With the passing years…

I have been delighted to find this video on Fr Quintin Montgomery Wright, which dates from 1988. Two indicators, his age of 74 and the controversy in that year over the four episcopal consecrations conferred by Archbishop Lefebvre. No one could care less nowadays!

My attention was drawn to this video by The Way We Were, itself referring to Fr Ray Blake’s website. My own association with this priest goes back to 1982 and my own disastrous conversion to Roman Catholicism. Also significant for me is the video on the SSPX UK History. I was received by Fr Black, and it was Fr Montgomery who had me re-confirmed by Archbishop Lefebvre at Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet in the following year, 1983. It was a Fr John Coulson, a former Camaldolese monk and World War II veteran looking after a small traditionalist chapel in Wimbledon, who pointed me to Fr Montgomery Wright.

At that time, I suffered considerably from the stifling bigotry of traditionalists in England and thought things would be better and more “natural” in France. I set off in July 1982 on a bicycle with a few belongings to explore the French traditionalist world. I took the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, and cycled all the way to Fr Montgomery’s parish. I was 23 and had the naivety of a child. I had the idea that if there were still parishes like Le Chamblac, there might also be a diocese of the résistance. There were none, and the only option for anyone wanting to become a priest was Ecône and the Society of St Pius X. That meant my learning French and endearing myself to the Society in France. Thereupon began an extremely unstable and painful period of my life. Only recently would I begin to find answers in my own life rather than blame my shortcomings on others.

Fr Montgomery is probably the reason why I am living in France and a part of this country I link closely with England as he did. Though I aspired to being a country priest in a parish, my life would turn out in a totally different way. And fortunately. He had his life, and I mine. I arrived at the presbytery in July 1982, and Fr Montgomery was welcoming and charming. I spent until October 1982 with him and Christian, and then moved on to “pre-seminary” with the SSPX at a school near Chateauroux. Daily routine took us to Bernay and Mass with a small community of sisters looking after an old folk’s home, and we went each Sunday evening to Alençon where Mass was said in a hired hall.

The thing that most marked me about Fr Montgomery was his naivety, which I attribute at least partially to his age and experience of another era. He saw no difference between the gentle but determined Archbishop Lefebvre and his own life as a priest. Interestingly, Fr Montgomery Wright was involved in the worker priest movement in the 1950’s, which for him would have been a continuation of the radical socialism of the English slum priests of the Victorian era. He saw France through the eyes of an English gentlemen, and his eccentricity would allow him this distance not allowed for anyone younger.

This video was made at the time when I was a student at Fribourg and it would be a long time before I returned to Normandy. Fr Montgomery died in 1996 as a result of a car accident. I remember that he was quite a reckless driver as are many priests who are constantly on the road. Christian was in the car with him and was killed outright. I have visited Fr Montgomery’s grave, which is located in the corner between the south transept and the choir of the church at Le Chamblac. I should also say a word about the area where he lived. The Eure area of France is much more “backward” and France profonde than the Pays de Caux where I presently live. They are both rude areas with high winds and a climate that is very similar to southern England, conducive to apple trees and cows. He could become very attached to his pays, and I feel alienated just about anywhere!

For all his years in France and the traditionalist world, he seemed to have little understanding of the dialectic oppositions between “us and them” or “all or nothing”. He was fond of Archbishop Lefebvre, but had little understanding for the nasty aspects of intégrisme, which has its parallels in English and American radical conservatism. He was sheltered from it all by his being a parish priest, left alone by his exceptionally tolerant liberal Bishop (just as with Anglo-Catholic priests under Evangelical bishops in the Church of England). In his mind, everything was transposed, but there was nothing remotely “Anglo-Catholic” about the intégristes. His age protected him from accusations of being too Anglican (not sufficiently indoctrinated by the bullies and authoritarians of the traditionalist world).

He probably influenced me in many more ways than I would care to imagine. My own idea of “projecting” my Anglicanism onto the Roman Catholicism I experienced certainly did more than anything else to “undo” my illusory transition and return to some point where I could find my place. There is no comparison between the 1980’s and our own era, any more than with the 1950’s, 30’s or the Victorian era. Le Chamblac as it was then just would not be possible now. Many traditionalists became mainstream with Ecclesia Dei adflicta and the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but nothing has that lack of regulation and supervision of Fr Montgomery’s parish life or indeed or the parish of Bouloire (Le Mans) where I installed an organ and spent time with Fr Pecha (French from Bohemian roots).

Another thing with that era was that people were for or against anything. Now, the same people don’t care. Would it be the hypothesis of post-modernism where people shed off their “meta-narratives” and are content with nihilism? As we all get older, we get set in our ways and decreasingly in touch with the issues that matter to younger folk.

Illusions were still possible in the 1980’s, though they were vanishing like the morning mist. There are things that exist now that didn’t exist then, like the Institute of Christ the King that I joined in 1990. There are other religious communities. Of course, with the “mainstream” traditionalists, there are the issues of the 1962 liturgy, which would be perceived differently in rural France and suburban London. Oddly, I find much of the spirit I sought then in the ACC. We are very little regulated (as long as we don’t do anything really wrong) and we know each other. We don’t have the village folk, who had a good time riding on the piggy back without giving much in return. Fr Montgomery’s world ended in his little tomb in the corner between the transept and the choir of the church he loved. Ours on this earth will end too as I look over my even more fragile religious world.

