English Catholic Worship by J. D. Crichton, H. LI. Winstonc, .1. R. Ailnslie (editors) Geoffrey Chapman, £22 xii + 163 pp.
LITURGY is the expression of life, and in this Golden Jubilee volume of the Society of Saint Gregory, subtitled Liturgical Renewal in England since 1900. it is fascinating to see how this was true of the English scene.
The first two chapters, by Michael Richards and J. D. Crichton respectively, are especially interesting; they deal with the period 1890 to 1940.
Fr Richards catches admirably the mood of the Church in England at the moment of the opening of Westminster Cathedral — a class-conscious list of the founders and benefactors who had seats, and a reminder that the Catholic Church was the one Church which still had a care to serve the poor and held their devotion.
Then Fr Chrichton catalogues the gradual awakening and increase in self-confidence of English Catholics, the change to a Church which had a strong middle-class element, the foundation of Catholic papers (The Catholic Herald under the fiery editorship of Michael de la Bedoycre) and of the society of St Gregory itself by Dom Bernard .McElligott (of whom a memoir closes the book). Liturgically the history of this period is largely that of a struggle against decline, where a silent, Latin low Mass served chiefly as a centre for private devotions and any active participation, in the form of hymn-singing, was focused round Benediction and evening devotions; the liturgical movement consisted chiefly in the heroic and successful struggle to re-introduce plainsong,
There follow chapters by the editors on the liturgical movement up to Vatican II, which do much to explain the backwardness of the country and its unpreparedness to embrace the changes introduced by the Council. Interestingly Fr Crichton points out that the Second World War and its contact with foreign ways acted as a catalyst to change, though still "the English Channel proved to be an all-too-effective Water Curtain" (p. 73).
The contrast with other countries is depressingly illustrated (with a good deal of overlap with other chapters) by Kevin Donovan's chapter "Influences on the English Liturgical Scene", where a good survey is given of the liturgical movement on the continent. A final essay, "Task Unfinished" by Christopher Walsh, does little to relieve the depression: what is needed, says Fr Walsh. is not tinkering with liturgical forms but a wholesale renewal of Church life so that there can be a genuine Christian commitment which the liturgy may express. And yet when all is said and done. one cannot but he amazed and grateful that so much has been accomplished in so short a time.