Rorate readers will by now know the sad fate of the parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen, in the south east of Greater London. With the blogging priest Fr Timothy Finigan as pastor, the parish had become famous as a centre for the Traditional liturgy. On the second Sunday of his successor, Fr Steven Fisher, it was announced that the Traditional Mass would no longer be celebrated in the parish, effective from the end of the month.
In order to understand this event, readers need to bear in mind a number of facts. One is the poisonous article on the parish in 2009, which appeared in the Tablet, the British liberal Catholic weekly. In this a number of long-standing liberal dissidents who, unfortunately for the parish, live within its boundaries, queued up to attack Fr Finigan for introducing the Traditional Mass into the parish schedule: despite the fact that three of the four Sunday celebrations continued to be the Novus Ordo. They were led by Bernard Wynne, quoted in the Tablet article, a leading member of ‘Advent Group’, which campaigns against priestly celibacy, ‘Catholics for a Changing Church’, founded to oppose Humanae Vitae, and the more recently formed ‘Stand Up for Vatican II’. When people like Bernard Wynne stir up problems in a parish, periodicals like the Tablet can always be found to blame the priest for being too orthodox and the other laity for being attached to the Traditional Mass. The article has left a cloud of suspicion hanging over the parish among the establishment liberals who allow their prejudices to be formed by the Tablet.
In actual fact, worshippers at the Traditional Mass in Blackfen were perfectly integrated into the parish. They supported parish events and parish fundraising, and by the time Fr Finigan left they were long established as the largest congregation at any of the four Sunday Masses.
The other thing readers need to understand, is that Fr Finigan’s replacement arrived with everyone, apparently including Archbishop Peter Smith, expecting him to continue to celebrate the Traditional Mass in the parish. It was widely known that Fr Fisher could, and on occasion, had, celebrated the Traditional Mass in his former parish. Fr Finigan had prepared the Faithful for the transition by assuring them that the Masses would continue. On his first Sunday in the parish, Fr Fisher did indeed celebrate a Missa Cantata as usual. But that is also when the problems started.
His sermon included these
passages (emphasis added):
Fr. Steven Fisher (a more up-to-date picture)
“Every activity we carry out together in the parish must be for the purpose of drawing us together in unity. Anything that divides must be cut away, to make way for that which unites. Only united can we show to the community around us what it truly means to be Catholic in the 21st century. … We can sit down together and start drawing up a plan and a vision for the future to bring about the vision of Vatican II and make this a strong, vibrant parish in the modern world.”
“People from outside the parish also come to Mass here, and we must be welcoming to them. They are not part of our community in quite the same way – they have their own proper parishes – but we must ensure they feel just as welcome when they come here as do people who live in the area coming for the first time.”
Before the Communion of the Faithful, Fr Fisher also took the opportunity to invite the Traditional congregation to receive Holy Communion in the hand. A revised Mass schedule was circulated cancelling a number of forthcoming Traditional Rite Masses, including one on the Parish’s patronal feast (7th October), and on Christmas Eve. The parish newsletter announced that Fr Fisher was establishing a Parish Council, whose parishioner members would decide the way forward for the parish.The great majority of the Traditional congregation at Blackfen live outside the parish, since it is (or was) the only regular Sunday celebration between St Bede’s Clapham Park (40 minutes’ drive to the west), and the recently established St Augustine’s Ramsgate (over an hour on the motorway to the east). Margate, to which Fr Finigan has now gone, is slightly further away than Ramsgate. Those unfamiliar with London’s suburbs should bear in mind that it would take (with luck) an hour or more to drive from Blackfen to the central London Traditional Mass locations such as St James’ Spanish Place, and not everyone attending Mass in Blackfen lives on the right side of it.
After that first Sunday Mass, it would appear that some members of the congregation had attempted to speak to Fr Fisher, and key lay volunteers in the parish began to resign. So on his second Sunday he expressed himself in more forthright terms. He informed the Faithful attending his Traditional Mass that they were divisive in the parish, and that celebrations of the Traditional Mass would cease at the end of the month.
The congregation on that second Sunday was already only half of its usual size. What is difficult to convey, and may sound uncharitable, but is necessary to make sense of the situation, is the attitude of hostility towards the Traditional Mass and those Catholics attached to it which Fr Fisher from the first radiated. Those commenting, on blogs and on Twitter, that the traditional community at Blackfen should simply petition Fr Fisher to continue to say the Traditional Mass, have made the mistake of imagining that legal rights somehow make human relationships, particularly the relationship of spiritual paternity of a priest over his flock, irrelevant. Ultimately, very few people in the old congregation are likely to want to attend Traditional Masses celebrated by Fr Fisher. If he were persuaded to celebrate them, what concessions in terms of liturgical abuses would he insist on? His second parish newsletter appealed for volunteers for the role of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion: at ‘all Masses’.