A Quick Reply to Dr Shaw

Though I did not feel that he was obliged to, Dr Shaw has offered a timely reply to my previous post. In it he implies what I feel as well, that this is not personal but a discussion, a debate even, concerning the ways and means to a shared goal.

Dr Shaw does not address the whole of my post, just some issues he felt needed clarification. While I take on board what he says, I am not sure I find things much clearer.

I hypothesised that if the restoration of pre-conciliar worship is his goal, and wondering how this would be achieved, then one way that seemed to present itself would be imposing such a change much as the new Mass was imposed in 1969. We do not want a repeat of that. Cheeringly, Dr Shaw said that this was “obviously not” the way to proceed. He clarifies how he sees progress advancing:

I envisage progress (at any rate for the foreseeable future) as nothing more than the organic growth of the celebration of the Traditional Mass, a continuation of the progress it has made particularly since 2007.

One is left to conclude that he means that this organic growth is of those communities dedicated to the traditional rites. Indeed I can see that happening. My question has been, how is this growth achieved outside exclusively traditional communities? For the normal parish, the Extraordinary Form would not be an organic growth from their Ordinary Form norm. If, in fact the Ordinary Form, is not an organic growth from the pre-conciliar Mass, but represents a rupture, as many argue (with justification), then how does the Extraordinary Form organically grow within such a community or parish? Would it not involve another rupture, however worthwhile it might be?

My concern is not to foster separate communities of those dedicated to the traditional rites, however laudable and even necessary these may have been for those involved. Rather, my concern is that all the Church should return to a proper sense of worship and a celebration of the Mass that orients them to God and to Christ’s return in glory, anchors them in the saving sacrifice of Christ and nourishes them out of it, and gives them a taste, however small, of the heaven to which we are making our way through this world as pilgrims.

Those in traditional communities are already catechized in the traditional Catholic understanding of worship and its principles. But so many in the rest of the Church are not so catechized, through no fault of their own by and large, and if they are to share in the renewal of worship, as they have a to right to do, then they have to be re-catechized. This will take time. This is where the reform of the reform is indispensable for the majority of the Church that exists beyond the exclusively traditional communities. Dr Shaw has not moved me from that belief.

Does this sanctuary arrangement suggest this American Catholic parish ready for traditional worship; or does it need massive re-catechesis?

Perhaps Dr Shaw, or someone from the Latin Mass Society, could spell out a vision of how to engage the vast majority of the universal Church beyond their communities in their vision of the renewal of worship. If the post-conciliar liturgy needs reform and renewal, and clearly it does, then it cannot be a project for small communities of initiates alone, but something that must be offered to all the Church.

The second point Dr Shaw takes me to task for is my apparently wanting to eat my cake and keep it:

Fr Hugh wants to have this both ways. First, yes there was nothing in the Cardinal’s remarks which justified the reaction, because there was nothing very new or startling about them; but at the same time they were worthy of the hype because they were new and startling after all.

This is not an accurate representation of what I said or believe. As Dr Shaw rightly points out, Cardinal Sarah had already gone on record in advocating a return to priestly orientation at the altar. He did so most prominently in a French publication which did not get very wide coverage in England. As Dr Shaw said, the reaction had been muted, if there had been one at all, because a small French publication is not the vehicle to do much more in an anglophone society.

But there was something new. Here the cardinal was sticking to his guns, and doing so in English and not just in the relative distance and calm of a foreign publication, but in person to a live audience. There is a qualitative difference here. There was a further difference: Cardinal Sarah made a specific appeal and set a date. No longer could his previous statements be seen as another abstract opinion. There was some clear and achievable action proposed, though not mandated and not certainly presented unconditionally, being modified with “wherever possible”.

So I find I take exception to Dr Shaw’s conclusion:

The saddest thing in the whole sorry story is Fr Hugh’s assertion, which I am sure is true: ‘the organisers did not have any expectation of response’

Fr Hugh is here pleading guilty, on behalf of the organisers, of serious naivity.
My friends, this is not a good time to be naive.

He pushes his point too strongly. The “response” was not envisaged because, as Dr Shaw himself admits, Cardinal Sarah’s previous statements had passed without reaction. I do not think it naive to have failed to foresee that The Catholic Herald* (which Dr Shaw names) would be so influential as to provoke Westminster, Washington and Rome into knee-jerk reactions against the cardinal. I think it quite reasonable, given past performance, to have expected the cardinal’s appeal to have been largely ignored by the English and American hierarchies and certainly by Rome, ridiculed by the The Tablet and Commonweal, and otherwise left to the reformers of the reform and their sympathisers as a source of encouragement and inspiration.


