Bp. Egan of Portsmouth: TLM in every parish “wonderful, but it’s not enough.”

The best Catholic weekly in the UK, The Catholic Herald, has an interview with the Bishop of Portsmouth, Most Rev. Philip Egan.

Bp. Egan has been, rightly I think, identified with a new wave of bishops who were being appointed during the last part of the pontificate of Benedict XVI through the intermediary of the current Apostolic Nuncio, Archbp. Antonio Mennini.  It is an open secret that the band of liberal bishops in England and Wales sometimes called “The Magic Circle” have their crosshairs on Mennini.  Now that Francis is Pope, they sense they have an opportunity to rid themselves of this troublesome Nuncio.

Back to The Catholic Herald.  Read the whole thing, but I found this of particular interest:

CH: In your episcopal ordination address you spoke of the need for Catholics to make converts.

EGAN: I spoke about the need for evangelisation. Making converts? Yes, in the total sense. I suppose traditionally the term “converts” makes one think of people coming from other Christian communities. I spoke about evangelisation. I think that’s the central theme of what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do.

Why do you think that, according to figures compiled recently by the Latin Mass Society, the number of conversions to Catholicism in England and Wales peaked in 1959 and is now just a third of that level?

I think the fact that 5,000 people convert, or are received in the Church, each year is a wonderful thing, because the whole culture has been radically altered since 1959. OK, we can look at internal weaknesses within the Church, but the critical and crucial thing has been the emergence of a post-modern, secularised society. I’d say that the reason there are less converts today is not because the “product” is defective. The key thing is that people can’t hear that call in a comfortable, affluent, consumerist, totally secularised culture.

The great thing of the Latin Mass Society is the tradition of the Church, but I actually believe that we don’t need more tradition. We need more creativity to respond to the challenges of the secular culture.

So you are saying that the sole answer to this problem wouldn’t be to have a Latin Mass in every parish?

That would be wonderful, but it’s not enough. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] Making available the Catholic tradition is a wonderful thing, but I think the time has come to put all the Church’s resources – its spiritual tradition, the 2,000 years of ascetical theology, the lives and example of the saints – at the service of helping people to pray and discover God at work in their lives. Because I think that from there will come the basis for the new ardour, the new passion for the Lord. It will catch on like wildfire.


You can see why The Magic Circle and libs in England would be worried.

He is open to the traditional expression of the Roman Rite in every parish.  At the same time he pushes an ascetical theology and service.

I will part company just a tad with His Lordship.  I think we do need more “tradition”, in the sense that we need a revitalization of our Catholic identity which necessarily includes a reintegration of our Catholic tradition.  At the same time, Bp. Egan is calling for – if I understand him correctly  – for what I have been pushing to the screen for “traditionalist” reflection.  Traditional forms of liturgical worship are helpful, necessary even, but also necessary are sincere and charitable works of mercy done for love of Christ and neighbor.

The combination of tradition and works of mercy in unbeatable.  I suspect that Bp. Egan and I agree on this, though he placed the emphasis on “ascetical theology”.

Finally, Fr. Blake in Brighton is under attack right now.  HERE and HERE  Blake has been promoting both traditional worship and service of the poor in concrete ways.  Priests and bishops who bring these two elements together are going to be attacked savagely both from within the Church and from without, in the press.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. kevinm says:

    Some sad news….The Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford Ct. has to cancel the Extraordinary Form Mass on Sundays due to declining attendance…
    Every now and then I guess we have to take a step back…..



  2. Trisagion says:

    My Bishop is just great. God has been very good to us in Portsmouth. At 8am this coming Sunday, 15th September a weekly Sunday Low Mass begins at St John’s Cathedral, Portsmouth, initially celebrated by Fr Joe McNerney (with whom you stayed in Fareham several years ago). [Give him my best!] Pray for him and for Canon Dominic Golding, the Cathedral Dean, as he learns to celebrate the TLM. May God reward him.

    Deacon Stephen Morgan

  3. rbbadger says:

    In the Anglo-Catholic movement in the Anglican Communion, one often saw both ministry to the poorest of the poor and very high liturgies. The Anglo-Catholic society of priests, the Society of the Holy Cross, had its beginnings working in the Victorian slums of London. These were areas so dangerous that not even bishops dared visit. (Of course, another reason why bishops didn’t want to visit was that most bishops of the time had a great distaste of what was called “Ritualism”.) Additionally, Anglo-Catholics did a great deal of missionary work in foreign countries.

