Notes by Dr. Ray Winch

I have quite a few handwritten notes by Ray Winch which illustrate his view on the contrast between the Catholicism of his youth (1940’s and 50’s) and the medieval status quo. I remember the nights of discussion when I had to concentrate and be very patient of the slowness by which he exposed his ideas. He did tend to ramble – but always did return to the subject. He rarely looked me in the eye, and I would suspect he had Aspergers / high-functioning autism at the origin of his eccentric lifestyle and passionate knowledge and learning of philosophy and history. I seem to attract them!

He must have spent hours painstakingly writing things to send me, whether I was with the parish priest of Bouloire or at Triors Abbey with the monks. I do believe his memory can be honoured and served by publishing his essential message, that Catholicism without any other adjective is almost dead and only replaced with various ersatz expressions in Roman Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism. Ray sought a “medium” for this aspiration in Orthodoxy, but alas it was an illusion.

In many ways, I try to continue his work in my own way of thinking about things via this blog and my Use of Sarum group on Facebook. We cannot go back in time, but we can seek to do better in recovering the older sense of Christian civilisation and culture. I don’t think we will succeed, but we can die trying! Ray did… He had a big influence on me, encouraging me to read Russian philosophy – which changed my entire outlook as a convert to Roman Catholicism, changed my views about George Tyrrell and Catholic Modernism (as opposed to Liberalism à la Bultmann, Harnack, etc.). He was a pure intellectual with little practical sense! But, in many ways, he was like a father to me during the short time I knew him.

I still have some letters to transcribe…

* * *

Catholic Worship in the 20th Century

I am old enough to remember Catholic worship as it was in England before the more significant liturgical changes. Living in the suburbs of London, during school holidays I visited many Catholic parish churches. Often I attended liturgical services in Westminster Cathedral when I was usually the only layman attempting to follow their choir offices. I was a relatively well informed observer. Having access to a few useful books in the splendid public library at Croydon, I knew a little of liturgical history. I was about 15 when I obtained and began to make some use of the Off. Parvum. A little later I acquired an Horae Diurnae and then some odd volumes of the Brev. Rom. Thus it was with a relatively informed mind that I observed what I did. I knew that what happened in a Catholic church c. 1950’s was vastly different from what happened c. 1450’s: yet, strangely, the contents of the official service books had changed but little.

I have witnessed the Rosary officially recited aloud during Mass – and much of the like.

Three points, often overlooked:-

i) Services held in the open church were intended only for the public (called the faithful). Even when there were 2 or more assistant clergy, only the priest who was taking the service came into the church. The priests, it seemed, had no need of Benediction or to venerate the Cross on Good Friday, etc. etc.

ii) A good part of Sunday evening Devotions and Benediction was celebrated in Latin. On these occasions the faithful sung lustily and, I supposed, not without comprehension. (I have recently checked this matter with a few old men).

iii) Low Mass was not usually intelligible even to those who knew Latin. Most priests celebrated the entire service in a whisper even before a crowded congregation on a Sunday morning. The almost universal assumption was that the liturgy was not for the faithful.

Worship in an English Medieval Parish Church

I have accumulated abundant documentary evidence to prove that, in every parish church, Office was recited in choir every day. Additionally, on ordinary weekdays then was Placebo and Dirige. The services were arranged in two clusters, called in the vernacular, “Matins” and “Evensong”. The latter began “an hour before the setting of the sun”. During much of the year Matins would have begun before dawn. Then was a daily parish Mass while, at least in larger churches, was a High Mass. Contemporary illustrations of a solemn service, without servers but with one of the ministers holding a torch for illumination, are more accurate depictions than I had suffered. Apart from some town churches when special times were prescribed, chantry celebrations were chronologically geared to the parish Mass. (Here I disagree with Duffy about the purpose of squints.)

The laity attended Mass and Evensong on Sunday, as other great days. Those who had some leisure – particularly old men and young boys – were often in church for at least some of the choir offices.

Every parish had some clergy additional to the vicar. All vicars were to appoint, and pay, a clerk.

Clergy were trained by a kind of informal apprenticeship. A boy would receive the Tonsure, but he might not receive major orders until he was fully adult. Clerics in minor orders could marry and continue to serve as clerks, though they could not then proceed to the subdiaconate. (This system persists in present-day Cyprus: hence, besides, a priest, all churches have a psalmista and often a deacon.) Very many churches had chantrists who had “to help with service in the high choir”. Then were also, often, capellani (hired assistant priests).

