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Evelyn Waugh did not love the splendour of a high Mass but rather a priest’s humble absorption in a low Mass

I like to think he would have approved of Mass in the Ordinary Form, too, now that we have an accurate translation

By on Friday, 16 December 2011

Evelyn Waugh and his wife pictured in 1950 (Photo: PA)

Evelyn Waugh and his wife pictured in 1950 (Photo: PA)

I have just been dipping into Roads to Rome: A Guide to Notable Converts from Britain and Ireland from the Reformation to the Present Day, compiled by John Beaumont, published by St Augustine’s Press, South Bend, Indiana, and with an introduction by Joseph Pearce. It includes a long entry on Evelyn Waugh who was received into the Church by Fr Martin D’Arcy at Farm Street on September 29 1930. I mention this because I see in today’s copy of The Catholic Herald a long article on page 8 by Joseph Pearce, entitled “Waugh’s ‘bitter trial’ bears fruit at last”.

In Roads to Rome, the entry on Waugh includes a quote from an article he wrote in the Herald for August 7 1964: “I am old now but when I was young I was received into the Church. I was not at all attracted by the splendour of her great ceremonies – which the Protestants could well counterfeit. Of the extraneous attractions of the Church which most drew me was the spectacle of the priest and his server at low Mass, stumping up to the altar without a glance to discover how many or how few he had in his congregation; a craftsman and his apprentice; a man with a job which he alone was qualified to do. That is the Mass I have grown to know and love.”

Waugh’s dislike of the post-conciliar Church and the subsequent changes to the liturgy is well known so I won’t rehearse it here. What interested me in the above quote was learning that Waugh’s love of the Tridentine rite was not a matter of loving the solemn splendour of a high Mass, as I had always supposed; it was simply the priest’s humble absorption in the rite of a low Mass.

A further quote in the same entry, from The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, confirms this: “Easter 1965: A year in which the process of transforming the liturgy has followed a planned course… A minority of cranks, for and against the innovations, mind enormously. I don’t think the main congregation cares a hoot. More than the aesthetic changes which rob the Church of poetry, mystery and dignity, there are suggested changes in Faith and morals which alarm me…”

Of course I am quoting out of context and there is much more to be said about Waugh’s attitude. But when I read the article on page 8 by Joseph Pearce in today’s Herald I did experience a small amount of disquiet. The large colour photo illustrating the text shows the celebration of a Tridentine high Mass, with the caption, “Mass in the Extraordinary Form is increasingly common in the English-speaking world. ‘We are beginning to see the restoration of the liturgy for which Waugh hoped and prayed.’” (The quotation here is also the concluding sentence to Pearce’s article.)

This begs many questions: is Pearce hoping for the restoration of the Extraordinary Form as the “proper” form of the Mass, rather than the Ordinary Form? Would Waugh also “be delighted if he were alive today” (as the headline states), to attend a low Mass in the Ordinary Form, celebrated properly in the new translation of the liturgy? I am with William Oddie here, in his excellent blog on Wednesday on the new CTS Sunday Missal, with its hope that liturgical quarrels are now a thing of the past and its implicit assumption that the Ordinary Form, reformed and renewed, is the norm for Sunday worship by Catholics. I like to think that we might again see a priest “stumping up to the altar” to concentrate self-effacingly on his unique task, yet this time reverently enunciating the more accurate and awe-inspiring wording of the new translation – and that Evelyn Waugh might have approved.

  • Charles Martel

    Would Waugh also “be delighted if he were alive today”, to attend a low Mass in the Ordinary Form, celebrated properly
    in the new translation of the liturgy?
    The answer is no. Waugh died in April 1966, several years before the introduction of the Novus Ordo, and he already loathed what was happening to the liturgy; i.e. the appearance of the vernacular in the Roman Rite (what some now call the ‘Extraordinary Form’). It should be pointed out that the translations were very good in 1966.
    Going to Mass became for him a bitter trial. How much more of a trial it would have been for him, then, to see the Novus Ordo and the dreadful ICEL translations of it foisted on the faithful!
    These new translations are better translations of the Novus Ordo; that’s all. I think most traditionalists would agree with me in saying that if I had to choose between the Ordinary Form in Latin and the Extraordinary Form in the vernacular, I would choose the latter. And I am sure Waugh would have too, despite his dislike for the vernacular in the liturgy.