    Then, there was the example given by Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, the second Archbishop of Westminster in London. Cardinal Manning was very much in favour of the definition of Papal Infallibility at Vatican I. He is often described as an ultramontane. However, he was also a very good pastor who was very concerned with the plight of the poor. He played a crucial role in settling the London Dock Strike of 1889. In this, he foreshadowed what was to come with Leo XIII and Rerum Novarum. Good theology and good liturgy aren’t opposed to care for the poor.

  4. Bruce Wayne says:

    From what I see here Bp. Egan and Fr Z. seem very much in agreement.

    One of the brilliant aspects of Catholicism is its capacity to incorporate many fruitful approaches or strands to developing the true virtues of religion. These approaches are themselves ancient and traditional. Asceticism can work wonders in developing Christian virtues but so to can an emphasis for some on mysticism, or again for others an emphasis on participation in liturgy. The pastor at my FSSP-run parish has a homiletic approach that stresses catechesis and ethical reflection. The other parish priest generally works through series of homilies on mental prayer and the practices of the inner spiritual life. I have wondered but not yet asked them if this is an arrangement between them to strike a balance and cover all aspects of the faith or simply a reflection on what they individually see fit to emphasize when instructing the laity.

    It seems to me that what is most striking about the impact of traditional liturgical worship is that it is, if you will, the frontlines for reaching people who are Catholic since simply fulfilling our Sunday obligation is rather a sine qua non of being a Catholic. Similarly the curious potential converts may spend some amount of time reading about Catholicism but at some point will investigate it in the flesh by attending Mass. Thus, a reverent liturgy is crucial to help the curious come to understand Catholicism because it is so powerful a motivator for directing them to find God, especially in His Real Presence.

    It seems to me that a bishop especially should guard against trying to rely on one instrument or method of evangelization too far beyond all others. The difficult trick is to try and direct and make use of all possible “weapons” in the spiritual battle with Satan. Sometimes the frontline battle for a reverent liturgy repays a higher emphasis and attention, sometimes the bishop may need to place a focus on Catholic education or seminary formation and so forth. Much as the liturgical calendar has seasons and might lay emphasis on this or that aspect of the life of the faith over another this same capacity for encouraging a total approach is a matter for careful episcopal prudence and action.

    A big nota bene here though is I am assuming these instruments of evangelization are understood in an orthodox mode (mysticism, asceticism, liturgy, etc.) as all expressions are not equal or orthodox.

  5. I am cloudowl says:

    Are you suggesting that the excoriation of Fr Blake is related to the fact that he’s one of the few priests offering TLM in his diocese?

    It’s probably not just a coincidence.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    I am cloudowl….DUH!

  7. gracie says:

    Father Z,

    I see that some priests have posted comments on Fr. Blake’s latest blog thread. Perhaps, if you have a moment, you could post something there – I know he’d appreciate it and I am sure he appreciates your support here.

  8. Cordelio says:

    It is disheartening to read Bishop Egan echoing the notion that one must primarily attribute the past half-century’s precipitous drop in virtually every statistical indicator of Catholic belief throughout the Western world to the general moral and spiritual decline of Western culture during the same time period, rather than to problems in the Catholic Church.

    This notion reduces the Catholic Church to the status of merely one among many popular movements that share the stage in some larger reality, in which the Church will rise and fall according to arbitrary winds beyond its control. While this may be the cosmology of the LCWR, it is not that of the Catholic Church.

    In the real world, cultural trends are not accidents – they are the result of acts of the will driven by the character of fallen man. The only reformer of character in the real world is supernatural grace, which is given to man by the merits of Christ through His Church – which is consequently the most important institution in human history; by its constitution ontologically distinct from, and superior to, any merely human institution.

    When the very Western culture that the Church formed in the first place rapidly devolves into a post-modern, secular society, where else would one look for the cause? To not blame the Church (in its human aspect, of course) for the present morass of Western culture is to deny the Church its primacy.

  9. Bruce Wayne says:


    I am not sure you are maintaining the distinction throughout your comment that you parenthetically admit at the end, otherwise you would not be so critical of what Egan says here.

    The distinction is between the Church as supernatural institution and the Church as a constituted body of human believers.

    Your disappointment is in the opinion that the lion’s share of blame for decline in Catholic faith comes from a more general religious and cultural decline. But that claim of Egan maintains the distinction you want to defend.