If we are Christians, we are undaunted by the prospect of passing from this world, judging ourselves more harshly than God would judge us, and entering a world we cannot presently imagine. I shed my illusions many years ago and have learned to live with the reality of despicere terram et amare caelestiam.

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5 Responses to With the passing years…

  1. Connor McNeill says:

    I have to say I too found the documentary fascinating, most importantly because in La Chamblac the faith seemed truly alive. I think this is one of the problems with modern traditional Catholicism, both Anglican and Roman. Often such parishes that use the ancient rites become destinations for liturgical tourists, this is all well and good, but it relies on taste and fashion and those can pass. What seemed to be the case at La Chamblac was that it wasn’t really a destination but just a normal local church which happened to do the old rites. I think some of it still continues in England with Anglo-Catholic churches, especially in the north, although they may be destinations the faith is really rooted in the local people. It doesn’t aim to appeal to any particular liturgical taste but rather aims to become an essential part of people’s lives and like all essential aspects of people’s lives, if it does the job properly then they’ll keep on coming back.

    I think La Chamblac flourished not because the way the liturgy was done appealed to the local people’s aesthetic sensibilities but because the faith that Fr Montgomery-Wright taught and practiced was essential to their lives and did its job. Like it or not but fashions will change and the current support for the old rites may pass. The only way to ensure that traditional churches survive is not to make them more specialised or more liturgically and doctrinally excellent destinations for traditionalists, but to convert the local people back to the faith and make that faith an essential part of their lives. Then excellence in the execution of the liturgy becomes of little importance but rather faithfulness to Christ in the liturgy becomes the rule of the day. As you say nobody cares nowadays, the general public anyway, but those who are disposed to the faith do care that it gives them spiritual nourishment. I personally believe that nourishment comes through the traditional faith and rites, but not because of their beauty but because they are the greatest base for a true and lively faith.

  2. Rubricarius says:

    I watched both the videos about Fr. Q M-W and the one about the history of the $$PX in the UK and found both of them fascinating and, ultimately, depressing. Fr. Quintin clearly had a vibrant sense of how to celebrate liturgy and we see that so clearly with the sung services and solemnity added to the occasion with tunicled acolytes, coped cantor, the servers in apparelled amices etc – all a far cry from dreary Low Mass a la modern Traddieland style. I wrote to Fr. Quintin many years ago and got a very pleasant reply which, shamefully, I have lost. I really regret having not made the effort to go and visit when I had the chance.

    With respect to the $$PX video that was particularly depressing to watch. Not only the sad sight of the traditional Holy Week being celebrated in the London church of SS Joseph and Padarn before Lefebrve himself banned it but to see a friend of long standing, sadly departed last year, MCing the services. Then to see so many familiar faces from my three years with these people in the late 1980s, lots of good people, all now, sadly, gone.

    All that remains of any claim to authentic Western liturgical patrimony is being kept alive now by flickering flames on the ‘outskirts’ like yourself Fr. Anthony. Those videos bring home, painfully, how so very much has been lost over the last thirty years, especially galling after the heroic efforts of the proto-Traditionalists who worked so hard to keep things going through the late 1950s and the 1960s only for their contemporary descendants to have cast most it aside.

  3. Alan Robinson says:

    I think that Fr Q.M.W. was a “free spirit” and always had been, an inheritance from the extreme Papalist Anglo-Catholicism of Hoxton and Cornwall. I think this freedom to do “what he liked” must have influenced the way he did things. I suppose he modelled himself on Fr Bernard Walke of St Hilary (Cornwall) – he knew his widow, if not Fr Walke himself. He even had a Nativity Mimed Play in front of the altar before Midnight Mass; something like St Hilary. He wasn’t very interested in ecclesiology which is why he made that fantastic comment about Bp Tissier de Mallerais’ confirmation being just like his own by Bishop Frere C.R. in Truro Cathedral. I remember him saying to me after a big Mass on the Assumption : There you are my dear, good as St. Mary’s,Bourne Street. Anglo-Catholic Orders are certainly indelible.

  4. J.D. says:

    Wow, what an interesting video. Father Q.M.W. is exactly the type of priest I wish existed these days. Who knows anymore if such a free spirited,detatched way of being a priest is even possible anymore within the official structures of the Roman Church or the SSPX? You’d probably have to be a member of the ACC like you Father Chadwick, where there is more of a live and let live attitude.

    I suppose today even if there were characters like this Father Wright they’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of parishoners who understand or appreciate that full immersion sacramental worldview and old school way of living according to the spirit of the liturgical year.

    Maybe the secret is just to be naive and to just live as Christians, keeping to the old ways as best we can for our own sanity and for whoever will listen. God will lead us in mysterious ways. I myself am a bit naive by choice and its served me well.

    I imagine this man had more than his share of melancholy knowing he was tirelessly carrying the torch for something that would more than likely be snuffed out when he took his last breath. What ever happened to his flock?

    • What ever happened to his flock? SSPX in places other than the solidly padlocked churches. What really changed everything was the Reformation / Counter Reformation and the “deification” of the Papacy in the 19th century, the end of Gallicanism and the best of the Germanic countries. From then, Catholicism would be little more than an ideology and an “opium of the people” as the Communists said.

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