Reading about the Protestant Reformation in England, it’s fascinating to look at the strategy that the reformers of King Henry VIII’s day implemented to cut away at the Catholic Church’s influence in day-to-day English life. Their ultimate agenda was guided by the question, “How can we most effectively erase Catholic identity from the collective conscience of the people?” Murdering Catholics outright was certainly in the cards for Henry, as was the total destruction of Saint Thomas Becket’s beautiful sanctuary and relics. But other strategies had to be explored to extirpate the Catholic Church from England. He had to ensure the erasure was total and irreversible.

Evelyn Waugh writes about this fascinating and tragic period in Western history in his moving biography of Saint Edmund Campion, Edmund Campion: Jesuit and Martyr. While the book focuses heavily on the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Waugh begins by rewinding the clock to the genesis of the Protestant reformation in England under Elizabeth’s despotic father, Henry VIII. Besides the hanged, drawn and quartering approach to dealing with Catholics, or imprisoning them indefinitely, Henry knew that, if he were to be successful in the long term, he had to attack the source of what made England so devoutly Roman Catholic. Now what could that be? From Waugh’s biography of St. Campion:

They [Protestant reformers] struck hard at all the ancient habits of spiritual life–the rosary, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, pilgrimages, religious art, fasting, confession, penance and the great succession of traditional holidays–but the Mass was recognized as being both the distinguishing sign and main sustenance of their opponents. The objects specially connected with it, the vestments, plate and missals, were signaled out for destruction

This lesson from 16th-century England, once one of Europe’s most Catholic kingdoms, shows why safeguarding the liturgy and our distinct devotional practices is so fundamental in 2016. It is no wonder then why, as pope, Benedict XVI placed so much emphasis on the restoration and recovery of our traditions. This effort culminated in his brilliant motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. Indeed, much of his life as a theologian, priest, bishop and cardinal was dedicated to the service of beauty within the liturgical and devotional life of the Church. As informed Catholics, we need to do our small part as well.

I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.  ~Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones


* Stained-glass of Saint Edmund Campion before Queen Elizabeth I, source: