Tuesday, December 02, 2008

In Memoriam A.H.M.

At present Melancholicus is reading a book.

This used to happen more regularly than it does at present owing to his unfortunate discovery last year of this wonderful piece of software—I say unfortunate because though an immensely enjoyable pastime, Rome: Total War has proved to be a tremendous thief of time and hence an occasion of sin.

But back to reading. The book in question is called Martyr of Ritualism, by Michael Reynolds, and was first published in 1965. It is a life of Father Alexander Heriot Mackonochie (1825-87), vicar of St. Alban’s, Holborn.

This book is absorbing reading. Melancholicus found it gathering dust in a little-visited corner of the university library, and when he went to borrow it he discovered with some satisfaction that he was the very first reader to do so. It has been in his possession for only two weeks, but he is already on the final chapter.

Martyr of Ritualism is in many ways a powerful and moving story. The ritualists, as they became known, were the immediate heirs of the Tractarian school of the Church of England in the middle years of the nineteenth century. If men like Keble, Pusey and Newman laid the foundations by setting forth the intellectual basis for the Catholicism of the English Church, it was left to those who followed after to implement the practical consequences of the Oxford Movement. The gradual Catholicising (some might—and did—say ‘Romanising’) of the English Church was a protracted and often painful affair; those whose pioneering labours in the liturgical and pastoral expression of rediscovered Catholic doctrines suffered much from the harrassment of protestant agitators such as the Church Association, as well as from unsympathetic bishops. Some prominent ritualists such as Mackonochie were prosecuted repeatedly for illegal liturgical acts and appurtenances, such as vestments, Confiteor and Last Gospel, ceremonial mixing of the chalice, wafers, the lavabo, hiding of the manual acts, the sign of the cross, the sanctus bell, incense, portable lights, lights upon the holy table, holy water, the blessing of palms, Tenebrae, the paschal candle, the stations of the cross, the observance of days not appointed to be observed by the Prayer Book, the eastward (ad orientem) position, the elevation of the host and chalice, and the recitation of the Canon of the Mass. Although Mackonochie was never actually imprisoned, other ritualists such as Arthur Tooth and Richard Enraght were sent to gaol for their liturgical defence of Catholic doctrine (at least as they understood it). They were also pilloried in the newspapers, often becoming the victims of caricatures and cartoons in such publications as Punch and Vanity Fair. But, in marked contrast to the lily-livered milquetoast prelates of the contemporary Roman and Anglican Churches, they held their ground, not allowing fear of persecution or media ridicule to budge them one inch from their principles. Mackonochie was prepared to suffer ceaseless litigation, suspension, deprivation and even imprisonment for those eucharistic ceremonies he recognised as integral to the liturgical expression of the Faith.

What a breathtaking contrast to the thoroughly secular, de-catholicised and effeminate clergy of our own day.

For all their portrayal in satirical cartoons as precious ‘lace and holy water priests’, the Anglo-Catholic ritualists of the 1860s and 1870s were tough guys. Heroes. They were men. Manly men. And they had a tremendous appetite for work and ministry in some of the poorest and most deprived slums in England.

What are we to think when so many of the ceremonial items, vestments, acts and gestures for which Father Mackonochie fought so hard and suffered so much, would just a hundred years later be jettisoned without so much as a backward glance by an entire generation of supposedly ‘Catholic’ priests and bishops drunk on the fanaticism of ‘aggiornamento’, and all that hated word connotes?

What would Father Mackonochie have had to say about the kind of Mass Melancholicus witnessed yesterday in the chapel of the university?

It is a scandal. Truly a scandal.

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