So, the charge of “serious naivety” is not accepted. Rather, as one looks at the hasty reaction by a heavy, though velvet-clad, hand, one concludes not that we have been naive, but rather that “an enemy hath done this” (Matt 13:28). A nerve has been touched, fear has been excited, an existential fear among those who know that all is not well as things stand. A fear, too, that it is getting harder and harder to justify the reforms enacted after the Council, reforms enacted in the name of the Council but not according to the Council’s own decrees. That the reaction justifies itself with mis-translations of official texts harms their cause yet more.

So, in sum, the reform of the reform has not been set back 20 years. Rather it has captured, one way or another, the attention of prelates and people, and brought into sharp relief one of the two most damaging changes to the worship of the Church (the other being Communion in the hand). There may be pain and angst, but maybe there has to be, at least to some degree. Our prayer must be that these pains are growth pains, and nothing worse.

The next post here will remind us of the many other excellent things to have come out of Sacra Liturgia 2016. There was far more to it than Cardinal Sarah.


* Kudos to The Catholic Herald for apparently punching well above its weight!

12 thoughts on “A Quick Reply to Dr Shaw

  1. Thank you, Fr Hugh.

    I am not surprised by the official reaction because I have been hearing stories about the reactions of parish congregations and bishops to attempts to impose ad orientem over a number of years. Given the way the story was hyped – see the Catholic Herald front cover – what happened was inevitable.

    On the question of how to spread the EF, I can’t do more than point you to how the EF has been spreading. I frankly don’t understand your reference to ‘exclusively traditional communities’. What are those? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one, unless it was a traditional Carmelite convent. The EF is open to all. When it appears in a parish, it attracts people from the other Masses and from outside the parish boundaries. As time goes on, more parishes have the EF.

    Perhaps the best thing would be for you to talk to some of the priests who have done this, about their experience: Fr Tim Finigan, Fr Glaysher, Fr Ray Blake.

    The number of Masses being offered in the EF is steadily growing. We have a long way to go, but at least we are making progress. We can talk forever of the theoretical possibility of faster progress with the RotR, but under present conditions it’s not happening. I’d take gradual progress which is real over explosive progress which is not real.


    1. Thanks for that. It is very helpful. It is clearer to me how you see things progressing. Which is, to use an analogy, as leaven in the dough. That I can comprehend.

      By “exclusively traditional communities” I do not mean exclusivity in their membership, but in their mode of worship.



  2. Just my tuppence worth: I don’t think it was what Cardinal Sarah said that provoked the reaction, and I don’t think the Catholic Herald provoked it either. It looked to me as if it was the verbal reports of the “thunderous applause” with which Cardinal Sarah’s words were received by his audience that triggered the fear-filled reaction of which Fr Hugh speaks. Dr Shaw is right; interest in the EF is growing wherever people have the opportunity to experience it. The same is true of the Ordinariate use; in mixed parishes, many non-Ordinariate parishìoners are drawn to the greater dignity of that liturgy. The tide is turning against the banal and the downright disrespectful, and the Spirit of V2 brigade know it. I think we all need to stand together against the backlash.


  3. For the record, I believe that there is a tendency to believe that everyone in the TLM is ‘over the moon’ about the current situation. Although this is true for some, I also know that there are many others who are greatly saddened by the fact that they now feel that the doors of the mainstream Church have well and truly been slammed behind them. The vast majority of TLM adherents have only been attending, at most, since 2007 and are often still attached in some way to the mainstream Church. There are plenty who are extremely saddened by the current developments.

    I have no problem with the ROTR, but those who want it are going to have to get very smart, and read the sign of the times if they want the worship to be more Christ centered universally i.e. more traditional. They will need a new plan.

    Look at what is happening… Who are the hierarchy drawing in to achieve their vision…? Proclaim 15 went under the radar, but the CBCEW welcomed with open arms the combined forces of CCR. Charles Whitehead, Michelle Moran, and they even brought along the Anglican Nicky Gumbel for good measure. You may think that this was just the headline act, but when you look at the team supporting it in every diocese… it was made up of charismatics to a great extent. This is the future. Checkout the language of Cardinal Nichols… “Missionary Disciples’ is a watch word. However, having seen some of this close up I would suggest that they are aiming to cultivate ‘missionary disciples’ who will be just as poorly catechised as came before. There will be no real New Evangelisation as promoted by Cardinal Burke i.e. a real return to the catacombs to learn the faith, before being unleashed on to the world.

