The Old Mass and the Workers

Fr. Kevin Hale saying Mass at the Altar of Our Lady.

Dr. Joseph Shaw has a really fascinating post on his blog from yesterday. It is entitled The Old Mass and the Workers and immediately caught my attention in the first paragraph with the sentence:

"the working class were betrayed by the changes to the liturgy, spirituality, and what we might call the general orientation of the Church, following the Second Vatican Council."

In our post Vatican II world, it seems to me (and I am happy to be corrected if this is not the case) many consider that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is elitist, and EF Masses are populated by snobs and intellectuals who like to pretend they know more about being Catholic than the rest of us.
Despite this common perception, my personal experience was very different. Attending my first EF Mass, I found that it was a broad spectrum of people who simply took their faith seriously. I have felt similarly comfortable at all subsequent events (including the boys confirmation in the Extraordinary Form at St. James', Spanish Place).

Most of all, what Dr. Shaw says resonates with my own experience, insofar as I have discussed this issue with my Mother. She is from the West coast of Ireland and grew up with the EF Mass (I was born in 1971). When I first attended EF Mass, we discussed the changes, which I then understood, must have seemed enormous to your average Mass attending Catholic, where Rome seemed an exotic and far-distant location, and Mass, an exquisite little bit of heaven brought down to earth.

Mum has always spoken about the changes being perceived as a betrayal. This despite the fact that she says she would not go back to the EF now. Indeed, she would not choose to attend the EF over the Ordinary Form of the Mass. She explains that it seemed to Catholics that everything they'd been taught no longer counted, everything had been thrown out and had changed.

Significantly, Dr. Shaw asserts that before the changes "the Catholic Church was the only Christian church to hold the allegiance of significant numbers of the industrial working class in England" and I have to agree that this is the conclusion I have reached from study, so it is nice to hear it confirmed. It seems to me that the Church was often the only body standing with and for the workers. This is redolent in the Church's social teaching and resonates through her history in keeping with the teaching of Christ.

Dr. Shaw explains: "The social teaching never had a chance to influence the state," [indeed, it is only now becoming part of a wider political discussion!] "but it was part of a set of distinctive values, a vision of what society should be like, at odds with the way society actually was. It was also linked to the great long-term project of Catholic restoration: the hierarchy, the splendid churches, the guilds, of the Middle Ages were to be built back up brick by brick. The ancientness of the liturgy was naturally essential in this appeal to the past. A tough-minded spirituality of perseverance in adversity was necessary to it also. The result was something appealing to the less comfortable members of society: the working class, and particularly the Irish, when they started arriving in large numbers with the potato famine of the 1840s."

The Mass as it was, enabled people to engage with it at many different levels. "So did the whole structure of Catholic life and thought: from popular devotions right up to neo-Thomism, there was something for everyone." This is so true, and part of the Catholic-ness of being Catholic. It operates of lots of different levels. You don't need to be a genius to grasp it's essential truths, yet there is such beauty and depth so that to engage the brightest of minds, e.g. Chesterton, Stein, Aquinas, et al.

There are some great points in this blog and I would highly recommend you read the whole thing.


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