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The priests who disliked Mass


We present here an extract from the book, Pretre rejete (Rejected Priest),1 authored by Fr. Bryan Houghton (1911-1992), an English priest and Anglican convert who resigned as curate of his Suffolk parish on the day the Novus Ordo came into effect.

Fr. Bryan Houghton

The Council opened on October 11, 1962. Until then, the Church had seemed suitably self-assured and reasonably exclusive.

But, from that day on, “calling things into question” was the rule. I cannot give a precise date, but in my deanery liturgical usage of vernacular happened well before 1964. Though I could prevent it in parish Masses, I could not in private Masses. Experimentation became commonplace. I was told that a priest used to offer daily Mass in the dining room of his priory, during breakfast, with consecrated toast—the whole breakfast toast!

I turned up at his priory without delay and told him what I had heard.

What is wrong with that?” he asked. “I am simply trying to make Mass more realistic and living.

What is wrong? Everything! You will be so kind as to say Mass with the proper hosts and wine, according to the 1962 rubrics that have just been published, and at the altar of your church.”

I certainly will if you insist.”

Then I insist.”

So we are in agreement. I would not like to offend you for all the world because you are a good guy, but you are on the wrong side.”

Let me clarify that I liked this priest. Unfortunately he ended up in an asylum after trying to murder a most progressivist bishop. He was the best of all men but with a somewhat fragile mind.

In one of the biggest houses of the parish there was a Mass concelebrated by a very famous Catholic priest, two Anglicans, and two Protestants. Everything was admirably organized except for the forgotten hosts. Someone had to go and fetch them in Bury. This is how I happened to know about it.

Then there was Cardinal Bea’s trip to England to “take the temperature” of the reaction of English Catholics confronted with ecumenism. He was meant to meet two delegates of each diocese. I immediately wrote to my bishop that, being a convert and a former Secretary of the Conferences on Higher Studies, I considered myself a possible delegate. He very courteously answered that the committee in charge of welcoming Cardinal Bea had decided not to meet any convert, since they infallibly would find themselves ill-disposed toward their former confession. What a wonderful argument! Only those who did not know anything on this issue could be truly objective!

When vernacular languages were allowed in the whole liturgy, life became really unpleasant. Every priest in my deanship, the chaplain of a Dominican convent excluded, yet my own vicar included, adopted the vernacular. I remained the only secular priest celebrating in Latin. Of the two hundred and seventy secular priests of the diocese, only four continued to say the Old Mass. Our petition to ask the bishop to permit the Old Mass gathered ninety signatures, but his refusal deprived them of the courage to say it.

In the parish the result was miserable. The curate and his vicar would not say the same Mass anymore. I thought of retiring without delay.

But I decided not to: the 1964 Mass had not fiddled with the Canon, which, theoretically, still ought to be said silently and in Latin. It was still possible to celebrate the model-64 Mass with a certain devotion. Yet I wrote to the bishop to submit my resignation from the day on which the Canon would be altered. He replied through an utterly nice letter stating: “Nobody is thinking of reforming the Canon” and “the bishops are precisely here in order to prevent it from being touched.” The poor dear bishop! He had not the slightest clue of what was going to happen. As for me, I knew it. I had received information from my friends of the Conferences on Higher Studies and some others through interesting conversations at Moissac, at the seminary of the Mission of France. I also had the opportunity to go to the Canisium at Innsbruck where I was able to talk openly with Karl Rahner and Jungmann. All of this was very instructive.

There was a question, however, to which I could hardly find a satisfying answer.  Every priest had daily said the Old Mass with the required carefulness and with apparent devotion. How could 98% of them willingly accept to change it, whereas neither Pope nor Council had requested it? They had thrown themselves on this simple permission like the pigs of Gadara into sea. By the way, I had been a dean for several years and I knew the priests of my deanery well. Only two of them were stupid enough to think they were better and to rejoice at being able to express themselves. The others were privately opposed to the changes. Only one, the already mentioned Dominican, remained faithful to the Old Mass. What made them accept the changes? Obedience, apathy, fear of reprisals, the desire for a quiet life? Yet this was the fact of the matter: they could not possibly have loved the Old Mass. It was nothing more than a rite which one could change as simply as one changes clothes. But if they did not like Mass, certainly they were incapable of adoration. They most likely considered Mass as just something they had to do, and not something that God made.

Lex credendi, lex orandi: faith governs prayer, prayer governs faith. I had no doubt concerning the faith of my brother priests except for maybe one. So I had to look at the side of prayer. There I found that we priests were really deficient. We all were far too busy saying the Mass, saying the breviary, or doing something else to spend a moment in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We encouraged the laity in a form of prayer that we hardly practiced ourselves. I could see then how, at the Beda [Pontifical] College in Rome, my ascetic formation had been extensive. They had taught me how to perfect myself, but they had not taught me to pray—that is, how to adore God. The little I knew of this subject I owed to my reading of mystics like St. Gertrude or St. Teresa of Avila, or writers on spirituality such as Augustin Baker, Surin, and Grou.

It is clear that, directed to self-improvement, ascetism requires intelligent human acts, with the help of actual grace.

Prayer on the other hand, as it is the adoration of God, is the fruit of habitual or sanctifying grace; it is the return to the Father of the love of the Holy Ghost through a human person. On the human point of view, it is a willing act tending to empty ourselves of self, to generate recollection, and to favor assent in order to adore God.

As soon as one perceives the difference between ascetism and prayer, I think one can understand the revolution in the Church.

Priests—notably the most efficacious priests, that is, the bishops—were fed up with a liturgy in which they had nothing to do. They therefore wanted an escetic Mass in place of an adoring Mass—action in place of contemplation. They got it.


1 Available from Dominique Martin Morin, a French publishing house. All quotes here are from the 2005 edition of Prêtre rejeté which is 320 pages long.
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