'Father Brown Reforms the Liturgy' (Why Revive the Liturgy and How?)

'Father Brown Reforms the Liturgy' (Why Revive the Liturgy and How?)

By John O'Connor
Product Code: fbrl

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Introduced, edited & annotated by Dom Hugh Somerville Knapman, OSB

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Monsignor John O’Connor (1870-1952), an Irish parish priest in Yorkshire blessed with a solid continental education, was the inspiration for G.K. Chesterton’s famous clerical sleuth, Father Brown. Though a friend of Chesterton and Eric Gill and a published writer himself, O’Connor’s motives for printing his prewar tract on liturgical renewal both privately and anonymously will not be hard to fathom. His liturgical views offer an insight into the thinking of non-specialist advocates of the Liturgical Movement in the late 1930s. Always strident, his liturgical opinions are sometimes prophetic and often confounding. Immune to neat categorisation, this liturgical manifesto from the real “Father Brown” may surprise many admirers of the beloved character he inspired.

* * * * 

It was not only as the inspiration for G. K. Chesterton’s fictional Father Brown that Monsignor John O’Connor was, as people say, quite the character. As a man of cultivated intellect and refined taste, but first and foremost a pastor of souls, O’Connor calls to mind Father Adrian Fortescue, his younger (albeit shorter-lived) contemporary and fellow devotee of the liturgy. Amusingly opinionated and intentionally provocative, yet well-meaning (if ill-informed on some points), O’Connor discharges his mind on the nature and location of the Christian altar, the quality and style of church music, and the use of Latin and the vernacular in the Mass. His little program for liturgical reform is representative of much that was good and bad about the Liturgical Movement in its classical period. — Fr. Thomas Kocik, KHS, Author of Singing His Song: A Short Introduction to the Liturgical Movement and The Reform of the Reform: A Liturgical Debate

The utterances of an eccentric can be amusing, even charming. The private ravings of an eccentric Irish priest in England on the liturgy, however, are quite another matter. Indeed, here, they are rather alarming. ‘Father Brown’s’ opinionated rant on the state of matters liturgical in the 1930s, and how to fix the malaise he detects, veers from insight to error in an eclectic assembly of liturgical desiderata which, it must be said, is…unique.

Nevertheless, his voice is an important footnote in twentieth century liturgical history illustrating the reality of the longstanding desire for true participation in the Church’s worship — even if his understanding of the nature of the latter was defective and his proposals at times were rash (a malaise by no means confined to his private opinions). Dom Hugh is to be congratulated for unearthing this very rough diamond and for editing it with such diligence.

What ‘Father Brown’ would have thought of the liturgical reforms enacted in the decades after his death we do not know. But that he would have had plenty to say about them, we can be sure.  This book underlines the necessity of the clear, critical examination of both assumptions and conclusions in any question of the reform (past, present or proposed) of the venerable, living organism of the Sacred Liturgy that has been handed on to us in Tradition. ‘Father Brown’ would expect no less. — Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB, Prior, Monastère Saint-Benoît, Brignoles, France.
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