    Look at it this way. I think you are saying that we should lay the bulk of the blame for inter-Catholic decline on inter-Catholic issues, that is, on the Church in its human elements failing to transmit the faith (in a slew of ways).

    But Bp. Egan is not contradicting your opinion, rather, he is commenting on what he thinks came first (not quite a chicken or egg argument but close), namely the general spiritual and cultural decline. That is, inter-Catholic Church signs of decay are at least *partly* a result of outside cultural influences on individual Catholics, right? I think you will admit that. So secondly the decline is a result of the failings of Catholics among themselves (ecclesially or as parents and teachers of the faith). But this second failing you stress he thinks occurs/ed because of the infection within the human elements of the Church of the general secular decadence. So there again, ultimately the problem comes from a generally extra-Church source.

    But this (Egan’s) understanding better maintains the claim you correctly want to see supported, namely, the supernatural nature and divine protection of the institutional Church as the Bride of Christ. He too is looking at the issue of decline among the human elements of Christ’s Body and I think is correct to say that any such destructive influences *must by their very nature* be extra-Catholic, they must come from the Prince of this World and neither God or His earthly Body qua supernatural institution to which He promised protection.

    Indeed, isn’t that the very point of the long struggle of our 19th and 20th/21st century popes against the fatal ideologies that came from the Reformation and modernity in general in their teaching documents?

    In short (too late I know), when Catholics fail in the faith and bring scandal into the Church it cannot be by *being* Catholic, right? It has to be from failing to live up to the Catholic life, hence is extra-ecclesial and part of the general secular, mundane/worldly decline in faith. Being a “bad Catholic” means being worldly, right?

  10. FeedieB says:

    More tradition, please, Bishop!! WE NEED TRADITION. After 7 years as a Catholic, I still barely know how to make my Catholic faith tangible on a daily basis — and I probably understand tradition better than my cradle Catholic friends. If more priests would incorporate Catholic tradition into daily life, that would BE “evangelization.” When all Catholics skipped meat on Friday, that was a form of evangelization. Catholics probably often heard the question, “Why don’t you eat meat on Fridays?” And then Catholics had the chance to explain a bit about their faith. As a starving 21st Catholic, I am begging priests and bishops to incorporate good old fashioned Catholic traditions back into our daily lives!!!

  11. frjim4321 says:

    As I understand it SP allowed for the 1960’s style of the mass to be permitted without the ordinary’s permission when a significant group of parishioners expressed a desire for it. I don’t see where SP indicates that it is expected or even desired that this exception be seen in all parishes. My theory is that to the extent that good liturgical catechesis took place after the Council fewer expressions of interest in the 1960’s style have been made.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    FeedieB, sadly, if you are starving, you have to feed yourself somehow. The onus of learning the Faith and remaining faithful is on each one of us, no matter how hard. Use the Net and anything for good teaching. Do not think you can rely on bishops or priests.

  13. dominic1955 says:

    “My theory is that to the extent that good liturgical catechesis took place after the Council fewer expressions of interest in the 1960?s style have been made.”

    Translation-people wouldn’t know good liturgy if it smacked them in the face with a 2×4 so they couldn’t possibly ask for something they haven’t the slightest idea they should want. That said, I do think you hit on a relevant point-some folks who identify as “traditionalists” and have the TLM as their rallying point aren’t so much interested in the preservation of real liturgical tradition as they have been upset at all the upheavals of the past 40-50 years. They also wouldn’t know good non-Tridentine (i.e. Eastern rites, non-Roman Western rites) liturgy if it smacked them in the face with a 2×4 either.

    Along those same lines, too many people that could give me a good Tridentine Cathecism explanation of the sacraments et al. are often too ultramontane to look into these things, prefering to parrot along with everyone else how wonderful are the emperor’s new suit of clothes.