Clearly, strict rubricism was impossible, eg. At Twyford an Ambrosian missal was in use. Clearly the psalter and much else would have been known by heart.

Some large parish churches had, additionally to the services proper to the day, a daily Mass B.V.M. “cum nota”. For this, boys were sometimes hired, or rewarded with teaching. I would guess that harmonized singing was often used on these occasions.

What follows does not, in the nature of things, permit of direct documentary proof: however, there insufficient evidence of diverse kinds to have convinced me.

1) Latin was far less of an obstacle than is popularly supposed. I believe that even the illiterate were able to follow the greater part of the services relatively intelligently. Certainly it was not only the men of Wales and Cornwall who would have found the familiar Latin far more intelligible than Cranmer’s London English. (I suggest that the imposition of the “vernacular” was motivated more by political than religious motives. There is a close parallel with what a faceless establishment is even more engaged upon.)

2) A measure of Latin literacy was widespread in the late middle ages. Having seen young boys teach themselves how to use complex computers, I have little doubt that an intelligent boy with access to the choir books would have required little assistance to learn to read. Our Cicero and Virgil, etc. would have usually required grammar schools and universities. It was the humanists who condemned Latin to death. Accidentally, I have stumbled upon incipient public libraries of non-liturgical books at St Paul’s, St James Garlickhythe and in Hereford. I guess that more might be found for the searching.


I. Many men who write about medieval life may be excellent at dealing with the documents, etc., but make absurd mistakes because they are not at home with that about which they are writing. I could provide many examples. Here is one from Life in a Medieval College [cathedral vicars] by F. Harrison (1952) with a foreword by the Most Rev’d Cyril Garbett.

p. 56 “Immediately after the hour offices have been sung in the choir … the meal shall begin … The meal shall be taken at 3 pm. Supper shall follow at 5 pm at cinque de le clok”.

p. 57 “After Prime, the vicars may drink Benedictine once only”. The author notes numerous occasions when the vicars drank Benedictine (sic).

You will understand immediately how he has come to suppose that the vicars had their only two meals separated by two hours. But, so far I have not seen why he should make the mistake of supposing that the vicars drank little but Benedictine.

II. Another writer supposes that, where the liturgy at Saturday required three High Masses on the same day, the last Mass was celebrated in the chapter house. One can guess how he comes to make that mistake. [Chapter houses did not have altars as a rule.]

Yet another writer explaining that, though the people would have not understood the Mass because it was in Latin, they would have had some idea about the feast or season “from the colour of the vestments”. This, of course, is a gross anachronism.

I think I told you about the author Hamilton-Thompson, who had obviously used a Missale Romanum to describe the ceremonies of Holy Week in a medieval parish church. Unfortunately, he had taken a book published in the 1960’s! Hamilton-Thompson is now a Reader in Medieval History somewhere!

Can it be that I sometimes make mistakes like those above? I hope that friends would tell me at once. I know that I am a poor proof reader. Thus, let pass frumentum for fermentum and Romae for Romanae.

You ask “Can you also show evidence of common people going to Matins … and Evensong…?” Yes, I can. Matins, Mass and Evensong was standard observance of Sundays and other solemnities. I sent you my transcript of the Synodal Statutes of Quinel of Exeter [quoted below]. “…presentes essent ad horas canonicas faceant campanus pulsari quarum sonitu populus excitatus, dum ad ecclesiam divinum officium audiendi et orandi causa accedit…” Quinel was not the only bishop to leave record of this matter. Also, there are references to attendances at Matins and Evensong in vernacular literature. It would seem that on ordinary days, Evensong consisted of Vespers, Placebo and Dirige if one Nocturn with Miserere (ie. Lauds) several other psalms for the dead called Commendatio. This latter was ps. 138, ps. 118 [twice a day!] with a responsory. So far I have not found a specific mention of Compline.

You write “… England’s religion is money, comfort…”. I totally agree with you. I would add that cowardice has become the national vice. No man will risk anything for any cause whatsoever. I am deeply ashamed to be English.



* * *

De Divino Officio Nocturno Pariter et Diurno

Ministri ecclesiarum, qui ecclesiasticis sustenantur stipendis, prompte debent esse et solicite circa divinum officium paragendum, ut in vina domni virilita laborantes preter stipendia temporalia que hic percipiunt eterne retributiones denarium meriantur percipere post laborem. Quos circa ipsum officium propheticus sermo instruit et informat dum per profitum dicitur: “In matutinis meditabor in te, etc” et alibi: “Septies in die laudem dixi tibi etc.”

