Letters & Emails

Comments of the week

A failure of leadership on pro-life issues

SIR – The recent about-turn on the costs of the “morning-after pill”, forced upon Boots by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, assisted mainly by female Labour MPs and a compliant media, should serve as a stark reminder of the serious and imminent threat being posed to Catholic understandings of the sanctity of life, and ultimately the concept of the family as the building block of society.

Taken together with the widespread hostility directed at the DUP in Northern Ireland because of their pro-life stance by this same cohort, the challenges that lie ahead in the next parliamentary session become abundantly clear. Backbench MPs, emboldened by the precarious position of a weak government, will seek to promote more pro-choice legislation, such as the decriminalisation of abortion, and other associated issues such as sex education and gender inclusivity.

Amid all this, what is the ordinary Catholic to do? What voice do they have and to whom do they look for leadership? The answer clearly lies with the Hierarchy, who have sadly failed to provide this on these crucial issues, choosing to favour more socially acceptable topics such as the economy and the environment.

Jesus himself had the courage to challenge the authorities on matters fundamental to religious belief. A more pro-active Hierarchy must be similarly bold if the Christian message is to be heard amid the advance of secular popularism.

The current lack of leadership needs to be seen in the context of that well-known warning: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Mark McNally
Ebchester, Co Durham


Diversity before and after Vatican II

sir – Benjamin Hazard (Letter, July 21) writes: “Perhaps 20th-century historians could compile research relating to the experiences of those who celebrated and witnessed Mass before and after Vatican II. Such stories should be preserved.” He added Damian Thompson’s comment that there is almost no one left who grew up with the 1962 Missal (Cover story, July 14).

Mr Hazard will be pleased to learn that this work has been started by a historian whose knowledge of the history of Christianity is unrivalled worldwide. He’s Emeritus Professor Eamon Duffy, to whose The Voices of Morebath (2001) Mr Hazard referred in his letter.

Prof Duffy, who was born in Dundalk in 1947, deals with this subject in the chapter “Discerning the Body” in his Faith of Our Fathers: Reflections on Catholic Tradition (2007).

Prof Duffy noted: “Before the Council, much of our identity as Catholics was invested in the notion of a single, uniform Eucharistic faith embodied in a uniform Eucharistic ritual, imposed and policed from Rome. Where and what is that identity now, given the diversity of Catholic Eucharistic practice, and, therefore, belief?”

The diversity, he added, is an observable fact. He cited, for example, teenagers and children who approach the altar with hands by their sides or in pockets, receiving the Host like a biscuit between finger and thumb, and then slumping in their seats or gazing about them as if they had just come back from the bathroom.

“We need to be clear,” he continued, “that you cannot have the same ‘faith’ as before, while engaged in radically different liturgical behaviour. If sacramentalism means anything, it means that we embody what we believe, and explain it to ourselves, in gesture, so that if the gestures diverge, so will the beliefs behind them.”

On a personal note: in 1945, as a 20-year-old soldier newly arrived at the Intelligence Corps depot in Karachi, I walked alone to Sunday Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral. In a crowded church, mine seemed to be the only white face. It seemed, as you can imagine, a long way from home. Then the choir led us in the Kyrie of the Missa de Angelis, which all Catholic schoolchildren used to learn by heart. At once the miles shrank and I felt that I belonged. In those pre-Vatican II days, the word “Catholic” really did mean “universal”.

Kevin Heneghan
St Helens, Lancashire

SIR – Damian Thompson unconsciously accepts the traditionalists’ image of a two-party Church. That is not how it was. The Council reforms were immediately accepted by the faithful as a whole. Highly educated Catholics knew that the Roman Church had only created a Latin liturgy because Latin, for all its inadequacy compared with Greek, was the vernacular of the western imperial provinces in the newly divided Roman empire.

The ordinary faithful, ever obedient to the voice of the Church, welcomed a liturgy they could hear and understand, even if they did not yet grasp the Council’s dramatic illumination of the Church’s nature and mission.

There was indeed a two-party struggle, but it was between the Curia and the Council which had frustrated its attempts to shackle the Holy Spirit. The Curia fought dirty, suggesting that the more concrete reforms were Protestantising (Protestant liturgy is vernacular, ergo; the Council uses the fruits of Protestant scholarship, ergo) and hampering the implementation of the restorations wherever it could.

But ordinary Catholics were much more disturbed by factions promoting political or ideological concepts alien to Catholicism – some even trying to marry Christ with Marx – and by liturgical extravagances based on them. We forgot the other extreme: that even Pius XII’s 1954 restoration of the Easter Vigil (plain common sense: Christ did not rise on Saturday morning) had provoked protest, while some questioned the pope’s sanity and Evelyn Waugh idealising Gervase Crouchback’s Saturday morning farewell to Lent.

We were still attached to the Tridentine liturgy and the great beauty it had inspired in every art; but we knew that the Council was the voice of the Church; and the now clear lines of the liturgy, reborn in lovely cadences of our native idiom for our own age, were a comfort.

Yet educated people still knew Latin. My own Oxfordshire parish had a monthly Latin Mass. That stopped when we found people coming from other parishes just for the Latin. We did not realise that this extreme would persist as long as the other.

Yet I’m inclined to dispute Damian Thompson’s main thesis. The healthy family argues and love opens the mind. Even Archbishop Lefebvre insisted that if Latin was not to be had, his followers must attend the vernacular Mass.

Tom McIntyre
Frome, Somerset


Hell and God’s love

SIR – Writing on the recent death of Ian Brady (Science and Faith, July 14), Quentin de la Bédoyère says of God’s judgment: “We have to settle for the reality that God is infinitely just and merciful.” It is worth calling to mind Christ’s many warnings about hell, and his teaching that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We don’t know whether Ian Brady (or Hitler, Stalin or Nero) is in hell, for only God can fully judge their consciences and intentions. But we must be clear: God loves us so much he leaves us free to reject or accept him, and he honours our choice either way.

William Jolliffe
Oxford