I had a visit from Fr Paul Harrison yesterday, blogging is a bit incestuous. Both of us have a bit of an interest in history. In between having lunch and visiting the Royal Pavillion we talked quite a lot about lay ministry, with the overarching question of are more people involved in Church now than fifty years ago. Both of us have done a bit of research, mine maybe more on the level of anecdote than Fr Paul's, who did a MA on Preston Catholicism.
In Brighton 50 years ago there were thriving organisations. The Church was made up of small groups, I am sitting in my office and around me are old framed photographs of the various sporting groups that used to be in the parish: the parish swimming team, boxing team, football team etc. There were obviously plenty of things for young men. In all of them there is a priest involved, then of course there were four priests in the parish, what these pictures show is the Church's involvement with men, it took them seriously, it knew they were going to be the future priests and fathers of families, mangers of buisnesses, trade unionists. Then ordinations in (or at least) from this parish were a regular thing. There are no records but I am told there was here an extremely thriving SVP group, that used to visit the slum housing and a Legion of Mary that used to go parish visiting, from door to door. There was also the Catholic Evidence Guild, I am not sure if they were actually "of the parish", or simply preached on the promenade, "in the parish" during the summer. In the notice books there are references to The Guild of the Blessed Sacrament, the Scouts, the Agnesians, the Altar Guild, the Union of Catholic Mothers, The Catholic Police Guild, the Catholic Nurses Guild etc etc.
There was great optimism, in this parish in that period a social worker called Mary Garson together with the parish priest set a group of women to care for those in need, from this, she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Grace and Compassion, a religious congregation that is thriving in India and parts of Africa.
The Sisters of Grace and Compassion are still in Brighton but of the other organisations none of these exist today, except the SVP, and that seems normal for most parishes. What we have instead are a few small "faith sharing groups" and lay involvement is limited to the finances, Extra-Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and readers, in the past there were none of these, there were altar servers and a very proficient choir that sang chant. The sanctuary ministries have replaced the apsotolic ones.
There has been a huge shift of lay involvement; from lay people very obviously sanctifying the world, directly proclaiming the Word of God and "doing" the works of mercy, to what we have now; most lay ministry being centred on the liturgy and within the Church. In practice there has been a very significant change in Ecclesiology. Some people have said we have clericalised the laity and laicised the clergy, a bit of a harsh statement but certainly the main focus of the laity has been the sanctuary and not the world and possibly the role of priest has changed from being the sanctifier to being the manger.
What has intervened is Vatican II, the Council's main aim of course was to engage with the modern world, its teaching is all about empowering people to evangelise and to proclaim Christ in the world. In Northern Europe at least this has not happened, on the contrary we have shrunk as a Church. Our diocesan seminary for example in 1962/3 doubled in size, now the number of students would still be uncomfortable small even in the old building.
There are obviously good sociological reasons for the decline; women working, the television, the decline of the family, contraception are just a few reason that are put forward. What we in the Church so often try to avoid is to suggest that the problem might be the Church herself. Hans Kung, in one of his early, more orthodox works says, "The Church ceases to be the Church when it preaches the Church", yet for 50 years it strikes me that that is precisely what we have been doing. We have been obsessed with liturgy, with lay-involvement in parish structures, parish councils, the role of women within the Church, ecumenism, catechesis. All these are important but only of people who are already "churched", and not directly concerned with revealing the face of Christ. Fifty years ago every fifth or sixth entry in our baptism records was a convert, nowadays it is three, four or five a year, in many parishes none. The Evangelisation that many believed that would follow the wonderful documents of the Council just didn't take place.
The Pope in his "The Spirit of the Liturgy" sees the sign of the Church looking inwards at its celebration of the Liturgy as signifying and possibly even causing this sense of introversion. The priest facing the people creates a smug little huddle that looks in on itself. If the image people are presented with day after day, Sunday after Sunday is the priest looking at the people over the altar and most especially prays to God whilst directing his gaze at the congregation, o0ne might be led to suspect that God is to found there rather than elsewhere, beyond and above the immediate community.
I am sure that is one factor, another, which was certainly signified by the change in the Liturgy, is the change in catechesis. In the past, it wasn't so much the Church that catechised, or even the school, but the family. Fr Paul told me about some Traveller families he had prepared for First Holy Communion, and how well they knew the old catechism. Mother or Grand-Mother had simply passed on the faith they themselves had been given, but most families have lost confidence in simply doing that. The liturgy changed and catechetical emphasis changed, and parents , I think, lost confidence in passing on their faith. In the non-literate, self reliant culture of Traveller families that didn't happen so much. When I was first ordained, the question, "Do we still believe in ....?", was applied to the Real Presence, Purgatory, Hell, Eternal Life, Papal Infallibility, the Catholic Church, Confession, the Divinity of Christ, the Virginity of Mary, well practically every aspect of Catholic life.
One of the things the Pope has been urging us all to do, is the rediscover the riches of the Vatican Council, get to the texts rather than its accursed "Spirit". I am concinced that one off the purposes of the recent Motu Proprio, was just the reconcilliation of the Lefebvrists but the reconcilliation of today's church with its past, reconcilliation with our history and most especially with our theology, look again at Archbishop Ranjith's reported recent comment.
WHAT ARE LAY PEOPLE SUPPOSED TO DO
The most important thing for lay people is to live out their baptism, loving God and their neighbour. Pre-Concilliar theology would lay great stress on the obligation to "save one's soul", by receiving the sacraments worthily, and therefore acting as a leaven within society. If you were married then the obligation was extended to ensuring the salvation of one's children, hence all that pre-concilliar school building and education.
Any collection of pre-Concilliar parish sermons certainly do not speak a great deal about sex, as I was told in the seminary, society was too delicate, Fr Paul sad the closest to it was "keeping bad company". Being honest, doing a fair days work for a fair days pay seems to be much more to the point, coming to the aid of one's neighbour seems to be very prevalent, which might account for the high number of Catholic doctors and nurses and the other Catholic professions.
The motif of the Second Vatican Council was the Church's engagement with modern world, it wasn't something new, certainly in England and presumably elsewhere it was of tremendous importance in the pre-Concilliar Church. What is pretty obvious is that it did not come to birth in the Council Hall but was alredy up and running, since the Council it seems to have fallen flat on its face.
In our diocese there was a plann to build a Church every mile in the city, and in the countryside a Church every five miles, now the future is bleak and we are closing or amalgamating Churches wherever we can.
The problem is not just a lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life but a lack of vocations to teaching and even marriage.
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