I continue this little "Jalland" series, which I hope well-disposed readers have enjoyed, by giving you a sketch of what Church Life was like at S Thomas's in Oxford, and in thousands of Anglo-Catholic Churches throughout England, in the 1930s. As I hope discerning readers have spotted, I am not doing this out of mere nostalgia. I think, living as we now are in peace and communuon with the See of S Peter, we may still have a lot to learn from 1930's Anglo-Catholicism as we lift our eyes to a beautiful vision of how the current Latin Church could be, once she is awakened and vivified.
I know that many readers may not have agreed with the analysis Jalland and his fellows came to with regard to what the Church of England really was. I would like to feel that we could leave those judgements to the Great Judge. Because what I desire to focus on is what the old Anglo-papalists thought they were doing: building up again the great edifice of Catholicism in places where they thought it had been obscured and perhaps even lost.
And is that not where we are today in the Catholic Church?
While I was browsing through the S Thomas's archives, the following 'Vicar's Notes' from 1934 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, when "the Faith was taught and fanned to a holy blaze". I suspect that those inter-war years were the last sparkling times before the Luftwaffe destroyed so many of the old Anglo-Papalist slum churches and British governments dispersed the remnants of their congregations into suburbs and high-rise flats.
A speculation of mine is that some of these Patronal celebrations may have owed a lot to what the Anglo-Catholic clergy saw on the Continent. I have in mind Canon Doble of the Diocese of Truro, who did so much research into the Cornish Saints by hunting down the cultus those same saints enjoyed in Brittany (giving, as he did so, the French clergy whom he met the cheekily inaccurate impression that the entire Church of England was really totally Catholic!). Because it is my impression that Patronal Festivals never were and never have been very prominent in the culture of Irish-English Roman Catholicism. And, in any case, we rather prided ourselves in not aping the English Catholic Church.
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, cheerful, inculturated Catholicism?
We can never put the clock back ... but we can learn from the mistakes of the post-war years.