Hinc est quod singulis ecclesiarium ministris invertute sancte trinitatis iniungimus, ut secundum formam concilii generalis divinum officium nocturnum pariter et diurnum corde et voce simul studiose celebrent et devote, plane et plene absque sincopa psalmendo seu cantando singula que incumbunt. Caveant igitur psalmentes ut in medio versiculi pausant pusillium, nec unus sequentem versiculum prius incipiat donec alta plene dixerit precedentem, et sic psalmendo sese intelligant ut dom voce unus psalmit animi affectu alta simul psallere vidietur. Et quia canonice hore secundum temporum interstitia in eccleses parochialibus sicut in cathedralibus et collegiatis nequiant decantare, et precipimus ut presbeterii parochialis ab ecclesiis suis recedere non presumat donec festibus diebus ante missam vel post canonicas horas decantaverint, vel saltem legerint absque canto cum dies non fuerit feriandus: proviso quod missam sacerdos prius non celebret quo usque matutinas et primam suo exsolverit creatori. Precipimus etiam quod parochiales presbeteri omni die preteream in pascale tempore et festis sanctorum novum lectionum et in vigiliis eorum dicant Placebo et Dirige et Commendationem: Hec tamen tempora non excipimus dum tamen id velint facere ex devotione.
Preterea audivimus quandoque quod presbeteri, quamquam fuerint absentes forte ex illicita causa, tanquam presentes essent ad horas canonicas faceant campanus pulsari quarum sonitu populus excitatus, dum ad ecclesiam divinum officium audiendi et orandi causa accedit, presbeterium non inveniens, a clerico presente querit ubi sit et responsum accipient: Non est hic, iam recassit: et sic parochiani elusi recedunt, et ecclesia debit is defrandatur obsequis.


Alii vera capellani conductitu diebus dominicis et aliis solemnitatibus non prius celebret donec missa parochialis fuerit celebrata.

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29 Responses to Notes by Dr. Ray Winch

  1. How exactly does he disagree with Duffy regarding squints? I don’t have Stripping of the Altars in front of me, but I recall the squints are simply holes in the chancel screen to facilitate easy viewing of the elevation.

    • Ray used to go on quite a lot about this, but I can’t remember exactly what his argument was. I might find something in those letters I have still to transcribe. I’ll come back to this if I find anything. Obviously I can no longer ask him!

      • Robert Stevens says:

        I remember Ray talking of squints; many think they were to allow congregants or lepers to view the elevation, but I think this was Ray’s view…
        Squint. Usually, a narrow slot, allowing a view of the high altar from a side chapel, as at Kersey, Long Melford and Cowlinge. It enabled priests to co-ordinate the elevation of the host at Mass.

        The squints in Jevington Church in Sussex now point due east after renovation thus meaning you can’t actually view the elevation through them from anywhere.

      • I think that this practice of synchronising masses was revived in the 1950’s as a precursor to concelebration. In the traditionalist French Benedictine abbeys, private masses are said at the same time but not synchronised. Some priests are slower than others. Some aspects of medieval Catholicism were quite mechanical and would be quite a shock to us if we went back then in a time machine. Eek!

  2. Francois says:

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing these notes from Dr Winch with your readers. Though I do not agree with you on many things, your blog has led me to read and engage with the thought of the likes of Loisy and Tyrrell. My sympathy for the later has grown since. The writings of Tyrrell are full of a passionate demand for the unchanging essence of Christianity to be communicated in the intellectual language and mood of the day. This is how he understood the development of doctrine. Unfortunately, he died before he could spell out in full how he envisaged this new presentation of the Christian Gospel. The insufficiencies of scholastic-rationalistic apologetics are glaring, and the need for men and women to be uplifted in their spiritual lives by communion with mystery is ever more pressing. For Tyrrell saw, appreciated and lived the truly mystical and transcendent reality of the Christian mystery. Indeed, many themes to be developed by Lubac and Balthasar are already there in Tyrrell.

