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Liturgy, Pastoral Care, and Western Civilisation by Sebastian Morello

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Liturgy, Pastoral Care, and Western Civilisation

Right panel of the triptych “The Seven Sacraments” by Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464), located in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.

Photo: Public Domain.

Recently, Catholic bishops of England and Wales had an online meeting, during which they apparently decided to further intensify the current assault on the Catholic Church’s ancient Roman liturgy, and the community of faithful attached to it. At this meeting they evidently agreed to abandon the conferring of the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the ancient liturgy. Consequently, Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham announced his decision to cancel the forthcoming reception of Confirmation—two weeks before it was due to go ahead.

Numerous families across the U.K. had been spiritually preparing their children over the past year or so to receive this Sacrament. Many children and young people had been intentionally deepening their prayer lives and studying their catechisms and classics of Christian spirituality in preparation for—as Aquinas called it—the “Sacrament of the Martyrs.” One of the confirmandi, I am informed, is a young lady who is dying of leukaemia, and was looking forward to receiving this Sacrament in the ancient liturgy before she passed away. But Archbishop Longley pulled the plug on this event with, I repeat, two weeks’ notice.

I am going to ask the blindingly obvious question: how is this pastoral care? 

Over the past few years, we have heard endless homilies, addresses, and exhortations from the pope and the bishops about the need for clergy with “hearts of pastors,” and the importance of having “pastors who smell of their sheep,” as Francis charmingly put it. Even in Traditionis Custodes, the edict that initiated this clampdown on the traditional liturgy and the faithful attached to it, we read that any ecclesiastical oversight of such communities must have proper “pastoral care of these groups of the faithful,” must “be animated by a lively pastoral charity,” and must have a “heart” for “the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful.”

Where is the pastoral care for these young people and their families? Point out, in this decision, the “lively pastoral charity” required by the very document by which our bishops claim to be motivated in their present behaviour. As Joseph Shaw has asked in his excellent analysis of this decision: “Could Archbishop Longley not have delayed his 180-degree reversal of policy for just a couple of weeks, for the good of souls?” 

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” says the Lord (Matthew 19:14).

Senior clergy persistently talk about the primacy of ‘pastoral care,’ implicitly presenting themselves as exemplars. Now they refuse to extend such care to those who want nothing more than to worship God as did their forefathers in the Faith. Such faithful have remarkably found themselves on the “peripheries” of the Church, but the “field hospital” (a favourite phrase of Pope Francis for the Church) won’t look after them—in fact, it has become a Dignitas clinic, attempting to force a quiet death on these faithful attached to the Church’s ancient liturgy. The word for such behaviour by the clergy is hypocrisy, about which the Lord has plenty to say.

It is clear why all this should be important to Catholics, but in fact it should matter to everyone.

What happens to the Church is significant for the civilisation of which it is a part in the same way as what happens to the soul is significant for the person whose soul it is. In truth, there is no such thing as ‘Europe’ or ‘the West’ unless by these terms we mean the assumption of Greek wisdom, Roman law, and pre-Christian culture into the supernatural life of the Church. As Hilaire Belloc famously declared, “Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe.”

Our civilisation depends on its Christian heritage, but leaders of the Church—which is the guardian of that heritage—are at present repudiating that heritage. Lately, incumbents of the Church’s highest offices have expressed their desire that the faithful devoted to the traditional liturgy cease to exist, and many in the hierarchy are working together to make this happen. Their behaviour towards these members of their own flock, including very young members, is disgraceful to say the least. 

It was not that long ago that educated people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, understood the seriousness of behaviour of this kind. One only needs to think, for example, of the central role of the Requiem in the canon of Western material culture to understand why. 

In 1971, after the then pope (Paul VI) had—like his present successor—sought to make the ancient liturgy inaccessible, a petition was sent to Rome requesting permission for this liturgy to continue in Great Britain. Among the signatories were Agatha Christie, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Kenneth Clark, Robert Graves, F.R. Leavis, Cecil Day-Lewis, Nancy Mitford, Iris Murdoch, William Rees-Mogg, Yehudi Menuhin, Malcolm Muggeridge, Joan Sutherland, the Anglican bishops of Exeter and of Ripon, and many other notable people. The permission that was then granted became affectionately known among traditional British Catholics as the ‘Agatha Christie indult.’ Astonishingly, the curial official Arthur Roche, a chief architect of the present persecution of traditional Catholics, has—like a Soviet commissar rewriting inconvenient history—questioned the existence of any such indult (he could have just looked up its Wikipedia page).

All should be scandalised by what is presently underway in the Catholic Church.

Sebastian Morello is a lecturer, public speaker, and columnist. Trained by Sir Roger Scruton, he has published books on philosophy, history, and education. He lives in Bedfordshire, England, with his wife and children. He is essays editor of The European Conservative.


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