when told would perhaps say "how odd; was it really necessary?".
The Great Controversy was of course the long, sometimes amusing, sometimes angry, correspondence on English in the Liturgy that went on in the columns of the Catholic Herald for something like 20 years. It began in the early years of World War II and was sparked off by the foundation of the Society for English in the Liturgy by Fr Samuel Gosling and a few others. He was parish priest of Alton in Staffordshire and until 1939 was Editor of the Sower, well known (some would say notorious) for its independent views.
One or two letters appeared in the Catholic Herald and the then Editor, Michael de la Bedoyere, also a man of penetrating mind and independent views, was happy to make his paper a forum for discussion of the matter. No matter if people in high places thought it was a closed question or that its ventilation was almost heretical.
Bedoyere though it permissible and let the controversy roll. This was his policy in other matters too. It did not earn him a great deal of popularity but people read his paper!
Of course many silly things were said during those 20 years. The subject was new and often information was wanting. Some seemed to think that the Mass in the West had always been in Latin from the very beginning, not knowing that it had been celebrated even in Rome in Greek until the fourth century.
The usual arguments were repeated again and again. The Latin Mass was a mark of the universality of the Church (the Greeks, the Copts, the Maronites and the rest were of course just peculiar people) and you could go all over the world and understand (or not understand) the Mass as you did at home.
It was the argumentum ex turismo. Others were perfectly content with their English-Latin missals by which they could "follow" the Mass, forgetting that there were vast numbers who went to Mass every Sunday without any sort of missal, much less an English-Latin one.
Some, understandably, were vehemently opposed to any English in the Liturgy. Latin was sacred, the Mass was sacred and must not be touched. Yet others showed a somewhat cavalier attitude to the rite and did not realise the very considerable implications for the liturgy of a change from Latin to English. They might be described as the whole-hoggers.
Such reactions on both sides of the argument were understandable but those of us who were striving for some English in the liturgy felt that we were the targets of both the "right" and the "left". At that time our desires and aims were very modest. We wanted the scriptures at Mass to be read to the people directly in their own language and if the opening prayers, those over the offerings and those after communion could be in English that would be a bonus.
We felt that people needed and deserved a measure of English in the sacraments and in the burial of the dead. Few if any who were against the use of English realised that it was a form of insensitivity to have to preside at funerals and use only Latin.
Of course many of the clergy used some English prayers after the official service but the bereaved, the weak and nonpractising Catholic had to submit to long spiels in a foreign language first. Some of us felt also that as long as the offices of Vespers and Compline had to be in Latin the people were being deprived of a knowledge of the psalms. Already before the war Fr Gosling's people were singing Compline in English and some years later Fr Clifford Howell worked out an English Compline that was widely used before the Vatican Council.
When the war came to an end and it was possible to move about Europe again it became apparent that Rome had allowed some measure of the vernacular in the administration of the sacraments. The first mixed language ritual came for Austria in 1947, immediately followed by one for France but the largest measure of the vernacular was allowed for Germany in 1948. The USA received its ritual a little
As for the Mass the German Betsingmesse (literally the prayer-song-Mass), long in use in German-speaking countries, became known. Fr Clifford Howell was something of an expert on the subject. Roughly the formula was like this: the people sang more or less close paraphrases of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus etc in German. The conventional High or Sung Mass continued but the Betsingmesse was very popular.
Meanwhile in England the official attitude remained rigid, but the knowledge of what had been permitted for other countries made us feel that we were not the way-out "rebels" that some thought us.
By 1950 or so the situation in the Church seemed to be becoming fluid and realistic hopes began to spring. The powerful pastoral liturgical movement which at first was not about reform but about making the existing liturgy as available to the people as possible was sweeping Europe. There were the international liturgical congresses, notably that of 1956 at Assisi where Fr Bea (not yet a cardinal) received a great ovation for his lecture on the Word of God in the liturgy and the modest Fr Jungmann, known to be in favour of the vernacular in the liturgy, was given a standing ovation of several minutes both before and after his lecture. And this congress was held under the aegis of Rome itself.
Then in 1958 came the Instruction on Sacred Music, the last act of Pius XII before his death in that year. This permitted the use of vernacular hymns at Mass provided they were suitable and sung at the appropriate places. The use of lay-people as readers of the scriptures was also
allowed (although if 1 remember rightly the celebrant had to read them silently in Latin).
To those who paid attention this seemed to be the first and real breakthrough and when it was announced after the opening of the Vatican Council (1962) that the schema on the liturgy would be the first to be debated hope — and fears ran high.
Would the Council Fathers be disposed to allow the use of any of the modern vernaculars in the liturgy? Or would they repeat the dictum of the Council of Trent that such permission was "inexpedient"? Expectation had been growing that at the least they would allow the vernacular to be used for the scriptures and by now the hope of many was that the whole of the first part of the Mass, now called the Liturgy of the Word, would be in the vernacular.
Gradually and with difficulty (for publicity about the first session was almost non-existent) we learned that a tussle was going on and fear almost conquered hope. It was not until the end of the second session (1963) and thanks to the energy of Fr Clifford Howell who had rapidly translated the Constitution on the Liturgy during the session that we learned that the vernacular could be used for the scripture readings and for "some of the prayers and chants" and that it would be for conferences of bishops to determine how and when the language of the people might be used. This also applied to the sacraments (nos 36, 41).
This was far more than most of us had hoped for and we greeted the Constitution with enthusiasm and joy. The decision had now