    In both Loisy and Tyrrell, there is a deep distress and dissatisfaction with the fact that the Church has come to privilege the juridical over the mystical, and has come to see itself more as a legal institution than what constitute her higher calling as the Body of Christ. It is undeniable that the Roman Church has tried to address these concerns in the later half of the 20th century. But by then the game was already up by way of the recovery of mystery and encounter. What we have instead is an ersatz of renewal on the one hand, and an ersatz of tradition on the other, mutually excluding the other. Any exception remains precisely that – peripheral experiences that have to bear the iron fist of Vaticanist bureaucracy and centralisation (recently Mariawald…). Some of us continue in the institution and are able to do so because we take a rather low profile.

    Again, many thanks for this series on Dr Winch. I apologise if my comment has only a tangential relation to them.

    • Thank you, François, for your reflections. Loisy was more critical of the Scriptures in the “tradition” of Bultmann and Harnack, and Tyrrell sought to develop a body of apologetics against the de-mythologising interetation of the Bible. Tyrrell sought to use science to present a new way of making God and Christianity credible to early twentieth-century thinkers who could no longer accept many of the pre-scientific arguments. We find ourselves at the same watershed with quantum physics, biocentrism and new notions of consciousness. Tyrrell was also a writer in the Romantic tradition and lived during the “neo-Romantic” era spanning the Pre-Raphaelite era to World War I.

      Ersatz? We seem to see this point very acutely, even in the Churches to which we belong and which all the same preserve the Mystery of the incarnate Christ. I am aware of the recent action against the Abbey of Mariawald, and it deeply shocks me. The RC Church has a big problem with its current Pope, if he is still the legitimate Pope or ever has been. I think your comment has been highly relevant, since Dr Winch was concerned not only about details of liturgy but also about profound questions of philosophy, theology and his spiritual life as a Christian.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This is great – thank you! (It reminds me of conversations – but now I can read and reread the observations!)

    I don’t know the details, but he was a schoolmaster for most of his life – he must have had a rapport and communicated well with his pupils/students…

  4. Caedmon says:

    I wonder did the Cornish rebels prefer the Latin services because they were familiar rather than because they understood them?

    Also, as far as I know we are completely lacking in any kind of statistical information about how many people went to church services and confession in the Middle Ages.

    I would certainly agree that even in England in 1549 the Prayer book services in their London English must have been hard to follow.

    • Good question. It all reminds me of La Chouannerie, the people of the Vendée who rose against the French Revolution and were massacred. Brittany and the Pays de la Loire, like our West Country and Wales, represented a different culture. Parisian French in the 1790’s was just as abhorred as London English in the 1550’s.

      We all like familiarity and to feel at home where we live and worship.

      Ray Winch did argue that people were able to follow the ordinary of the Mass through repetition, much the way we all learn our maternal language – and foreign languages.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Since I got out of touch with Ray, I have seen for myself the ease with which children can learn the Ordinary of the Mass, the Lord’s Prayer, the Salve Regina, and so on, in Latin by heart – though that is with the aid of the chant during a Solemn Mass: would any historical forms of a Low Mass effect this in comparable degree?

    • Dale says:

      David, I think that it depends on how the low mass is celebrated. Many of us are old enough to remember when the low mass was often completely silent, with those attending praying the rosary or other devotion, and only bothering to look up when the bell rang to say “My Lord and My God.” And then back to the devotions.

      Contrary to this was the development of the “dialogue mass” in which the ordinary of the mass was recited by priest, servers and laity together. In this form of the mass I think that it is indeed possible to learn the responses to the mass simply by attending. In the silent low mass, only the servers would learn the responses.

      It is perhaps worth noting, although I can be corrected if this is was not a universal tradition, but in Anglo-Catholic low masses the dialogue from was very widespread and usually only the canon was silent.

      • ed pacht says:

        My experience is only in the US, but I’ve never attended an Anglo-Catholic low Mass in which the people did not speak the responses, nor one in which the Canon (Scottish-American Prayer of Consecration) was silent. I did once serve in a parish where the Gregorian Canon was used, but even there it was (barely) audible.

    • Dale says:

      Yes, Ed, that was my experience with the low mass in American Anglo-Catholic parishes, but I have also attended low mass in England where the Roman Canon was said, in Latin, silently. Quite honestly, I found it a bit odd.

    • Dale says:

      David, a very good question. My own response would be a dithering yes and no. I think we need to take into consideration the reality that until the Council of Trent, parish uses, much like diocesan, tended to differ from place to place. One can even compare it to the Anglo-Catholic tradition, which also varied from locale to locale. The Anglo-Catholicism of England was indeed, at least liturgically, vastly different from that found in the United States; a full Missal, Roman rite parish is very, very rare in the United States, but in some areas was quite common-place in England (now virtually all has been superseded by the blandness of the Roman novus ordo). So even attempting to understand the Anglo-Catholic tradition of only a few years ago can be problematic.