  • crouchback

    Well said Charlie…..

    My sentiments entirely. I was at a funeral in the new improved Novus Ordo today in Carlilse….same old buffoonery …..a few different phrases here and there…..but there was one clearly dead thing in the church and that was  the mass….the poor old corpse was well out of it.

    Requiescant in pace. 

  • Chris

    Better translation notwithstanding, is it fair to say that the priest is absorbed in the rite of the novus ordo?  Really?

  • Anonymous

    Evelyn Waugh ,my Parents and most of the faithfull now hopefully in Heaven who had the “New Mass” forced on them,to which  they obeyed with the “Obedience to the Holy Father” the byword at the time,did not like or desire the change,so please don,t delude yourself,but now with a modest change in the language,so many are finding reasons to object no obedience to the Holy Father  this time,

  • Leo Glad

    Old Rite Mass, Latin: 100%.

  • Nat_ons

    This was much more common than many now seem to understand. For the real awe was felt in the silent contemplation of a divine act for man, set before one’s eyes, not in mere human actions for God. And, believe it or not, this was also the prompt for the much maligned spirit of praying for, paying into and people-ing the church catholic – a quiet, unfussy, yet sublime surrender to God .. vibrant with sodalities (prayer unions, even if they were often quietistic).

    Active participation in the life of the Church was all too eagerly interpreted as priest-replacement at the communion table so that the liturgical president could be freed up for his more important activities in social work. For this end, the whole notion of ‘reactionary’ and actual lay Catholic Action – in Confraternities etc – had also to be dismantled or better destroyed .. and this thuggery was one of the greater successes of the ‘Spirit of the Council’ radicals (currently unravelling). The Mass Order of the Servant of God Paul VI, so far as I recall, was intended to be (and largely was) the Low Mass of Saint Pius V gravely simplified in ritual, grossly extended in its Lectionary and application, and gladly opened to all for clearer understanding .. especially the separated sister churches of the Reform; it became, of course, the vehicle of rebellion (as it still remains for many), the smoke of which rose up from the sanctuary rarely from the pew .. and this self-activating D-I-Y liturgical specialist juggernaut still rolls on.

    The Revision is excellent, but it requires a concomitant effort to put out the smoking rebelliousness of the liturgical presidents and their acolyte specialists .. or it will simply be ignored, much as the rites of the older versions were reworked, edited out and made to fit: the spirit of the times (of which fancifully absurd caricature of ultra-modernity Waugh would not approve). 

  • Anonymous

    Evelyn Waugh was a wonderful novelist but why would anyone want to follow his advice on spiritual matters?

    We all have our faults and we should not judge other people, but in his letters Waugh comes across as best curmudgeonly and uncharitable, and at worst downright cruel. If that was the real Waugh then I for one would not want to take any notice of his opinions on the Mass.

  • Anonymous

    “I like to think he would have approved of Mass in the Ordinary Form, too, now that we have an accurate translation”

    He wouldn’t.

  • Charles Martel

    You can take or leave Waugh’s opinions on the Mass. What we are talking about here is whether he would have been mollified in his opposition to the liturgical reforms by the new translations of the Novus Ordo; a rite he never knew. The answer is clearly negative. Yes, Waugh was curmudgeonly and he certainly wouldn’t fit into our modern religion of ‘nice’, but as you say, we shouldn’t judge other people, and, when once taken to task for his nasty behaviour, Waugh said something to the effect that, “If I weren’t a Christian I would be even more horrible”.

  • Cassandra

    Francis, I suggest you read “A Bitter Trial; Evelyn Waugh & John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes”,expanded and edited by Alcuin Reid. I think you would find it very revealing.

  • crouchback

    Yes if he wasn’t a christian he could have made a good catholic bishop……

    What a bunch of torn faces they are…???

