When I was at Heythrop studying Divinity, my tutor (in my opinion, the most intelligent priest in the land) recommended various books on Church History which I initially turned my nose up at. Among them were several books by Henry Chadwick, who was probably one of the greatest Church historians of the 20th century. My reasons for disapproval were simply that Henry Chadwick was an Anglican. As an 18 year old student, and a ''traditionalist'' at the time, I thought (with a typically trad sense of triumphalist arrogance): ''What could an Anglican possibly know about Church history!'' Eventually this naive and totally unintelligent disposition caved in (inevitably) when I was obliged to actually read some of his work (he was on the compulsory reading list for one or two essays I had to write, for which I got Firsts by the way), which I found very lucid and intelligent, although I found his assessment of St Leo's Tome to be rather untoward (he claimed that some parts were ''plagiarised'' from Augustine). I think that men like Henry Chadwick and John Hunwicke - men who have a clear grasp of Church history and the Sacred Liturgy - are among the few surviving truly ''catholic'' men in the West, and are among the sole hopes of Western Christendom. Unfortunately, all too many ''conservative'' or ''orthodox'' Catholics that I have met couldn't give two hoots about Liturgy, seeing it as merely an affectation or something we have to put up with for the sake of obligation - don't worry, we can pray the Rosary when we get in dear...
I received a comment today from an intelligent and respected reader telling me that people are simply not interested in Liturgy, and seldom in the (modern) history of the Catholic Church have they been. Of course this is nothing new to me, but it brought home a horrible truth. Are we liturgically-minded Catholics doomed to forever look around us in utter despair at the desolation wrought by elitism, Low Mass, politics, minimalism, Ultramontanism and other such unfortunate and aliturgical heresies?
Back to ''Roman prejudice'' - some of you might bring up Tolkien's contempt of the Anglican church. Unfortunately Tolkien, great man though he was, was a product of his time - a young man (my age) under Pius X, old man under Paul VI. As a boy he suffered persecution from his Anglican, Unitarian and Baptist family because of his mother's ''defection'' (or apostasy they might call it) to Rome. His father Arthur having died in 1896, his mother was immediately cut off from any financial support when brought the boys into the Faith in 1900. It was not respectable or becoming of a Suffield to join the Popish church, and this sneering contempt was something Tolkien had to put up with well into his adulthood. In 1944, as the German army advanced upon Rome, Tolkien complained of the tactless atmosphere of his own College. At high table one evening, when the Rectorship of Lincoln had just been announced, the Master (sat right next to Tolkien) stood up and shouted at the top of his voice: ''Thank heaven they did not elect a Roman Catholic to the Rectorship anyway: disastrous, disastrous for the college'' to which was echoed ''disastrous.''
On account of occasions such as these, it is not surprising that Tolkien looked down his nose at the ''pathetic and shadowy medley of half-remembered traditions and mutilated beliefs'' which he thought the Anglican church to be. Of course I could think of many other things to which I could affix this description! And in the 1960s Tolkien complained of being patted on the back by his fellow Anglicans, as being the representative of a church which had (because of the Council) abandoned its arrogance and hauteur. I think, with the gift of hindsight, that this is a good thing (although Tolkien's complaint was more personal - considering his history of persecution) - I mean, what cause has Rome to be so arrogant about? Can Rome really say that Anglican orders are invalid, considering that since Apostolicae Curae she has revised her own Orders? Can Rome really claim to have all four marks of the Church when the New Rite has none of these four marks?
Maybe it is just as well that Tolkien died when he did, although I regret (on behalf of my friend - I consider him to be a friend, although he died 15 years before I was born, since we have much in common) that he saw the very last days of the Sacred Roman Liturgy, and that those days were marked by such a negligence and aliturgical heresy. Tolkien's experience of Liturgy was mostly Low Mass (he went to Mass early each morning before work, and took his children with him), and I suppose that in the churches where he went to Mass, Low Mass (such as it is) was celebrated reverently by the priest, although I wonder sometimes. In 1963 Tolkien said that he had been ''grievously afflicted'' in his life by stupid, tired, dimmed and even bad priests, and how else can he mean this than in the celebration of the Liturgy? When I went to Westminster Cathedral some years ago I complained to one of the priests there (a very old man, I can't remember his name, but he has died since then) of the aliturgical heresy, and in my ignorance at the time, supposed that everything pre-Vatican II was pristine and perfect. He told me that in his experience he had seen priests celebrate Low Mass in 15 minutes. Tolkien probably had similar experiences, and certainly in the early 1970s (as an old man nearly 80) saw some of the worst things. As the vernacular was introduced, Tolkien (who could read Latin remarkably well, and so at an intellectual level had no difficulty ''understanding'' the Liturgy) would make the responses very loudly in Latin, as everyone else parroted them in English. One Mass was so bad that the elderly Tolkien limped to the end of the pew, took three profound bows (very in keeping with the Roman custom of genuflexion!) and departed in wrath.
Men like Tolkien didn't deserve to end their lives in an atmosphere of antiliturgism. He did once say that he'd give a bit for a time machine. So would I - Tolkien would go back to old Mercia in the 9th century. Where and when would I go?
J.R.R Tolkien in August of 1973 (the last known photo taken of him) next to his favourite tree in the Oxford botanical gardens. I wonder what he was thinking then.
As for Roman prejudice - I think that it behoves traditional-minded Catholics to look around at their own Church before they attempt to criticize others, and to concede that not all the answers can be found in Rome. Many of the traditions of the Latin Rite can be found in the Book of Common Prayer, and much that was once common to West as well as East can be found in the Byzantine liturgical books. In an age of Ecumenism, the greatest possible ecumenical gesture on the part of Rome would be the cultivation of its own Traditional Liturgy and the abandonment of old triumphalist prejudices.