      I think one of the attractions to Rome and Byzantium of many Anglicans was that this supposedly liturgical variety did not exist. I well remember a conversation with a British born Greek Orthodox prelate, who stated that one of the problems with Anglicanism was that not even the Anglo-Catholics could agree upon a liturgical standard; to which I replied that I had never seen Mattins sung in a Greek church the same-way twice and that each parish seems to invent their own tradition as they went along as well. I know, continuing to make myself unpopular.

      But in some manner, I would prefer some sort of liturgical differences and diversity over the blandness of complete uniformity. Having said this, I also by no means mean that individual clergy should invent the liturgy as they go along. The liturgy is the common worship of the whole church and not the plaything of the priest-in-charge. As an example, I still remember a Russian trained priest being assigned to a Carpatho-Russian parish, he immediately set about to destroy the very ancient Carpatho-Russian traditions because they were not Russian, and hence wrong. He started opening and closing Royal Doors, demanding longer services and suppressed congregational singing. This is contrary to the ideal of diversity and even though the priest was copying the traditions he had learnt in seminary, and had been taught that only such traditions were valid, he was no different in some respect from the priest in western churches who invent modern liturgies to match their personalities.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Belated thanks! I suspect what you say in the last paragraph re. both complete uniformity and eschewing free invention has in practice been characteristic of a lot of faithful clergy over most of (pre-Renaissance?) history, though one would need lots of local detail (how much never recorded or witnessed to?) to get a true picture of the contours of such a reverent combination, and so of what the laity might easily have learned by ear of liturgical languages at a given place and time.

      • Regarding rubricism and liturgical observance, Ray did suggest to me the possibility that Mass in a 15th century parish church would have been about as sloppy as the Byzantine liturgy in the fishing villages of Crete and the Aegean Islands. There was an underlying attitude of respect and reverence but without the Cartesian ordering of everything into a perfect classical French garden!

        The film Cinema Paradiso gives an idea of a village Mass in Sicily in the 1950’s, as sloppy as they came

        Go to 7m35s for the Mass where the priest gets so distracted by the servers that he spills the chalice and many more things. It’s not a bad guess of what we might have had in England c. 1490. Obviously, the film producer was clueless about the Roman liturgy, with the missal on the wrong side, etc.

  5. Timothy Graham says:

    “…there are references to attendances at Matins and Evensong in vernacular literature.”

    Just a quick note – I was struck the first time I read Malory’s Morte, that the knights got up to hear Matins at least as often as they heard Mass.

  6. Peter Knight says:

    Ray Winch was my form master at the Forest School, Winnersh between 1970 and 1975.

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    As far as I recall, Ray had some pleasant contacts with Professor Henry Mayr-Harting: i wonder if anyone has thought to see if he has reminiscences?

  8. William Tighe says:

    Dale wrote:

    “a full Missal, Roman rite parish is very, very rare in the United States”

    Were there any, even? Was even the one-and-only (so far as I know) self-declared fully Anglo-Papalist Episcopalian parish, St. Clement’s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, “a full Missal, Roman rite parish?” (Btw, I have an autographed copy of Dom Gregory Dix’s Shape of the Liturgy signed at St. Clement’s on 3 November 1950 which I picked up very cheaply at a second-hand bookseller not far from where I live a decade ago.)

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Does that mean Dom Gregory was in the U.S. and visited there, in late 1950?

      • William Tighe says:

        He made at least three, between 1947 and 1951 – deferring treatment of the cancer to which he succumbed in May 1952 – and served for a time as Prior of Three Rivers, Nashdom’s American daughter-house:

        His travels to America (and Sweden) are treated in ch. 5 of A Tactful God: Gregory Dix, Priest, Monk, and Scholar by Simon Bailey (Leominster, 1995: Gracewing), a book of which cheap copies are usually available through Abebooks and Amazon.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Dear Dr. Tighe,

        Thank you! All new to me, and very interesting!

  9. ed pacht says:

    I’ve forgotten the name of the parish now, but in the early sixties (while still a Lutheran) I served Mass one Sunday at an obscure Brooklyn parish that was using the English (Knott) Missal, with Gregorian Canon, and all the features of the Roman Missal of the time.

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