Friday, July 08, 2016

Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited

Radio 4 has had Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited by Philip Eade much of it is about his relationship with the Church. It should be available on iplayer for awhile.
Waugh is fascinating, more fascinating than any of his characters, he wasn't by nature a very nice person, and not a very good person. He says somewhere that if it wasn't for the Church he would be much worst, what shines through is his faith, his fidelity. There is something very beautiful about his life. His biggest cross seems to be being Evelyn Waugh with all the dross he picked up in life and the burden of his personality, and the recognition of his need for Christ is there, even when after the Council the Mass became 'terrible burden'.

We don't seem to attract people like Waugh today, he was very much a low Mass and Confessional Catholic but then so many of those towering converts, the artists and writers, of the inter-war years were. 

Why don't we?


The Librarian of Little Note said...

"a low Mass and Confessional Catholic"

That's an interesting point. I much prefer (and serve regularly) at low Mass, and find that the full-nine-yards high Mass can sometimes seem less engaged. It's a lack of familiarity, I'm sure.

Could it be that, where the more elaborate strains of Anglicanism have moved slowly further and further "up the candle" that we in the church of Rome gradually did the opposite and came to regard that sort of thing as very anglican, in the same way as anglicans themselves used to regard it as very Catholic, and so begin to shun it?
In a previous parish I did once point out to a guitar-wielding person that calling me a raving anglican was possibly the nicest thing she'd ever said to me!

Since low Mass (in the EF, but I suppose in many places its equivalent in the OF too) seemed to have become the norm, we've been accustomed to regard anything solemn as unnecessary.
That isn't to say that having low Mass as the norm is either ideal or deeply wrong, but maybe we (as a nation) just "don't like to cause a fuss on my account" and fell into the notion that high Mass is a kind of "fuss" on out behalf, where the more private aspect of low Mass gives us a comfortable introspective anonymity.

Jacobi said...

I wonder how Waugh, a convert circa 1926 I think, would react to the Church today

Would he convert in 2016?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Jacobi, listen to the book, I think you'll be able to answer your question own question.

Solitary Sojourning said...

I think Waugh and the folks at Rorate are the only ones who have ever found the sublime in the Low Mass.

Fr Ray Blake said...

What about the writer Radcliffe-Hall or the sculptress Clare Sheridan? both these women seemed to share Waugh's preference

Jacobi said...


He would covert. He was an intelligent man. But he would be complaining on your blog and others about the Mess the Church is in - and driving to his nearest Latin Mass as and when he could.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Was EW that unpleasant? On John Freeman's Face to Face interview he comes across as charming and polite. This despite Freeman's and proxy presenter Joan Bakewell's attempt to portray him otherwise. His son Auberon is surely playing to the gallery when mischievously suggesting his father was difficult. For a Waugh entertainment and amusement are as much part of a life as theological truth.

GOR said...

“Why don’t we…?”

Part of the reason may be that people today can’t abide silence – especially here in the US. There has to be sound - noise, background music - anything but quiet. Since the 60s young people grew up with boomboxes, stereos, Musak and ear phones – all pounding out the music du jour. Today it is ear buds attached to iPods or whatever the current technology is.

Some of this carries over to Solemn High Masses or Missae Cantatae which become productions - like something from the Albert Hall or La Scala. What is more important – the action at the altar or the singing of the Schola? When the altar celebration has to be paused so that the accompaniment – vocal or instrumental - can be completed, there is something wrong, a wrong emphasis.

I’ll take the quiet anonymity of a Low Mass any day.

Pelerin said...

Having listened to the Radio 4 programme Waugh does indeed seem to come over as 'not a very nice person.'

However on learning that he suffered from piles, gout, arthritis and insomnia I think his obvious tetchiness may be excusable! One of these ailments would be enough to make anyone bad-tempered but to have suffered all four possibly at the same time - poor man!

Solitary Sojourning said...

It is not a surprise, Father, since the Roman liturgy has been in a downfall since Trent.

I was once outside of a FSSP parish and I heard someone saying that the Low Mass was the greatest liturgical act in all of Christianity. It is comical, that the Low Mass has become the august liturgical act for many trads.

Anyhow, the Divine Liturgy blows the Roman liturgy out of the water regardless. Nevertheless, I am still surprised by the attitude many have against the High Mass. (Albeit, if you have to endure polyphony, I do not blame you too much).

Elizabeth said...

I'll take the Low Mass any day.

Fr Ray Blake said...

On the road,
I used to hate Low Mass, now I love its simple grandeur, I understand the liturgical theory but there is something glorious about the pensive silence.
Since its monastic 'invention' it has given rise to a range of differing spiritualities.
Low Mass is a creation of contemplation.

