Bishop McMahon Named New Archbishop of Liverpool

Bishop Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham, has been named the new Archbishop of Liverpool, confirming rumors heard since the beginning of this week. What this appointment means for the Catholic Church in England and for further appointments under Pope Francis remains to be seen. Bishop McMahon has on several occasions celebrated the Mass in the Extraordinary Form: Pontifical Mass in Ratcliffe College, Pontifical Mass at Knights of Malta Chapel, and LMS Summer School at Merton College. In a forward to a people’s edition of the Latin Missal of Paul VI, Bishop McMahon wrote:

Since Vatican II, Mass in the vernacular language (English in our case) has become widespread, but it began as, and remains, a concession. Vatican II envisaged that the Mass would ordinarily be celebrated in Latin, and it stressed the need for the faithful to be able to say or sing together in Latin the parts of the Mass which pertain to them, and it commended the use of Gregorian chant, saying that it should be given pride of place in liturgical functions.

Further:

It is a mistake to assume that the Mass should be translated into simple English, because the Mass never is and never can be fully understood. Even a translation should give us a glimpse of the unsearchable beauty of God.

He ends:

For the faithful to participate actively at Mass, as has been mandated by successive popes as well as the Second Vatican Council, they must be familiar with the texts and chants. It is for this end that this book has been produced, and I warmly commend it.

Bishops McMahon’s appointment does raise some eyebrows amongst those who see Pope Francis charting for the Church a new course immersed in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps the guiding principles for the appointment of bishops is still, a year after Pope Francis’ election, highly influenced by his predecessor. At the same time, I have heard him described as being down to earth and Damian Thompson called him “a Left-wing Dominican with a taste for traddie liturgy.” Bishop McMahon has also had some interesting things to say about the possibilities of married clergy. Jonathan Wynne-Jones in his 2008 article on the bishop’s comments on married clergy wrote that Bishop McMahon was a “leading candidate to become the next head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.” Additionally, Wynne-Jones said that

Bishop McMahon has emerged as one of the favourites to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who is due to stand down early next year. It is understood that the cardinal has been personally pushing for the bishop as his successor and he is also popular with the traditionalists because of his support for the Latin Mass.

What all this means for the Church and how it reflects on Pope Francis remains to be seen. It might just be that in the person of Bishop McMahon there is something everyone is drawn to.

27 comments

  1. Well, as anyone who’s actually read the relevant V2 document, he’s right about the use of the vernacular. His appointment is therefore extraordinarily (no pun intended) good news. Here’s hoping there will be more bishops like him.

    1. @Andrew Witcombe-Small – comment #3:
      Not quite. Vatican II spoke of retaining Latin but certainly did not foresee that Mass would ordinarily be celebrated in Latin. (I wrote a book on this topic, about Vatican II reforms in general but especially with respect to music.) An earlier draft of Sacrosanctum Concilium said that the highest form of liturgy is sung “in Latin.” That phrase – “in Latin” was voted out. Latin is retained, vernacular is permitted, but there is no statement in Vatican II that Mass would “ordinarily” be in Latin.
      awr

  2. It is a mistake to assume that the Mass should be translated into simple English, because the Mass never is and never can be fully understood. Even a translation should give us a glimpse of the unsearchable beauty of God.

    There is a difference between simple language and simplistic language. In public liturgy we need simple language to communicate the profundity of God.

    I think the bishop himself is deeply mistaken. Simple language has the ability to convey the profound, often much more effectively than complex language.

    e.g.

    Never have I been glad or sad
    That there was such a thing as bad.
    There had to be, I understood,
    For there to have been any good.

    Robert Frost: “Quandary”

  3. Oh for the pre-Vatican II days of the True Traditional Mass and the Real Traditional Church when Faithful Traditional Catholics would no more have commented upon appointments in the Hierarchy than flown in the air!

  4. “Bishops McMahon’s appointment does raise some eyebrows amongst those who see Pope Francis charting for the Church a new course immersed in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.”

