High Mass Low Class

The Anglo Catholics in the first half of the twentieth century went into the slums of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Portsmouth and the other great cities, and they built beautiful big old brick neo Gothic churches. They started parish Sunday Schools and youth clubs. They built parish schools and they lived and worked with the poor. However, they also celebrated the liturgy with the fullness of Catholic glory. They spent money on beautiful churches and spent time and effort on beautiful liturgy.

They wiped the snot off the faces of the grubby kids from the street, combed their hair, shined their shoes and trained them to be first rate altar servers. They got the girls and boys from the streets and taught them to sing in Anglican choirs. They put them through school. They ministered to their working class parents. They built up the faith and didn’t compromise, and they did not dumb down the liturgy in some kind of patronizing nonsense to make it “accessible” to people. They taught them to sing fine old Anglican hymns which were full of solid theology and splendid poetry set to grand and noble tunes. They took the people from the city on pilgrimages to Walsingham and parish outings to Glastonbury and so taught them the faith.

Furthermore, they took their example from the Catholic priests who were doing the same in the slums of Ireland and Italy.

So why can’t we do this? Why is it so very hard to live a life of apostolic simplicity–working with God’s poor people and yet not cheapening or lowering the liturgy in some kind of banal attempt to relate and be “relevant”? “The people” are not so stupid. The children especially are not so stupid. They know beauty when they see it. They recognize truth when they hear it. Most of all, they see and understand love when it is offered to them.

This is my hope for this papacy, that by the example of our new Holy Father we will catch a new vision of a Catholicism that is high church and low class–where we minister and live in simplicity and radical discipleship–where we show that we worship a Lord who was born in a stable, but came there from the kingdom of heaven, and that we also show ordinary men and women that, although their lives are low and bare they too are destined for greatness and glory.

This glorious contradiction is what the Catholic faith should offer. This is what we always DID offer. The missionaries went to the people in the most squalid and poor conditions and built the most beautiful church they could manage. They taught them a beautiful liturgy and beautiful music for that was what lifted their lives and pointed them to their eternal destiny.

The true Catholic, missionary spirit will do the same today: we will live and work and love the ordinary people, and we will lead them to a worship which is transcendent and divine because through it they will glimpse the glory for which they were created, and we will do so with lives that are simplified and free– lives that are radical examples of both the height of glory and the depth of the human condition.


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