Thursday, 12 December 2013

A priest who was not afraid to stand up to his Bishop

History in the making. Archbishop Levebvre and Fr Baker in discussion together.
When the modern history of the Catholic Church in England and Wales is written, several priests will be listed for their outstanding efforts to save souls through the Tridentine Latin Mass (as we called it back in the 1970s).

Father Huw Thwaites is one, Fathers Clifton and Lessiter are two more, now venerable in their old age.

And, I have no doubt that our blogging priests will join that small band when their efforts are viewed through an historical perspective.

But there was one, one outstanding priest who followed in the footsteps of St John Fisher by standing firm and alone when all around him was turning to modernism and decay.

Father Oswald Baker of Downham Market in Norfolk was that man.

He swam against the tide rather than with it.

For a while he declared UDI in his rural parish and locked out those who, in his words, wished to "put Holy Mother Church in a boiler suit" - to lock away the beauty, piety and reverence of the old Mass in exchange for a pale Protestantised service that would not have been out of place in the Britain of Queen Elizabeth the First.

As the pressure on Fr Baker mounted he retreated to the presbytery (which he refused to give up) and took to celebrating the Latin Mass in a village hall.

Of course, then (I am talking of the early 1970s) he had a good following of country folk who wanted the Latin Mass and only the Latin Mass. They had not been scared off by bullying and talk of the old Mass being 'banned'. They formed a group called 'The 1570 Society' in support of their priest.

And why? Because they had a good shepherd; one who did not desert his flock but who stayed with them to lead them out of the desert.

H/T to John Whitehead for his post that touched on Fr Baker (HERE) and his link to Joe Shaw's post.

Joe Shaw describes Fr Baker as "notorious."  That's not a word that I would use.

"Heroic" or "Outstanding" maybe, but never notorious.

Tragically, Fr Baker, in the end, became so isolated that he de-camped to the Sedevacantists.

Ah, how we love to condemn.

Such a move to us today seems like madness but, of course then, to Fr Baker, it may have been the only glimmer of light (a false light) that he could aim for.
 Spare a prayer for this great man.

There are some priests alive today who were inspired to follow in his footsteps as far as offering the TLM was concerned and, in due time, he may inspire and enthuse young seminarians who would do well to adopt Fr Baker's standard of piety.

There was a recording made, on cassette, of a sung Mass from Downham Market and I am fortunate enough to possess a copy.

It carried a fine sermon from Fr Baker, part of which is copied here (h/t to David Forster, a commentator from Once I was a Clever Boy blog).

"As Our Lord used beautiful parables to veil His precious truths, so Latin keeps a decent and beautiful veil over what is enacted by the priest at the altar. To read the Epistle and Gospel in English is to lift that veil somewhat, without yet casting it aside, bringing everything down to the level of the commonplace, exposing all to the general gaze. The truth about the Canon of the Mass, whose English version has been so hotly disputed, is that it most probably just cannot be satisfactorily translated out of Latin into any other language suitable for public recitation aloud. Does that really worry anybody? The Latin Mass has always been loved as it is, without question available in English if wanted, in bi-lingual missals, or if they prefer, those at Mass have always been free to pray their own prayers. 

"Centuries of Latin has not, that anyone knows, alienated any soul, or caused charity to grow cold in any. The Church has kept the Catholics of the world united by the use of a single language, and if that bond goes, not only unity, but much else besides is immediately imperilled."

And, to read more fully about Fr Baker, this link takes you to his obituary in The Daily Telegraph.

Finally, you may view a BBC television piece on Fr Baker HERE.


