Fr Clifford Howell S.J. has recently been honoured by the hierarchy. Christopher Howse talked to him about his life and work as England's leading liturgist.
AT THE end of last year Fr Clifford Howell SJ Was congratulated by the archbishops or England and Wales for his career of devotion to the liturgy in a ceremony during hi ht..h
ev presented him with a letter of thanks.
This is a remarkable tribute for a man to receive in his own lifetime.
I found him weakened by a long illness but courteous and undiminished in humour. "I envy the cabbage." he said. "The life of the cabbage is the life l'or me."
But whatever the doctors say, he is still active. writing articles and dealing with a constant flow of correspondence from all over the world.
On the present suite of the liturgy in England. Fr Howell said: "I UM happy that my dreams have come true, There is practically nothing I would change." His happiness includes his view of the translations. "Personally I think what's been given is very good indeed. The Canons are very beautiful. I don't hold with so-called sacred language: it is sufficient to have good English with dignity and rhythm. I have no patience with people who want flowery language. The sort of thing they like is stuff enough to make a man sick.
"Everything for which I have campaigned has been granted. The first subject chosen by the Council was liturgy. It granted even more than I had asked for. I had thought that it was no use asking for the Canon in 1..:nglish." Fr Howell has some misgivings about how the liturgy is being practised. "Some priests are not obeying. the instructions at the beginning of the Roman and many are doing outrageous things and making their own liturgy. There is no discipline and that's had."
What kept Fr Howell hopeful in the days when he was up against resistance to his ideas was the belief that he was on the right track and was in accord with the mind of the Church.
"We need a period of stability now," he said. "Let us use our new liturgy well for a few years. with, dignity. The idea of doing without a chasuble for example is absurd."
When he first became involved with liturgical reform, Fr Howell wus not so happy about how the Mass was presented. In 1935 he went to churches in Munster in Germany during the lust year of his training and was delighted and astonished by what he found.
"In England in 1935 the Sunday Mass had a very dull man bumbling away like a bluebottle at one end of the Church while the people sat like sacks of potatoes." In Germany he found the congregation singing good words to good tunes and actively participating. "I ,vas thrilled, it was such a contrast to our dull way of doing things."
When Fr Howell returned to England as a priest at the Church of the Holy Name in Manchester he tried to put over the liturgical ideas he had discovered. he
ttiught about 2(X) men to answer the Mass in Latin and asked the bishop for permission to have a dialogue Mass. But the bishop refused absolutely.
Faced with this impasse, he resorted to writing articles. "The Herald.he recalled. "would accept articles that other papers would not. Michael de la Halos ere was a 1111111 of great courage." Xs a result he was invited to give lectures up and down the country, As his ideas spread so did opposition to them.
The war meant a break and a fresh beginning. Fr Howell was in France as an army chaplain within a fortnight of the outbreak of war. "I found myself leading men in worship, away from the bishops in a country which allowed dialogue Mass."
With the aid of the Simple Prayer Book he taught the men how to pronounce the Latin. They liked it It was interesting.
With Dunkirk a lot of men came buck and went on using the dialogue Mass, It gradually took hold even in some parishes. Alter demobilisation, Fr Howell was appointed Superior of Loyola Hall at Rainhill.
But so much time was needed for his continuing lectures that he asked the Provincial to relieve him or his position so that he eould go on with the work he had started.
I le did some mission-preaching and found that the ordinary }lett tire mission told the people: "You are lying. Mass-missing. fornicating. thieving sinners and if you don't get into that box you will go to Hell," But Er Howell said. "Thai sort of person didn't go to the miaslon. They were like hungry sheep looking up to he fed, so instead of Hell. I gave them grace and Heaven."
From here developed the Lay Folk's Week, centred on the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. which he preached instead of missions in scores of parishes throughout the country. Next came an invitation to America. where he addressed a crowd of 5,000, half of them priests, on the techniques he was using. Tour after tour followed in America. Australia and New Zealand until he broke down through sheer exhaustion,
In 1953 atone Fr Howell's hook rhe Work of Our Redemption which has been a best-seller ever since. A second hook Preparing for Easter also succeeded.
In his continuing work for liturgical reform in the 1950s Fr Howell found encouragement in the international conferences to which he was invited.
Even after the congress at Assisi when two English bishops were invited, there were still six or seven parishes in England where no dialogue Mass was allowed, •
A vindication of the years of campaigning. often with mis understanding from the hierarchy came with the publication of Sarravanctum Consilium whieh settled the principles upon which liturgical practice is founded. Hence the archbishops' gratitude.