It is the Mass that Matters
WEB MASTER'S NOTE: I selected this
article because it is truly a poignant summary of the purpose of
Michael Davies' life and the poignancy wells up even more from my tears
when I think that what the simple, humble English folk in Devon did to
preserve their rightful patrimony and heritage, and what we Americans,
in sharp contrast, simply threw away when the precise things in re
the Holy Mass happened here some 400 years later, in the very land that
is wont to celebrate its victory over the English crown. Hauntingly
ironic, the English crown retook its colony, in essence, when we
capitulated so cravenly on the Mass. The English were ready to die for
the Mass, and we were prepared only to see the Mass die, rather than
act as Catholics and when there was no possibility of having to be
actual Martyrs. [I speak in a general sense, and not to indict any
actual individual Catholic-----whose circumstances may
have been far different than mine-----as such, save for myself.] America has
sunk into paganism and barbarism unmatched
in modern history as a direct result, because where the Roman Mass is
suppressed, grace is suppressed and society as a whole suffers, for
whether recognized and acknowledged as such, all grace to society and
to men comes through the Holy Catholic Church, most especially by means
of the Roman Mass. As the Mass was suppressed, contraception became
legal and a right, leading to the abomination of abortion rights as the
law of the land. This was no coincidence! In a very real sense it can
be said in all truth that our act of cowardice was also an act of
treason, not only against Catholic Tradition, but against our own
FATHER Frederick Faber (1814-1863), Superior of the London oratory,
had dedicated himself to the conversion of England, but he realised,
sadly, that this was not going to happen. He had no doubt as to why
this was the case, and he had no hesitation in making his opinion clear
to his fellow Catholics: "And you wonder why we have not converted
England! Verily we do not look like a people who have come to kindle a
fire upon the earth, nor to be pining because it is not kindled?"
In this article I shall deal with two reactions to the imposition of
Protestantism in England, particularly the
imposition of a Protestantized Mass. On June 9, 1549, the Feast of
Pentecost, the immemorial Latin Mass, brought to England by St.
Augustine of Canterbury nearly one thousand years before (597), was
replaced by a new English Mass or Communion Service, composed by Thomas
Cranmer, the apostate Archbishop of Canterbury. The Prayer
Book containing the new service had been imposed with the authority of
Edward VI, the sickly young son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane
Seymour. Edward had ascended to the throne in 1547 and was no more than
the puppet of a Protestant-dominated Council established to rule the
country until he came of age-----
which, of course, he
Although Henry VIII had, to all intents and purposes, made himself pope
as well as King of England and Wales, little else had changed in the
religious life of the country. The traditional heresy laws were
enforced far more severely in England than in any Catholic country, and
the Latin Missal remained unchanged but for the removal of the feast of
St. Thomas of Canterbury and the prayer for the Pope in the Canon of
the Mass. Thomas Cranmer, like all the Protestant Reformers, hated the
Mass as if it had been a living enemy, but while Henry reigned he
bottled up his hatred rather than risk losing his head. The repudiation
of the Pope had given him no satisfaction while what he termed "popery"
remained, and by popery he and his fellow Protestants meant the Mass.
It was the Mass that mattered, not simply to Catholics but also to
As soon as Edward had been crowned Cranmer began working on his
celebrated Prayer Book, which contained a new
Mass or Communion Service. It was to be celebrated entirely in English,
with Communion under both kinds, and without a single specific
reference to the hated doctrine of sacrifice. In the secluded
Devonshire village of Sampford Courtenay the parishioners of St.
Andrew's Church were present on this first occasion that any
Eucharistic rite but the immemorial Latin Mass had ever been celebrated
within its hallowed precincts. They heard the new service read,
discussed it, and decided that they did not like it. They told their
parish priest, Father Harper, that they were resolved to retain the
faith of their forefathers, and that he must use the ancient missal and
say the Mass to which they had been accustomed all their lives. He
agreed. The fight for the Mass had begun, and it was an entirely lay
initiative, what would be known today as a grassroots reaction to the
new Prayer Book.
