|Cardinal John Carmel Heenan|
(source: Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee blog)
Many orthodox and traditional Catholics also remain grateful to the eighth Archbishop of Westminster because he is seen as the one man who did more than anyone else in preserving the old Rite in England and Wales. Heenan successfully petitioned the Pope in 1971 to grant what many playfully call ‘The Agatha Christie Indult’ – supposedly granted by Paul VI after he saw the famous novelist's signature on a petition to save the traditional Mass, which had been presented to him by Cardinal Heenan.
One imagines that Hennan’s faith in the Papacy and the Council overpowered his doubts about some of the measures which were, by the mid to late 1960’s, being implemented in the name of Vatican II. And although it is true to say that the Cardinal was no fool, it also appears that a sense of loyalty may have led to a certain naivety on his part from time to time.
As it is such an interesting read, which highlights the dramatic changes that were happening to the Mass during and after the Vatican Council, as well as the debates that surrounded these liturgical revolutions, I thought it beneficial to reproduce parts of the Cardinal’s article below -- with my own comments (in parentheses).
Streamlining is the most apt description of what is happening to the liturgy. Signs of the cross and bows are now scarcely ever repeated. The number of prayers has been reduced and the movement of the priest before the altar is restricted. The missal is moved less often and consequently it is no longer apposite to talk of the Epistle and Gospel sides of the sanctuary. Despite the addition of the Bidding Prayers and the pause after the ‘Let us pray’, the length (what – alas! – people today would doubtless call the ‘overall time’) of the Mass is less than before the changes were made. Once we are accustomed to the new restrictions we shall agree that the ceremonies have become not only shorter but smarter and in every way more attractive. [Oh, if only the Cardinal were a true prophet! In fact, it seems to me that many Novus Ordo Masses (ok, I know that the NO Mass wasn't promulgated till 1969) can be more cluttered and last longer than old Rite Low Masses. As for Heenan's prediction that the Mass would become 'smarter' and 'more attractive' in years to come, well... what can I say?]
Kissing has been a notable casualty. Until now the sacred ministers kissed the vestments before putting them on. The server kissed the priest’s hand and his biretta on reaching the foot of the altar. The celebrant during Mass kissed the altar, the paten and the book. At High Mass the kissing was continual. Whenever the thurible changed hands or the ministers approached the celebrant the rubrics ordered some sort of kiss. Apart from the kissing laid down by the rubrics, piety prescribed a great deal of unofficial kissing. Altar servers, for example, were taught to kiss the cruets before handing them to the priest. The devout cleric, especially if he had been trained in a French seminary, would kiss his breviary before reciting his office and his cassock when dressing in the morning. [I wonder what's so wrong with wishing to reverence these sacred objects with a kiss, especially if they are being used in the most perfect worship of Almighty God this side of Heaven?]
It was a relief when the Church decreed that the kissing had to stop. It is interesting, however, that the Church has not abandoned the kissing of the altar. This is of great liturgical and doctrinal significance. The altar represents Christ because it is the altar of His sacrifice. [But surely the priest is acting in persona Christi, and therefore deserves to be reverenced during Mass, too?] Now that we often use temporary altars it is more than ever necessary to be reminded that the altar is worthy of all reverence. Otherwise we might forget that the Mass is a sacrifice. [Oh, if only the good Cardinal knew how so many Catholics now view the Mass.] We may even begin to regard the altar as a mere table for a meal. At the Last Supper the altar was merely a table because as yet there was no altar of sacrifice. The following day on Calvary the altar was erected. [One wonders whether Heenan was concerned that the Mass was potentially becoming a kind of Protestant service of the Lord's Supper?]
The kissing of the altar underlines the meaning of the Mass. Pope Pius XII who set in motion the modern liturgical reform wrote in his encyclical Mediator Dei: ‘The desire to restore everything indiscriminately to its ancient conditions is neither wise nor praiseworthy. It would be wrong to have the altar restored to its ancient form of table … The flock must not be deceived by a mania for restoring primitive usages in the liturgy.' The abolition of kissing and repetitious actions is not the result of some mania for restoring primitive rights [sic]. It is a tidying up of ceremonial which had become overburdened with rubrics in the course of centuries. [Why did the Cardinal feel so compelled to reassure the reader of this? Is it because he, like them, might have suspected that a ‘mania for restoring primitive usages’ was already behind the sweeping reforms of the liturgy?]
[…] The symbolism of the kiss is respect and love. It would have been a tragedy if kissing had been banished completely from the liturgy. The Salvation Army in choosing hymns acts on the principle that the devil should not have all the best tunes. It would be wrong if kissing were to become exclusively the expression of profane love. [Why reduce sacred kissing in the liturgy, then?]
In our television-dominated civilisation we forget that the kiss is not only the outward expression of passion. In Latin countries it is the custom for a child to kiss the hand of parents and of those to whom respect and love are due. [So why abolish the kissing of the priest’s hands at Mass?] … A celebrated Oxford convert said he was drawn to the Church by two considerations – first, the fact that only the Catholic Church claimed to be right, and second, the courtesy prescribed by Catholic ritual. While it is good that much of the extravagance has been removed it would be a pity to become indifferent to the symbolism our liturgy enshrines. [It seems to me that Cardinal Heenan was really trying his best to convince himself here, despite evidence to the contrary.]
[…] The Holy See is anxious for the whole family of God to act as one in public worship. .. The Holy See is aware of the common temptation to be one step ahead in the liturgical movement. Priests of all nations come to Westminster and it is obvious that some priests have taken liturgical reform into their own hands. [Now, there’s the Heenan I like!] It is not at all uncommon, for example, to hear visiting priests recite the whole of the Canon of the Mass aloud. This is a change which eventually may be introduced. [Thanks to liturgical abuses that the Vatican seemed unable or unwilling to correct, which led to the legalisation of abuses, as Michael Davies put it!] But the time is not yet. Do not blame your priest if he does not seem so up-to-date and dramatic as the priest from the Continent who took his place during the holidays. It may be he is a humble priest obedient to the voice of authority. [It was Heenan’s devotion to authority that may have caused him to go along with those liturgical reforms that he (personally) might not have wanted to implement – whether or not this was commendable or naïve is down to how we view episcopal and Petrine authority, I guess.]
Cardinal Heenan had a good heart, I think, and desired to be loyal to the Holy See, even if he may have had some private doubts about the way the reform of the liturgy was headed. He loved the Roman liturgy and knew the inherent dangers involved in changing too much too soon, but he was also naïve in the face of the onslaught that was soon to lead to that crisis which has by now engulfed the whole Church, in which so many priests and people still seem consumed by that dangerous ‘mania for restoring primitive usages in the liturgy’ -- rites that may owe more to modern fantasies than to any authentic and organic expression of Divine worship.