At the heart of the counter-revolution lay the Perpetual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. The Team regarded it as a futile exercise in sentimental “repetition” and had moved quickly and callously to eradicate the fifteen year old tradition.
Superficially, and in the overall scheme of things, this might have seemed an unnecessary rather than significant act. Not so. In fact, the same strategy had been utilized several hundred years earlier by Archbishop Cranmer as he set about dismantling the Catholic religion during Reformation I. Cranmer’s aim, of course, was to progressively desensitize the laity, undermine their deep-rooted Catholicity and attachment to Rome and ease them into the New (Protestant) Religion. He achieved this principally through major liturgical innovations, but at the same time, recognizing the powerful influence of traditional symbols and practices at the elementary level of Catholic faith, Cranmer and his fellow revolutionaries also moved quickly to suppress popular devotions. Michael Davies elaborates:
There were a good number of other innovations some of which might appear of minor importance but nonetheless played their part in contributing to the general atmosphere of change, disturbance, and unrest. The most important of these was the widespread destruction of statues. The Reformers abolished such well loved ceremonies as the carrying of candles on Candlemas day, the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday and of palms on Palm Sunday. “In these years 1547 and 1548 consequently the popular mind was being stirred up by changes in old established ceremonial, by intemperate preaching and by … attacking with scurrilous abuse what the people had hitherto been taught to regard as the Most Holy.”‘
Exiled from their spiritual home, the faithful responded immediately by opening their own homes to host the weekly Wednesday night devotion and pray for the Team and the restoration of their beloved parish. The Novena, as they say, ‘never missed a beat’. The priests had merely succeeded in banishing the instrument of their own conversion.
To their great delight, a number of disillusioned casualties of the newchurch revolution discovered the Novena and were rejuvenated by the faith and devotion it engendered among those present. One such woman commented after her first encounter: “It was the most Catholic thing I’ve been to for ages.”
The first Wednesday of the month was set aside as a special night. If Monsignor O’Reilly or a priest from another town was not available, one of the parishioners might show a Catholic video or give a talk on a particular aspect of the Faith. But priests often did make the journey to Benalla to provide spiritual direction, hear confession, offer the Holy Sacrifice and catechise the children. On one occasion a First Confession was heard while at another Novena a child received her First Holy Communion. The clergy were sometimes shocked by the large number of people who awaited them. Upon entering a house to find himself confronted by a packed house of 60-70 people of all ages, one startled priest could only exclaim, “Look at the crowd!”