  14. Indulgentiam says:

    “That would be wonderful, but it’s not enough. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]”
    Supertradmum’s comment “if you are starving” made me think of a comment, I heard, from a Catholic who had once been homeless.
    “The Church doesn’t see the poor like it used too. Now it sees them like the rest of the world does, like just a walking belly with a mouth on it. I don’t know what made them(Priests and Nuns) forget that we have SOULS that need feeding, not to mention eyes and ears.
    Every city has food banks, every protestant meeting house has food banks. They give away food, clothes, school supplies, anything you can think of. But no one thinks that we need beauty. I guess they don’t think we can or want to appreciate it. But they couldn’t be more wrong. At night, in the tiny rooms of rundown tenements and neighborhoods the poor cower with their full bellies and empty souls. The devils descending and picking apart their fears. Easy pickens really when all around is the filth of impurity and violence. In those moments I tell you true, you’d gladly give up almost all the food you ate that day for a moments peace. I don’t have that problem anymore. I found a beautiful old church that celebrates the EF. I go there and gorge my soul and stuff every knock and cranny of my brain with the beautiful artwork, the beautiful statues of my Lord, my Queen and Mother, the Saints. And for a while I am surrounded by more beauty and majesty than surrounds the rich and famous of this world. I hoard and guard these sights, sounds (chant) and smells as my most precious treasure. Because at night when the darkness closes in. I take them out and the light of their beauty pushes the devils back and warms my cold and fearful heart. Then I forget what’s around me and can focus on what awaits me. It’s as if a voice accompanies those images and whispers “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” And I believe. And it gives me the strength to keep walking through the muck and the mire of this world. No plate of food has ever given me that.
    Maybe Priests should remember that the hands can not be the feet anymore than the head can be the hands. Their are plenty of hands handing out food. Only Priests can bring out the treasures of Holy Mother Church. Most these days throw the beauty, our souls desperately cry out for, into closets or sell them to the highest bidders for wide screen tv’s. They’ll have these “thanksgiving for the poor banquets” and go all out, because ” presentation makes the meal memorable” but these are the same folks that strip the Altars and Churches of all vestiges of beauty. I’m just so sad that the enemy has so many unwittingly helpful hands among the clergy.”
    There is nothing more painful than a hungry soul.

  15. Cordelio says:

    Dear Bruce Wayne,

    If I carry the point I think you’re trying to make to its logical conclusion, then when could blame for bad things that happen in the world ever be attributed to the Church in its human aspect?

    The spirit of the world being opposed to the Church was not a circumstance unique to the mid-20th Century. It is precisely because the Church stands in opposition to the spirit of the world that it draws those discontented with that spirit to itself.

    And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself. Saint John 12:32

    Even a perfunctory survey of pop culture over the last decades shows that there are plenty of people who are discontented with the secular, material culture of today. Why are they not being drawn to the Church?

    The answer implied by the Bishop’s statement is that we live in a very comfortable age, so many people just refuse to hear the call of the Church. In effect, the Crucified somehow lacks the power to draw people to Him if it would make them uncomfortable. And yet, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians. What could be less comfortable than adopting a Faith for which you are at risk of persecution and death?

    The more realistic answer is that, while human weakness has always been a part of the Church, in the 1960s the Church stopped setting itself in opposition to the spirit of the world. It tried, in an unprecedented manner, liturgically and doctrinally, to compromise with the spirit of the world. The disaffected aren’t drawn to the Church because they don’t see a difference between it and the world with which they are dissatisfied.

    Now one may object that this isn’t simply a liturgical problem, which is of course true. But much as one denies the practical significance of the Church in the world by giving it a pass on the collapse of Western culture, one denies the centrality of the liturgy (and particularly the Mass) in the Church by failing to associate its radical reorientation with that of the Church, at large.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Cordelio, The laity have played footsy with the world, the flesh and the devil. We are supposed to be signs of contradiction in the world. What happened? We know. Abortion, contraception, consumerism, acceptance of universal salvation; in a word, compromise; in two words sin and loss of faith. You are so correct in your comment. The edge is lost when Catholics do not live like Catholics or think like Catholics.

  17. Pingback: Links | Big Pulpit

  18. Bruce Wayne says:


    In your second comment I think you are using “Church” analogically and not univocally but yet are not being clear on when you mean Church “in its human parts” and Church as supernatural institution.

    So when you say “in the 1960s the Church stopped setting itself in opposition to the spirit of the world” what is the referent for Church? If you do accept the distinction you maintained in your first post between the Church as supernatural institution (Bride of Christ) then your statement must be that the human elements of the Church stopped opposing the world.

    Ok, so if that is the case then I and Bp. Egan agree with you. He said that the “world” won over many people or keeps them from the Church.

