Wednesday, June 6, 2018

English Traddie-dom

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."


  1. The London Oratory Mass is a low Mass just because it can be, in order to not compete with the 11AM solemn Latin Novus Ordo Mass. I think the choice of 1962 by Birmingham has been critiqued here; I know that there are also problems sometimes with the Fathers of the London Oratory. They're all very good, and I know one of them did his retreat for years at a trad seminary, but the actual celebration can be frustrating. I imagine it is much like what I have encountered here with diocesan priests.

    This is the problem with Fr. Zed's solution, for what it's worth. If you are raised in the hyper-legalistic world of the Novus Ordo and the seminaries which propagate the council, but ones which at the same time are highly decadent and untraditional in their view of the clerical life, then the old Mass ultimately becomes something nice to look at and a guidepost for further reform. Few priests are brave like Fr. Cipolla or Fr. Pasley in setting tradition as the guidepost.

    What this means is that the English Oratorians need to catch up with the rest of us. Holistic traditionalism is really what is catching on: traditional liturgy, solemn devotion, traditional theology, traditional politics, etc. The ICRSS captures this well, and it only works with the pre-1955 liturgy (really, pre-Pius XII), which is the ultimate failing of the SSPX.

    Even St John Cantius realizes that as a two-form community, 1962 (or whatever they do) is better than the new Mass. All of their inspirational social media posts lately use the TLM for the photos.

    I would add that if the solemn liturgies in London were to be of the same high quality as SJC or something similar, but with the traditional missal, the only thing that would stop people is the lack of English, but they would probably get over that.

    1. Mr. Roth, to play Advocatus Diaboli, you say "holistic traditionalism...only works with the pre-1955 liturgy...". Ok, but couldn't one say that such an integration of Liturgy, devotion, theology, and politics is prevalent throughout the SSPX (and has been for decades), even with their ironclad adherence to the 1962 books?

    2. John, I’ll rephrase. It only works without self-evident problems and strained justifications, both of which have led the SSPX to further divisions and an increasing distance from the Roman pontiff. Obviously, a pre-1955 liturgy guarantees nothing in itself, as we see from the SSPV, but given the original post, I felt it safe to assume that no one was schismatic or irregular.

  2. As one who succors Catholicism according to its Original Integralist Meaning (yeah, crummy parody of Constitutional Original Intent), he loves your explanations of why we are where we are and speaking just for his own self, ABS is a willing follower of those who can lead us out of this morass.

  3. There is also a Sung Mass at Ss. Joseph and Padarn, St. George's House once a month, and The Oratory of St. Mary Magdalen at least once a month. I sing in the choir at St. Bede's and I am told our current situation is considerably better than it was ten years ago. We now have approximately forty children who are regularly in our congregation and it is not unusual to have ten servers at the Sunday Sung Mass. I wouldn't have said that we are 'stagnating', although there is much to be improved. It is also worth noting that, despite there being at most 4,000 Traditionalists in this country, we still have around seventy Masses on Sundays. This is an equal, if not greater, proportion than in the United States.

    1. Now that I am at home, I can post the numbers. The United States has a Catholic population of around 72,000,000 whilst the United Kingdom has a Catholic population of around 4,695,000 (according to the Broken Biscuit Company). Including the SSPX and various other Traditionalist groups, the USA has ~250 Masses according to the traditional rite every Sunday. We have ~75. That's one traditional Mass per 288,000 in the US and one per 62,600 Catholics in the UK. Admittedly this is pretty poor, but we are doing better proportionally.

    2. 75 weekly Sunday Masses *is* a good deal better than I thought - it's been a long time since I looked at a listing for the UK. Clearly there's more good things happening than just in Preston now.

      It might not change the substance of your argument, but I think you may be underestimating just how many Traditional Masses there are in the U.S. The SSPX alone has, according to its directory, something like 113 priories or Mass centers in the U.S. - not every one is a *weekly* Sunday, though most are, and of course the bigger ones (Post Falls ID, St. Mary's, KS etc.) have multiple Sunday Masses (and daily Mass, too). Whereas according to the directory of Ecclesia Dei Coalition, there are roughly 500 regular "canonical" (for lack of a better word) Masses. The striking thing here is the large number of non-Sunday Masses, or locations which are regular but not every Sunday, almost invariably in diocesan parishes. It is this, plus the sizable number of fully (or mostly fully) traditional parishes, oratories, quasi-parishes, SSPX priories, or abbeys which celebrate the TLM (or some other traditional Latin Rite) daily, wherein the U.S. may have a significant advantage - at a rough count, I think there are over 70 of these now. Harder to guess for either country is the typical attendance at each, since few take regular attendance - in the U.S. you can find everything from a daily Low Mass which might have only a handful of regulars to the main Sunday 10am Mass at St. Francis de Sales Oratory (ICRSS) in St. Louis, which pulls about 1200+ at last check.

      But even so, as I say, I think you are right in the main that traditionalism in the UK is doing considerably better, proportionally, than most of us would have credited, and compares well with the U.S. even on the high end of the range of numbers I just offered. Clearly the last few years have been good for growth. France and the United States may remain the mainstays of Traditional Catholicism, but Great Britain is making a very significant contribution now as well.

      And, of course, all of us have miles to go, in terms of growth, before we sleep. We're still less than 1% of of the Catholic world.

