Sunday, 14 December 2008

Merton and all that

Damian Thompson, in his Holy Smoke blog, has announced something that a few of us knew was in the air: the Latin Mass Society no longer wishes to support the training of ordinary diocesan priests to celebrate the Traditional Rites—or at least to do so in the format used for the last two summers. Damian quotes an email from David Lloyd, a former chairman of the LMS:

Our Society is constituted to provide the Mass to as many catholics as possible from all walks of life in churches and chapels the length and breadth of England and Wales, the majority of those who attend these Masses would not have understood anything of the splendour of Merton. It is wrong therefore for the favoured few to be able to indulge in the obvious luxury of the liturgy provided. Many people (laity) have worked for the LMS for many years for no more than their expenses and a good number of them have not claimed for anything at all. Look then at the tuition fees and the expenses paid from the figures provided for 29 first time and 15 second time delegates from England and Wales. The clergy were in awe at the generosity of the Society they must have been laughing all the way back to their presbyteries at the size of the party bags distributed as gifts. The whole concept of Merton (an Anglican institution) is privileged, the cost of Merton is obscene, continually asking our membership to subsidise elitist events is wrong. The direction the Society is taking is a cause for concern, high profile and elitism are the flavours of the day, committee must resist this, it must resist any thought of returning to Merton any proposal to do so must be overturned.

I found this very sad reading. David Lloyd is a man I like and respect; I have had dealings with him in the past and found him affable and kind. But I have to disagree profoundly with him on this matter which for me raises a ghost which I thought laid—I might add, laid with David's help (he being then in the chair). This ghost was the tendency which the LMS had a few years ago (and no doubt is not dead) to support only those clergy who were prepared to celebrate exclusively the traditional rites: their website then even proudly boasted it. It made me think of those priests, diocesan and religious, who for years had endured contempt and marginalization from their brothers and superiors for their willingness to keep celebrating the traditional rites for members of the LMS. That what we now call the Extraordinary Form was maintained in this country was due in no small measure to men like Mgr Macdonald, Fr Michael Ware and Fr Mark Taylor. They, like I, for so many years, also received only expenses, and very often not even that.
The Merton Conference was a most valuable resource in making it possible for ordinary diocesan and religious clergy to learn to be able to celebrate what is now entirely legitimate. It is firmly established that the traditional rites are not for an exclusive elite, but ordinary Catholics in the pew have a right to them. Of the seventy priests who attended last summer, most went home able to begin celebrating in the Extraordinary Form with some measure of confidence, which will grow as they get used to it. Yes, these men are unlikely exclusively to do so, but then they are men who do not believe that the vineyard of the Lord is confined to traditional Mass centres. They believe, as do I, that the people in ordinary parishes are Catholics too, with souls that need saving and sanctifying, and though the Ordinary Form is not such an efficient tool, nonetheless it is the only tool that many of our folk will accept at present and thus we must make the best of it. But now they have also recourse to the Extraordinary form, a better tool, which they can use as appropriate, both for their own sanctification and also for that of those who will come to appreciate it through their work.
Although Mr Lloyd thinks that the Merton conference was elitist, in reality it was quite the opposite, since the intent is to bring the Mass precisely back where it belongs—in the parishes.
Second, I feel personally very hurt at the suggestion that priests went laughing back to their presbyteries after the sybaritic extravaganza of the Merton conference, at the expense of the pennies of the LMS poor. The conference was not luxurious: all participants lived in student accommodation and ate (albeit very nice) student food. The liturgy was splendid, but the traditional rites are splendid, when done properly. Are the LMS suggesting that a large gathering of priests should have celebrated Low Mass every day and said the office in private? That would be ridiculous! Perhaps it was the presence of prelates they objected to, especially when they were treated properly. Then there was the goody-bag. Each participant was given a study edition (which is actually useable) of the 1962 Missale Romanum, costing about 50 Euros, a cheap set of unframed paper altar cards (with at least one mistake on them) and sets of bound photocopied notes for the courses. The one possible extravagance was a beautifully produced and bound liturgical book with the offices and masses for the week, which may have cost (judging by Lulu prices) about £10.
Though the participants were heavily subsidized, they did have to find expenses that other types of employees might not have to, such as paying for supply priests in their own parishes while they were away, and transport—three priests came from South Africa.
But the money was not the issue; I strongly suspect that many, if not most, of the participants would have paid for themselves entirely if that were required. I, as a member of the teaching team, was given an honorarium: I was grateful, but would have helped for nothing, quite happily.

Should the Merton Conference not operate this year, it will prove to have been a pyrrhic victory for those who oppose it. Yes, the LMS may well have more money in its bank account, but there will be fewer priests able to celebrate the rites which they love. And, please, what is the money for?

