Over the past thirty or forty years, in ways that those who have not lived through them may not believe, things have been difficult for those who loved the Old Latin Mass. From the mid-1960s to 1990, things were especially difficult; they were the 'hidden years'. Traditionalists were constantly asking themselves when (and even whether) the Old Mass would be allowed again without hindrance. It was a long wait for many and tried their faith. Many did not live to see the fruit of their long struggle.
Were you watching television on the afternoon of the 19th of April 2005? The pictures were from St Peter's Square in Rome, and round about tea-time there was a close up of the smoke-stack above the Sistine chapel where white smoke was trickling out. Such anticipation! After what seemed an interminable wait, a cardinal stepped onto the balcony and began speaking: "Habemus Papam!" And after a big Latin wind-up, he pronounced the name "Josephum" (heart-stopping moment -- there was only one Joseph amongst the cardinals -- it couldn't be! -- long pause) "Ratzinger". And after another lengthy pause the new Pope Benedict XVI appeared on the balcony, to give his blessing and to be acclaimed by the crowds, in the Square and around the world!
For the traditionalists and conservatives in the Church, it seemed that Spring had finally come. Only the liberals were dismayed (Hurrah!). At first nothing seemed to be happening, and some critics were again voicing their disappointment. But Pope Benedict was biding his time, slowly making changes at the top, in his Curia. Rumours began to circulate about the future of the Old Mass, and then when nothing seemed to be happening, disillusion set in. And then came Summorum Pontificum, in force from September 14th 2007. Benedict had changed the law of the Church to support the Old Mass as an Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Spring had indeed sprung!
But cast your minds back to 1965 (I am grateful to Richard Rainbow for reminding me of this). 1965 was the year in which the Latin Mass Society was set up by a number of laymen and women who could see that change was coming (and not a change which was to their liking), and the Society aimed to preserve the Traditional Latin Mass. By 1970, even John Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, was alarmed at the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae and the rumours that Pope Paul VI was contemplating removing the Old Latin Mass altogether. He went to Rome to see the Pope and took with him a petition signed by many illustrious English people (not all of them Catholics); the petition noted 'the exceptional artistic and cultural heritage of the Tridentine liturgy'; it was signed amongst others by Robert Graves, Iris Murdoch, Sir Kenneth Clarke, C. Day Lewis, --- and Agatha Christie. The story is that the Pope read through the petition and then the list of signatories, until he suddenly exclaimed: "Ah! Agatha Christie!" He must have been a fan of Agatha Christie, because he then signed the petition keeping the Old Mass in existence, and the Indult ever since has been known as the 'Agatha Christie Indult'.
This Indult allowed bishops to grant permission on occasions for priests to celebrate the Old Mass. However, in this diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, England, it was applied with great rigour. Each Mass had to be applied for, no more than one a quarter, in the evening, in a remote parish, with no publicity. Jack Harvey was the man who suffered much in the Seventies and Eighties in seeking a grudging permission, and Father Godfrey ("Goff") Bryce the priest who celebrated the Mass, thus keeping the Old Mass alive in our diocese. One of the locations for the Mass was at Esh Laude, a hill-top church way out in the countryside. The other location was in a private chapel attached to a large country house where the approach was across a long unmarked drive and where the heating didn't work in the chapel. Not ideal, but the owner was a devotee of the Old Mass and so made his chapel available. (I celebrated his Requiem Mass in the EF in the same chapel a couple of years ago).
Times were hard for those in our diocese (and I presume in most dioceses) for those who wished to sacrifice in the traditional way, but it is thanks to the grit and determination of a few stalwarts here in the diocese and nationally through the Latin Mass Society and internationally through the International Una Voce Federation that Pope John Paul II gave us Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, which led to the freeing up of celebrations of the Old Mass. From 1992, the Old Mass was celebrated more and more frequently by me and a few other priests in St Dominic's, Newcastle, and in our parishes. Now, after Summorum Pontificum, the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated by me in my parish as simply a regular part of the weekly round of Masses and services on offer for parishioners from within and without the parish.