    Hmm. I seem to recall Pope Benedict saying some rather pointed words about those who invoke the “spirit” of the Council as a cloak for all their perverse agendas. I am not the only one who rejoices to see the selection of bishops who actually wish to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church — including the letter of the Second Vatican Council, and only in continuity with Vatican I, Trent, and all the other councils, all of which are of inherently greater authority because of their explicitly de fide dogmatic content.

  5. Rocco’s summary here

    http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2014/03/after-13-month-wait-liverpool-lands.html

    moderate progressive in the mold of most of the Brit bench, in McMahon’s case he comes with a stylistic twist: over recent years, the appointee has shown a striking affinity for the Tridentine Mass,

    At the same time, the new archbishop is fresh off his annual trip to last weekend’s Los Angeles Religious Education Congress – hardly a mecca for traditionalists – where he’s long held a speaking slot, usually focusing on ecumenical and interfaith relations.

    In any case, as one op – a longtime friend of McMahon’s – observed, “I have never heard a word [from him] about traveling down the conservative path.”

    Perhaps the most prominent example of the point came in 2001, when the prelate was quoted as saying “I look forward to the day when we will have women priests” during a conversation with a diocesan youth group, and was forced to clarify after a meeting with then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

    All things to all men (and women)?

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #7:
      Just to follow up on your comment, Jonthan’s article says that he told then Cardinal Ratzinger that “I look forward to the day when women play a greater role in ministry and take up more of a place in the Church, but not in sacred orders.”

  6. This seems to be a trend, Father Robert Byrne of the Oxford Oratory was appointed auxiliary bishop of Birmingham this week as well.

  7. What a great day for the traddies. They’ve had so little to crow about that this appointment will be like a great feast. Now will anyone point out that the Church in England is far from flourishing and that we will probably hear very little about Liverpool until he makes an effort to celebrate the EF at his super modern Cathedral on Hope Street. Maybe the Anglicans at the other end of the street will loan him the use of their glorious Gothic cathedral. I’ve been in both. The Anglican Cathedral has the look and feel of a museum, but a truly grand one at that. The Catholic Cathedral begs the presence of a large assembly of worshipers to make sense of its architecture. I wish the good archbishop well. No doubt he will be delighted to learn of a groundswell of support from some of our PrayTell blogsters.

  8. Like all normal people the traditionalists have on rose colored glasses as in this “interview” by Damian

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100264680/new-archbishop-of-liverpool-of-course-im-happy-to-celebrate-the-traditional-latin-mass/

    how much he foresees that the Extraordinary Form may in time become a general and unremarkable part of the liturgical life of the archdiocese ? “I think it’s hard to predict. I will certainly be open to any requests that come my way

    Yes he is going to do what SP tells him to do.

    on whether he foresees himself personally celebrating the Extraordinary Form: “It depends how it is used. I mean, I’ve celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form when required and when I’ve been asked to. But the Mass always has to be a source of unity in the Church, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be used, and the Extraordinary Form to be used, to divide the Church. That would be my [only] concern

    Of course, he also knows that Francis has this concern, too.

    But there are plenty of pictures of me on the Internet [celebrating the Extraordinary Form] with [laughing] mitres that don’t fit me and all that!

    So if he ends up looking silly doing the EF in Liverpool Cathedral we are allowed to laugh!

    Sounds like this man is out to please as many people as he can.

  9. Labeling people is always a mugs’ game, but with the English Dominicans it is particularly pointless.

  10. Much ado about nothing.
    I can only find only 2 instances where he celebrated the EF.
    The Latin Mass Society states he celebrated the EF:

    First at a Dominican Church in Leicester “years ago”.
    Second, at the Latin Mass society last year at a priest training conference at a college (Ratcliffe).

    If there are more please correct and document.

    However, if there are only a few then he is not what I would consider an EF radical proponent by any means.
    And it makes sense, look at what he stated in Damien’s interview: ” I’ve celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form when required and when I’ve been asked to”. Sounds like he did because he was “required” because MP requires it and then “asked to” by the Latin Mass Society at a college for priest training. Hardly ringing endorsements for the EF if he was “required”. Look, he’s a company man, the only way forward for him is to follow the rules and he knows it and even if he celebrated dozens of EF Masses, his very own words seems to reveal a sense of discomfort with it?

