Bishop Davies is striking a blow for the reform of the reform

Coming on top of all the post-papal visit developments (Friday abstinence, the recovery of some holy days of obligation, the episcopal welcome for the ordinariate, the bishops’ pastoral letter on the new Mass translation) on which I commented in my last blog, the news that Bishop Mark Davies, the new Bishop of Shrewsbury, has agreed to the establishment of a foundation of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest at the threatened landmark Church of Ss Peter and Paul, New Brighton, represents another considerable, though local, episcopal surge in a generally Ratzingerian direction.

Bishop Davies’s appointment to Shrewsbury, incidentally, was an important one. This is not some rural diocese in the back of beyond. It covers not just Shropshire and, illogically, the Wirral (which surely ought by rights to be in the Archdiocese of Liverpool): the diocese is enormous, and, like Portsmouth, bizarrely irrational in its boundaries: it covers the parts of Merseyside south of the River Mersey, the southern parts of Greater Manchester (which surely ought rationally to be in the Salford diocese), parts of Derbyshire, and almost all of the county of Cheshire as well.

Back to developments in New Brighton. According to Bishop Davies’s press spokesman: “The principal aim of the new foundation will be to provide a centre in the Diocese of Shrewsbury for the celebration of Holy Mass and the other Sacraments in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The presence of the Institute – a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right – will also enable the church to become a centre for Eucharistic devotion and Adoration, allowing the faithful to come to pray for an increase in faith and love for the Most Holy Eucharist”.

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Now, if you’re not used to reading official statements from diocesan press officers—issued not just to the Church press but to all the secular press in the area, don’t forget, this is a big story locally – written in such devotionally high-powered language, there are two good reasons. The first is that the diocesan press officer concerned is one Simon Caldwell (whom I appointed some years ago to the staff of The Catholic Herald for his combined ability and orthodoxy): the second is that he is faithfully representing here the mindset of Bishop Davies, a thoroughgoing advocate of Pope Benedict’s reform of the reform, who as well as talking the talk is now seriously walking the walk.

We may now, I sincerely trust, look forward to a series of such appointments from the new nuncio (Bishop Stack’s to Cardiff was a blip, for which Archbishop Mennini wasn’t responsible). This is, I hope and assume, the way things are now going; and to their credit, many of our existing bishops, since the papal visit, have sensed this and are beginning to accommodate themselves to it so that a gulf doesn’t open up between the old and the new: hence, the pastoral letter from all the bishops, and all the other developments, I wrote about in my last post.

Just how wide that gulf could potentially be was demonstrated this week by an anonymous comment on Fr Ray Blake’s excellent blog after his passing on of this very welcome development from the Shrewsbury diocese:

Last year I wrote to my bishop and suggested that he invite a priest from one of the traditional priestly societies into his diocese. His response was extremely dismissive. In his reply he said: “Since the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Catholics are no longer prepared to be treated as children – ruled by bishops and talked down to by priests. I cannot imagine many of our people taking kindly to priests formed in the traditional seminaries to which you refer.”

I think I can say with confidence that he has never met, or spoken to, a priest or seminarian from any of the traditional priestly societies. This is the kind of blind and dismissive attitude that is all too common in this country and nothing will improve until some of our bishops undergo a Damascene conversion.

Much will depend on how things go in New Brighton, of course. But I have every confidence, given the Institute of Christ the King’s record in challenging circumstances all over the world, that this will be a success, pastorally and evangelically. And maybe, in the new atmosphere that seems to be developing in a whole range of areas in the English Church’s life, this will have an influence on other dioceses and on other bishops as well (incidentally, I know I should include the Welsh Church as well, but it makes for a clumsy sentence, and now Swansea have been promoted to the English premiership, maybe we can consider Welshmen to be honorary Englishmen? But I digress: this is mere geriatric babble).

Naturally, proponents of the Latin Mass Society are delighted. In his blog, the chairman of the LMS, Joseph Shaw, comments delightedly that “This is a tremendously exciting development”, and continues by saying that “This is a famous church which has been closed since 2008, and needs a good deal of tender loving care to flourish again. It sounds as though the Institute could solve a problem for the diocese in preserving its architectural heritage, at the same time as bringing a really exciting new apostolate to the Catholics of the region”.

Well, indeed. It’s clear that Bishop Davies wants this project to be not just a segregated Mass centre for lovers of the Old Mass, but a shrine for Pope Benedict’s central liturgical belief that we have One Mass, in two forms. Inevitably, there will be sour comments from predictable quarters. Already, a statement by a diocesan spokesman that “the members of the institute will work in close collaboration with Fr Philip Moor, the parish priest of Holy Apostles and Martyrs church, since it is the wish of Bishop Davies that this shrine church will express the harmony between the two usages of the one Roman Rite” has been denounced as “weasel words”, presumably because it didn’t openly state the (to him presumably horrendous) possibility that the Novus Ordo (HORROR OF HORRORS) might also be celebrated there (though conversations on this have not yet come to any conclusion). How really tiresome these radtrads can be: what the chap wants is some kind of redoubt, where he and those like him can repair, and pull up the drawbridge against the rest of us.

The saving of this iconic church and, even more, the circumstances in which it will be saved, are portents of wonderful things yet to come for which we should all devoutly pray. The snipers from both extremes – the self-proclaimed (but bogus) traditionalists, who think that tradition isn’t something living but a mere restoration of past glories, and the supposed liberals, notable for their extreme illiberality towards those who believe in the Church’s real traditions, which were affirmed and not cancelled by Vatican II – can go jump into the Mersey.

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