    Waugh and Cardinal Heenan clearly warned what would happen if the Novus Ordo was imposed on the church…..40 years later we are now in the final stages of melt down.

    Yet the torn faces and their brown nosed Charismatic friends will not have the remedy….the Traditional Mass at any price.

    Make me sick the lot of ‘em.They can get stuffed as far as I’m concerned.

    Thank God for the SSPX.

  • Corey French

    “I like to think he would have approved of Mass in the Ordinary Form, too, now that we have an accurate translation”

    This is simply untrue.  He despised vernacularization in most any form, whether the translation were more accurate or not.

    Even if you will not, as others have suggested, read A Bitter Trial, at least read Dom Alcuin Reid’s wonderful preface:


  • Irenaeus Saintonge

    Mr. Phillips, you said “I am with William Oddie here, in his excellent blog on Wednesday on the new CTS Sunday Missal, with its hope that liturgical quarrels are now a thing of the past and its implicit assumption that the Ordinary Form, reformed and renewed, is the norm for Sunday worship by Catholics.”

    But I ask in response, why is it considered as just a given that the Pauline Mass must be normative? Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly unconvinced that the promulgation of Paul’s new missal was good for the Church, and that the proper reform of the Mass could be ‘started over’.
    Frankly, I don’t think it should be taken for granted that the Novus Ordo should remain normative for the next however many centuries of life in the Latin rite.

  • The_Monk

    “I like to think he would have approved of Mass in the Ordinary Form, too, now that we have an accurate translation”

    That seems like too great a leap.  The most recent translation does not effect any change in the posture of the Mass; the Mass of this latest Missal still presents a totally different posture than the Mass of the pre-conciliar Missal.  The post-conciliar form of the Mass totally revised the posture of the Mass.  It only takes attending one Gregorian rite (as Pope Benedict XVI calls it) Mass to see the utterly stark contrast between pre- and post-conciliar forms.

  • Springfielder

    Old Rite Mass, Latin: 100%.

  • Joseph Anthony

    The priest could also have always stumped up to the altar to self-effacingly offer the Latin Novus Ordo.  But the Novus Ordo — Latin or translated — will never be the Roman Rite as Evelyn Waugh loved it.  And those of us, born into a Church with the reformed Roman Rite who have had the good fortune to discover and fall in love with the Roman Rite of organic development know why: The integrity of the Roman Rite is not maintained in the Novus Ordo.  The order of Mass and the propers themselves feel like on-the-spot products of a committee.  We may assist at the Novus Ordo.  We may profit from the Novus Ordo, but there will always be some Catholics who find the reformed liturgy incapable of reproducing the integral Romanity of the Traditional Roman Rite.  I love the Tridentine Mass not because the translation of the Novus Ordo was bad — for I have also assisted at Latin Novus Ordos — but because I have fallen in love with the Roman Rite as it developed under the influence of the Holy Spirit over the course of centuries.  I cannot see how the Novus Ordo can reproduce that.  I doubt Evelyn would have been able to either.

  • Joseph Anthony

    This is what most people don’t understand:
    For Evelyn, Latin may have mattered a lot.  For most of us, although we prefer the Mass in Latin, we are not per se against the vernacular Mass.  But we want to Traditional Ordo of the Mass — not the New Order.  Latin or English, we will take the whole and integral developed Mass over the Concilium’s liturgy anyday. 

    Yes.  I would take the older MIssal in English over the newer Missal in Latin.  And I am someone with no theology or moral qualms about the New Missal.  It quite simply is not as fruitful for me.  It does not speak to me as well, and I have no fallen in love with it the same way. 

  • James O’Malley

    Even with the new translation, there’s still the serious issue of Communion in the hand–which suggests one of the seeming “changes in Faith” that would likely have concerned Waugh. There are also the new Offertory and the new Eucharistic Prayer options, which both mark a theological shift away from emphasis on the Mass as a sacrifice.