The Protestant historian Sir Maurice Powicke has explained with
admirable clarity why Cranmer's new Mass was considered an outrage by
tens of thousands of humble Catholics throughout England. "The real
cause of the opposition of country clergy and Devonshire peasants,"
Powicke writes, "was the proof which the Prayer Book seemed to give
that all the agitations and change
of the last few years really were going to end in a permanent cleavage
between the past and the present, and the familiar was to give way to
something strange, foreign, imposed
The news of the restoration of the Latin Mass in Samford Courtney
spread throughout Devon, and, to quote a contemporary account, ''as a
cloud carried with a violent wind and as a thunderclap sounding through
the whole country: and the common people so well allowed and liked
thereof that they clapped their hands for joy and agreed in one mind to
have the same in every of their several parishes." They did indeed
"have the same," and the traditional Mass was restored in parishes
The Duke of Somerset, President of the Council, realized that he would
either have to abandon the Reformation and give the people back their
Mass, or suppress them by using the foreign mercenaries that he had
assembled for an invasion of Scotland.
The Devonshire peasants united with Cornishmen who had risen
independently, and who had an additional reason for not liking
Cranmer's Prayer Book-----
namely, that most of them
could not speak English, their native Cornish being a separate Celtic
language similar to Welsh. A number of Devonshire gentlemen joined the
peasants, and with gentlemen to lead them, the rebels were formed into
an organized force. They soon obtained effective control of the West
Country. The religious nature of the rebellion is made clear by the
fifteen demands of the rebels of which the following examples are
We wyll haue the masse in Latten, as was before.
We wyll haue the Sacrament hang Oller the hyeghe aulter, and there to
be worshypped as it was wount to be, and they whiche will not thereto
consent, we wyll haue them dye lyke heretykes against the Holy
We wyll haue . . . images to be set vp again in euery church, and all
other auncient olde Ceremonyes vsed heretofore, by our mother the holy
We wyll not receyue the newe seruyce because it is but lyke a Christmas
game, but we wyll haue oure old seruice of Mattens, masse, Euensong and
procession in Latten as it was before.
By insisting that it was the Mass that mattered, and that it mattered
more than anything else, the humble peasants of Devon and Cornwall
displayed a profoundly Catholic instinct, a true sensus Catholicus
. Their conviction
the Mass could be destroyed the faith itself would be destroyed was one
that they shared with the arch-heretic Martin Luther, who once said:
"Once the Mass has been overthrown, I say we'll have overthrown the
whole of Popedom." 2
The Protestant heresy
was directed not primarily against the papacy but against the Mass.
The Catholics of the west had demanded that those who would not accept
their demands should "dye lyke heretykes against the holy Catholyque
fayth." In the event, it was the rebels who died when the rebellion was
eventually crushed, principally due to the presence of foreign
mercenaries. The Catholic army fought in battle after battle with a
courage that even their opponents acknowledged, but only one outcome
was possible. The final battle took place at Kings Weston in Somerset
on August 29. Exhausted by forced marches, the rebels were in no
condition to withstand the royal army. After "great slaughter and
execution" they were overwhelmed, leaving 104 men prisoners. Singly or
in pairs they were hanged in Bath, Frome, Wells, Glastonbury,
Ilminster, Dunster, Milverton, Wiveliscombe and other Somerset towns.
At least 4,000 West country men died for the traditional Mass at the
hands of the royal army, an enormous number at that time. The new Mass
in English had received its baptism of blood. In their deaths as in
their lives the peasants of the west had shown that for them it was
truly the Mass that mattered. Some words from the Book of Wisdom seem
to have been written specifically for these Martyrs for the Mass:
In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was
taken for misery. And their going away
from us for utter destruction: but they are in peace. And though in the
sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality.
Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because
God has tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the
furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath
received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them (3:2-6).
