Friday, November 22, 2019

Angelico Press Launches New Series “Catholic Traditionalist Classics” with Houghton’s Mitre and Crook

Fr Bryan Houghton (1911-1992)
It is with great joy that I share an important development in the world of publishing: the launch of a new series by Angelico Press, Catholic Traditionalist Classics, that will bring back into print — for the benefit especially of younger readers born after the apocalypse — many fine works from the early years of the traditional movement, and until now difficult or impossible to acquire. The series is inaugurated, appropriately enough, with a towering classic: Fr. Bryan Houghton’s deliciously witty novel Mitre and Crook of 1979.

When the publisher asked me for an endorsement, I wrote (without any back-cover hyperbole) that I had read Mitre and Crook on a lark years ago and instantly fell in love. Bryan Houghton was the Robert Hugh Benson of the postconciliar crisis. He brilliantly portrays a bishop, Edmund Forester, who with equal parts cleverness and courage orchestrates a complete restoration of Catholic tradition in his backwater diocese. The novel is written in the form of letters from Bishop Forester to his presbyterate and to various allies and enemies, local and abroad; the epistolary narration is suspenseful and gripping. Along the way we are treated to a scorching portrait of the souls of reformists, unbelievably narrow in mind and oblivious to spiritual realities.

Although Houghton’s book appeared exactly 40 years ago, his characters read as if we met them yesterday, or will meet them tomorrow, now that the Church has entered into a second winter under a second Paul VI, with who knows who or what will follow next. Indeed, at one point Bishop Forester writes:
You ask me what I think will be the future of the Church. My dear Father, I have not a clue. I am not a defeatist because I believe in God. On the other hand I am a great believer in failure because it gives Divine Providence a chance. It is because in this year of grace the Church has the appearance and odour of a dung-heap that God will use it to manure the most exquisite flowers, fragrant with the odour of sanctity.

If you have not read this exceptionally creative and insightful work, I encourage you to do so. You will find it a moving tale, exhilarating in its denouement, and breathtakingly relevant. It will take you to a new level in your appreciation of Catholic tradition — as a classic is supposed to do.

This book would make an outstanding Christmas gift, especially for priests, whether already fully on board or moving in the right direction, and — dare one say? — for bishops, too. It’s about time that one of them, in flesh and blood, took this novel’s protagonist as a template.

Some quotations to whet the appetite . . .
The very volume of changes in the Church since Vatican II is sufficient to guarantee that most of them are for the worse. It is inconceivable that over the past two thousand years the Church has manifested and expressed the Faith so badly that any and every change must be for the better. If that were so, she would lose all credibility. What is conceivable, on the other band, is that some of the changes may have been for the better and some not. But this possibility is one which we are not allowed even to discuss. To do so is disloyal, divisive and conducive to schism. Every change is for the better; there has not been the least error, the slightest slip.
Now, in the revolution through which the Church is passing there is a victim which has suffered even more than the Mass. It is Confession, the Sacrament of Penance. The revolution claims to be a “renewal.” From the dawn of history there have been renewals and revivals. All have had the same message in a thousand forms: “Repent and do penance! God may yet relent and forgive.” The present renewal is unique: instead of repentance, permissiveness is preached, the Sacrament of Penance is neglected, and the confessionals abandoned.
How can anyone dare stamp on other people’s sentiments? Who has given them permission? “The hankering after the Old Mass is pure sentimentality.” Of course it is, and that is precisely why it is sacrosanct.
More harm is done by charity at the expense of others than by direct injustice. Even in civil life, a miscarriage of justice is less harmful to society than charity to hardened criminals.
I might be prepared to look at a new Mass form if it magnified God still more and exalted Him still higher; if it lowered man still further in the imagination of his heart; if the mysteries appeared more wondrous and the doctrines more luminous; if the language was more noble and the images grander. But look what we have been given: the exaltation of man and the humiliation of God; the evacuation of mystery, and ambiguity in doctrine; the flattest of images in pidgin vernacular.
It is clear enough that one of the reasons for the sharp rise in the number of communicants is the abolition of the Eucharistic fast. There is now no barrier other than sin to receiving Our Lord. Hence there is automatic social pressure in favour of receiving. The person who does not either lacks piety or is in a state of sin. No such presumption was possible when there was the barrier of fasting: those who did not receive had merely broken their fast and those who received had prepared themselves by keeping it. In fact the abolition of the Eucharistic fast, especially for children and youths, can be the cause of exerting unbearable pressure in favor of sacrilegious Communions.
You wish to exonerate the Pope and put the blame partly on his entourage but principally on the bishops. This position seemed perfectly tenable during and immediately after the Council; let us say, for the first five years of his reign, until 1968. But it is quite untenable now. No Pope in history has gone to such lengths to ensure an entourage and episcopate of his own choosing as Paul VI. The Cardinals lose the power to vote at the age of eighty so that only those of his own making will be able to vote for his successor. Bishops are made to retire at seventy-five so that the overwhelming majority of the episcopate is of his own appointment. Everything is his own, from the Mass he says to the bishops who say it. Incidentally, never in the history of the Church has the appointment of bishops been so absolutely dependent upon Rome. Of old, Concordats or custom allowed some interference from the State so that the Vatican was not always to blame. Today, it is only in Communist countries that interference is permitted. The result has been the appointment of eminently worthy bureaucrats unsuited to command. Hence the lack of independence among the bishops. There is not the personnel to offer opposition. Actually, my dear Father, if in the administration you try to divide the head from the members, it is the members which you will exonerate. I am more charitable to Paul VI than you.
The New religion is living off the capital of the Old. It has not had to provide churches, schools or institutions of any sort—and practically no priests. All was found. Even the cost of destroying the Old has been paid for out of the capital it had accumulated. Once this capital is spent, and it has not far to go, the institutional Church in this country will be bankrupt.
Therein lies the tragedy of the New Ordo. Although its theology is ambiguous and its liturgical theory abysmal, those are not what I hold principally against it. The real trouble is that the New Ordo is unprayable. For seven long years I have both celebrated and attended it. It presents itself as a human action, an event, requiring participation; instead of a divine action, The Event of the Sacrifice of God Incarnate, requiring adherence. On the one side you have self-effacement, recollection and adherence, on the other self-expression, self-commitment and participation; these are irreconcilable. And the New Ordo does not merely call for its specific attitudes, it enforces them. You cannot be recollected with a microphone blaring at you in your native tongue which you cannot help but understand. You cannot be self-effacing if you have got to stand up and answer up. You cannot adhere to God if you are busy shaking hands all round.
One can judge the competence of any government by the number of laws it makes. A good one will administer the laws at its disposal with the minimum of fuss and change. A bad one will constantly be legislating and throwing the administration out of gear. This is as true of civil as of ecclesiastical government. England is in chaos because of the mass production of laws. Our monetary inflation is the financial expression of our legislative inflation. It is exactly the same with the Church.
How strange! What you hurl at me as an insult I receive as a compliment: “you are a traditionalist at heart.”…. It is absolutely untrue to say that I am a bundle of sensations. In the first place I am a bundle of traditions. It is by my traditions that I judge the sensations of experience. Without them no sensation would have significance. The traditions form the warp and experience the woof of that wonderful tapestry we call the human person.
A full book description may be found at this page. To order, visit or affiliates.

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