  • Charles Martel

    Hello Joseph Anthony,
    I think the introduction of the vernacular for the whole of the Mass was ill-advised. I see no reason to deviate from John XXIII’s insistence in ‘Veterum Sapientia’ on the retention of Latin as the official and liturgical language of the (Latin) Church. Even Vatican II promised to preserve Latin and Gregorian chant in the liturgy. I would only choose the Old Mass in the vernacular over the New in Latin if I was forced at gun point to do so. Otherwise I will stick with my birthright, the Roman Rite in Latin.

  • Adulio

    Francis Philips has obviously not done her research well. Otherwise she would have come across a book called “A Bitter Trial”


  • David Armitage

    Waugh was one of those luck tocrats whose fame and fortune got him an annulment of his marriage when his wife was so ill-mannered as to postpone her demise. I’m not particularly interested on what his views may or may not have been been on the one size fits all translation of the Roman rite. My worry is why the Vatican uses its might against the second Vatican Council, whose constitution on the liturgy sought to encourage cultural expression. Silly dried white paste discs are acccepted as a valid eucharistic expression. What’s wrong with bread? Good enough for Jesus. A myriad African, Asian and Latin American expressions are  banished in favour of colonial languages, but on whose sayso?
    “Fat, deaf, short of breath, an exhausted rogue jollied up by drink” as his FRIENDS described him, I’m not sure that Francis Phillips’ liturgical mentor is one I would choose. But he was a man of influence. Honestly, Francis, whether Evelyn Waugh approved or not……….. Oh, why bother?

  • Anonymous

    Do you think that you belong to a different faith, with a different theology of the Eucharist, from that of the Apostles, the Greek and Latin Fathers of the Church, and the first hundred or so Popes, all of whom gave or received the Blessed Sacrament only in the hand? Despite misinformation and misunderstanding on this issue there is no evidence at all to contradict the view of the most expert liturgists that before the 7th century communion in the hand was the norm.

  • Irenaeus Saintonge

    I apologize: *Ms.* Phillips.

  • Irenaeus Saintonge


  • jameshughes1947

    My only difficulty with SSPX is that my loyalty is to Rome and Christ’s statement that ” thou art Peter ….”.
     I have been loyal to the church all my life and indeed to the Popes who led her even under the most trying of circumstances. Now that Benedict XVI has made it clear that I am entitled to mass in the so called EF I am totally revolted by the general cynicism and mocking attitudes  from the clerical  ‘establishment’ who have done all in their power to turn the catholic church into a social work department and generally destroyed the liturgy. However they should take care because I am back and they have picked a fight they wont win. Most of the older people I speak to prefer the mass that they had but only seem to speak about it in hushed tones for fear of being ridiculed. I would understand that many would prefer to get on with the novus ordo what I cannot abide is the vitriol levelled at anyone showing any liking for or interest in more latin in the mass. Its like the soviet union all over again. The sooner Benedict bullets the modernist crowd the better for the church and then I can go home to god happy! AMDG

  • David Armitage

    Waugh was one of those lucky tocrats whose fame and fortune got him an annulment of his marriage when his wife was so ill-mannered as to postpone her demise. Lack of real consent they said.  A good one, if you can afford it, althought mainly limited to royalty, if Monaco counts. But it’s good to know of Waugh’s liturgical fancies, although I don’t see their relevance. I wonder why English speakers are happy with a one size fits all liturgy translation.  I thought Vatican II was about allowing cultures to express themselves.
    I have lived and worked in many countries where English, French, Portugues and Spanish were the languages of colonialism.  Are there Swahili liturgies, or Setswana? Sesotho? Ndebele? Xhosa? Malay? Amazonian tribes have a hard time. But Jesus’s eucharist was a simple affair. A liturgy whose validity depends on silly little little discs

  • David Armitage

    Does it matter what the old souse thought’

  • David Armitage

    What does brown nosed mean?

  • Shoran

    I don’t think Waugh would have approved of “begs many questions”.

    “Prompts” perhaps?

    Begging the question is an entirely different matter of faulty reasoning.

  • Jkelso

    I am really pleased and understand Waugh 100%.