It is possible, I suppose, that another sponsor might be found, or perhaps priests might well be willing to pay for themselves. That would be great. But if the conference does not go ahead, then I would certainly be willing to take one or two priests (in good standing) at a time here for a few days to do the same thing, mutatis mutandis. No doubt others would be likewise willing.


Anonymous said...

I don't quite understand the situation but I think it is very sad indeed that within a year of the MP, which honestly was far more than most of us hoped for, we have such divisions emerging. I know a number of Latin Mass devotees, ( not necessarily in the LMS), who actively dislike High Mass and wish only for a greater proliferation of Low Masses. I think it stems partly from a dislike, distrust or alienation from " High Culture". Interestingly I came across the same situation in Ireland when I used to live in Dublin for about 6yrs. There there was an real division between those who favoured Low Mass and those who attended the Missa Cantata with polyphony. The " Low Mass only people" actively sneared at the High Mass crowd and even invented a nickname for the choir and spread the rumour that they were not up to singing the Mass settings when in fact they were semi professional and their director was a former master of music at the Cathedral. There was a feeling that the Real and True Catholics were those who attended the Low Mass and that some of those at the High Mass were a touch suspect.

On the question of Merton being elitist I realy think it was anything but. I am a very ordinary fellow, from a working class backgroung, with a far from RP accent; I turned up at Merton for the closing Mass, with a friend who is a retired teacher, and we were both made very welcome. We were a few minutes late but we were shown to two free seats in the choir stalls and there being no Mass books left, ( and I having forgotten my Missal), a kind gentleman shared his with us. Nothing elitist about that.

Anonymous said...

Old fashioned British inverse snobbery is still going strong I see.

Anonymous said...

I do hope Fr. Sean for the sake of integrity the historic fact that the Rev. Fr. Mark Taylor, Cong.Orat. (of blessed memory) never celebrated according to the 1962 missal is noted. Fr. Mark steadfastly rejected the reforms of Pius XII and John XXIII for his private Masses.

Of course, you do not suggest otherwise but a reader who did not know Fr. Mark might easily suppose he did. I cannot think of anything he would have least liked to receive than a study edition of the 1962 Missale Romanum.

PeterHWright said...

O.K. If the format has to change, so be it. It would not be the end of the Catholic revival if Merton College, Oxford ceased to be the venue for the training and tuition offered to priests who wish to learn the old Mass.

I merely cannot see why this should happen, and I have to say I don't understand, or agree with, David Lloyd's recent letter.

I hope the LMS is not going to become intransigent about this. Just look at all the great work it has done, and can continue to do.

Anonymous said...

Father, could you ressurect the blog about the Coronation of John XXIII???

gemoftheocean said...

Oh nuts. That class thing again. It's gonna kill youse guys.

Where the heck else is a priest supposed to learn how to do a high Mass. "Back in the day" by the time a man became a priest, he'd have attended and assisted at hundreds of high Masses in the course of his training and growing up. A get together like Merton would be invaluable, I'd think for "getting it right." Low Mass isn't really all that complicated. But as long as you're going to do "bells and whistles" so to speak you may as well get it "just so." That way you'll all be on the same page.

It SHOULD be a "no brainer!"

[Now just convince them, Fr. Sean, to put a tilted overhead mirror over the altar, so "the rest of us" who want to see can do so if we haven't received the golden handshake.

Adulio said...


I cannot believe that you forget Fr. Oswald Baker of Downham Market and Fr. Edward Leicester Cong. Orat!

Pastor in Monte said...

Ottaviani: you missed the point. The priests I mentioned were those who worked 'within the system', not those who opted out to celebrate the TLM exclusively.

PJA said...

I had the pleasure of coming to know Mgr John Macdonald, of blessed memory, very well at the time of my reception back in 1989 - we had "heated" discussions about cremation!!

When he came to stay with my family a few times, he "taught" me how to serve a Low Mass as he believed one day, I'd need to know.

With Summorum Pontificum, I thought that day was at hand, but if the LMS don't decide where their priorities lie, they'll undo so much good that they've hitherto achieved.

I hope this matter can be cleared up quickly and amicably.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your post, Father, but I wish you hadn't re-posted Mr Lloyd's private e-mail.

Pastor in Monte said...

Yes: by the time I realized that the email was originally a private one it was too late: everyone who was going to see it had seen it, and my own post would have made no sense without it.

Unknown said...

I live in Canada and I have noticed that the LMS folks tend to be rigid lovers of the past,i.e. the 1960's. At a low Mass recently I was hushed for responding to the Dominical Salution.

Perhaps this is natural given all they have endured but it is also alienating. The EF is NOT the Mass of the past. It is the Mass of the ages including the future.

And, by the way, back in the past leading right up to Vatican II The Church always preferred Solemn High Mass to Low Mass and the rubrics tended to presume this.