    Do you see the distinction at play? Basically I cannot blame the “Church” for failing to say no to the world if I am talking about the Church as Bride of Christ . . . because the Church in that sense does not falter or fail. Like you said, Christ does not fail. It can only be the Church in its human elements that can fall away or fail. But how does that happen? Surely not by “being the Church” (Bride of Christ, supernaturally protected) but rather by turning away from Christ and towards the world, by being human. Hence, it is worldiness that wins out and if Egan wants to point that out then it doesn’t let any one member of the Church (human element now) off the hook at all. But it also does not impugn the “Church-itself” as the supernaturally protected divine institution, the Bride of Christ. He is maintaining the proper distinction of the “Church Itself” versus the “Church in its human elements.”

    I guess I am saying that when someone says “The Church did this or that” (with this or that being anything like “lost its way”; “stopped catechizing”; “accepted modernity”; “compromised”) then it is not readily apparent whether that person is maintaining the proper distinction between the holy institution and its human elements. If that distinction is lost then the person could be sinning against the Holy Ghost by despairing of His guidance of the Church and that logical path leads to things like sedevacantism.

  19. Cordelio says:

    Dear Bruce Wayne,

    I only included the parenthetical in the first comment in case someone would be obtuse enough to think that I was suggesting that God could err or be the source of evil. When I speak of assigning blame to the Church of course I am referring to the decisions made by the members of the Church Militant – and more particularly – to the decisions made by the hierarchy of the Church Militant.

    Unless Bishop Egan did not intend to say what his words meant, then either we do not agree or else he is wasting words stating a truism. If by “the product” he means true doctrine and/or supernatural grace – then of course “the product” is not defective, but he is rather missing the point of the question. If by “the product” he means the presentation of the same by the human members of the Church, then we disagree – the product is defective and became defective precisely around the same time converts dropped off, priests and nuns abandoned their vocation, mass attendance plummeted, etc.

    Interestingly, both sedevacantists and “conservative” Catholics are lead into error by underestimating the extent to which the hierarchy can mess things up. The former say, things are so bad, the hierarchy can’t really be the hierarchy; the latter, things can’t be so bad because the hierarchy is behind them.

  20. Bruce Wayne says:


    We are closer to an understanding now. I am disagreeing with your interpretation of what he said in response to being asked to comment on why conversions now are a third of where they were in 1959. Before I wasn’t sure where exactly your disappointment in what he said stemmed from.

    Note that he says we “can look at internal weaknesses within the Church” to explain the difference between 2013 and 1959, therefore he is ready to acknowledge them. I think he took the interviewer as fishing for that as a response. However, he doesn’t address them here because he chooses to avoid answering that question. He reframes it into just a question of why conversions are difficult “here and now.”

    So I don’t think he was answering the question that you think he answered. He shifted it a bit.
    My sense of why he shifted the question in this manner is that he wanted to give a positive message, hence his immediate defensiveness by quoting the number of yearly conversions NOW as 5000. That move changed the grounds from the pessimism of the original question dating from 1959 (meaning just prior to V-II) to now there being a third the number of conversions to the optimism of celebrating the 5000 who do convert. He then said that converting more now is made most difficult by how entrenched the secular culture is rather than ongoing systemic internal Church issues.

    So restricted to the “now” do you still think that the biggest reason for the failure to garner conversions is systemic issues in the church hierarchy? Or could Bp. Egan be right that the biggest obstacle “now” is the reach and influence of the general materialist and secularist culture?

    For what its worth I tend to think that systemic issues within the Church (within the priesthood, seminary formation, implementation of VII, catechesis, etc., etc.) *might* be more to blame in the longer picture of decline from then to now. But I do think Bp. Egan is correct that the biggest obstacle at converting others NOW is the entrenched materialism and secularism of the general western culture.

  21. Jack Regan says:

    People have largely stopped using the phrase ‘Magic Circle’ the individual who came up with the term became engulfed in scandal.

    A certain journalist let slip where the phrase came from, and I suspect now regrets having done so!

    On another track, I like Bp. Egan. I like this bit too:

    Making available the Catholic tradition is a wonderful thing, but I think the time has come to put all the Church’s resources – its spiritual tradition, the 2,000 years of ascetical theology, the lives and example of the saints – at the service of helping people to pray and discover God at work in their lives. Because I think that from there will come the basis for the new ardour, the new passion for the Lord. It will catch on like wildfire.

    That’s just brilliant.

  22. Pingback: Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) - BigPulpit.com

Comments are closed.