Monday, August 13, 2007

Well you don’t see that everyday

I was standing at a bus stop near an Anglican Church in the centre of town here, it is going to be closed and probably turned into an hotel. An older woman, presuming I was connected to the Church was saying how sad she thought the closure of this Church was, she was a lapsed Catholic, she was going to catch the No 6, to Whitehawk, one of those not very nice working class estates built on the edge of Brighton. “I don’t go now, it is just not the same, I loved the processions through the streets, I crowned the statue of Mary one year”.

Then on the opposite side of the road was a crocodile of nuns; well six, going two by two. She said, “Well! You don’t see that everyday, do you? They are all the brides of Christ you know. I was brought up by nuns, they were lovely.” Then turning to a young woman, she said, “They spend all their day in prayer you know, they would need to, to live that life”. Then she began to talk about the rigours of the life of “her nuns” andd their kindness too.

Well, then my bus came; I know, I should have stayed to hear the rest of the conversation.

What was important in this woman’s mind was signs, the sign of the Church, you have to pass it get into centre Brighton, it would be the last Church I would close if I was the Anglican bishop. The processions that used to take place were important to her, and indeed to many lapsed Catholics. The sister in their veils were important. I was impressed by her feeling of expertise on the life of veiled nuns, I suspect it would be less certain with the unveiled type. The Benedictine Sister of Grace and Compassion still wear the habit, though most of their postulants come from India nowadays.
When I was being taught liturgy, I remember that we were taught that liturgy “was about signs and symbols which were perceptible to the senses”. A few years ago a document came out from the bishops of England and Wales entitled “The Sign We Give”, I can’t remember any of its contents, but signs are important, a Church building, a street procession, a statue, a group of sisters in habits.
I asked a bishop once to take part in Eucharistic Procession, he found all types of excuses not to do so, all basically focussed on “it’s not my style”.
In a way liberalism is marked by an almost Puritanical or Iconoclastic hatred of signs and symbols, Churches that look like shopping centres, sisters, priests, bishops even in lay clothes. There is a Puritanism here, and like 17th century English Puritanism it is essentially a petit bourgeois movement. I cannot help but think that so much of the rise of liberalism in the Catholic Church was almost a class struggle, a way of casting off the working classes. One of the most significant losses to the Church in this country from 1960 onwards has been working people, people from our housing estates, people who would never dream of standing up and reading in Church. People, who couldn’t necessarily explain their faith, people who want to escape from the mundane, people who need hope.


roydosan said...

I think that your last paragraph has hit the nail squarely on the head. The Catholic Church in this country seems to have evolved from a religion largely of the working class into a type of social club for the middle classes - an exaggeration I know but not without, I think, a kernel of truth in it.

The traditional practices and devotions of the Church require an experience or belief in the transcendent - one doesn't necessarily have to comprehend it but simply to recognise the signs and symbols as marks of holiness. By eliminating them one is left having to comprehend the meaning of everything. Not everyone is capable of doing that and therein lies the problem.

Whilst I would not for a moment describe the working classes as being incapable of that; a greater proportion will, for a variety of reasons, not have had access to the type of education which such a religion requires to engage with it.

For all the talk of inclusiveness and communities the abandonment of tradition has meant the triumph of elitism within the Church.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the fact that 20th Century liberal Catholicism and the liturgical reform of the 1960's was led by men who looked down on "popular devotions" such as Eucharistic Adoration, the Rosary, processions, statues, the Sacred Heart, etc. In fact, Our Lady, who is our great comfort and joy in this world was herself seen as little more than an object of popular devotion and, hence, an embarassment to all "mature and enlightened" Christians.

Hence the New Church was to be redesigned by "experts" who knew much better than the proles...sorry...I mean the "People of God" on the pews what was best for them.


Anonymous said...

Very thought-provoking post. You mention those who 'would never dream of standing up and reading in church'. Well, please say a prayer for those (like me) who have to stand up and read in church but who would really prefer not to. Please don't assume that we're all power-grabbing laity! It's just too churlish to refuse, especially if there are very few native English speakers in the community.

Anonymous said...

Did you not tell the woman where the Catholic Church could be found? i don't mind speaking to complete strangers about praying to St anthony for example if you can see they've lost something. we must speak up & share our faith..just as openly as the Priest in clerical dress & the nuns in habits..

Anonymous said...

Thanks be to God our Parish has all the devotions of previous generations..the triduo for the assumption continues tonight...

Anonymous said...

