26 February 2014


I have just been clearing out some copies I made of the 1930s Parish Magazines of S Thomas the Martyr, by the Railway Station, in Oxford (the originals, of course, remain in the S Thomas's archives). The writer was my predecessor as Parish Priest there, Dr Trevor Jalland, a distinguished Patristics scholar whose published Bampton Lectures gave a vivid account of some of the events surrounding the First Vatican Council. The following 'Vicar's Notes' attracted my attention; not least for the sense of a vibrant Catholic parish life during that decade when the Catholic movement in the Church of England was riding so very high. Jalland is writing about the observance of the Patronal Festival, of the Translation of S Thomas of Canterbury, on Saturday July 7.

"On that day there will be Masses at 6.30, 7.30, and a High Mass at 9. It is likely that the first evensong of the feast will be sung at 7.30 p.m., on Friday evening, at which there will be a Sermon by the Reverend Canon A.G.G. Ross, Vicar of St Mark, Swindon. It is hoped that there will be many who will take advantage of this opportunity of adding corporate worship to their personal preparation for the Feast. Confessions will be heard on several days before the Festival ... On the Sunday in the Octave the Sermon at Mass will be preached by the Rev. C. Gill, of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and after Evensong by the Rev.D Sargent, Vicar of St Cross, Holywell ..."

Mass, fasting, before breakfast; multiple morning Masses and a High Mass on a weekday morning; First Evensongs; high jinks continuing into the Sunday within the Octave; lots of confessions; and oodles of Visiting Preachers. This is the Anglo-Catholicism which Betjeman remembered and celebrated in his verses.

(Incidentally, am I right in my feeling that Patronal Festivals never were and never have been very prominent in the culture of Irish/English Roman Catholicism?)

Is this a Catholicism which needed the 'liturgical reforms' which followed so soon after the War? Were the 'reforms' of Pius XII - abolition of Octaves and First Evensongs - abolition of Fasting Communion and non-communicating High Masses - really advances? Have they really bequeathed to us a more flourishing Catholicism?

Why did we lose our nerve?


Pastor in Valle said...

Patronal feasts of churches I don't think were often observed in Ireland, and not particularly in England either. What Ireland did do was to celebrate the feasts of holy wells; these days were often known as the 'pattern' (presumably a corruption of 'patron'), when the wells would be decorated and often hundreds of people would arrive on pilgrimage. This was still done within living memory, though I think that it is another of those things more or less abandoned in recent years, partly as a consequence of the liturgical movement which tended to despise folk religion.

Joshua said...

And how sad to despise and destroy folk religion - which was alive - and replace it with some banal committee product that now is all but dead.

AndrewWS said...

The real question, it seems to me, Father is, while the Anglicans at Tommies were doing this, what were Catholics at (e.g.) St Aloysius doing on their patronal feast in the same era? More devotion and preaching or less?

In my experience, modern Catholics don't do patronals very much, if at all. Certainly nothing like the dear old big events in Anglo-Catholic parishes, with hordes of former curates and fellow FiF clergy turning up as an act of solidarity (not to mention, the last time I went to one, a couple of episcopi vagantes in choir!).

Athelstane said...

"Is this a Catholicism which needed the 'liturgical reforms' which followed so soon after the War? Were the 'reforms' of Pius XII - abolition of Octaves and First Evensongs - abolition of Fasting Communion and non-communicating High Masses - really advances? Have they really bequeathed to us a more flourishing Catholicism?"

Alas - after coming upon evidence like this - to ask the questions is to answer them.

I think Joseph Shaw's current series on the Death of the Reform of the Reform is helpful, however, in explaining the mindset at work. By mid-century, their had been a monomaniacal focus in the liturgical movement on enhancing verbal communication, that everyone understand perfect and clearly what was happening at every point in the Mass. And this produced a kind of dissonance in a rite which had not really been designed to engage at that level.

And, of course, there were other agendas at work. Too many Catholic clergy, facing the assault of modernity, lost confidence in their religion.

B flat said...

St Patrick's RC parish in 1958 celebrated its patronal feast with the archbishop celebrating Pontifical Mass. The church had seating for 400, but was packed with many more standing. This was a weekday quite certainly, as trouble at my school over my absence that morning is still a painful memory. At ten years of age I knew nothing much about liturgical Octaves, but was thrilled by the solemn proclamation towards the end of the Mass of the Indulgence granted to all who participated in the celebration. Neighbouring clergy were the Sacred Ministers. Our own parish clergy were both very English, and I felt nothing of a Nationalist celebration in all this, except that the recessional hymn was one I never heard before (or since): "Hail glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle!"
Well, he was british, after all.

I am grateful for the work of the two good priests of my childhood, who nourished us with Daily Mass, frequent evening prayers and Benediction, and rich and memorable celebration of Feasts and State occasions (eg, Solemn requiems on the death of the Pope)
witnessing to and evoking in others faithful love for God and His Church. We used to have the Jesus Psalter; does anyone remember this?
My own experience was of English Roman Catholicism that did celebrate its Patronal festival. Perhaps I was extraordinarily fortunate. Cormac Murphy O'Connor had his church less than five miles away, next door but one parish to us. Nobody in my hearing said he did things differently there .

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

You are quite right, Father, about the Patronal Festivals in England. Barely observed, except latterly by some rather traditional-minded priests. I remember going to Warwick Street one day on the Assumption 25 years ago to find Nothing at All. They are (were) a very big part of parish life on the continent, particularly in France where so much of early-to-mid-20th century Anglican practice came from, mainly due to clergy holidays in northern France. That brought many riches. In a parish my grandparents knew the whole church was decked out with garlands of branches hanging from pillar to pillar, and streamers from the vault, as for an Ordination, for the endless liturgies of the Patronal Saint. This is a practice with the Ordinariate could well bring into the Church in England. It is partly this, I think, which Pope Benedict had in mind, as well as the musical tradition.

Rubricarius said...

The period 1920 - 1939 was the probably the best in the twentieth century even with the changes to the Psalterium.

GOR said...

I concur with Pastor in Valle as to the ‘patterns’ at holy wells. We have one in the parish of my youth and I think the ‘Pattern Day’ is still observed – but probably less well attended than formerly.

What we did have in Primary School – run by the Sisters of Mercy, who were still habited back then - was a plethora of processions on assorted feast days. Lots of hymns were sung and the Rosary recited as we processed around the convent gardens.

But my most vivid memory was of banners – lots of banners. These were not like the cheap felt affairs that popped up post Vat II, but meticulously sewn and crafted by the sisters over the years. It was an honor to carry one of these or even to hold the tassels at each side. Memories…

@ B flat - “Hail Glorious St. Patrick…” is kind of the Religious National Anthem in Ireland. While a number of places may lay claim to the saint’s origin, there’s no doubt as to which the hymn refers to, saying: “On Erin’s green valleys, look down in thy love…”

Oliver Nicholson said...

The person who really got it about it being 'sad to despise and destroy folk religion' was the anthropologist Mary Douglas and her Natural Symbols.