When the Mass was made unlawful in England
By Fr. Joseph Cram'', S. J.
ON June 24, 1959, the saying of Mass in England became unlawful. In a spirit of thankfulness for the steadfastness of their ancestors in resisting the Elizabethan statute that made it unlawful, students of London University will gather on Wednesday at the preReformation church of Ely Place.
It was at Ely Place that the last Catholic bishop of Ely, Tho
mas Thiriby, must have said his last public Mass 400 years before. He was deprived of his bishopric on July 7, and just before that he
was certainly residing In London, for the agent of Mantua in Lon
don, writing on June 26, speaks of him as awaiting summons by the Council and of the fact that Mass had now ceased to be said In London save at the li'rench and Spanish embassies.
The statute which prohibited the saying of Mass was severe enough ; after ordering the use of the Book of Common Prayer, It went on to say :
• If any parson, vicar or other minister, that ought or should sing or say common prayer mentioned in the said book or minister the sacraments, from and after the feast of the Nativity of St John Baptist next coming, refuse to use the said common prayer or to minister the sacraments, in such cathedral or parish church or other places as he should use to minister the same, in such order and form as they be mentioned and set earth in the said book, or shall wilfully or obstinately standing in the same, use any other rite, ceremony, order, form or manner of celebrating the Lord's Supper, openly or privily... • then, for the first offence, he was to lose his benefices for one year and to be imprisoned for six months. for a second offence he was to be deprived of benefices and given a year's imprisonment, aad for a third offence he was to be Impri. soned for life.
Was it legal ?
BISHOPS are not mentioned In this enactment, but cathed rals are, and thereby the Protes. tent Council showed their caution. They were still doubtful how far they could legally prohibit a bishop from acting as such. hut if in fact all the bishops were already in prison or soon to be committed it is obvious that the possibility of their going
against this statute would not arise.
There was also a penalty provided for those who failed to attend the new-fangled service when it was introduced ; they were to be fined twelve pence for each occasion, the fine to be levied by the churchwardens and used for the poor of the parish.
This cunning stroke was leant to bring into play the profitmotive to secure the observance of the law, for in many villages men might be disposed to let be and to forego the collection of the fine unless they had the sight of the parish paupers to spur them on.
Catholics have good reason to be suspicious of those who talk expansively to them of the Elizabethan care for the destitute. Even though, with the flow of Spanish gold into Europe, money values were falling year by year, the sum of fifty or sixty shillings a year was real enough ; it might have been the half of a parson's benefice.
AANOTHER screw was applied in the statute. • If any person...shall by open fact, deed, or by open threatenings compel or cause or otherwise procure or maintain any parson or vicar or other minister in any cathedral, or parish church, or in chapel or in any other place, to sing or say any common or open prayer or to minister any sacrament otherwise... than is mentioned in the said book,... for the first offence, an hundred marks (E for the second offence... four hundred marks..., for the third offence... forfeit of all his goods and to suffer imprisonment for life. • This was a check on all those who had the right of presentation to any living, for they could be said to • procure • a vicar to say Mass, if they gave the living to a priest whom they knew to be true to the old faith.
It is striking how the lawyers went about their work without mentioning the Mass as such. . Singing or saying any common prayer different from this • was an odd bit of jargon, but they must have felt that it was better than showing their hand openly. Twenty-three years later, they did not hesitate but laid down enormous penalties for • those who willingly hear Mass D.
« Dissimulations »
rE result of the banning of the Mass, as we are told in an Italian newsletter (issued many years later from the English College in Rome), was that
• after the imprisonment of the bishops, the people remained in great uncertainty for some years and used many superstitions and dissimulations...
I They all commonly went to the synagogues of the heretics and to their preachings and took with them their wives and children, who drank in heresy and have in later times supported the persecution. It was then held to be enough if one went to church sooner than the heretics and did not go home in their company. Catholics communicated in the Calvinist Supper, or at least got themselves enrolled as having done so... and heard Mass secretly in their own houses...
. Now (in 1590) they know better and realise that one must believe in the heart to be saved and confess with one's lips to be justified. It was not only Judas that sinned in betraying Christ, but Peter also in denying Him. • Now they hold it unlawful to attend church or preaching of heretics under any excuse of civil obedience and know that they have to prevent their wives and "This is My Blood" — the elevation of the chalice. From "This is the Mass", as celebrated by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, photographed by Karsh of Ottawa. (The World's Work 1913 Ltd., 25s.)
children from going. Rather must they instruct them in the true faith..
HE coming of the seminary priests and of the Jesuits had brought about the change in outlook and had set the pattern for the coming centuries. So little were the new priests daunted by the prohibitions that one of them ventured to say Mass in the royal Palace, in a room directly over the one where Elizabeth lay In bed asleep It is certainly an occasion for a commemoration with joy and thankfulness that the Catholics
of England should have somehow managed to surmount the great obstacle that was put in their way 400 years ago on Wednesday.