Friday, July 05, 2024

A Review of Joseph Shaw’s “The Latin Mass and the Intellectuals” and “Sacred and Great: A Brief Introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass”

With a new Agatha Christie” letter published in the London Times on July 3, Joseph Shaw’s work on the first letter with that nickname and on other lay petitions defending the traditional Latin Mass is more timely than ever. The following review first appeared in The Latin Mass magazine 33:2 (Summer 2024), pp. 63-65. Many thanks to its editors for allowing its publication here.

Dr. Joseph Shaw is chairman of the Latin Mass Society in Great Britain, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a former faculty member in Philosophy at Oxford University, and one of the most important scholarly voices on the plight of sacred liturgy to emerge in the past decade.
2023 was a particularly busy year for Shaw. In January, he published a thoughtful collection of essays on The Liturgy, the Family, and the Crisis of Modernity. In June, he published Sacred and Great: A Brief Introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass, and in the following month, he published two of history’s most eloquent defenses of the use of Latin in the liturgy, an essay by Pope Benedict XIV (1675–1758) and an essay by Hierotheus Confluentinus, provincial of the German Capuchins (1682–1766). In October, Shaw published The Latin Mass and the Intellectuals: Petitions to Save the Ancient Mass from 1966 to 2007, and in December, A Defence of Monarchy: Catholics under a Protestant King.
Shaw’s Latin Mass and the Intellectuals and his Sacred and Great testify to his range as a writer, for the former is a grand and impressive scholarly achievement while the latter is a humble and impressive pastoral achievement.
In the Foreword to Latin Mass and the Intellectuals, the renowned artist and friend of Pope Benedict XVI, Martin Mosebach, pulls no punches. For a Catholic, he writes, the battle for the Roman liturgy
is indeed more important than the fight against totalitarian ideologies, more important than the multifarious attempts to protect the natural world, because it was and still is about the continuity of the Christian religion, which had been damaged in a life-threatening way in its actual implementation (xi).
It is an astonishing, perhaps even outrageous, statement but worthy of further consideration.
Many of his statements are like that. Mosebach contrasts the humility, superior education, and intelligence of the lay petitioners with “the doltish impassibility of [the] opportunistic and ignorant prelates” who corresponded with them. He blames scholasticism for introducing the distinction between less and more important parts of the liturgy (a claim that requires qualification, in my opinion), and laments that the Fathers of Vatican II “were bereft of any historical or political sense” when they foolishly called for a deformation of the liturgy at precisely the same time that Western culture was experiencing a great aesthetic crisis due its abandonment of form (xiv).
Seen against this backdrop, Mosebach contends, The Latin Mass and the Intellectuals is all the more needed, for it sheds light on a long historical record of lay resistance to “an aberration initiated by priests” that may “otherwise have remained unknown to a wider public.” (xi).
Shaw’s own writing is temperate in its diction and reticent in its judgments. His primary goal is to honor the memory of those lay gadflies whose civilized yet stubborn protests kept alive the traditional Latin Mass; his secondary goal is to contribute to the ongoing debate over the liturgy.
The Latin Mass and the Intellectuals could not possibly contain all of the communications sent to the Holy See over the past six decades defending or demanding the Roman liturgical tradition. Shaw focuses mainly on the petitions made in 1966 and 1971 (the latter of which led to the so-called Agatha Christie indult), as well as petitions made in 1995, 1998, 2006, and 2007. The bulk of the volume consists of commentary on the historical context, the petitioners, and their rationale for defending the old rite. Shaw himself has written most of these essays, but there are also contributions from six other authors. 
Cristina Campo (1923-77)
The story they tell is a fascinating one. One woman, the physically frail but spiritually indomitable Cristina Campo, was able to assemble a coalition of lay Catholics and non-Catholics (even non-believers) to convince the Holy See not to suppress the traditional Latin Mass on the perhaps paradoxical grounds that the Rite did not simply belong to the Roman Catholic Church but was a precious part of the world’s culture, that it was an invaluable cultural artefact of a living tradition, something akin to what UNESCO defined in 2003 as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” worth safeguarding.
This “artefact” is cultural insofar as it has been the great progenitor of culture, inspiring a host of priceless achievements in the arts—not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters, and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians [from the 1971 petition].
An intangible cultural heritage
Further, if the Latin Mass is a living cultural artefact, it must be kept alive in order to be appreciated. A theatrical reenactment of a Solemn High Mass, for example, would not truly communicate or explain the Mass’s power to generate culture, any more than a tabernacle in a museum can convey the reality of the Blessed Sacrament.
This argument garnered the support of such disparate figures as Catholic authors Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge, the agnostic philosopher Iris Murdoch, and of course, the mystery novelist Agatha Christie, all of whom signed the 1971 petition. Further, the motives differed considerably among the Catholic signatories. Shaw carefully traces the rationales animating the various Catholic signers, which include medievalism, artistic modernism (that was anti-modern!), perennialism, and anti-fascism.
One often hears the claim that there would be no celebration of the traditional Latin Mass were it not for the resistance of Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX. That may be true, but it is also fascinating to consider the hypothesis that there would be no celebration of the traditional Latin Mass were it not for an unlikely coalition of lay Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, and atheists. And it is equally fascinating to consider that the Mass was saved for cultural rather than theological reasons. Most traditionalist Catholics attend the old Mass because it clearly expresses the timeless dogma of the Church or draws them into the numinous realm of the sacred, and yet practically the reason they may have the Mass today is that it once inspired Mozart and Fauré to compose Requiems.
The Latin Mass and the Intellectuals admirably achieves its aims. It is the best collection of early traditionalist apologetics (to coin a new genre) on the market today. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the history of traditionalism and its surprising diversity and to anyone interested in intelligent and non-doctrinaire arguments on behalf of the Mass of the Ages. The chapter on Christopher Sykes, Evelyn Waugh, and Hugh Ross Williamson is alone worth the price of the book. 
Whereas The Latin Mass and the Intellectuals is almost monumental in scope, Sacred and Great, on the other hand, is diminutive. Measuring only 4” x 6” and comprised of 84 pages, it fits neatly into purse or pocket. But as the old cliché puts it, big things come in small packages. After an introductory paragraph, Shaw devotes a chapter each to answering one of four questions: 1) How Do I Participate in the Traditional Mass? 2) What Does It Mean? 3) Where Did It Come From? And 4) What Is It For? Shaw follows with a brief description on different reactions to the old Rite and concludes with a helpful chapter on “Further Reading and Resources.”
Shaw’s intended audience is a Catholic who is accustomed to the Novus Ordo and coming to the traditional Latin Mass for the first time. His tone throughout is measured and respectful, highlighting the unique genius of the latter without taking potshots at the former. Opponents of the Latin Mass may disagree with Shaw’s conclusions, but they will be hard pressed to accuse him of being polemical or snarky.
Sacred and Great contains practical advice on the different kinds of Latin Mass (Solemn High, High, Low, Requiem, etc.) and on how to participate, and it provides well-researched and balanced explanations of the use of Latin, the prevalence of silence, Mass ad orientem, male altar servers, etc. The advice on further reading and resources is divided into different topics and points the reader in the right direction for more in-depth treatments.
Sacred and Great retails for only $6.95, but the publisher Os Justi offers bulk discounts of up to 50% off (for more information, go here). The book is therefore ideal either as a gift to an inquiring friend or as a donation to a Latin Mass parish for distribution in the vestibule. In terms of how much bang there is per buck, Sacred and Great is the best succinct introduction to the Latin Mass on the market.

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