    After being raised in the novus ordo, by the grace of God I was led to the most humble sanctuary on the planet = the chapel where low mass was served in the small hors of the morning. It IS heaven on earth.My soul for the first time felt touched and close to Him. So humble, so perfect, so holy.It is the only way to start the day ahead. You can take on everything by attending Low Mass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Mendez/100003207335510 Jason Mendez

    New translation is just putting a dress on a pig. It’s still a pig. The new mass in Latin is a watered down version of the mass that preceded it. Translate all you want, you can only improve it so much.

  • Irenaeus Saintonge

    Double fail.

  • Scyptical Chymist

    Your post strikes a chord in me.  Getting on in years, for some while now I have felt that attending Mass is becoming wearisome and this in turn leads to a sense of guilt. Am I alone in this reaction?

    For many years the “New Order”  of post Vatican II has held sway but I am old enough to remember the Roman rite Latin Masses (I still have my old Roman Missal, in which the English translation of the Latin is almost identical to the “new” English translation). The following describes my recent (and not so recent) experiences and thoughts.

    The altar at the time of communion becomes a stage, with numerous “ministers”, when solemnity should reign. The “musicians” intrude many times during the Mass with strident playing overwhelming  the words of often not very good “relevant to the times” hymns, which I am sure are chosen by them and not the celebrant. The emphasis is so much on audience participation that one longs for a period of quietude to concentrate on following the Mass. The same lay people are highly involved in many of these proceedings and encouraged by many of the clergy, in whom it seems, there has been a collective loss of nerve (though not all – some clergy actively encourage the process). I realise that vicious attacks on the Church because of the scandalous behaviour of a few clergy may well have contributed to a certain unwillingness to be more forthright e.g.suggestions from the pulpit that the laity follow some of the requests of Pope Benedict concerning their spiritual life, if they think they can possibly manage it, rather than a direct request to do everything possible to obey.

    (cf “A bitter trial” link quoted by Corey French earlier).

    All this is still taking place with the new English translation – little appears to have changed – but I hope it is a case of “festina (not so) lente” if I remember my school Latin correctly.

  • tj.nelson

    Oh pip, pip, and all of that!

  • sclerotic

    I’m suprised Waugh was sober enough to notice.

  • Solent Rambler

    I only
    wish that I could write as beautifully as Waugh. But his world has gone,
    leaving only Downton Abbey and early morning re-runs of Upstairs
    Downstairs.  His Bright Young Things now
    speak mockney.  His world was never mine,
    a state Grammar School boy from a working class town, with the curate who could
    say the Tridentine Mass in 10 minutes flat when I served weekday Mass.

    Down the
    years, I have winced my way thru hymn sandwich Masses, celebrated by kindly
    men, yet trained for a world that was passing
    in the huge cultural revolution kick started by WW2. But now I’m fortunate to
    have a thoughtful, prayerful, young PP who celebrates the Novus Ordo with
    sensitivity and care. 

    While I
    don’t always understand – or agree! – with what he says, his sermons are always
    well prepared and imbued with the scriptures. He regularly teaches us how to

    I’m full of admiration for the married deacon
    who brings us a Gospel understanding of the world of work and social justice in
    his sermons. 

    I’m in
    the public sector and face the mad world of political correctness and the
    subtle attack on the family and belief in God: all on a different planet from
    Brideshead, the last gasp of recusancy where Catholics asked only to be left

    Now we
    have to go into the world to face other challenges. In mine, there is the risk
    of facing grievance and disciplinary procedures when one challenges the wilder
    side of “equal opportunities”.  

    To my
    dismay, I recently sadly discovered that my union actively promotes abortion.  Where I sit on my Staff Forum, I need the
    Church’s social teaching. There is the challenge of quietly, gently having the
    courage and patience to be different by not going along with serial monogamy
    and getting drunk as the best way to have a good time.

    Sunday Mass refreshes me to face that strange world.  But, curiously, I’m also encouraged by a
    young Muslim colleague.  His belief in
    the God of Abraham and Isaac is profoundly real; his prayer and fasting at
    Ramadan leaves our Lent standing. 

