'AND then how shall I lie through centuries,/And hear the blessed mutter of the Mass," exulted Browning's bishop ordering his tomb at Saint Praxed's church, in the well-known poem. His repose would have come to a raucous end in 1969, when the New Mass was imposed on the Catholic faithful; but he might have relapsed into contentment from next September 14, when the motu proprio of Benedict XVI restoring the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass comes into effect.
Not since 1850, when Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman hurled his pastoral letter 'From Out the Flaminian Gate' like a grenade into the heart of the British establishment, proclaiming the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales, has a Roman document provoked such consternation among the ungodly.
It is important, however, to keep this development in perspective. Benedict XVI is not the awaited Pope of Tradition who will fully restore the Church; but he is a holy man of deeply orthodox convictions who is paving the way. On the other hand, the motu proprio may be a modest step, but it has significance far beyond its actual contents - beyond even the Catholic Church. For the first time in living memory, a major institution is reforming itself by turning back to earlier precepts: David Cameron might profitably take note.
The bishops of England and Wales tried furiously to prevent the liberalisation of access to the Traditional Mass, lobbying the Vatican against it, although they had recently approved the regular celebration of a Mass for homosexuals. On the eve of the publication of the Papal document, Bishop Kieran Conry, of Arundel and Brighton, said: "Any liberalisation of the use of the rite may prove seriously divisive. It could encourage those who want to turn the clock back throughout the Church." So, a liberal opposes liberalisation - why are we not surprised?
As for turning the clock back throughout the Church, it is the only possible remedy for the crisis that has afflicted it since the Second Vatican Catastrophe. The Novus Ordo (New Order of Mass) was invented by Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, assisted by six Protestant pastors, after the Vatican Council. When this appalling confection was presented to the 1967 Synod of Bishops it was indignantly rejected. Yet two years later it was universally imposed. Bugnini described it in 1974 as "a major conquest of the Catholic Church".
Strange language from a Catholic bishop; but there were stranger things to come. In July, 1975 Bugnini was abruptly sacked after Pope Paul VI was shown evidence he was a Freemason. Bugnini denied the fact, but when the register of Italian Freemasonry came to light in 1976, it recorded Bugnini as having been initiated on April 23, 1963, with the esoteric code name 'Buan'. So, even during the Vatican Council, Bugnini was already under automatic excommunication for Masonic membership. What possessed Paul VI to sack the author of the New Mass, but retain his liturgy for universal use? At least this episode throws light on the handshake at the 'kiss of peace' in the new rite.
For decades now, the assorted Lollards, Shakers and Fifth Monarchy Men who have capered in Catholic sanctuaries have used the Bugnini Mass as their plaything. It is at its bleakest when, on high days and holidays, it attempts to mimic past solemnities, the concelebrants in minimalist vestments fronted by a communion table rather than an altar - three dentists behind an ironing-board. It is the New Mass that is now on the danger list. The Vatican talks about "reform of the reform"; but the "reform" is beyond reformation.
For 40 years frenzied efforts have been made to stamp out the Traditional Mass and yet it has flourished. It is now past the point where there is the remotest prospect of extinguishing it. As Pope Benedict said in his explanatory letter accompanying the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum ("Of Supreme Pontiffs"), one of his reasons for freeing the Old Mass was the number of young people now flocking to it.
That is what the faded 1960s trendies who are now bishops and seminary rectors fear: the impossibility of maintaining a revolution that has burned itself out. The Second Vatican Council means as little to today's youth as the Council of Chalcedon. Its elderly adherents are like dads dancing at the school disco. Many young people are seeking the mystical and the numinous. The Mass of All Time answers that need.
Within the past month the Vatican has issued two other documents: one restoring the requirement for a two-thirds majority at Papal conclaves, which rules out the future election of an extreme radical; and a reassertion of the doctrine that the Protestant sects cannot be recognised as 'churches'. It will not damage ecumenism, because that died long ago. Its premise was that Rome must endlessly divest, while Canterbury ordained priestesses and moved ever further from Catholicism. When you see a Church of Scotland congregation praying the rosary you may believe ecumenism is a two-way process.
The task facing traditionalists is to claw back, inch by inch, everything that was lost in the 1960s, until the Church is restored to its full integrity. It will mean trench warfare for decades, probably generations; but, for the first time, the heretics are on the defensive and they will be defeated.
There is a revived spirit infusing the Church, a spirit once defined by GK Chesterton: "I am very proud of my religion; I am especially proud of those parts of it that are most commonly called superstition. I am proud of being fettered by antiquated dogmas and enslaved by dead creeds (as my journalistic friends repeat with so much pertinacity)... I am very proud of being orthodox about the mysteries of the Trinity or the Mass; I am proud of believing in the Confessional; I am proud of believing in the Papacy."
Triumphalism, so monotonously condemned by the Catholic agnostics, is the only logical response to the glory of the Resurrection. Tremble, all Modernists and you who presumptuously claim We Are Church - the spirit of Trent is abroad once more. Welcome to the Counter-Reformation.