The state of Traditionalism in the English Church has a few lessons for the wider Church and for those who seek to promote the old rite and its accompanying doctrinal perspective beyond the reaches of small communities. The real state of English Traddie-dom is that, aside from some growth here and there, in larger places it has stagnated. This is not the case globally; the old Mass continues to expand in the United States, Italy, and Africa; but it does carry some meaning for Catholics in thriving places.
What does stagnation look like? It means one could not reasonably split a Mass community up into two separate Masses and justify either service. The tell tale signs of this are 1) constancy in the number of Masses and 2) constancy in the congregations of existing Masses. The 8AM "EF" Mass at the Oxford Oratory still has the same 150-200 people it did seven years ago and probably the same number it did ten years before that, when the bishop asked for a 1962 Mass to assuage potential devotees of the FSSPX. Similarly, I did not notice any difference in the number of Masses offered within the Archdiocese of Westminster from seven years ago. The 9:30AM Mass at Saint James, Spanish Place, boasted the same congregation as the Oratory, although it competes with half a dozen other spoken Masses and a sung Mass at Saint Bede's, Clapham Park.
Catholicism in England itself, like the general English population, has not flourished very much one way or another in the last several decades. One would presume the Traditionalist crowd would get a larger portion of a shrinking pie, like they are in the United States or France, but this is not the case. Instead, Oratories and Oratorian takes on the Pauline Mass are abounding and taking those very slices. The last few years have seen Oratories emerge in Bournemouth, York, and Manchester, which doubles the number of Oratories from just five years ago. Attendance at the Oxford Oratory's 11AM Solemn Latin Novus Ordo has dipped a little; it is no longer standing room only because "Several churches in the diocese are now imitating what we do and people no longer feel compelled to drive two hours to Mass," one priest told me. So why is the Latin Mass of Paul VI, which has never caught on anywhere else in the world, out-doing the flailing Latin Mass of Pius V?
One answer is that people see different things at a 1962 Mass in London than they do at a Brompton high Mass. Someone who has never seen a pre-Conciliar form of the Roman Mass will walk into a church and witness a priest speaking garbled Latin in an echo chamber for 45 minutes, perhaps stopping to give a short sermon and Communion; yes, it is why the church was built, but that does not make it more accessible to the uninitiated of 2018. By contrast, someone who walks into an Oratorian-styled Mass sees something he knows and which happens at a familiar pace, the readings are in his own tongue, and rather than hearing a spoken Mass he hears the finest Renaissance music sung by a professional choir; in short, he sees an inspiring variation on something he already knows and takes it to be something very different. A large percentage of parishioners at these sorts of conservative or traditional settings are converts from Anglicanism who like loud organs, strong hymns, well done services, and the like. The old rite low Mass may be more consonant with Charles Reding's observations in Newman's Loss and Gain about the Catholic Mass being focused on the priest offering Sacrifice, not the congregation, but that may not help get people in the pew.
The other factor may well be the Traditionalists themselves, who have often been their own worst enemies; one thinks of Tracey Rowland's attempt at some Traddie self-criticism back when Rorate Caeli still enabled comments. In England the problem has not been as pronounced as the visceral attitude of '90s American traditionalists, but recusancy does still attract its cranks. The real problem with any spiritual movement that has to fight political battles—and Traditionalists are a prime ecclesiastical example—is that spiritual focus and spiritual values can unintentionally be subverted by an ideological outlook intent on conforming the world to one's views. This, again, may be less prevalent in England since a good portion of the Traditional rite Masses in England are run by diocesan priests who perform older rituals out of pastoral duty and person interest. Then again, the issue may not be with clergy as much as laity, who desire holiness and wisdom, but have historically contented themselves with the promises of the Rosaries and the errors of Vatican II. What emerges then carries the danger of a hypocritical Catholicism, a flock that does the right things but carries little to no sign of sanctity.
This last issue, like the "visceral attitude of '90s American traditionalists", may well be solving itself with age and the gradual replacement with new blood. In 2011 one could still start a conversation at coffee hour after the 8AM Oratory Mass with the words, "The Novus Ordo is a horror show." Today those same people would justly roll their eyes and keep to their own chatter.
If proponents of the old rite wish to see Waugh's "fire burning among the old stones", then, regardless of whether they live in London or Liberia, they must do something to attract those soldiers who are "farther in heart than Acre or Jerusalem."