    As armchair or pew warriors I can’t help but wonder if Francis knows something more about the man than we do or even my friend Rocco! If he begins to mandate that EF’s replace OF’s (got the abbrev right this time) then it’s time to bring out the water cannons but I don’t think this will pan out to be much at all (I pray!).

  11. So, McMahon has a liturgical “history”and dogmatic declarations that provoke mixed opinions. Nothing unusual in that. Responsibility often changes people. Let’s give him a chance to prove himself. If he disappoints, at least we didn’t vote for him. And if he causes a revolt . . . but that would be very unEnglish, and won’t happen.

  12. I think it’s worth remembering that McMahon is Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of Education and Formation, the Catholic Education Service (CES) and the Catholic Trust for England and Wales (CATEW). You don’t get to do those things by being a traditionalist bishop. His relations with diocesan formation teams and catechetical leaders have been good.

  13. This is all so silly. Bishop Malcolm McMahon is a lovely pastoral priest – deeply human and tolerant of the many ‘warring tribes’ that make up our church. He above all a man of exquisite charity like Pope Francis. He is definitely not a ‘cultural warrior’ and is a man of deep ecumenical and interfaith experience who wants to move people from the ‘warring tribes’ mentality towards being the family of God. The extreme right wing and the extreme left wing will quickly of course be disappointed in him. That’s because he is not a clerical fascist but a man of unity and peace . Bravo again Pope Francis! Now on to further changes in Roman Curia – how about that the Apostolic Signatura for a start? Not much loyalty there to Peter these days …with plenty of ‘cafeteria’ selective adherence to the Pope,,,,

  14. Of course Z, Rorate (the reading of which, I’ll remind you, is my Lenten penance) and all the other usual suspects will welcome him – they’re scrambling to find anyone or anything who still dresses up like it’s the 1950s and looks like Vatican II didn’t happen, no matter how infrequently, since their pin-up-pope retired.

  15. mark o’connor : This is all so silly. Bishop Malcolm McMahon is a lovely pastoral priest – deeply human and tolerant of the many ‘warring tribes’ that make up our church. He above all a man of exquisite charity like Pope Francis. He is definitely not a ‘cultural warrior’ and is a man of deep ecumenical and interfaith experience who wants to move people from the ‘warring tribes’ mentality towards being the family of God. The extreme right wing and the extreme left wing will quickly of course be disappointed in him. That’s because he is not a clerical fascist but a man of unity and peace . Bravo again Pope Francis! Now on to further changes in Roman Curia – how about that the Apostolic Signatura for a start? Not much loyalty there to Peter these days …with plenty of ‘cafeteria’ selective adherence to the Pope,,,,

    Totally. His interviews on local TV have all been about reaching out to the poor who are suffering under current government policies. Its all about what the liturgy drives you to do.

  16. I have found all of the British bishops calm, reasonable, pastoral and pragmatic. Cardinal Nichols always appreciated a quiet and reverent Mass, but never lectured about how to celebrate.

    The American model of a scolding culture warrior bishop doesn’t seem to have taken root here.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #21:

      The American model of a scolding culture warrior bishop doesn’t seem to have taken root here.

      Oh really? I can think of two English prelates who fit very neatly into that category.

  17. “I have found all of the British bishops calm, reasonable, pastoral and pragmatic. Cardinal Nichols always appreciated a quiet and reverent Mass, but never lectured about how to celebrate. The American model of a scolding culture warrior bishop doesn’t seem to have taken root here.”

    You are blessed indeed!

  18. Paul Inwood : @Jonathan Day – comment #21: The American model of a scolding culture warrior bishop doesn’t seem to have taken root here. Oh really? I can think of two English prelates who fit very neatly into that category.

    Indeed, one of whom has recently stated that politicians who vote in certain ways should be denied communion. That does have a familiar ring.

  19. Hmm. ‘A man of exquisite charity’ perhaps, but Bishop McMahon certainly has a tougher side to him – perhaps a little like Archbishop Stack in Cardiff. I wonder if he has being given a mandate to ‘sort out’ Liverpool – or if, perhaps, he will take such a mandate upon himself. For a one-time Catholic heartland, the Archdiocese is certainly a shadow of its former self.

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