Tosaíonn an réabhlóid, 3/3

Throughout the 1960s the controversy over the Vatican Council’s liturgical reforms was a minor hiccup in world affairs. The space race, political assassinations in America, and the war in Vietnam, were just three of the issues that dominated the news media, leaving little room for the planned abolition of the Tridentine Mass.

Of course the matter was of great interest to the religious establishment. Archbishop McQuaid tried to frustrate the changes, partly because he loved the old rite. He was also worried that the New Mass would legitimise the Reformation and undermine what he saw as the true faith. His Protestant counterparts, on the other hand, were delighted that Rome was at last catching up with Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer.

Then, in July 1971, a petition sent to the pope by some high profile individuals brought the matter back into the headlines.[1]

The signatories were horrified at the plan to “obliterate” the Mass by the end of the year. While they acknowledged the religious dimension, their objection was based on aesthetic grounds.

The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts - not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians.

Many of western civilisation’s finest artefacts, such as Chartres Cathedral, Bach’s Mass in B minor, and Leonardo’s The Last Supper, were inspired directly or indirectly by the Latin rite. It was this long tradition of artistic enrichment that motivated so many well-known figures to appeal to the pope. Among the petition’s fifty-plus signatories were violinist Yehudi Menuhin, novelist Agatha Christie, and art historian Kenneth Clark. They included people of all faiths and none. The petitioners urged the pope “to allow the Traditional Mass to survive, even though this survival took place side by side with other liturgical forms."

By placing the Tridentine Mass in the context of “universal culture”, the petitioners were arguing that the Vatican’s plan would affect everyone, not just Roman Catholics. If the plan went ahead they believed that the world would be deprived of a significant cultural treasure.

But would the spiritual repercussions also be “universal” in their impact on people everywhere, whether Christian, Hindu, atheist, etc.?

The decision to replace the Latin rite with the Novus Ordo Missae was presented by the Church as a sacrifice it was prepared to make for a greater cause. That greater cause was summed up by Pope John XXIII in a speech he made a month before the Vatican Council opened. He saw the Council as representing “for the first time in history… all the peoples and nations” of the world. Through the Council, they would “cooperate in the triumph of peace to make earthly existence more noble, more just, and more meritorious for everyone.”

The pope’s objective went far beyond reconciling Catholics and Protestants. If his vision was realised the result would be “to cure and heal the scars of two conflicts which have profoundly changed the face of every country”.[2] His goal was nothing less than the replacement of international strife and warfare with universal love.

On 25 June 1967, a milestone in television broadcasting took place. For the first time a live programme, entitled Our World, was beamed around the globe via satellite, reaching a potential audience of 400 million people in five continents. The Beatles took part, performing “All You Need Is Love”, a new song written especially for the occasion. It is hard to find a more fitting summation of the foursome’s role in that broadcast than historian Arthur Marwick’s description of the Beatles as “the voice of their age”.[3]

If the Beatles’ led the cultural shift that altered our world forever, then the revolution began on Tuesday September 11th 1962. On that date the group recorded “Love Me Do”, the single that launched their career. That was also the day on which John XXIII announced to the world his vision of universal love.

And that is why the Mass had to go.

[1] The Times, 6 Jul. 1971.
[2] John XXIII, “Radio message to all the Christian faithful one month before the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council”, 11 Sep. 1962, tr. Éamon Kiernan. (, accessed 9 May 2020.
[3] Arthur Marwick, The Sixties Cultural Revolution in Britain France Italy and the United States, c.1958-c.1974 (Oxford, 1998), pp. 458-9.