Non-Catholics Come to the Rescue of the TLM?

All traditional Catholics know the story: that Agatha Christie and various others signed a petition to Pope Paul VI in 1971 asking him not to prohibit the celebration of the Traditional Mass, and he relented: at least, he allowed it to be celebrated publicly in England and Wales, an “Indult” (permission) that was extended to the rest of the world in 1984.

The story is told with pride, amusement, and sometimes with a little resentment. Why did Pope Paul listen to non-Catholic celebrities, having ignored Catholic voices asking for the same favour? Some take it a step further: why did the Catholic organisers of the petition seek out non-Catholic signatories? Would it not have been better to have failed to preserve the Traditional Mass, than to have preserved with the help of non-believers?

Actually, that last sentence is not usually articulated, though it seems to be implicit in the attitude of some people. I hope its absurdity is evident. Of course we should not do anything intrinsically evil for a good result, but allowing non-Catholics to express their opinion on the subject of the ancient Catholic Mass is hardly that. If these men and women were willing to sign, they must have been sincerely moved by the liturgy and sincerely grieved at the prospect of its disappearance. It was good that Pope Paul VI was made to recognise that he was in danger of bringing ignominy upon the Church by banning the TLM, and that this would be recognised even by cultured non-Catholics. It was also good that this consideration, at least, prevented him from doing something objectively bad.

The argument has arisen all over again, with a new, British-based petition organised by Sir James MacMillan, signed by 48 prominent people: musicians, artists, senior journalists, politicians from across the political spectrum, assorted cultural figures, a member of the British royal family, and a senior soldier. Like the petitioners of the Agatha Christie petition back in 1971, many are non-Catholic.

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