Ubi Petrus has a picture of three bishops, the leaders of "Liberal Movement" in England and Wales.
They are just boring, especially to the young.

It is all that pottery chalice, polyester chasuble, felt banner, grey suit stuff, it is all so dated, and so dull, it gives religion a well deserved name for boring the pants off people.

I am twenty-two, I don't go to Mass every week, because I go to the Oratory in Oxford and it takes me three hours to get there from Plymouth, so it is 2/3 Sundays a monthy for me, I just bear what I find in my own diocese.

Paulinus said...

You might try Kieran Flanagan, the Catholic sociologist on just these matters.he's been saying this for about 20 years now.

Anonymous said...

"I was impressed by her feeling of expertise on the life of veiled nuns" but perhaps not on the unveiled type.

In an earlier post on education lots of comments mentioned the absence of faith in the family, it was precisely the chages is religious practice and the removal of the experiential that convinced many, that they had no expertise in the the faith and therefore left catechesis to the experts or those in the classroom.

gemoftheocean said...

I think you hit the nail on the head too. We've seen a similar pattern in the US. Up into the 60s many of us had immigrant parents or grandparents. They weren't concerned with fitting in with mainstream America to the extent where they would be ashamed of things like processions, benediction, "stopping by church to make a little visit", carrying a rosary in their pocket or handbag, May crownings, house blessing, Holy Cards, medals, etc. ad infinitum.
LIVING the Catholic faith was for every day and season, not just on Sundays.

I do not personally think the change of the liturgy from Latin to the vernacular was what had a bad effect. What I do think had a devastating effect was the change in content of the religious education program. I was caught in the middle of all that as a youngster. Fortunately for me I had a set of eastern european grandparents who could give a flip about religiously tamping down their natural day in and day out devotions.

I think the explosion of popular culture, via Television did much to try and bullyrag people into not being so demonstrative about their normal faith practices. You'd be hard pressed to find ANY TV program which had religious items in any home, UNLESS that family were portrayed as "nutjobs."

I do not think Mass in the vernacular caused a problem IF THEY HAD JUST LEFT IT TO THAT. But noooo....instead of firming up the faith and taking advantage of all the things they COULD have taught to an increasingly well educated population (oh, you know, a little apologetics, like say, WHY we believe what we believe and how to defend it -- something singularly lacking if far too many "religious education textbooks") they focused on the soft fuzzy "how is my self-esteem fit in with the Lord's plan for me" BS. "Feelings" are all right in their place --- but where was the fortification needed to fight the onslaught of modern living?

And you're 100% right about the puritanical streak. Scott Hahn in his Rome Sweet Home conversion story said as much on the issue.

Karen H. -- San Diego, Ca.

Mulier Fortis said...

Signs and symbols are so important. For years I never realised this, I thought it was just external frippery, that it was what was inside which mattered.

Then I heard a talk (or possibly sermon) which explained that we are body and soul, and so Christ became incarnate, so he could communicate fully with us, body and soul.

And outward behaviour can change you inside too - the cognitive-behavioural school of psychology recognises this - a reverent bodily posture in prayer can elicit a prayerful attitude.

That's why there has been so much emphasis on beauty in the liturgy, the worship of God. Through what we hear and see (and even smell) our hearts and our minds are raised to God.

Much better than the utilitarian and puritanical "reality" we see in so many modern churches which leaves us so very firmly mired in the present!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes of course, and I gave a holy picture with our address on it, I say this with a lot of thought in it,
I think she had learnt to be dissappointed in the Church.

Anonymous said...

That's St Peter's isn't it Father? I agree with you if so - it would be the last church I would close too. Brighton is full of enormous C of E churches that must be almost empty of a Sunday - St Martin's comes to mind - and that huge thing you see from the car park.

I think what you said about losing the working classes is absolutely right. All the time it was possible for people who could or would not understand the Church to be carried along anyway by its culture and signs, there was a 'way in' for 'working classes'. Now there is none - Roydosan put it very well. The question is - how do we reach them?


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is tragic that the Catholic Church has lost most of the working people as it attracted them as no other denomination. Even the Methodists became too respectable for the rank and file. But remember that many have been educated out of religion, others only went from fear, and the Irish partly from a sense of national identity. Society is also more prosperous and where money and comfort enter, God leaves. Britain is now so completely post-Christian that most can live quite happily without religion of any kind. If you doubt this look at some of the Sunday tabloids and from what you will read it is clear that God doesn't have a chance to make any serious impression on modern society. I imagine that the woman you spoke to at the bus stop was elderly. No young or middle-aged person would have had her experience of the Church. Wherever you go in Europe the church is supported by the elderly with only a handful of young people and families. of whom many are rather odd in comparison with their predecessors. Pity about St Peter's. It is the most prominent church in Brighton, the one most easily seen by the majority. Yet another nail in the Christian coffin, I am afraid.

