History Repeats Itself

In February 1981 I received one of the most unpleasant shocks of my life. A friend in Newcastle sent me a copy of the Northern Cross, the official monthly journal of the Diocese of Hexham & Newcastle. On the front page there were two photographs of the Cathedral sanctuary; one of the sanctuary I had known and loved, and another depicting a scene of such devastation and desolation that it might well have been a joint effort of Thomas Cranmer and Attila the Hun. Whenever I visit one of the ancient parish churches or cathedrals of England, and witness the destruction which was wrought by Protestants, I invariably think: "Inimicus homo hoc fecit -----An enemy hath done this" (Matt. 13:28). The same thought came to my mind at once on seeing the "bare ruined choir" of Newcastle Cathedral. Of the beautiful rood screen not a trace remained; the altar had been torn from the east wall, and the tabernacle had been torn from the altar. It was nowhere to be seen in the new arrangement. "The new St. Mary's," read the caption accompanying the pictures-----no one could argue with this! A comment beneath the caption stated that there was a striking contrast between the two photographs. This was certainly indisputable. One depicted that was evidently the sanctuary of a Catholic church, the other might have been the meditation room in the headquarters of the U.N. It was also stated that the changes were "in line with the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council". This statement was totally false because, as I have already shown, the Council itself did not recommend, still less command, that tabernacles should be thrust aside from their position of honor, or that altars should be moved forward so that Mass could be offered facing the people.

The April 1981 issue of Northern Cross included a letter expressing the anguish of a lady who had seen the photographs and, finding them too incredible to believe, had visited the Cathedral to discover for herself just what had happened. "The scene that met the eye-----and caused considerable distress -----was akin to a mausoleum, with its seemingly vast emptiness and gleaming cream marble . . . the Cathedral may very well become a mausoleum to the memory of the Most Holy Sacrifice and the Divine Presence, as did so many other Great Houses of God in former days."

The protest evoked the wrath of the man responsible for obliterating the Catholic ethos of St. Mary's Cathedral-----Bishop Hugh Lindsay. He alleged that Mrs. Elizabeth Brown, who had written the letter, alleged the Bishop "does not seem to like the Second Vatican Council and she's on very dangerous ground there". He did not explain how objecting to the vandalization of Catholic sanctuaries constituted not liking the Second Vatican Council, since the Council did not command or recommend such vandalization, but let that pass. The Bishop then made an interesting admission, that what he had done "follows a strong recommendation made at least twice in recent years in documents approved by the Pope". Note carefully the admission that there is no command, no requirement that such changes should be made, only a recommendation. I found it somewhat puzzling that this particular bishop should show the remotest interest in anything recommended by the Pope in view of the extent to which the wishes of successive pontiffs have been ignored in his diocese, but let that pass too. His reply to Mrs. Brown appeared in the May issue of Northern Cross. In the June issue, a letter appeared from a Mr. A. Turnball, pointing out that although the documents in question may have strongly recommended the changes, it did not follow that the Pope himself endorsed this strong recommendation. All that Pope Paul VI had done was to approve the publication of these documents. Mr. Turnball pointed out that in the Encyclical Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul VI had written: "Liturgical laws prescribe that the Blessed Sacrament be kept in churches with the greatest honor and in the most distinguished position". The Cathedral authorities were spending a fortune on these changes because they wished to, not because they had to.

Mr. Turnball was, of course, totally correct in this opinion. As I have already explained, the papal approval given to these documents does not so much as signify that the Pope had actually read them.

The July issue of Northern Cross contained a petulant reply by the Bishop in which he appeared to have undergone a radical change of attitude. What had been a "recommendation" in his May letter had become an "obligation" by July: "His [Mr. Turnball's] statement that there is no obligation to change is incorrect. Pope Paul VI commissioned, approved and published an Instruction on sanctuary changes in 1970. He ordered all concerned to observe it."

Well, if words mean anything, the Bishop is stating clearly that there is an obligation to change sanctuaries in the way he had done in St. Mary's Cathedral. If Mr. Turnball was incorrect in stating that there is no obligation to change, then evidently there must be an obligation. Let us examine the evidence.

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