Check out this thought provoking entry over at Fr. Raymond Blake’s place.
Here is the very interseting post about lay involvement. The question is raised: Are more people involved in Church now than
fifty years ago?
You know about Rule #4.
This is timely.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
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
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 apostolic ones.
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.
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.
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, one might
be led to suspect that God is to found there rather than elsewhere,
beyond and above the immediate community.
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.
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 convinced 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
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
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 already up and
running, since the Council it seems to have fallen flat on its face.
our diocese there was a plan 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.
problem is not just a lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious
life but a lack of vocations to teaching and even marriage.