After the imposition of the "new uniform order" of worship in the
summer of 1549, and the suppression of the popular risings, the pace of
the Protestant movement quickened. An Act of Parliament, reinforced by
a royal proclamation, ordered the calling in for destruction of all the
old "superstitious" Mass books, which the recalcitrant continued to
use; the reforming bishops diligently searched out survivals of "popish
superstition" in the liturgy; churches were denuded of their vestments,
and texts aimed against the Real Presence and the Mass were painted on
the walls. This phase of the Edwardian Reformation is described as
"purely destructive" by the Protestant Professor Bindoff, a conclusion
endorsed and expressed very forcefully by Dr. Eamon Duffy in what is
already an historical classic-----The Stripping of the Altars:
At the heart of the Edwardine reform was the necessity of destroying,
of cutting, hammering, scraping, or melting into a deserved oblivion
the monuments of popery, so that the doctrines they embodied might be
forgotten. Iconoclasm was the central sacrament of the reform, and, as
the program of the leaders became more radical in the years between
1547 and 1553, they sought with greater urgency the celebration of that
sacrament of forgetfulness in every parish in the land. The
churchwardens' accounts of the period witness a wholesale removal of
the images, vestments, and vessels which had been the wonder of foreign
visitors to the country, and in which the collective memory of the
parishes were, quite literally, enshrined. 3
Cranmer's liturgical revolution was so bitterly resented by the
ordinary faithful that many could be induced to attend the new services
only by the threat of legal sanctions. Msgr. Philip Hughes writes:
The new Act of 1552 began by lamenting that, notwithstanding "the very
godly order set forth by the authority of Parliament for common prayer
in the mother tongue," something "very comfortable to all good people"
desiring to live a Christian life, "a great number of people in divers
parts of this realm . . . refuse to come to their parish churches and
other places where common prayer . . . is used." So failure to attend
the services on Sundays and holy days, "there to abide orderly and
soberly during the time of the common prayer" was now made an
offense. . . . Moreover, a
new offense is created: anyone who is present at services of prayer,
"administration of sacraments, making of ministers in the churches" or
any rite at all otherwise done than is set forth in the Prayer Book,
shall upon conviction go to prison for six months on the first offense,
for a year on the second, and for life on the third.
in red added by the Web master.] Such are the first penalties to be
enacted in England for the new crime of hearing Mass, or of receiving
the Sacraments as they had been received ever since St. Augustine came
to convert the English, nearly a thousand years before. 4
Edward VI died in 1553, and Mary, the devoutly Catholic daughter of
Catherine of Aragon, came to the throne determined to restore the
Catholic faith cost what it may. Professor Bindoff notes that soon
after her accession to the throne "the Mass was being celebrated in
London churches 'not by commandment but of the people's devotion,' and
news was coming in of its unopposed revival throughout the country." 5
The restoration of the Catholic faith under Mary Tudor, in union with
the Pope once more, and the restoration of the traditional Latin Mass,
were welcomed with enthusiasm by all but a handful of fanatical
Protestants. Queen Mary died on November 17, 1558, while Mass was being
celebrated in her bed-chamber, and Cardinal Reginald Pole, the last
Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, died on the same day.
Mary's half sister Elizabeth was crowned as a Catholic and promised to
reign as a Catholic, but broke her word almost immediately and reverted
to Protestantism, as this gave her religious as well as political
control over her subjects -----
99% of whom were still
Catholic-minded. "Under Elizabeth, the aim was the extirpation of
Catholicism during her lifetime." 6
This was to be done by promulgating laws that would force the Catholic
people to choose between their faith and financial ruin, imprisonment,
and, in some cases, death.
She reimposed Cranmer's 1552 Book of
Common Prayer with a few slight modifications. Clerics who refused to
use the new Prayer Book, or who used "any other, rite, ceremony, order,
form, or manner of celebration of the Lord's Supper, openly or privily
. . . or who speak in derogation of the book, forfeit a whole year's
income and go to prison for six months. If they offend a second time
they go to prison for a year and, ipso
, lose all their benefices. For a third offense the
punishment is imprisonment for life."
