in Germany). Hymns or a motet might be useful to fill space, and to create ‘silence’ by covering the sound of feet or filling a period of waiting but they are always ancillary, and perhaps it is better, if they have to be used that they are sung from memory, and have stood the test of time. In theory, according to the VII new hymns should be approved by ‘the competent authority” and not just because a publisher has put them in a hymn book, or a music director or priest likes them.


  2. This is one more small look into the mindset of the 21st century church–any and all denominations—that the “modern” world with its believers young and old need, nay demand, that there be an uptick to thinking, praying, celebrating and yes even singing. That we must (we being the sluggard archaic Christian faith) needs to pick up the pace as it were, stepping into the 21st century to be more entertaining. . .competing with the vast pulls from the burgeoning entertainment industry—that churches, if they wish to make themselves relevant and current (please hear my tiresomeness in that notion), must step it up—we are to wow and entertain now in order to capture the young–making the church hip, trendy and “feel good” as the dealing with the reality of man’s sinfulness and God’s Grace as found in the blood of the lamb is just to passé for the times—which brings us all to that proverbial gate—“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:12-14)
    Thank you Father always for your honest look at the precarious position we seem to be finding “The Church”
    May God have mercy!!!
    Blessings Father—Julie


  3. Mr Inwood’s ‘Misericordes sicut Pater’ is actually very good, I have to say. Biggest problem with all this is the question of vernacular translation in the Latin Rite. It’s not like e.g. the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, whose language, venerable, beautiful and liturgical though it is, is frequently not quoting Sacred Scripture. The Latin Rite frequently prefers to have Scripture quoted directly (in the Propers) and there’s the rub: in quoting Scripture there is less room for flexibility when translating, unless you dump Scripture entirely and replace it with hymns or other songs. It is different if you are dealing with a long litany of petitions.


  4. Doesn’t this just emphasise the difference between ‘static’ devotion and ‘active’ devotion? It seems that many including Mr Inwood feel that they are not adoring God in the Blessed Sacrament unless they are ‘doing’ something. Pray tell me what the difference is between adoring God whether He be hidden behind the tabernacle curtain or behind the consecrated Host?


    1. Here we come to the problems caused in the wake of the “active participation” diktat. Many of goodwill, and I confess my own involvement, sought to re-orient “actuosa” as meaning actual rather than active. And so blame the translators again.

      However, I am more and more accepting that “active” is a legitimate translation, perhaps THE legitimate translation. So the problem is in the Latin.

      Or rather, the problem lies in an impoverished understanding of what it is to be active. It seems to be read constantly as a physical attribute; as you say, to be “doing” is to be active. However, and far more in harmony with the long, broad sweep of liturgical history and development, “active” includes, and indeed prioritizes, mental and spiritual activity: actively hearing the word of God, the sermon, singing those parts set for us, responding in prayer to the various calls to prayer in the Mass – Let us pray, pray then, etc, and contemplating with a fervent heart the mystery of the Cross as it is manifested before us.

      The more I read Bouyer et al, the more I see that this is what the founders of the Liturgical Movement had in mind: not radically changing the Mass, but radically changing the Massgoer.

      And I also more and more regret that the phrase “actuosa participatio” was ever written!



  5. If one posits that the Chants of the Proper of the Mass are not merely decorative, but constitutive of its architecture, then one must admit that by tinkering with them, or removing them altogether, one is weakening or removing supporting beams of the entire edifice, and risking its collapse.

    The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, promulgated in April 1969, with a single phrase —sive alius cantus— effectively invited the termites to come in and finish the job. The Latin text of the General Instruction provided three options for the Chants of the Proper of the Mass. These are:

    1. The antiphon with its psalm as given in the Graduale Romanum.
    2. The antiphon with its psalm as given in the Graduale Simplex.
    3. Another chant (alius cantus) suited to the sacred action and to the character of the day or season, the text of which is approved by the Conference of Bishops.


    1. “Some other chant” is matched in its power to weaken the liturgy by the priestly rubrics to use “these or similar/other words” at various points in the Mass. This rubric was so often most rigidly followed and magically spread to cover the whole Mass in many of the Masses I experience as a young adult. It is an invitation to the priest to break the Pauline command that no one, not even a priest, should change anything in the Mass. With such faultlines running through the liturgical edifice, it is any wonder it soon cracked and gave shelter to fewer and fewer faithful.



  6. I do not share this pessimistic view of the aftermath of Vatican II. Misunderstandings are always likely to arise – see this thread! – when new insights are offered to those who are secure in their own certainties. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Communion outside Mass are no substitutes for the Real Thing- the Eucharist! Look at Professor Tom O’Loughlin’s latest book The Eucharist for his views on the difference. This is what Paul Inwood is concerned about. The rubrics call for communion ex hoc altare – how often does that happen? Shouting loudly will not cause legitimate questions that arise to disappear!


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