Liturgy fairies

The expression in my title was used by a certain Scotchman, of Catholic affiliation if not Catholic sensibility, to describe certain beloved Fathers in a certain beloved Parish. He said they care for nothing except the liturgy, and implied that they spend all their days dressing up. Note the further insinuation that they are deficient in manliness. Moreover, he was spreading this calumny about, among the young and impressionable.

I should mention that he was far off the mark. The priests in question are known well to me, and you will wander some distance in Christendom to find their match for charity and good works, involving personal sacrifice. They are also more manly than their accuser, if we take quiet courage for a manly virtue (whether it is found in women or men), in contrast to habitual posturing and bluster. I could give anecdotes. This is not the place.

Now, in Christendom we condemn not the sinner but the sin. Far be it from me, therefore, to condemn this vicious little Scotchman. His pig ignorance was, perhaps, honestly acquired. And his charge would not resonate were there no “liturgy fairies” in this world. (I have met, I hope, more than my share.)

That this is a short, barrel-framed fellow, with a wide flaring neck, and little beads for eyes, I would be reticent to mention, were it not somehow relevant to his case. For he has also the temper of the beast he most resembles (Sus scrofa). A descendant no doubt of the Pictish folk of the Caledonian interior — once described by my genetically Hebridean grandmother as “vindictive dwarves.” (This was not the correct plural, but I knew what she meant.)

I did not query the Pict on his phrase, for it was self-explanatory. It came back to mind, reading Father Hunwicke, yesterday. With the latter I share an Anglican past, and I should think the same experience of a High Church “smells-and-bells” faction that cared much for liturgy; some of whom had the aspect of fairies. And now, even in the Roman Kirk, Hunwicke is able to observe, “the distinction between those whose preoccupation is with Liturgy and, for preference, very fine Liturgy; and those for whom liturgical questions are part of a larger whole.”

More tellingly, he notes that few of the former group came over to the Ordinariate. This was a surprise neither to him, nor to me.

Here in the Greater Parkdale Area, when I defected, I noticed that others doing this were among the more serious “believers”; some of them memorably Low Church, or “evangelical.” The question for them was not whether the Catholic Mass were prettier; around here it is seldom that. It was whether the claims of the Catholic Church were true. (Some went over to the Greek or Russian Orthodox, as their Anglican roofs caved in.)

J.H. Newman, greatest of modern converts from the Anglican “middle way,” was not a “liturgy fairy,” though once very “high.” He did not go “up” from the high tables of Oxford, but down to the stalls of Littlemore, in the course of his own crossing. I think he is the model for any Anglican convert, who follows a road “down.” One must exclude very few who convert for personal convenience of any kind; they have been rare in the English-speaking realms, where “poping” has not offered worldly or material advantages, but usually, social and economic costs.

One goes downmarket, “Irish,” outside the pale; one leaves all the splendid silver behind, and takes up with immigrants and working-class types. This is not the sort of fate which appeals to your “liturgy fairy,” whose eyes remain fixed on the silver.

But Christ is in the wafer, instead.

Traditional liturgy was something to be taken for granted, not obsessed over. It was the way it was and had always been. It had “grown” through the centuries, when at all, only in relation to that wafer; and in the spirit of reverence, not “reform.” The Mass did not cease to be valid, after the ceremonial was trashed “in the spirit of Vatican II”; it was only made ugly and distracting. Christ is still received, though now in a manner often outwardly insulting to Him.

The very clash between “traditional” and “modern” is hateful to a Church whose beliefs and practices refer beyond time. To defend something as “modern” is to admit that it is false. But so is it, to defend something because it belongs to another distinct era. Truth is indivisible, and cannot be partitioned in space or in time.

And likewise the Liturgy, properly celebrated, is inseparable from what it exemplifies and expounds. And we ourselves not liturgy fairies, unless we deliquesce.