Next there come penalties to discourage lay critics of liturgical
change. All who speak or write in derogation of anything the book
contains, or do anything to cause any clergyman to use any other form
of service than what it contains, or who interrupt or hinder the
performance of those services, are liable, for a first offense, to the
very severe fine of 44 marks. For a second offense there is a fine four
times as great; and for a third offense the penalty is loss of all
goods and chattels and life imprisonment. Furthermore, it was made an
offense for anyone to absent himself from the Sunday service in his
parish church. All Englishmen were now obliged by law to attend the
parish church every Sunday and holy day, under penalty of a fine of
twelve pence each time they were absent. Heavy penalties were also
imposed for anyone found guilty of assisting at the forbidden Latin
Mass: six months for the first offense, twelve months for the second,
and life imprisonment for the third. 7
The first missionary priest did not arrive in the kingdom until 1574.
His name was Lewis Barlow, a Welshman from Pembrokeshire. 8
But by that time the vast majority of Catholics had already drifted
into what proved to be an irreversible habit of compromise. The
attitude of the typical Catholic during the first decade of the reign
of Elizabeth was very different from that of his forbears in 1549. It
is well summarized in Msgr. Philip Hughes' masterpiece, The Reformation in England
"The vast bulk of the nation were untouched by any marked desire to
revolt from the old faith, but it is equally true to affirm that they
were not moved by any great desire to defend it." 9
They most certainly lacked the will to kindle a fire upon the earth.
Most English Catholics eventually surrendered to the constant and
tenacious pressure of the Government, lost contact with the Mass, and
attended the English services. This almost universal apostasy, the true
turning point in the religious history of England, was not a sudden and
spectacular surrender. It was
gradual, but it was cumulative, and in its effects it was permanent.
The Catholics who went to the Anglican services were a sufficiently
large body to be given a special name. They were called, aptly enough,
"Church Papists": Churchgoers for legal purposes, but Papists in
sympathy. It was the new liturgy
which eventually destroyed the old faith.
Only a handful of the
most fervent Catholics refused to attend the Prayer Book services, and
the law lex orandi, lex credendi
imposed itself as it inevitably will. As you pray, so shall you
believe. Msgr. Hughes writes:
Once these new sacramental rites, for example, had become the habit of
the English people the substance of the doctrinal reformation,
victorious now in northern Europe, would have transformed England also.
All but insensibly, as the years went by, the beliefs enshrined in the
old, and now disused, rites, and kept alive by these rites in men's
minds and affections, would disappear-----
need of any systematic missionary effort to preach them down. 10
In other words, what had taken place was the destruction of Catholicism
through the compromise of the vast majority of English Catholics with
the Elizabethan liturgical reform. In
the 45-year reign of "Good Queen Bess" two generations of Englishmen
had reached adulthood without ever experiencing a Latin Mass, or having
their hearts and minds raised to God, to repeat the words of Eamon
Duffy, "by the images, vestments, and vessels which had been the wonder
of foreign visitors to the country, and in which the collective memory
of the parishes were, quite literally, enshrined."
Protestantism seemed to have triumphed totally, but there were still
some who refused to compromise. The Protestant Professor Owen Chadwick
explains, "A small number were not reconciled to change and preferred
to maintain their traditional worship in other lands. These men were
not attracted by the whitewash and the destruction or by seeing
vestments, pyxes, images, copes, altars and censers being sold on the
open market." 11
Above all, it was the young men
who went to seminaries in Europe who preserved the Faith in Britain.
They returned to give the Mass to the people and only too often to give
their lives for the Mass, the traditional Latin Mass which is found in
the Missal of St. Pius V: The despised Catholic remnant thus had a
treasure denied to those who treated them with such contempt, the Mass
of St. Pius V-----
"the most beautiful thing this side of
Heaven," as Father Faber expressed it. This was the pearl of great
price for which they were prepared to pay all that they had-----
pay it they did, priest and layman, butcher's wife and schoolmaster.
