By AELFRIC MANSON
Giving the love the Welfare State can't
provide • • • TODAY, through the work of the second Vatican Council, the Church is engaged in a profound re-appraisal and renewal of her life and worship. How profound this is. what demands it makes upon every member of the Church. what change in attitude, has scarcely begun to be realised.
For example, with regard to worship. attention has inevitably been concentrated upon the wide introduction of the vernacular into the liturgy. And, of course, it would be foolish to underestimate its importance. For if the people are again to take an active part in worship they must first be enabled to understand what they are doing.
On the other hand, the mere use of the vernacular is no automatic guarantee of authentic worship and spiritual sterility is as possible in English as in Latin. A service may be accurately expressed and unimpeachably performed and still be quite dead. St. Paul would surely have supported the vernacular and there is a famous passage in 1 Corinthians in which he condemns unintelligibility in worship.
But he also said : "If I speak with the tengues of men and angels and have not love. I am become as a noisy gong or a tinkling cymbal." This passage underlines the need for a thorough understanding, an ever-deepening penetration into the meaning of the fact that it was as a Servant that Christ chose to manifest God's glory. This attitude was strikingly inculcated by the account of Christ's washing of his disciples' feet at the Last Supper.
And if the Lord is her Suffering Servant, so too must his Body. the Church, be; her mission to the world is his, to bring mankind to God by the evidence of her serving and suffering for it.
The Eucharist, the centre and source of all Christian worship, is the occasion when, through an active union with their Master's sacrifice, Christians are given the power to serve, and through that service, to build up the brotherhood. Only when this has come to be realised and practised shall we be able to say that a genuine liturgical movement has begun.
The authenticity of worship may even be said to be tested not so much by what happens during it, but by what follows from it. The Abbe Pierre, in his Lent broadcast talks for 1954, expressed this point in memorable words: "A phrase that should fill us with pride is addressed to us at every one of our Eucharistic gatherings—and how we've disfigured it The last sentence the priest says when he turns round to the congregation is: Ite missa est. We . . . have translated this . . . in the most commonplace and trivial way; we've rendered it: 'It's finished. you can go'. lie missa est, for us, signifies more or less: 'I've paid my dues, I've been through the ritual, I've put in the obligatory attendance, and now I can go and look after my other business'." I find that absolutely horrifying.
What does lie missa est really mean? It means the exact contrary. "lie missa est doesn't mean : It's finished, go away, you're free now." lee missa est, word for word, means: "Go and fulfil your mission."
What the priest is really telling us, that is to say, amounts to this. "Go, it is now that everything is beginning. You've come to the service, we've approached the Master together, He's told us through the voice of the Church what we ought to do. He's told us of our brother's sufferings, in our town, in our country, in the territories we are responsible for, and now, Be missa est, go and fulfil your mission."
In spite of papal pronouncements about liturgical prayer being the source of true Christian piety, and so on, we still tend to think of public worship as impersonal and "official", and of "private prayer" as being the only genuinely personal form.
Apart from the fact that all Christian prayer is made per Christum Dominum nostrum, that in it we necessarily approach the Father through Christ and therefore necessarily together with all the members of his Body who, in union with him, make up the "total Christ", and that therefore "private" prayer in the sense of a prayer that is exclusively mine, that shuts out my brother, is a very grave misnomer. apart from this, our inability to appreciate exactly how personal public worship is, springs from a falsely static idea of Christ's position now.
He rose from the dead, ascended, sits at the right hand of the Father in glory, and that is the end of the matter. He is there simply as an object of worship, immobilely glorified, in heaven, in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament.
Focus of activity
What a fundamental misconception this implies. For Christ's "session" at the Father's side is the very opposite of quiescent: it is in no sense that of a victor who has laid down his arms and now inactively enjoys the rewards of his triumph.
On the contrary, his victory precisely gave him the power for the most intense, the most untrammelled action. His work did not end when he left this world : for only then did his manhood, glorified, acquire the freedom from all the limitations of space and time, only then did it gain the liberty to act universally as Lord of the world.
Christ in heaven is the focus of the most burning and uninterrupted activity, he lives there, his only purpose in living there is, as our High-Priest "always to make intercession for us". The work of the Suffering Servant has reached its consummation. At the right hand of the Father "he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him".
If this is so, then we have the clue to the real nature of liturgical piety. If I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, my purpose should be not simply to adore a passive Presence and to ponder over my relations with it.
Through the transformed Bread the glorious Christ is acting and my purpose should he to become involved to the
utmost in that activity, so that I may be an instrument for its extension among my brethren in the world. Still more must this be true when we take part in the re-enactment of that deed whereby his activity won its perfect sanction.
The Eucharist is the source of true Christian piety because through it we can become transformed into true Christians, agents of the Servant of mankind, creators of community, servants of that Servant. Once this is understood, active participation in the Eucharistic meal will never again he felt to be impersonal or merely "official".
Huge parishes pose problem
Each local Christian Church is, by definition, a community. This is easily stated, but when we look round, and examine, for example, our huge parishes in the great cities, we may well ask, with dismay where, in fact, such a community is to be found.