    When he
    arranged the honour of me standing in on Friday prayers, I wondered what my old
    primary school teacher would have made of it. 
    He who had told me, of his time, that I could only go to a non-Catholic
    service with permission from a priest. 

    I find
    it interesting how much my friend respects the Catholic Church and our
    Pope.  “Perhaps the gift of Islam to
    Europe,” he says, “is that it will help Europe rediscover its faith.”  That is a challenge that the Irish priest who
    drove in his little car to Brideshead to reconcile Lord Marchmain never had to

  • Seraphic

    And you are…?

  • Tapestry6

    I didn’t like high Mass at all; as a child it was way too long. And in those days all you saw was the back of coats because when adults stand you can’t see over them. The only time you actually saw the altar was during the sermon the rest of the time it was tall standing or kneeling adults! 
    You don’t need a high Mass to celebrate it in Latin that is what I just didn’t ‘get’ when they said let’s have a Latin Mass!.  When I saw it on EWTN I am like wait a second high Mass was not done that often. In fact it would be noted in the bulletin that high Mass was at 9am or 10:30am Mass, daily Mass was the low Mass it  was all the Latin  just much shorter. 
     Why can’t we have that again?

  • Royaledan

    Sure – go to an FSSP parish. And many small parishes that are using the Extraordinary form must do a Low Mass because they do not have enough trained altar servers.

  • Scotty (Cleveland Ohio, USA)

    Mrs. Phillips must be very ignorant the splendor of the Tridentine rite to suppose that a more appropriate vernacular translation of Novus Ordo would suffice for a person of Waugh’s moral temperament. Whether High Mass or Low, the traditional mass radiates the sacred, the authoritative, the authentic, the sanctified—the very moral structures that had dissipated in Protestant culture, and are now close to extinction within the much of Catholic culture, where the flimsy morals of care and fairness increasingly predominate over the finer stuff.

    As soon as these human virtues take precedence over the sacred, one starts down the long road to secular free-for-all where morality is gauged by the liberality of one’s votes and how likely one’s opinions will foster social altruism and tolerance. You might as well just order your copy of Dawkin’s latest travesty and get you picket signs ready for the Occupy march, because that is where those “moral” structures end without the leavens of ritual sanctity and the authority of tradition.

    No, Waugh would not have been excited about “and with your spirit” being tacked on to a Mass where the good reverend looks out over his flock wishing ever so much to be their friend, and to give them some modest advice about how to be a helpful neighbor or, worse, a “good” parent—advice that he, as an chaste person, is unfit to dispense.  No, Waugh would have found this “correction” and the chatter it provoked, tedious at best.

    Where he may have found some modest consolation is the Vatican’s belated acceptance of the old rites to ease us “critics” who in twenty years will be the only English-speaking Catholics still producing boys fit for the priesthood.

    The modern Church, following the weighty guidepost of Humane Vitae, doggedly persists in recognizing the sacred in the unborn child, even as it persists in ridding the Mass of much that is sacred. It wonders why the young abandon it in droves, and why the great swathes of the faithful ignore the magisterium’s pronouncements.  It ponders whether married priests or Catholic pop music might offer solutions.  Some semi-traditionalists who regard Pope John Paul II as their heroic guide, castigate the moral blankness of “secular” culture, even as their own community tend towards that very blankness.

    Waugh’s pointed critique—the critique of all right-minded traditionalists—is that it is not enough to tell people to make right moral “choices.” There must be weighty structures whose very authority and presence unmitigatingly signify the absolute consequences of the retreat towards the human, the ephemeral, the self.  The Tridentine Mass along with the Confessional and the rigorous Catechism offered those structures, but was undone by two generations of social engineers, some with roman collars, but also their lay cheerleaders.  Like all acolytes of the Enemy, they had the best of intentions, and regarded themselves the Church’s true hadmaidens.  The Post-Vatican II Church still has not figured out that authority begins, not with some weighty encyclical or easier-to-read “religious studies” textbooks, but with priests whose very presence at the alter evokes a sacred salvation from the fires of Hell.