Luca Fumagalli

Reprinted in 2021 by Arouca Press in a single volume entitled The Great Betrayal. Thoughts on the Destruction of the Mass, the pamphlets The Modern Mass and The Great Betrayal – both critical of Montini’s Novus Ordo – saw the light of day in 1969 and 1970 respectively. Their author, Hugh Ross Williamson (1901-1978), was a convert to Catholicism, historian and former Anglican clergyman, one of those English Catholics like Evelyn Waugh or Michael Davies who disapproved of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. In 1964 he was one of the founders of the Latin Mass Society, of which he was the first vice-president, and from then on he always defended the traditional Mass.

The first of the two pamphlets, The Modern Mass, is an examination of the liturgical changes made by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Cranmer, who was the leading exponent of Anglicanism in the period between 1547 and 1553, wanted to create a Mass that rejected «the papist doctrine of transubstantiation» in order to spread Protestant ideas more easily among the English people. The Archbishop was a supporter of justification by faith alone and, consequently, considered the Eucharist a mere symbol.

To complete his revolution, Cranmer made three reforms: he introduced the vernacular in the liturgy to replace Latin in order to uproot the idea of Mass as a sacrifice and to exalt the concept of memorial supper; a simple table was then preferred to the altar and the Canon was dismembered in various places, eliminating any reference to the Oblation, to the Pope, to the Saints or even to Our Lady. Between interpolations and omissions – sometimes silence is really worth more than many words – the Archbishop finally managed to achieve his purpose: he perverted the conscience of an entire nation, even if there were episodes of resistance and opposition.

The text, after a parenthesis dedicated to the Council of Trent, ends with a warning against the Novus Ordo: according to Ross Williamson, the Tridentine Mass, forged as a perennial weapon against heresy, is about to be abandoned in favour of a new form that is all too similar to the heresies of Cranmer and those like him.

The Great Betrayal, dedicated to the bishops of England and Wales, by contrast presents a series of reflections on the hypothesis of the invalidity of the new Missal. Less systematic than the previous pamphlet, this one is intended by Ross Williamson not as a definitive judgment on the question, but simply as a very personal contribution to the debate that had opened only a few months earlier with the public attack against Novus Ordo by Cardinals Bacci and Ottaviani.

Starting from the observation that the main battle between Catholicism and the forces of subversion has always been fought with regard to the Mass, the author, following a historical-theological path, ridicules the cult of the “primitive Church”, so dear to the Protestants of the past, and likewise to the innovators of the Council. Secondly, Ross Williamson criticizes the alteration of the Canon and, in particular, the new formula of the consecration of wine: “The Blood of Christ poured out for all” to replace the traditional “for many” jars on account of its evident heresy. These and other distortions generated by the ecumenical approach of the architect of the liturgical reforms, Cardinal Annibale Bugnini, are what make Paul VI’s Novus Ordo invalid.

Despite occasional mistakes and arguments not always acceptable – it is difficult, for example, to argue that the reform of the Mass has nothing to do with the infallibility of the Pope or that the heterodoxy of Canon II of the new rite automatically invalidates the others – the two pamphlets by Ross Williamson still deserve to be read today for the extraordinary clarity with which they outline the fundamental problem of the Novus Ordo, namely that of a Mass that seems to have been designed to hide with embarrassment what the Church has taught for two thousand years. The same concern was also expressed in 1967 by Jacques Maritain, when he wrote that «Christians are on their knees before the world». In hindsight, it’s hard not to agree with them.