27 February 2021

Wason's Bishop and his Extraordinary Sunday

Not long ago, the Internet contained some (hilarious) accounts of reactions in the American Catholic Church to liturgical reforms introduced by wise young incoming clergy in their new parish churches. Perhaps some of us aged ex-Anglicans can lend a helping hand here.

When we were "Catholic Anglicans", we had something like a century's experience of introducing what we used then to call "the Western Rite", i.e. the 'Tridentine' liturgy associated with the name of S Pius V, into parishes which had not previously known it. Quite often this was done overnight; as an interregnum came to its end, the newly instituted incumbent sprang (what Pope Benedict was later to name) the Extraordinary Form on the parish on his very first Sunday morning. I have previously shared with you Fr Bernard Walke's moving account of how he did this at S Hilary's in Cornwall.

His friend Fr Sandys Wason did likewise at nearby Cury and Gunwalloe (where he was incumbent 1905-1919). Fr Wason's bishop heard that some of the congregation were restive. (Wason had also sacked a 'gentry' Churchwarden and appointed in his place a villager; and had expressed from the pulpit his view of the Ordo Recentior by holding aloft a Book of Common Prayer, and affecting to look inside it before throwing it down to the ground with the words "Made in Germany!") So the bishop let it be known that he was coming over on the next Sunday to officiate in the church and to Sort Things Out. Probably conjecturing that his Lordship might not be intending to use a rite that included the Third Confiteor, Father saw to it that he was already well into his own Tridentine Missa Cantata by the time the right reverend prelate's conveyance rolled up at the church. The latter announced to the large crowds of gaping sightseers (who had come to watch the 'fun'), that he would await the end of the Vicar's Service, and then celebrate the Holy Communion.

The Bishop underestimated both the stamina of the Anglo-Catholic clergy and laity ... and their appetite for Marian devotion. Immediately after Mass, with no greater interruption than the (essential) removal of his maniple, Fr Wason began Solemn Rosary ... not one of those rapid Irish Rosaries with the laity racing into the Holy Mary before the priest has even got to the fruit of thy womb, but a slow, meditative, Anglican Rosary in which, at the end of each Mystery, Father preached about it generously and extensively, allowing no typological crumb to fall unexamined to the Patrimonial ground. Eventually the Pontiff, almost fainting because he had not had a bite of lunch, gave up and was driven back to his Palace at Lys Escop. When Fr Wason - after delivering what may have been the most exhaustive treatise on the Coronation of our Lady in the history of Christian homiletics - finally emerged into the setting sun, he dismissed the waiting mob of journalists with a vigorous wave of his hand and the information that, since he was of course still fasting, he was off to have his breakfast. (I fear I have no detailed information about his bladder, but analogy suggests ... er ... .)

Wason's Cornish critics did score some points against him, most notably when they dumped the putrescent corpse of a donkey on the Vicarage doorstep. There were times when West Country humour may, like dead donkeys, have had its slightly heavy side.

Happy days, that blessed era of the Walkes and the Wasons, the glittering Age of Confessors when 'Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze'. 

So that's how it can be done! Go for it, Fathers!!


Paul in Melbourne, Australia said...

Marvelous piece, Father. Although it is all wonderful and very entertaining, your observation about the method used by Irish people for praying the rosary is quite true. You would have had ample opportunities to observe it when you and the Roman Catholic parish priest were leading the rosary at the memorial to Our Lady of Lourdes on Valentia Island. I remember Fr Brendan Arthur in Melbourne complaining about some parishioners "rattling off the rosary" in that manner. The Anglican way is the correct way. Because of my Protestant past, I still say the Lord's Prayer in the Anglican manner, which results in my timing being a little different.

Shaun Davies said...

Monsignor Ronald Knox somewhere said that Catholics like getting the Rosary said but maybe they do not like saying it. Irish people have a great problem with saying prayers together in time ( I notice this is the New Rite of Mass), they did not get much practice with the Dialogue Mass. I also think that many Irish people have a very "gritted teeth" view of their faith - they speak of getting Mass, almost with grim determination and in general they believe they are as holy as the amount of discomfort or pain they are enduring.See, for example the very penitential pilgrimages of Lough Derg and the tough climb on Croagh Patrick; whilst my daughter has done the former I have only done the latter. There is a danger of the idea of "getting" coming into everything - Lough Derg to get a husband; getting the Rosary said; getting Mass. In case anyone thinks that I am being an evil racist, I am 100% Irish,born and brought up there.

√Čamonn said...

I'm probably being horribly minimalist but if we could get a lot of Irish people just saying the Rosary at all, I'd be well content!

Shaun Davies said...

Eamonn - I'd be contented with just PEOPLE praying the Rosary - everyone welcome.

Banshee said...

But if you're talking quickly and rhythmically with your mouth, you can meditate more easily with your brain. It's very distracting to have someone talking slowly and disturbing one's prayer, or giving "meaningful thoughts" in the middle of a devotion when you're trying to keep imagery in mind.

I mean, that's the whole story of the EF, isn't it? You're allowed to have two or three things going on, all at once. But interrupting people is weird.

Of course, saying the Rosary in a group is bound to be less absorbing than saying it alone, but there are definitely all sorts of things to be said about the value of meaningful commentary to create or destroy prayerfulness.

(And you're not supposed to chant too slow or too fast, but keep it to just right for your building's resonance. A lot of people assume that slower is always better, but that goes against chant traditions and musicality.)

John Patrick said...

A great story, although I suspect priests in the Anglican Communion have a bit more leeway in these matters than an equivalent Catholic priest who would no doubt be packed off to ecclesiastical Siberia at the first hint of doing anything that displeased the Bishop.

Anonymous said...

Our parish priest at St Nicholas of Tolentine in the 1940's as Irish as they can come frequently sang the rosary. Anyone 'got' the music?