Archbishop John Charles McQuaid: “No change will worry the tranquility of your Christian lives”

The following sermon (posted below) was given by the Most Rev. John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, at thanksgiving devotions in the Dublin Pro-Cathedral on the 9th December, 1965. Following the devotions — which had been organized in response to the specific requests of Pope Paul VI — the Archbishop imparted Benediction, at which the Te Deum was sung.

The sentence quoted in the title is often represented by Establishment commenters (whether media, academic, or ecclesiastical) as epitomical of Archbishop McQuaid’s reactionary attitude towards change in the Church.

During the first session of the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop McQuaid distinguished himself as the only member of the Irish hierarchy to make a contribution — and did so from a predictably conservative standpoint. As a lover of Latin language and culture, he viewed proposals for an all-vernacular liturgy as tantamount to vandalism. He also expressed his opposition towards suggestions that competence over the local liturgy be transferred from individual bishops to national episcopal conferences.  Xavier Rynne (the chronicler of the Council) records that “Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin came out once more against any thought of change”. Sensing the progressive trajectory of the Council (as well as the lack of receptivity towards his conservative positions) he remained aloof from the next three sessions.

Archbishop McQuaid took a low view of ‘aggiornamento’ and found it very hard to adapt to the rapidly changing Church of the 1960s. Indeed, he has been demonized ever since as an obscurantist authoritarian. His implementation of the liturgical reforms was very conservative, and frustrated more radical, younger clergy (some of whom would later defend his legacy against lazy liberal caricatures).

For five long years the bishops of the world have been sustained by your constant prayers. In the very laborious session of the Council we have felt the power of your prayers, and if the Council was concluded in a spirit of peace and unanimity we owe that grace to God the Holy Ghost and to the intercessions of Our Blessed Lady.

On Wednesday, 2,300 fathers parted. It was a sad moment, for we shall never again see one another in this life. Drawn from every corner of the world, the Bishops had prayed and worked together for a long time.

Now is our work completed: in union with the Pope, our decrees were drafted, voted on and preached. One could not but feel that God the Holy Ghost had guided our deliberations and gently brought them to a firm conclusion. You may, in the last four years, have been disturbed by reports about the Council. May I, who have assisted at every meeting of the Council, assure you that the Council was a wondrous example of dignity, seriousness and courtesy.

You may have been worried by talk of changes to come. Allow me to reassure you. No change will worry the tranquility of your Christian lives. For, time after time, Pope John XXIII and our present Holy Father have insisted — but the point has been sadly missed — that our deliberations in the Council had only one purpose: to search the deposit of the Faith, to look more deeply into the teaching of the Church.

The Council has one meaning only for us — in all its constitutions and decrees: how can each one of us in his personal and family and social life be faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, as the Church makes known that teaching in the Vatican Council.

As the months will pass, the Holy Father will instruct us gradually how to put into effect the enactments of the Council. With complete loyalty, as children of the one, true Church, we fully accept each and every decree of the Vatican Council.


Posted on June 7, 2011, in Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Bishops' Pastorals, Irish History, Liturgy, Modernism, Second Vatican Council. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I do not doubt that he was well intentioned, Shane, but I find it difficult to believe that he had no notion whatsoever of the tempest that at that time was surely raging. Dozens of bishops had even refused to sign some of the conciliar documents; others, like Archbishop Lefebvre, had signed but harshly criticised them and had forecast the dark clouds to come with great lucidity.

    McQuaid’s was, I am afraid, rather a case of cognitive dissonance.


  2. Mundabor, I agree to a point. His assertion that Vatican II was “a wondrous example of dignity, seriousness and courtesy” was no doubt to reassure the faithful he thought might be scandalised by the reports in the media of squabbling and factionalism among the bishops. A reflection of his own paternalism and pastoral zeal.

    I have no doubt that he detested the Council but, as a traditional prelate of the old-school, he was very concious of his duty to be loyal, humble and obedient to his superiors.

    And what a fine archbishop he was — though treated disgracefully by Pope Paul VI. The end of his life is very sad.

  3. Shane ~ could you elaborate on the conflict with Paul VI please?

    In respect of mundy’s core point, it’s difficult to answer. For me, the seminal historical moment from the period was the election Lyndon B. Johnson and the rejection of Barry Goldwater in a 1964 landslide. Johnson presented the template for our contemporary World, American miltary adventurism, imperilment of the World’s reserve currency and the growth of big government plus the growing influence of certain intellectual “groups” within the USA. On this last point Malcom Muggeridge, on hearing that thousands of psychiatrists (whose religious and ethnic affiliation remains “ahem” unclear) had signed a petition declaring Goldwater insane commented, that on that basis alone, the American electorate should vote Goldwater.

