The Holy Father and the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr Adolfo Nicolas SJ
The children did occasionally attend school but it tended to be a dozen or so different schools within a year, their parents were more or less illiterate, and of the children the girls tended to read better than the boys, who as soon as they were strong enough ended up working with their fathers. Religion seemed to be a matriarchal, there was family Rosary, which men joined in but it was led by the grandmother. Grandmother too was the chief catechist, she had taught herself to read, but had committed most of the Penny Catechism to memory. The children she catechised, knew or rather had committed to memory most of the catechism. Her catechetical method was simply, the children sat around her and were interrogated. 'Who made you?' the right answer, the child got a sweet from the bowl on her lap, the wrong answer a not very heavy tap on the arm from the wooden spoon also in her lap.
My role was not so much to teach the faith but to teach them how to behave in church. Though they understood the importance of attending Mass, it was boring and their itinerant lifestyle made weekly attendance difficult and prejudice made them feel unwelcomed. They were good at praying but pretty bad at sitting still and listening. I have occasionally come across this family since, the last time was a few months ago when some of them turned to Mass on the twentieth anniversary of their grandfathers death. There was a different matriarch, the earlier grandmother had I presumed died, the new one came with a gang of sons and a few daughters, none received Holy Communion, all lit candles at Communion time, and after Mass all were waiting outside the confessional.
The way they lived they lived and understood the faith, seemed to be how Catholics had passed on the faith for centuries. It was part of an oral tradition handed down in a matriarchal non-literate society. Church buildings were important as places to pray, priests were important as givers of grace but it was the family that was the most important factor in both worship and catechesis. Somehow I think that they were spared much by not being literate, by having little contact with schools or churches.
The interesting phenomena of American academics complaining in a letter to the New York Times about Ross Douthat writing on theological or ecclesiological issues seems emblematic of an ecclesial life that has become, and seems to be coming increasingly top down, It is faith which is handed down by experts or specialists rather than bubbles up, which I would suggest is profoundly un-Catholic. It is as far from St Vincent of Lerrins' understanding of the Catholic faith as having 'been believed everywhere, always, by all'. It is elitist, not at all like the inverted pyramid that the Pope has described.
Just as we each have a guardian angel and perhaps a guardian devil, so each Council seems to have one. Vatican Two the spirit of Relativism, Vatican One the spirit of Ultramontanism, perhaps Trent had the spirit of Didacticism. Some have suggested that Councils do more damage than good, it certainly seems that a Council attempts to clear up the house and expel the demon that occupied it only to discover that the demon returns with seven more.
|Jesuit general congregation at the Vatican|
I wonder when the definition of a theologian moved from the patristic 'one who prays is a theologian, a theologian is one who prays', to a theologian is one with a degree in theology. with a certificate on his wall. It marks a radical change, a movement from theology as the fruit of a relationship to one in which God becomes something to be spoken about rather than spoken with, a mere phenonemon, an academic discipline cut free of a personal relationship. Jesuitism has always had poor regard for liturgy from it foundation, the first order not to celebrate the Office in choir. The great influence of the Jesuits on the liturgy was to remove choir stalls from our churches and replace them with pulpits. The focus becoming not the prayer of the brethren but the words of the specialist, the trained preacher. As necessary as this might of been it was a disenfranchisement of ordinary Catholics.
The wise Fr Mark Kirby gives an illustration of the development of this didacticism in this article about the Rosary facing the people. I was bemused recently by a layman showing a fragment of a Saxon altar who said something about a saint 'preaching from that altar'. The truth is that at that period preaching would have taken place rarely and probably less likely in the liturgy than the chapter house or the back of church or the market square but never from the altar, The phrase shows what we have come to, no-one can be trusted to pray without the intervention of a 'Doctor of the Law', the liturgy itself is not of value for its real purpose, to worship but as a setting for teaching.