Crowds may "attend" a church, but still be crowds of the lonely, a mass of human beings unknown, unrelated and indifferent to each other—the very contradiction of that brotherhood of love which the Suffering Servant is always seeking to create.
In the modern world there are so many natural obstacles to community. In the rural civilisations of the past, there was at least the fact of real neighbourhood; people lived in proximity all their lives; their ancestors had done so, and their children would.
This, of course, was compatible with great evils, malice, jealousy, hatred, feuds and so on, but it did provide the natural basis for a transformation into supernatural solidarity. It has, however, practically disappeared in the anonymity of industrial cities.
What genuine natural cornmunity life can a commuter, for instance, enjoy? He has to travel daily many miles from his home to work, and returns, tired, at night simply to a dormitory.
Or consider the social divisions which are to be found in most parishes—divisions that mean their one set of people just "does not want to know" another set, divisions most commonly due to differences in the possession of money.
One group will be able to afford expensive Catholic schools for its children, whilst another, even though perhaps sacrificing much in order to remain loyal to the Church's ruling on birth control. must be content with what an inferior education can supply. Examples could be multiplied, but these are sufficient to illustrate the formidable obstacles in the way.
And yet there is no escape. If the Church is to be truly "present" in the modern world, in her essential nature. it can be in no other form than that of a community of service, witnessing in every place to its fidelity to the activity of its Lord, the Suffering Servant.
What can be done? Much in every way. The first thing is to lower our horizon. There is a woman in Dickens whose house was a shambles and whose children were scruffy and neglected. She herself was constantly engaged in making garments for negroes; her eyes, says Dickens, saw nothing nearer than Africa.
In our time people seem only too willing to contribute financially to all kinds of remote causes which commit them to no personal involvement, but most unwilling to cross the road to comfort the lonely or the distressed.
Our horizon needs to be readjusted to the concrete situation in which we live. Within each local Ecclesia there will inevitably be poor, lonely, desolate, even despairing people, even probably the insane. Most of these will be mute and will have to be sought out.
In early Christian centuries the mere presence of the Ecclesia would have entailed the assumption that these folk were ipso facto the responsibility of the Church, of the Church in her individual members and not of some select committee set up for the purpose.
Welfare is not enough
In our time we tend to ease our conscience with the thought that after all the Welfare State will see to them. But this will not do. For apart from the fact that there are thousands whom the Welfare inevitably passes by, no State can provide love, and love is the great need. If that love is not bestowed by the followers of the Servant, who will bestow it?
We may take one important and widespread instance. Without going into the pros and cons of the present argument over birth control, one fact is very clear, but little dwelt on. A very grave temptation to practise it is provided by a low income.
Another child may genuinely promise a fearful strain on a scanty budget, a harassment of the mother, and consequent mutual irritation between both parents.
It is a temptation only to be resisted by heroic virtue, and heroic virtue cannot be demanded. In the same neighbourhood, or nearby, there will be other families with a superfluity of this world's goods, for whom another child will mean no strain and whose incomes easily enable material domestic difficulties to be smoothed away.
Would it not be possible for some union of Christian families to be formed through which the better off could help the poorer? It would miraculously transform the situation.
In this connection, too, it might be well to recall the medieval teaching, in St. Thomas, for example, according to which in this world there is only one real owner, its Maker; men are but stewards of possessions that are meant to serve the common good, and that superfluous wealth belongs by right, and not from charity, to the poor.
There will be no motive, however, for any such proceeding, no will power to carry it out, unless the mind is enlightened and the heart vitalised by a renewed understanding. guided by Vatican II, of the real meaning of the Church and the Eucharist and of the Church's Lord who has made himself mankind's Servant and wishes his followers to be its servant too.
Adjusting our horizons
In recent days the bidding prayers have been re-introduced into the Eucharistic liturgy. These are forms of intercession for contemporary needs, and intercession is at the heart of Christian prayer.
If these are made sufficiently concrete and local, and they are permitted to be—no better means could be found for creating a sense of community, for bringing the real needs of our neighbours to mind, and for adjusting our horizon to a distance which allows us to be personally involved.
Karl Rahner has drawn attention to a remarkable phrase in the Council's constitution on the Church which describes the Church as the Sacramentum salutis totius mundi, sign of the salvation of the world. She exists not to condemn the world, but to show the world through her life, what men in God's plan are meant to be.
We have stressed the need for a renewed responsibility on the part of each local Church. This is not to deny the Church's responsibility for the whole world also, But what she has to give the world is simply the love that proceeds from the community of the Suffering Servant, and if first that local life is not once again made vital, then the message of her universal mission will sound fatally hollow.
It would be as if a cornmunity of religious sent forth eloquent preachers to proclaim the gospel of love, but allowed its own sick and aged members to remain alone and uncared for. The salt might look like salt; it would in fact have lost its savour.
• The above is a condensation of an article entitled The Servant Lord and his Servant Church which appeared in Mount Carmel, the Discalced Carmelite Quarterly.