G. Thomas Fitzpatrick said...

I love a Low Mass. I wish I had access to one every weekday morning, saving the lovely Sung Masses for outstandingly important Sundays and holy days.

As to converts, priests connected to Opus Dei in the US have had a run of conversions among political types, though mostly more conservative journalists and politicians. Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and presidential candidate (brother of one President, and son of another), the late journalist Robert Novak, the lateJudge Robert Bork, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, General Wesley Clark, the comedian Tim Conway, the actress Faye Dunaway (first left-of-center figure on my list), journalist Laura Ingraham, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, author Dean Koontz, and author Thomas Woods. I didn't need to go as far back as the middle of the last century when Russell Kirk, Graham Greene, etc. swam the Tiber. A fair number have some affinity for the Traditional Latin Mass, as well.

I think the rightward slant of the list is similar to what Britain experienced roughly a hundred plus years ago, when Newman, Faber, Benson, Knox, Waugh, Chesterton, and others came home to Rome. Very few real left-wingers.

I wonder if these conversions will continue under Pope Francis.

Oakes Spalding said...

Good catch, Sadie Vacantist. That's a great interview, and does portray Waugh in a good light.

Sadie Vacantist said...

@G Thomas Fitzpatrick

Some of these modern converts, like our own Tony Blair, pose as many as many problems as they resolve. The backdrop is a Church which has abandoned evangelization. In America's case, it is the attempted synthesis of secular state and Church which has been key to our self-destruction. The Church is too afraid to teach the truth about this relationship.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I find the whole impact of the likes of Evelyn Waugh deeply off-putting. There must, of course, be room in the Church for all personalities, especially the wounded, which we all are in one way or another. He is often held up as a kind of ideal of traditionalist Catholicism, but, while I am sure he will be in heaven long before I am (if I merit that mercy at all), that sort of curmudgeonly, snobbish, affected fogeyism does not speak to me at all.

As for Confession and Low Mass, I can heartily relate to regular confession and more prayerful celebration Mass, but I have to be honest and say I find "Low Mass" in the extraordinary form very difficult. I did not know it was an "monastic invention", as you put it, but that makes sense. Silence is wonderful when framed by meaningful signs. I love a quieter early morning Mass in the ordinary form (the OF is not always clown masses and liturgical dancing, despite what some would have us believe), but the almost total absence of any incarnational features in the OF Low Mass seems somehow un-Catholic and almost anti-liturgical. I'm not sure that "introspective anonymity" is what the Mass is really about. Forgetfulness of self, yes, and concentration on the Mysteries presented in heaven and on earth, that I understand (although frequently fail to achieve). Perhaps I am more Byzantine than Roman in temperament, or maybe just spiritually shallow. I do agree that the approach to liturgy in many parishes does often obscure the simple and profound Mystery at the heart of what is being done, but I do not feel that a purely monastic style will have mass appeal any more, if you will excuse the slightly irreverent pun.

Anonymous said...

Good post.

Tony V said...

The lack of converts is directly related to the intsitutional church's abandonment of its historic liturgy and its failure to confront the sins of this age. Why would anyone want to convert?

The failure of the Novus Ordo as liturgy is self-evident and has been expounded many times on this blog comment-box and elsewhere.

But the latter, not quite so much. Western society is descending into a moral corruption to rival that of late Imperial Rome. But the modern church has failed to speak out with courage and charity against these things. Indeed, I'd argue that the hierarchy is to a great extent responsible for advancing this culture, for instance by failing to correct the rampant practice of homosexual behaviour in its own ranks.

Old Catholic Church UK said...

As a general rule, a man's desires will mirror his gifts (perhaps imperfectly). A man of Waugh's gifts would find little to match the refinement of his taste, or the vastness of his mind. What does the Novus Ordo Mass offer to his taste? An anthropocentric festival of boredom marred by Civil Service English and music hardly worthy of a furniture showroom. When contrasted with divine dogmas or the saints, there is too much of a gap to believe it is the same faith, except on paper. What does it offer to his mind? The same platitudes he will find about "diversity" and the like with which he will be bombarded at work. There will be nothing to match heroic or masculine ambitions or energies. If he wished to act according to the highest potential of his nature, he would be smacked down as a troublemaker, or derided as a fanatic.

The high, quite astounding culture that was the flower of the seed of faith is now a museum piece that few seek to live or know fully. That struck me when I visited Pedralbes in Barcelona, a Poor Clare convent built in the High Middle Ages. The culture of devotion and faith that sustained it endured into living memory, but it perished in a living, self-sustaining form long ago. As it was with them, so it was with Waugh. They perished within ten years of each other.

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