Last month we celebrated Masses for the repose of the souls of Reginald Pole, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury (doesn't that roll beautifully off the tongue) and Mary Tudor, Queen of England (the first of quite a succession of de jure Queens of England with that name). It was 450 years since they died, and they were beautifully remembered in an EF Mass in Magdalen Chapel in Oxford, and an OF Mass in America, the booklet of which was sent to me by a good friend of myself and of all Catholic Anglicans, Professor Bill Tighe. (The American Mass included an anthem in lament of the Queen by Byrd; Fr Aidan Nichols - another friend and benefactor of Catholic Anglicans - observed to me with gentle irony that we strangely don't often seem to hear that. I think I'll see if our choir at S Thomas's, the Byrd Consortium, can put it on.)
Professor Eamonn Duffy, well known for his revisionist histories demonstrating the vitality and healthiness of English late medieval Catholicism, gave a lecture after the American Mass. He is to publish a book in May on the reign of Mary. I cannot believe that it will be anything other than fascinating and will put the capstone on the work of rehabilitating this reign and rescuing our national memory from 450 years of merciless brainwashing.
At this moment 450 years ago, Catholic Anglicans were nervously wondering what their future was to be. They feared the worst, and with good cause. Then a date appeared which seemed to encapsulate their fears: the Nativity of S John Baptist, 1559. On that day, so Parliament ordered, they were to abandon the Sarum Mass and return to (an only very slightly modified version of) the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI.
They kept their fingers crossed and carried on. Since this was what the letter of the law required, they continued to use the old rites until the last, legal, moment. After that, different men took different paths. Conservative men had endured the changes between 1533 and 1552 because they happened gradually, even if with increasing momentum, over two decades. Now the regime wanted them to say Yes or No overnight. But the regime was not particularly stable; so why not wait ... a little ...? But was that honourable? At one traditionalist Cathedral, Exeter, for example, the Bishop and the Dean were deprived in August; the Chancellor appeared to conform. But he was subsequently found to be harbouring two recusant colleagues in a house he had in Hereford. And, in 1561, the Precentor was in a foreign university; but he did not resign for another decade.
S John Baptist Day, 2009, will be a day for Catholic Anglicans to recall with love and affection their predecessors of 450 years ago, and to wonder about the parallels that can be drawn with their own situation.