High Mass Low Class

Why do so many people feel it necessary to find a category for the new pope and place him into and a label with which to brand him? Is he a liberal? Is he a conservative? Is he low church? Is he high Church? So many seem to want a label so they can either love him or loathe him. With a label they can keep him safe. I understand he is new, he is also non European. They want to find a way to fit him into their category structure by which they make sense of life, but maybe, like Aslan, he’s not a tame lion. What if here were both liberal and conservative? What if he is both high church and low church? What if he’s unpredictable?

I see that he is known for his work with the poor. He has lived a Franciscan kind of life. He has a folksy style. He is a people person. All that is good and refreshing. However, some suspect that this people centered style is also what we in the Anglican church called  “low church”. The low churchman was for simplicity in worship, a people centered ministry and a distrust of fancy stuff. The ones who went in for lace, incense, processions, pilgrimages, vestments and vespers were “high church”.

They were the Anglo Catholics. I must admit that I was never an Anglo Catholic, and I didn’t much like them. When I was an Anglican in the 1980s, too often the men who were high in their churchmanship were also rather “high” in their personal proclivities. To be blunt, they were effeminate and campy. They were all silk chasubles and china teacups, and you got the impression that when they were leafing through catalogues searching for materials for their vestments that they were also ordering a new set of drapes for the vicarage window treatments. I worry that some of this has crept into the traditionalist movement in the Catholic Church too. Perhaps at times there may be just a few of the traditionalist clergy who are a bit too concerned with the brocades and lace and riddle curtains? Maybe there are some who are a bit too fond of fine dining and “the good life”? Perhaps their fine taste and high church liturgical style distance them from the “ordinary Catholic”?

I make this mild observation, by the way, as a priest who, himself  wears a biretta on Sundays, and has lace on his alb, and appreciates fine architecture, art, sacred music, good liturgy and a nice restaurant.

On the other hand, have not those who are “good with people” and have a “people centered ministry” sometimes done injustice to the liturgy? Have they not thrown out the venerable traditions of the church? Have they not, in an attempt to be relevant and up to date, gone to the other extreme and wrecked our churches, destroyed our ancient traditions, dumbed down the liturgy to the extremes of being casual, flippant ,heretical and even blasphemous? Haven’t they sold us short; replaced solid catechesis with sentimentality and turned the divine liturgy into a kind of game show, self preening showtime or teen entertainment? I think so.

OK. Let us put aside the criticisms. Let us drop the stone we were about to fling and the mud we were about to sling. Let us see what is positive.

Instead of judging others, I recall one of the good things about the Anglo Catholics, and it may give us inspiration and instruction.

Still in the 1980s, when I was a priest in the Church of England there were a few of the really good old Anglo Catholics left. The old time Anglo Catholics–the good old men of the Oxford Movement won the hearts of the English people to high church Anglicanism in a way I would love to see come alive today in the Catholic Church today.

They combined high church worship for lower class people. It was high Mass and low class. When I say “low class” I simply mean the underclass, the poor, the marginalized and the needy. Read More


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