Friday, May 03, 2019

Evelyn Waugh on the Liturgical Reform: An Article in The American Conservative

The American Conservative published an interesting article yesterday by Casey Chalk, a student at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College, on Catholic author Evelyn Waugh’s assessment of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform. It must be remembered that Waugh died in April of 1966, over three-and-a-half years before the promulgation of the Novus Ordo, but like many others his period, saw very clearly to what pass the process was already bringing the Church. Many of our readers will be familiar with the exchange of letters on the subject between him and John Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, which was edited by Dom Alcuin Reid and published in 2011. The title of that book, “A Bitter Trial”, comes from one of Waugh’s letters, in which he writes of those early changes, far less radical than those still to come, “Church-going is now a bitter trial.” But it was not only for himself and his own preferences that he said and wrote such things; as Mr Chalk writes,
One of Waugh’s most persistent criticisms of the liturgical changes is that progressive, elitist-driven experimentation hurts ordinary people the most, undermining their confidence in important institutions. Vatican II represented, in Waugh’s mind, a rejection of the needs and opinions of local people. “A vociferous minority has imposed itself on the hierarchy and made them believe that a popular demand existed where there was in fact not even a preference,” he warned.
Likewise Cardinal Heenan, who “observed that the reform was driven by self-described ‘intellectuals’ whose ‘constant nagging’ and ‘tiresome letters to the press and articles in the Catholic papers may eventually disturb the faithful.’ ... ‘the voice of the laity’ was largely ignored by the media, as were conservative leaders in the Church, whom intellectuals painted as ‘mitred peasants.’ Waugh argued, ‘the function of the Church in every age has been conservative—to transmit undiminished and uncontaminated the creed inherited from its predecessors.”

Read the whole thing over there. I make bold to add only one observation. The title of the article is “Evelyn Waugh Predicted the Collapse of Catholic England”, and Mr Chalk goes on to note the dramatic decline in church attendance in England, which is similar to that in most historical Catholic countries or regions since the post-Conciliar reforms. It has been fashionable for a long time to deny that the liturgical reform has been the cause of this decline and fall by citing the famous dictum that “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” is a logical fallacy. It must never been forgotten that “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” is indeed a fallacy in logic, but does not change the fact that causality moves forward in time.

The future of the Church, ca. 1965.

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