    Even the New Evangelisation is struggling. The School of the Annunciation who offer a more accurate reflection of the New Evangelisation (i.e. that mentioned by Cardinal Burke), are struggling to make headway.

    Those who want a ROTR should continue, but the current plan isn’t working.


    1. Finally, one quick and final sobering thought (don’t ask me how I know this information). c.95% of the younger generation of today who are actually engaged in the mainstream Church have been formed either in charismatic renewal, or by youth leaders who have been formed in charismatic renewal. I am talking about all those teenagers who are about to go the WYD, and who will take up roles in the Church when the current liberals and conservatives are too old to do it anymore. They have been conditioned to believe that all tradition is bad. This is what charismatics do, and they have the majority of the influence over any teenager who can be bothered to leave their church, and go to a retreat or diocesan youth day.


      1. I have some experience of the sort of engaged young Catholic of whom you speak. Some of them though are very open to tradition, especially when it is packaged well. I do not discount the danger you cite, but I am a little more optimistic about them.



    2. I agree that the New Evangelisation has largely stalled in most places, and has lost its place in our consciousness. It got lost in the welter of initiatives that plague both church and state, all of which seem to fail to address the core needs: understanding the faith in its doctrines (we all know about its practice—that is drummed into us by all the justice and peace advocacy), and understanding what we are meant to do at worship. I would be happy with some old evangelisation, to be honest!



  4. Very interesting. The question raised by all this affaire seems to be: is the NO reformable? The harsh reaction on Card. Sarah’s call –which was indeed a novelty because it was a precise call to action with a precise deadline, something much unusual in the current Church– could give reason to Joseph Shaw. But “Mutual enrichment” is the path offered to the Church by Pope Benedict which means that a dialogue should be settled between the two forms, doesn’t it? And where can that dialogue take place if not within the parish space?
    Having attended all the editions of Sacra Liturgia and welcoming every year in Rome during the Populus summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage (exclusively EF) many parish priests committed with the RotR, may I say that this dialogue exists and brings beautiful fruits, for the sake of many souls, in many places all around the world.? Yet, it’s true that, until now, it relies just on a small maniple of bishops and many courageous but isolated priests.
    According to me, the fact that the Prefect of the Divine Worship –the Pope’s Minister for the Liturgy– chosen by Pope Francis himself, may have taken such a clear and strong stance on celebrating Versus Dominum has truly frightened the last batch of modernists that still occupy most of the Church hierarchy. Because Sarah’s call (being received positively by so many pastors) could have broken the liturgical boundaries erected since 1970, the reaction had to be violent. Time will tell but, usually, overreaction is the sign that the odds have turned against the regime.
    Guillaume Ferluc


    1. Dear Guillaume,


      Mutual enrichment in the parish space – very well put. It’s precisely what I am getting at. To be honest, it is my experience not only of reading and studying, but being around RotR types, and also TLM types, that has led me to move more and more in that direction. There is nothing like exposure and contact with people who are good apostles for the cause to attract the like-minded, the hesitant and unsure, and the closet fellow-travellers.

      I do slightly fear for Cardinal Sarah in that job now. Certain people, anglophones, are aiming for him now. I can see him getting a Cardinal Burke “promotion”.

      Pax tibi!


  5. I’m sorry to say that I don’t see any real future for “reform of the reform” for the simple fact that too few Catholics want it. The average parishioner doesn’t want it because nobody wants to return to from lax discipline to tighter discipline or take what appears to be a step back (and that is what even the moderate proposals by ROTR are associated with in the mind of the average parishioner). The liberal establishment doesn’t want it (of course) because they have invested all their efforts into creating a new Catholicism and won’t be contradicted in any way (and although their numbers have been exaggerated they, nonetheless exercise an disproportionate influence). Lastly the bishops and many parish priests don’t want it, some of them because they are liberal, but most of because they want a quiet life, and that involves not upsetting either parishioners or liberals. There are of course the converts and reverts, but would any of them settle for what they would consider half measures? The moment a convert or revert becomes acquainted with the Ordinary Form in detail, it will become apparent that it embodies the ideas and influences that they have renounced. Faced with those problems wouldn’t those people simply elect to support the Extraordinary Form?


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