Saturday, 14 May 2011

Evelyn Waugh and Universae Ecclesiae

It is, in my view, time for a re-evaluation of Evelyn Waugh. He has been too often derided as a conservative and yet, in one respect at least, his time has now come.

At a time when Universae Ecclesiae has just been promulgated it may be worth recalling the comments Waugh made both in his diaries and in a letter to the Catholic Herald  (which can be found in A Little Order, a selection of his journalism to which I shall return in a few days):

"When I first came into the Church," he wrote in his diary during Easter 1964, "I was drawn, not by splendid ceremonies but by the spectacle of the priest as a craftsman. He had an important job to do which none but he was qualified for. He and his apprentice stumped up to the altar with their tools and set to work without a glance to those behind them, still less with any intention to make a personal impression on them.

"'Participate' - the cant word - does not mean to make a row as the Germans suppose. One participates in a work of art when one studies it with reverence and understanding."

In the letter to the Catholic Herald on 7th August 1964 he argued that: "'Participation' in the Mass does not mean hearing our own voices. It means God hearing our voices. Only He knows who is 'participating' at Mass. I believe, to compare small things with great, that I 'participate' in a work of art when I study it and love it silently. No need to shout."

He finishes the letter by again adapting, and significantly adding to, the words of his earlier diary entry: "I am now old but I was young when 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. By all means let the rowdy have their 'dialogues', but let us who value silence not be completely forgotten."

These views may have seemed curiously old-fashioned in 1964 but, during the current pontificate, they seem prescient. It might well be time to return to Waugh's words now that the Roman tide has turned.

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