  1. I'm very thankful that you've written about Fr Baker, a one-time priest of my former diocese, sadly expunged, as he is, from their necrology. He was, no doubt, a controversial character, and it is unfair to judge people from the past by our standards; they were difficult times, and if I were alive in the 70s, would have been thankful that someone hadn't given up the ghost so readily. Even though he perhaps may have stepped a little too far - becoming a Sedevacantist and all (although, given the circumstances, I'm not surprised he was!) - there is no excuse for the manner, in my opinion, in which he was treated by Bishop Alan Clarke, and Fr Baker's successor (de facto or de jure depending on your opinion!) in Downham Market, the late Fr Sketch. Fr Baker's memory is still much maligned in idle chatter (as well as in Fr Sketch's recent obituary, painting the situation as a battle between good and evil, David and Goliath), and few people indeed know how realistic, and, indeed, prophetic, Fr Baker was. Yes, please pray for him. A religious.

  2. Your post has prompted me to read some of the items on the Catholic Herald Archive website referring to Fr Baker. I do not remember reading anything about him at the time (family matters probably took precedence then) and indeed had no idea that there were still priests celebrating the Tridentine Mass.

    Like many people we accepted the changes out of obedience as the Old Mass became just a cherished memory from the past.

    I often wonder if we had had the world wide web in those days how different things might have been.

  3. Pelerin and Anon, thank you for your comments. I have now added a link to a BBC piece on Fr B. (at the end of the post).

  4. I will pray for Fr. Baker but...


    Five times banished
    Exiled seventeen
    Excommunicated champions
    God puts at each scene.

    Saint Athanasius,
    Feast day of worth
    On the second of May
    The month of great mirth.

    Out in the deserts –
    As history has charted –
    You preserved the true Mass
    Great lion-hearted.

    Now Lefebvre
    And the sixties egalitarians
    Like Athanasius,
    His time his Arians.

    For He who abolished
    Death by death
    Sent him to absolve
    Sin width and breadth.

    And yes the same moon
    The same sun we're all under…
    We venal rain - but Lefebvre
    Righteous thunder!!

  5. Thank you for posting this article. It is a privilege to read about those who in every age have paved the road for us. Their sacrifice in spite of persecution gives us strength to persevere, especially today, when we must at all times discern 'truth' from 'error', regardless who is speaking (the Pope, the bishop, the priest, the Catholic Media).

    ......from the last interview by the Superior General of the SSPX, Bishop Fellay:

    "We must keep the faith, imbued with charity. If we want a restoration of the Church, and certainly we do want it, that is where we must go. To the source, and the source is the Mass. Not just any liturgy, but rather, I mean to say, an extremely holy liturgy. One that is holy to an unimaginable degree. One that has an extraordinary sanctity that was truly forged by the Holy Ghost over the centuries, composed by the holy popes themselves, and therefore having an extraordinary depth. There is absolutely no comparison between the New Mass and that Mass. They really are two different worlds and, I was about to say, Christians who are in the least sensitive to grace realize it very quickly. Very quickly. Alas, today, we observe that many people do not even see it any more! But for me it is obvious that the restoration of the Church must start there. Therefore that is why I am profoundly indebted to Pope Benedict XVI for having reinstated the Mass. That was of capital importance. It is of capital importance."

    Hail, O Virgin of Guadalupe, Empress of America! Keep under your powerful patronage the purity and integrity of Our Holy Faith on the entire American continent. Amen.

  6. Those in the Church who have persecuted good priests like this and forced some of them into sedevacantism will pay for their actions one day. They will not pay in this life, of course, but they will pay when they face their Judge. Now they strut about like proud peacocks as they lay waste to the smouldering remnants of the Church but when the time comes for them to give an account of their stewardship...well, God help them.

  7. Thank God for Archbishop Lefebvre. I'm sure that when this crisis is over he will be canonized.


  8. Catholic SupporterDecember 19, 2013 7:33 am

    I have never understood why the Latin Mass is so threatening and considered unacceptable amongst the heirarchy. It does not make any sense considering the missals are bilingual. I would like to know the reasons given.
    I agree with Cardinal Lefebvre. All Catholics know that when harm is being wreaked on the Church it is our duty to resist no matter who the perpetrator is.This is one of the great aspects of Catholicism. The truth is the truth is the truth, no matter what!