Recently I was at a RC OF Mass; and, as so often, was struck by the fact that not even the clergy (there were about fifty concelebrants) bow their heads at the Name of Jesus, let alone at the names of the Great Mother of God, the Saint of the Day, or the Sovereign Pontiff. Is this the result of the demise of the Biretta culture? In the Patrimony, we are so used to keeping our ears pricked for those blessed Names at which we twitch our hats that, even when we are hatless, these Names don't just sweep over us unnoticed as we loll comatose.
Each of the RC OF Masses I have been to in the last three or four months has been deeply moving because of the personal reasons that drew me to attend ... persons of whom I am deeply fond. But, liturgically, I have obcurely felt that the experience had an alien dimension. Even though each of them was, I was informed, at the "good end" of the spectrum of 'performance'. Indeed, I found myself wondering if Newman's point had not, by some strange paradox, been turned on its head. He, you remember, explained to an Anglican that: "The idea of worship is different in the Catholic Church from the idea of it in your Church". Faith, he went on to argue, is needed to take the convert over the gap so that he can understand the Catholic idea of worship. How different things are today. Nowadays, Charles Reding would not get the liturgical flash of enlightenment which he has in the last pages of Loss and Gain by going to a RC church. Nowadays, in effect, an Anglican Catholic convert to the RCC is invited to transfer from liturgy which does express the "Catholic idea" to a culture in which, it seems to me, that "idea" has sometimes to be read into the rite rather than being read out of it. In saying this, I reveal, perhaps, personal inadequacies, and I have no desire to be combative or cause offence.
But I can't rid myself of a feeling that in our time, Reding's sort of transformative experience would be much more likely to be had in an Anglican Catholic church. It is there, and in but a very small handful of RC 'show' churches, and in Oriental rites, that worship which is manifestly transcendent, objective, and an irruption of the Divine, can be encountered. In very many RC churches, where the worship is not strongly distinct from what you find among devout high church Methodists, it can require a real act of will, logic, and of Faith to remind oneself that the minimum technical requirements for validity are being fulfilled and that therefore This really is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I am not surprised that Evelyn Waugh's felt as he did after the post-conciliar 'reforms'.
In our time, Newman's RC Willis would be very unlikely to say: "To me, nothing is so consoling, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever, and not be tired."
Who was it who called the Mass the most beautiful thing this side of heaven? Was it the Novus Ordo that he had in mind?