I write on July 1st, 1985. Edmund Forester died on April 23rd, 1977, over eight years ago. What has happened since then and what has been his influence?

As I am still a member of Bishop Forester’s Trust, I shall not discuss the diocese of Stamford for fear of aggravating a delicate situation. Suffice it to say, thanks to the ability of the Duchess of Blackwater, the determination of Mgr Defew and pressure from Mr Glauben, there has been little change in diocesan policy. Bishop Cocksedge died of a stroke in February 1980. The present bishop is the well known charismatic, Mgr Roderic Sludge. He has proved to be accommodating. Of course, as President of WOCO (World Organization for Charismatic Oecumenicity), he is rarely in Europe and never at Stamford. He is happy to let Mgr Defew run the diocese.

But what has happened to the Church at large?

The great event was the election in October 1978 of Pope John-Paul II. Anyone with a reasonably sensitive palate could feel the change in the hand which held the reins. The bit ceased to bite. But there was no change in direction of the cumbersome Vatican coach which trundled along under its acquired momentum. The Novus Ordo was still obligatory and exclusive. The immemorial Mass was still forbidden.

The position even appeared to deteriorate. In December 1981, Archbishop Noe, Secretary of the Roman congregation for the Liturgy (the SCSCD), published a document to prove, statistics in hand, that 98.68% of bishops, and by implication their flocks, were enthusiastic supporters of the Novus Ordo. The immemorial Mass was no more than a memory, the sooner forgotten the better. Even at the time of its publication, I felt that Archbishop Noe was being a trifle hysterical. A government is never more emphatic about its determination to maintain the value of its currency than on the eve of devaluation. Events proved me to be right.

I had published Bishop Forester’s correspondence under the title of Mitre and Crook in March 1979. It was virtually suppressed in June the same year when under a thousand copies had been sold. No publisher could be found to reprint it. It was only saved from oblivion thanks to the reaction against Mgr Noe’s gross overstatement. A French publisher promptly approached me for permission to issue a translation. It duly appeared in 1982 under the title of La Paix de Mgr Forester. It was an immediate success and has to be reprinted. The French edition not only sold well but, to my certain knowledge, has received careful consideration in the Vatican. It represented, in fact, the first serious attempt to show that, in view of the lamentable divisions within the Church, what was wanted was a “negotiated peace” rather than “unconditional surrender” from either side. The idea is gradually gaining force.

In the following year, February 1983, there emerged the first solid ground for hope out of the morass of waffle. Its origin was unexpected: the New Code of Canon Law. But it requires a little explanation. It will be remembered that the theological basis for the Novus Ordo was the first version (later amended) of clause 7 of the Institutio Generalis of 1969. It reads: “Mass is the synaxis or assembly of the People of God.” The origin of this definition lies in the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg of 1530. It was adopted by Henry VIII of England in the thirteen articles of 1538 as: “the Mass is nothing but a communion or synaxis”—in which the word “communion” does not refer to Holy Communion but means a reunion or gathering, as does synaxis. The Mass becomes reversed: instead of an action of Jesus at which the people assist, it becomes an act of the people at which Jesus assists.

Well, what does the New Code got to say about it? Rather a lot, but Cn 904 will suffice. Here it is: “Remembering always that in the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice the work of redemption is continually being carried out, priests are to celebrate frequently. Indeed, daily celebration is earnestly recommended because, even if it should not be possible to have the faithful present, it is an action of Christ and of the Church in which priests fulfil their principal role.” The implications of this canon are so far-reaching that I fear to weaken its impact with silly comments. Suffice it to say that it is in direct and deliberate opposition to the clause governing the Novus Ordo. Far from being “the assembly of the People of God,” Mass should be said even if there is no assembly at all. No lawyer can have written this by mistake. It is, and is intended to be, a direct refutation. As a result, a reform of the Novus Ordo becomes imperative, in order to bring it into line with Canon Law. This is of the utmost importance.

Then, in October 1984, the first general indult in favour of the old Mass was born. It was wrapped in absurdly restrictive swaddling clothes but at least it had not been aborted. Its basic trouble is that it works the wrong way round: instead of the bishops being asked to make appropriate arrangements, it is the people of God who are expected to prod and push their bishops. This we do not want to do. Badgering bishops is not among our leisure pleasures. We do not wish to extort a grudging permission from an unwilling Father in God; we should prefer a token of his paternal love in the kiss of peace.

However, it is perfectly clear that the Indult is not, and is not intended to be, a permanent peace. It is more like the exercise of flying a kite to gauge the attitudes of the contestants. In this respect, conservative Catholics have shown up remarkably well. They were overwhelmed with gratitude at being recognized as members of the Church, even though they were still excluded from their parish churches. The paternal instinct has also been awakened in the hearts of a sizable number of bishops. It is true to say that the Indult has not worked in practice, for the simple reason that it is impracticable. But it is in the process of working through a change in attitudes.

The change is well illustrated by the present book. When Edmund Forester exploded his bomb in January 1977, he seemed bold to the point of folly. When I published his correspondence in 1979 it was equally unacceptable to progressives and traditionalists. It also appeared as too much of a pipe-dream for the average Catholic. In 1985 it is being reprinted precisely because Bishop Forester’s proposals seem to provide a reasonable basis for a negotiated peace. I shall consequently repeat them in summary.

  1. The Old Rite as it stood in 1962 and the New Rite as promulgated in 1970 should be equally licit. The former should be said in Latin; the latter in the vernacular, which should be revised to agree with the Latin original.
  2. However, since Prex I in the New Rite is practically identical with the Canon of the Old Rite, it should become obsolete and should be suppressed. In its stead there should be. . .
  3. a so-called “Common Mass.” It would consist of: a. the New Rite, in the vernacular with the priest in stole facing the people, for the Ministry of the Word up to the Creed; b. from the Creed onwards, the Old Rite in Latin with the priest in chasuble and with his back to the people.
  4. This Common Mass should be considered as belonging to either rite, new or old. Hence its name. By its use a traditionalist priest could satisfy any obligation to say the new Mass and a progressive to say the old. Bishop Forester thought it highly desirable that Catholics of the Roman Rite should have some form of Mass in common.
  5. On weekdays and for private Masses the celebrant could use which rite he liked. For Sundays and holydays of obligation, the Sacred Congregation for the Liturgy should lay down guidelines to ensure that, as far as possible, both rites should be available to the faithful. With a little goodwill this should present no insuperable obstacle.
  6. Religious Superiors should decide on the form of Mass to be used in their own establishments. Bishop Forester attached great importance to this. Many times he said to me in substance: “It is not a question of saving the Cistercians of Deepdale or the Ladies of the Veil, but of restoring a contemplative Mass to the contemplatives. They have renounced the world. It is, therefore, the height of absurdity that they should be subjected to it in the supreme act of adoration. A worldly, vernacular, participational Mass may have some justification for worldly people, incapable of adoration. It is an insult to the very vocation of monks and nuns.

Such were Edmund Forester’s proposals for peace. Of course, for his or any other plan to work, bishops, priests and laity would have to want it to. Do they in fact want peace sufficiently to sacrifice their own terms for what is honourable or possible? The trouble is that to make a sacrifice requires love. Does nobody any more love the Church? Not even “The Mystical Body of Christ, which was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Apostles at Pentecost, and was made the church?”

I shall end on a personal note. I have never said the New Mass. I resigned my parish rather than be under an obligation to do so. I have no intention of saying it. Neither will it be said over my dead body. Nevertheless, I should say Bishop Forester’s “Common Mass” tomorrow if I knew it would contribute to bringing peace to Holy Church.

Bryan Houghton

July 1st, 1985