Damian Thompson: Confessions of an Ex-Traddie

Surely you remember Damian Thompson. Damian is highly opinionated about things liturgical – for example this on BCM (Bad Church Music), complete with some swipes at Pray Tell. (He seems to want us to be lefty-lightweight so he can oppose us – wonder what he thinks about all my posts on Latin chant or traditional polyphony?) Damian has been a loud voice, to say the least, for a “Benedictine” (the pope, not the religious order) style of liturgy.

But now this: “Confessions of an ex-traddie,” his latest piece at Catholic Herald. I’m pretty sure Damian still supports the vision of Pope Benedict and still has “good taste,” which is to say a bit on the high or elitist side, in things artistic and ceremonial and musical. Great.

But something is changing. As he puts it:

In the past few years I’ve been reintegrated into the ordinary Catholic Church.

It seems that something happened when he began attending the local church closest to his apartment. We read that this church has good music by Damian’s standards, and Benedictine mannerisms such as the candles across the front of the altar. Things are well done. But here’s the money quote:

Lots of [the servers] are girls and at every Mass there are lay ministers of Holy Communion. The sign of peace can be quite exuberant. And it doesn’t bother me in the least. These are signs of the comforting “ordinariness” of worship that takes me back to my Catholic childhood.

There it is – the reintegration. Now, Damian looks back fondly on Catholic worship a few decades ago, before the improvements under Pope Benedict:

There was a warmth about the celebration of Mass and the welcome afterwards that was and is distinctively Catholic. (That I was too snooty to appreciate it was my loss.)

Now, Damian takes a swipe at the over-the-top “Old Rite” (his term) carryings on of the Latin Mass Society:

Not to be mean, but I’ve never seen so much flapping and semaphoring as I did at the last LMS Requiem I attended.

Now, Damian speaks positively of the

refreshing absence of High Church campery at the Oratory.

What do you suppose is going on?

I don’t know. I hesitate to do armchair psychology across the Atlantic. My first instinct is to be respectful of anyone in his faith journey. (I bet Damian doesn’t like that squishy term.) I don’t want to triangulate him or anyone else for “my side.” People have the freedom to zig zag all over. I’ve done my share of that, and I make no predictions where I next will zig or zag. Maybe someday Damian and I will meet in person and have a good visit about all this over coffee tea. (I’d start by confessing that I feel the same way when we get the short EP2, or the delay of the priest’s post-communion piety! Don’t tell my confessor.)

I wonder, though, whether a significant voice like Damian’s isn’t emblematic of a larger trend afoot in the Catholic Church.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I wonder whether Pope Francis isn’t bringing about a certain normalization in things liturgical. In many ways, Francis is just a regular parish priest. This comes across as an affirmation of regular parish worship. And if that’s what Catholic looks like, then the weirdest of the traddie fringe stuff, the strangest of the Tridentine pretending and prancing around, is seen for what it is.

Let us hope that that would still leave plenty of room for good taste and beautiful music and well-done ritual – Damian and I are of one mind on that, I believe. But: all that has to be – I don’t know how else to put it – normal.

Anyway. Do go read Damian’s essay. It sure is well-written, complete with great lines such as “Come on in … it’s awful!”

(One caveat: at the Easter Vigil one comes into full communion with the Catholic Church, not with the Holy See!)




  1. “…short Masses can be very uplifting. Parish priests, please note.”

    There’s one sentiment from DT with which I can really agree. A reverent, quiet low Mass in English early on a Sunday morning can be a piece of Heaven. Especially in the summer. Please do note, reverend Fathers.

  2. “People have the freedom to zig zag all over. I’ve done my share of that, and I make no predictions where I next will zig or zag.”

    It’s good if we can all reserve the right to claim that freedom.

  3. One thing I have always appreciated about Thompson is his ability to not take himself too seriously, like the way in which he embraced the Church Times’ description of him as a “blood-crazed ferret.”

  4. Well, the comments there were also interesting….

    I guess I hope for a normal that looks like it’s on a journey towards, and urgently partakes of a foretaste of, transfiguration or at least Emmaus-like wonderment. Not merely normal, nor some kind of Potemkin facade that’s less of a genuine ritual icon than it pretends to be.

  5. “What do you suppose is going on?”

    Pope Francis, is what I said, literally, before I got to the end of the post.

    And I suspect this is kinda similar to what’s happened/happening with Guido Marini who really seems quite content with the Franciscan (the pope, not the religious order 🙂 ) “normalization of things in liturgical.”

  6. Just noted that the Damian Thompson article in the Catholic Herald (UK) is datelined April 1st.

    1. @Brendan Kelleher svd:

      But not the online version which is dated March 31.

      Plus, his tweets (yeah, I know) suggest this was not a prank, so.

      (Also while I’m here, when I said above @ post #5, ““normalization of things in liturgical,” I meant to quote Father Anthony who said, “normalization in things liturgical.”)

  7. For example, my hearts leaps – just as it did in 1975 – when I hear the priest say the words, “the fount of all holiness” because it means he’s gone for the Second Eucharistic Prayer and it’s the shortest. Worse, I groan when the priest settles down for his moment of private prayer after Communion. The 13-year-old in me still thinks: come on, Father, we’re so tantalisingly near the end.

    I think it was an April Fool’s post.

  8. This is the trouble with Americans…they just can’t recognise irony, even if it stomps on their feet and bites their nose.

    Yes, the post was from 1 April. And just in case no one noticed the date, the “friend” who was entering into communion with “the Holy See” was named—wait for it—David Oldroyd-Bolt!! Just read that once again, slowly.

    Now does that “name” sound genuine to anyone? Or perhaps you didn’t notice it’s actually an anagram of “Old Bold Tory”?

    (And as for “Tim Stanley”–well, we can’t print what that rearranges into, can we?)

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