Gregor Kollmorgen said...

Absolutely, Father, this is so true. To think that middle class banality has disinherited the little ones who are our Lord's chosen ones. But we must have supreme trust in God - and even on a human level, I think it is quite obvious that all this pseudo-faith will simply wither away - it has no truth and thus no real life.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Ms K,
"Wherever you go in Europe the church is supported by the elderly with only a handful of young people and families"

Not my experience in Central & Eastern Europe, nor increasingly in the South, reports from one of my parishioner in Scandinavia again would challenge you on that.

Anonymous said...

liberalism = petit bourgeois

Mulier Fortis said...


"Wherever you go in Europe the church is supported by the elderly with only a handful of young people and families. of whom many are rather odd in comparison with their predecessors"

Absolute tosh. Our parish is blessed with loads of young families (none of whom would be considered "odd") and going to the Faith Summer Conference where over 200 young people meet (giving up a week of their holidays) to find out more about their faith - and I'm not including myself, as I am one of the oldest people there - demonstrates the truth of Pope Benedict's statement: the Church is alive, the Church is young

It's only the lefty-liberal-trendy parishes which are overpopulated by the Baby-Boomers

Anonymous said...

I was at St Mary Magdalen on Sunday, lots of young people at the 10.30, after which I said the Rosary, then met tons of young people coming in for the 12.30.

Anonymous said...

FR it seems that Brighton needs the Faith of our Fathers and its seems you are the man to do this, give that woman her street processiions, make you church a centre for excellence in the liturgy and the devotional life for this is the mind of Holy Church. This in place like brighton will bear fruit.

Anonymous said...

If the Catholic Church in Europe is so vibrant why does the Pope harp so much about Europe having lost its soul, reconnection with its roots, and restoration of an unsecularized faith? Its been one of the main themes since his election, and quite right too. The former Communist countries, especially Poland, are not indicative of Europe as a whole but are welcome exceptions. Nor are conferences that attract young people from all over the country, including Scotland. 200 dispersed are a mere handful on the ground. Living in a suburb you are likelier to get more families than elsewhere but that is not representative of London as a whole nor the South. Judging by recent comments from the Diocese of Lancaster its even worse in the North and demographic change has turned Liverpool into a disaster. Yet some continue to think that everything is wonderful and decline does not exist. The Diocese of Arundel and Brighton is also, according to the Bishop, intent on mergers, rationalization and closures. In the light of so much vibrant life, how do you explain that? As for Scandinavia, there are so relatively few Catholics that a small number seems bigger than it actually is. There are fewer churches and people travel miles to attend them. The vocations crisis in Sweden is a nightmare and opened the door to the ordination of married convert clerics from Lutheranism. The precedent established there led to the same solution for England and Wales, to the discontent of many celibate Catholic priests and more who left the priesthood to marry. Were it not for immigration the Church in Britain would be a ghost of what it was. Not even the Irish diaspora has remained faithful and the Church in Ireland is in crisis. If we listened to the Pope more carefully on this miserable state of affairs we would more easily recognize the reality. He predicts that in future the Church in Europe will be cellular rather than all-embracing as it once was.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I though your comment was rude so I haven't published it.
Perhaps rather than sniping you might like to come and see me and discuss your problem!

As for what you call my "snobbery" regarding Whitehawk I think that you should look at the figures for unemployment, drug addiction, family breakdown, mental health problems, juvenile crime, child abuse, school league tables, literacy & numeracy levels, university entrance, even nutrition, exercise and smoking levels, as well as access to amenities and then tell me where you would want to live and bring up children in Brighton, it would not be Whitehawk, or Moulescombe for that matter!

The local authority has done much to try and improve its estates since the Caldwell case in Whitehawk but there are still very serious problems. Because of the limited social housing in Brighton people with needs tend to be housed together, therefore problems tend to be found in particular areas, not at all like the smaller leafy estates of post war Surrey.

Anonymous said...

Oh that's great about the holy card Fr! Sorry i was presumptuous...

Fr Ray Blake said...

If you resubmit without the swearing, I'll consider posting it

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...