The victors had the churches and cathedrals built for the celebration
of the traditional Latin Mass, the vanquished had the Mass, and it was the Mass that mattered.
It is indeed the Mass that matters, and I am sure that all who read
this will agree that the manner in which the holy sacrifice is offered
also matters. Because the Mass is the making present of the Sacrifice
of Calvary, it should be enshrined in a rite of the greatest possible
reverence and dignity, a rite in which the awe-inspiring nature of the
sacrifice we offer is made manifest in every prayer and every ritual
gesture. For 1500 years the rite of Mass developed in a natural and
almost imperceptible manner, with the addition of new prayers and
ceremonies that gave ever clearer liturgical expression to its
sacrificial nature, but always in
conformity to the fundamental principle of fidelity to tradition.
The sixteenth-century Protestants rejected the principle of fidelity to
tradition in favor of the principle of the destruction of tradition.
Their concern was not to reform
the existing order but to introduce a new one that conformed to their heretical beliefs.
"The Protestant Reformers," writes Father Adrian Fortescue, "naturally
played havoc with the old liturgy. It was throughout the expression of
the very ideas the Real Presence, Eucharistic Sacrifice and so on they
rejected. So they substituted for it new Communion services that
expressed their principle but, of course, broke away utterly from all
historic liturgical evolution." 12
It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance . . . of Father
Fortescue's insistence that in composing new services the Protestant
Reformers "broke away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution."
History thus makes clear to us the distinction between true and false
liturgical reform. The essence of
a true liturgical reform is that it contains no drastic revision of the
liturgical traditions that have been handed down. Its most evident
characteristic is fidelity to these traditions.
This means that
the liturgical reform that followed the Second Vatican Council should,
like that of the Protestant Reformation, be termed a revolution. It
"broke away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution." It is not
necessary for the Catholic position to be expressly contradicted for a
rite to become suspect; the suppression of prayers that had given
liturgical expression to the doctrine behind the rite is more than
sufficient to give cause for concern.
The suppression in the Novus Ordo Missae,
the new Mass, of so many prayers from the traditional Mass is a cause
not simply for concern but for scandal. In almost every case they are
the same prayers suppressed by Luther and by Thomas Cranmer.
The Mass of Pope Paul VI [he meant as issued in Latin and not
necessarily subsequent faulty translations-----
Web Master] is valid and contains no heresy, but the suppression of
prayers which had given liturgical expression to the doctrine behind
the rite is more than sufficient to give cause for concern to all those
faithful who, like the Martyrs of Devon and Cornwall, possess a true sensus Catholicus
The fact that the Mass of Pope Paul VI as it is celebrated in so many
parishes today constitutes a breach with authentic liturgical
development has been confirmed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect
for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith:
J. A. Jungmann, one of the truly great liturgists of our time, defined
the liturgy of his day, such as it could be understood in the light of
historical research, as a "liturgy which is the fruit of development".
What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the
place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated
liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and
development over centuries, and replaced it, as in a manufacturing
process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product. 13
As was the case during the reign
of Elizabeth I, the contemporary Church papists who take part each
Sunday in what can only too often be termed liturgical travesties, grow
accustomed to them. Their children accept as normal tables in place of
altars, female acolytes, sanctuaries infested by hordes of
extraordinary Eucharistic monsters, standing for Communion, Communion
in the hand, mindless ditties in place of Gregorian chant. Like the
children of the Elizabethan Church papists, two generations of
post-Vatican II Catholics have reached adulthood without ever
experiencing the traditional Latin Mass and the feelings of awe,
reverence, and the majestic presence of God which it evokes.
"Keep the Faith" was the watchword of the faithful remnant during the
reign of Elizabeth I, and one
cannot keep the Faith by compromising.
What I have been trying to make clear is that the effect of decades of
attendance at a typical celebration of the new Mass can be identical to
the effect of decades of assistance by the Church papists at Anglican
services during the reign of Elizabeth I.
To paraphrase Msgr.