  4. bmcp4tr01, I refer mainly to the pope’s unexpected acceptance of his resignation (seemingly on the advice of the papal nuncio Gaetono Alibrandi) and his replacement with Dermot Ryan (McQuaid had wanted Bishop Carroll to succeed him). Paul VI had earlier praised Dublin as a ‘model diocese’.

    McQuaid’s message of resignation was characteristically gracious: “Today for the last time, I speak to you and to your faithful people, as the Archbishop of Dublin. The Second Vatican Council earnestly requested the Bishops to put themselves at the disposal of the Pope, on the completion of their seventy-fifth year. In obedience to that direction, I declared to the Pope my willingness to do whatsoever his Holiness should decide. That decision is at once for me a declaration of the will of God which I have gladly accepted in complete obedience. It is a very great grace to be allowed to know with certainty what God wishes us to do in this life. […] To my successor you will give the same reverence and loyalty, as in your Faith, you so generously gave to me; for it is the Holy Spirit who has appointed him Bishop to rule the See of Dublin.

  5. This is only a footnote. You mentioned that Archbishop McQuaid was the only member of the Irish Hierarchy to speak at the Council. Though not a member of the hierarchy, Bishop Patrick Cleary of Nancheng, China, who was expelled from that country in 1962 and lived at St Columban’s, Dalgan Park. He attended all the sessions of the Council and spoke on one occasion. Our tonsure and first minor orders were brought forward a week in 1964 or 1965 so that he could be at the opening of that particular session. He taught English and Latin to my class for a while in our first year in Dalgan, 1961-52, when the regular teacher was sick. We received subdiaconate and diaconate from him in June and September 1067 respectively and invited him to ordain us to the priesthood on 20 December that year, since it was the Golden Jubilee year of the Society of St Columban, officially approved on 29 June 1918 under that name. At the last minute, due to quarantine regulations because of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth in Britain, our ordination was transferred from Dalgan, which has a farm attached to it, to the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. The only condition Archbishop McQuaid made was that we wear Roman and not Gothic vestments. Four were ordained by Bishop Neil Farren in Derry on the same date and one in Glasgow the following day.

    Bishop Cleary, from Kildysart, Co Clare, and ordained for the Diocese of Killaloe, resigned his seat in moral theology in Maynooth to join the Maynooth Mission to China, as it was known in the early days and still uses that name as its legal title in Ireland, in 1918. He taught in Dalgan Park and went to China in 1931 to replace Fr Cornelius Tierney, a Monaghan man who was captured by Communist bandits and died in captivity. The GAA park in Ballyshannon, where he had served as a curate from 1911 to 1917, is named after him.

    Bishop Cleary was a real gentleman. I was told by an older priest at the time of the Council that the bishop was very anxious to speak at it. There were no bishops from China allowed to attend, of course, but there were a number of expelled bishops there.

  6. Shane – apologies for my somewhat eccentric and seemingly disjointed to the topic. In my experience Catholics tend to think Vatican councils (and who said what to whom and when?) as far more important than they actually are. Hence my post about the 1964 US presidential election. What I am trying to say is that the true ‘sign of the times’ in the 1960’s was Anglo-Saxon and in particular American hegemony.The world was dominated by the USA politically, militarily, scientifically, economically and every way. To think that a bunch of European theologians (many from the small towns Germany and France both fresh from WWII humiliation) had anything to offer the World back in 1964 is frankly risible. If the pretension was ridiculous back then, it looks even more so today. Was there any need for this stupid Council? Surely a wait and see policy would have been the wisest course of action. Should the hierarchy of Ireland have recognised the disconnect? As in the total to failure to recognise the new paradigm Europe faced, namely that for the first time in World history the continent no longer possessed a superpower? That the French and Germans should have kept their mouths shut? That the Irish should have organised resistance to this lunacy?

  7. No apologies necesary, bmcp4tr01 — your comments are always fascinating.

    At the time there was no general realization in Ireland that Vatican II would be much more than than a continuation of Vatican I. Only one of the Irish newspapers (The Irish Independent) even bothered to send a reporter to cover the Council (Louis McRedmond in this case). Bishop William Philbin gave a talk in 1961 on the upcoming Council but Radio Eireann had no interest in broadcasting it. There was no simply no understanding, among either the laity or the bishops (who expected it would all be a formal rubber-stamping exercise and that they’d be back home in a few weeks) of the Council’s significance and the dramatic, even revolutionary, changes in the Church that would result.

    You’re absolutely spot on about the Second Vatican Council being effectively a Franco-German imposition on the rest of the Church. I posted recently about the American context, which is quite similar:

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