Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Was Queen Elizabeth the first Liberal Catholic?

I mean, of course, Queen Elizabeth the First, who reigned from 1533 to 1603.

Dubbed The Virgin Queen and Good Queen Bess, she was far from good to the Catholic Church but it was only when re-reading Waugh's 'Edmund Campion' that the analogy between Liberal Catholicism and her reign began to emerge.

Priests dismissed and then persecuted, the Mass altered beyond all recognition, sanctuaries hacked around and altars replaced with tables, holy statues and ornaments removed and destroyed.....this also happened during Queen Elizabeth's reign!

Warped humour to one side, I justify my view by the following points:-

1. First and foremost, Queen Elizabeth "changed" her religion, she moved from a Catholic faith to a neo Protestant one - much as, in the years after Vatican II, the clergy and laity all swung towards a "Protestant" style of Mass and Church music.

2. Churches and chapels throughout the land were re-shaped in order to accord with the "new religion" - altars were broken up, communion rails removed......ringinig any bells?

3. QE1 also was careful to retain certain elements of Catholicism with her new faith and, for some years, the traditional priestly vestments were used while, at the same time, those Bishops of traditional bent were selectively disposed of and some 500 priests followed in their wake. Has anyone quantified the number of priests who "disappeared" in the decade post 1970? It would be an interesting exercise.

4. And, of course, the Latin Mass was declared illegal under Elizabeth; I seem to recall some Bishops in the 1980s saying precisely the same thing.

5. The Virgin Queen rewarded her followers well and gave them positions of some importance. How the Parish Council syndrome flourished post Vatican II with parishioners with traditionalist leanings being "drummed out" of all parish affairs.

6. Under Elizabeth, whole libraries were ransacked and burnt with the rich history of the Catholic Faith held within them. And now, over the past thirty years or so the same thing has happened in seminaries and convents throughout the country. All that had a traditional imprint was removed and burnt, yes, burnt!

 I have a friend who dealt in Catholic books and he told me that the libraries he was invited to place a bid for inevitably only held books from the 1950s onwards. And when he would enquire if the monks or nuns had any older works they would tell him that they had put the lot on a bonfire and that it was all out of date anyway - you see?

7. And what did Elizabeth do to the Catholic devotions of the time; the Rosary, Benediction, Stations of the Cross? She, to use a technical term, binned them along with fasting and penance and confession.
This proto Liberal Catholic has been feverishly copied as, even in this Benedictine era, you will be hard put to find more than 2 out of every ten parishes offering a Forty Hours devotion or a Sunday afternoon Benediction. As for confession, well who goes to that any longer?

8. Finally, we come to the ultimate triumph of Elizabeth's "liberal" standpoint; the destruction of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. Under her hand the act of Holy Communion became a basic sort of ploughman's lunch, nothing sacred, just an act of remembrance, not commemoration.
 Of course, it did not stop there, the Host as consecrated at a Catholic Mass was ridiculed and commonly called a "Round Robin" or "Jack in the Box."
It may appear a little harsh to lay claim to a link from those days to the present practice of receiving the Host by hand and without kneeling but there is little reverence shown today, even at some EF Masses.
Reception by kneeling and by mouth may be practiced but very often there is a casual element that goes beyond the acceptable. Men with their hands in their pockets, girls smirking to their friends and all strolling back from the communion rails as if they were going to the pub. Aimless and irreverent.
That has its roots in Elizabeth's attempts to impose personal spirituality rather than 'opening windows into men's souls'.
And, of course, the VII drive to make communicants stand and hold out their hands is just the logical evolution of her reign and its move to make a new religion that was dressed up, in parts, to be like the old and true one.

So, there you have it - Queen Elizabeth the First of England, and first of the Liberal Catholics!


  1. I recommend the book, The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy as a scholarly addendum to what you are referring to in this post.

  2. Thanks Anon, it is on my bookshelf.

  3. "...the VII drive to make communicants stand and hold out their hands..."

    I think you are making a big mistake here and failing to distinguish between Vatican 2 and "spirit of Vatican 2".
    I have been re-reading "Sacrosanctum Concilium" lately. There is NOTHING about turned round altars, Communion in the hand" etc.. In fact some of it reads as if the Council Fathers were actually trying to put the brakes on certain kinds of liturgical reform. "The use of Latin is to be preserved in the Latin rites" and the use of the vernacular is PERMITTED- i.e. not obligatory. There are other instances. A good book to read here is the holy father's "The Spirit of the Liturgy".

  4. Patricius, yes, it was the spirit of Vatican 2, I agree. I have yet to witness any of the traditional V2 pronouncements that have been implemented.

  5. Amen! Not much more to say beyond stating my inability to understand what (other than mischief) was and is in the minds of the 'modernisers'.

    Surprisingly they did not get round to scrapping the organs.

  6. She was born in 1533, not reigned from 1533. Don't forget it was her father, Henry VIII, who began the destruction. The fanatical Protestants who controlled the kingdom while her brother Edward was king also did a lot of damage. She ascended to the throne after her sister Mary died in 1558.