    3. I included the SSPX, SSPV, and CMRI as well as the diocesan Masses in the USA. According to the Latin Mass Directory, there are 48 Sunday Masses in the UK, but the SSPX are not included. Their website lists 23 Sunday Masses. However, I do know of other Masses that are celebrated. (e.g. the private Low Mass in London of which a large number of people know, +Williamson's Masses, Ashford). Looking at the listings again, I realise that the Latin Mass Directory lists 316 Sunday Masses. Mea Culpa. I did include the SSPX correctly at 117 though. That makes the total closer to 500. Fortunately, I got the UK statistics correct, however.

  4. Thanks for the post. It's good to have these discussions.

    However, I must say that your points of statistical comparison are selective and innacurate. The 8am EF at the Oxford Oratory started in 2005 with about 40 worshippers. At that hour, it's subsequent growth has been astonishing. The London Oratory moved its Sunday Low Mass from the Little Oratory at 10am to the main church at 9am some years after that, and again its growth has been huge - not such a surprise that Spanish Place, only 2 miles away, has plateaued. The establishment of the EF as the main Mass in Brompton saw massive growth. The new Oratory in York has created a large congregation for the EF starting at zero. The ICKSP and FSSP have done the same thing in several different locations in the North.

    If you sit down and count the number of Masses being celebrated, recorded in the Mass of Ages, you'll see that there has been growth. Sure, not as much as we might like, but if you think about the limits of that growth, you can hardly blame the trads themselves. There must be a score of priests who'd establish Sunday EFs if they could, but they can't: there's not room in the horarium, the bishop won't allow new Masses etc. etc..

    In the meantime the quality of singing and serving has vastly improved over the last decade; there have been about a dozen vocations to the priesthood (there will be an ordination *tomorrow*); and hostility to trads in the mainstream has dropped away. If this is a failure to make progress, what exactly are you comparing it to?

    1. I must defer to those actually knowledgeable about the state of Traditional Catholicism in England, at the head of which list must stand, well, you, Dr. Shaw. I must assume that the Rad Trad's representation must stand corrected on every point you raise. So perhaps TRT's indictment might be confined to just the Brompton Oratory, whose lode star remains, unwaveringly, a Latinized Pauline Mass, and places like it.

      And yet I will admit that the Rad Trad's characterization is one I have heard before from some in England, including clergy; publicly, the most notable one is one known to you, our old retired blogging friend Chez of the Sensible Bond, who frequently seemed to despair of the prospects of the cause in the Sceptred Isle, at least up to the moment he terminated the blog. In short, that it *might* be growing, but not nearly so fast as in America or parts of the Continent, and that perhaps chiefly in the Northwest of England and a couple other isolated locales.

      What to make of this? Am I running into too many melancholic English trads?

    2. We don't take kindly to optimists over here.

      I can't comment on the growth taking place in the USA or the Continent. They have their own opportunities and their own problems. Perhaps they are doing better than we are, I don't know.

      What I would say is that there is a natural upper limit to the growth of a congregation in England because people don't expect to have to drive long distances to get to Mass, and the density of Catholics in the country is low. I might do a blog post about it.

  5. "What I would say is that there is a natural upper limit to the growth of a congregation in England because people don't expect to have to drive long distances to get to Mass, and the density of Catholics in the country is low."


    That does make it quite different from (most) American trads. Perhaps I should not be surprised. It makes sense.

    I recall my first visit to a TLM at the FSSP apostolate in...Kansas City, almost two decades ago. I had commented, off-handedly, to the Fraternity priest (a Frenchman) that I wasn't sure if I could bear the 50 minute drive every Sunday. He replied, deadpan, "You know, we have families who drive three and a half hours each way for Mass."

    I then slunk off as quietly as possible.

    To be sure, that sort of thing is an outlier even over here, especially now with so many TLM's on offer. But it's probably a natural outcome for a sprawling land occupied by a relentless and restless automobile culture. One is not better than the other; just a different mindset, different barriers.

    "I might do a blog post about it."

    Looking forward to it.

  6. I think it is correct that in England and Wales there is a reluctance to travel more than 30 mins or 15 miles for Mass. From what I read, Americans would seem to be willing to travel much greater distances.

    Another possible difference is that in England & Wales people seem to be wedded to always attending a Sunday Mass at their favoured time. This is usually a Mass starting between 9am and 10.30am.

    Apart from at churches where one of the traditional orders has control over the timetable, Latin Masses are rarely at popular times. There are only four churches in three towns in England where the times of Latin Masses can be chosen to suit the convenience of those who prefer to attend the Latin Mass. These are Preston (2 churches), Warrington and New Brighton. All of these are in the North West, and relatively close to one another.

    The situation in the USA is very different. I think there are 50 or more locations where either the FSSP or the ICKSP control their own churches and these are much more widely spread.

    The conclusion from all this is that one should be cautious about making comparisons when the circumstances are very different.

    1. I did a tally not long ago of TLM or mostly TLM communities in the U.S. - parishes, quasi-parishes, priories, oratories, abbeys - and with the latest additions in Philadelphia, Brisgeport, and Pittsburgh this year, I think the total comes to about 70, depending on how tightly you define it. Most are FSSP or ICRSS communities, but not all.

      There are also small but surprising number of diocesan parishes which have managed to squeeze in a TLM in "prime time." Here in the DC area, for example, there is St. Mary Mother of God Church (9am), St. Francis de Sales Church (10:30am), St. Francis de Sales Church, Benedict, Md. (11am), St. Rita of Cascia Church, Alexandria (9:30a), and St John the Apostle Church, Leesburg (10:30am) - all diocesan parishes.

      Still, this is a regionally uneven thing. DC is exceptional in many regards, for example. There are many areas in the U.S. where you will have to drive a long way to find a TLM between 9am and 10:30am, which of course sort of defeats the point of the thing.