Hughes, as the years pass by, the beliefs enshrined in the old, and now
disused, rites, and kept alive by these rites in men's minds and
affections, disappear. Msgr. Klaus Gamber sums up the effect of the
post-conciliar reform in one devastating sentence: "At this critical
juncture, the traditional Roman rite, more than one thousand years old,
has been destroyed." 14
The post Vatican
II has brought no good fruits whatsoever-----
Msgr. Gamber puts it, "a liturgical destruction of startling proportions-----
debacle worsening with each passing year." 15
I have mentioned the Western
Rising not for its historical interest, great though this is, but
because we, like the Martyrs of 1549, are engaged in a conflict, and
what is at stake is the Mass, the precious gift of the Holy Eucharist,
which is seen today as no more than symbol by 70% of young American
We are engaged in a
war with the same objectives as the Martyrs of the West, and when we
bear in mind the sacrifices that they made because the Mass truly
mattered to them, we should be prepared to make the sacrifices needed
to restore the Mass of St. Pius V; sacrifices involving time, money,
travel, and bearing the
disapproval or even ridicule of fellow Catholics, clerical and lay.
Let us not be like those Catholics in Elizabethan England who were
untouched by any marked desire to revolt from the old faith, but were
not moved by any great desire to defend it.
Like the western
Martyrs let us say, "We wyll haue the masse in Latten, as was before.
We wyll haue the Sacrament hang ouer the hyeghe aulter, and there to be
worshypped as it was wount to be. . . . We wyll not receyue the
newe seruyce because it is but lyke a Christmas game." If this makes us
rebels, then I for one am happy to be one. Those of us who fight for
our Latin liturgical heritage may be termed reactionary, ignorant, or
even schismatic, but in reality we are in the direct tradition of the
Maccabees of the Old Testament. The commentary upon the Mass for the
twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost in the St. Andrew Daily Missal
One of the most outstanding
lessons which may be drawn from the books of Maccabees . . . is the
reverence due to the things of God. What is generally called the
rebellion of the Maccabees was in reality a magnificent example of
fidelity to God, to His law, and to the covenants and promises that He
had made to His people. These were threatened with oblivion and it was
to uphold them that the Maccabees rebelled.
The Mass of St. Pius V epitomizes
the faith of our fathers; it is the liturgy celebrated in secret by the
Martyr priests of England and Wales, it is the liturgy that was
celebrated at the Mass rocks of Ireland, it is the liturgy celebrated
by the North American Martyrs who died deaths that are too horrific to
describe, it is the Mass described by the great English Oratorian
Father Frederick Faber, as "the most beautiful thing this side of
Heaven." We will have the Mass-----the
Mass of St. Pius V; and if we take our faith seriously we must resolve
to kindle a fire upon the earth, a purifying fire that will make this
insistence a reality.
1. M. Powicke, The
Reformation in England
(Oxford, 1953), pp. 86-87.
2. Werke, vol. Xb, p. 220.
3. E. Duffy, The
Stripping of the Altars
(Yale, 1992), p 480.
4. P. Hughes, The
Reformation in England
(London, 1950), vol. II. p. 126 Emphasis
5. S T. Bindoff, Tudor
(London, 1952), p. 168.
6. J.J. Dwyer, The
Reformation in England
(CTS, London, 1962), p. 2l.
7. Hughes, vol. III, pp. 33-34.
8. D. Bellinger, English
and Welsh Priests
1558-1800 (Downside Abbey Press, 1984), pp.
9. Hughes, vol. III, p.49.
10. Hughes, vol. II, p. III.
11. The Reformation
12. A. Fortescue, The
Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy
(London, 1917), pp. 205-6.
13. Preface to the French edition of The Reform of the Roman Liturgy
Msgr. Klaus Gamber .
14. The Reform of
the Roman Liturgy
K. Gamber (Roman Catholic Books, P.O. Box 255, Harrison, N.Y. 10528,
16. February 1995 issue of The Homiletic and Pastoral Review
an article by Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw.
OF THE 40 ENGLISH MARTYRS