ONCE again, the initiative of a diocese in organising a Vocations Exhibition invites the whole country to consider the anxious problem of priestly and religious vocations. It invites us to pray with earnestness that ever more and ever better priests and religious should play their necessary and decisive part in furthering the spiritual life of Britain.
The need for more priests to carry out effectively the increasing sacramental and pastoral life of our parishes is obvious. Administrative, financial and inevitable temporal cares of all kinds weigh heavily nowadays on the clergy who, at times, seem Condemned to play the role of part-time unpaid civil servants. When the number of priests is too few, these secondary duties, however unavoidable, cannot but tend to affect the time and quality of pastoral work.
Religious, whether priests, brothers or nuns, are also being called upon to face steadily intensified educational responsibilities (often for non-Catholic children) as well as every variety of charitable and social work. Here, too, it may be that the pressure of active work, distributed among too few, can impair the spiritual quality of lives whose ideal demands a careful balance between the active and the contemplative vocation.
At the same time, in this re
making up any apparent spiritual deficiency. After all, in exercising we may well hope and blieve that when dedicated men and women are forced to depart somewhat from the purity of their religious call because of the urgency of the call of practical charity, God has His own way of cising these active works of epostolate and social charity, priests, religious and nuns are " other Christs," living the supernatural life of the Mystical Body.
Today, the conditions of the times seem to invite more young people than usual to seek in a full contemplative life itself the only solution to the problem of fully human living, and in a world whose values have been so terribly narrowed by material considerations, we all certainly need to be ever more firmly supported by the prayers and sacrifices of those men and women who have vowed themselves to the strictest and most completely contemplative forms of religion.
BUT behind these problems of sufficient quantity for the full work and balance of the supernatural and apostolic life of the Church, there is also the very important one of quality. We venture to refer to this at the present moment in connection with the Leeds Vocations Exhibition because of the recent Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites about the simplifications of the rubrics as these affect the ecclesiastical calendar.
This Decree has been journalistically treated as a shortening and easing of the burden of the Liturgy, but, as Pere Doncoeur Si. has explained in an analysis in the French Jesuit review, Etudes, this is a misconception.
This Decree is, in fact, another stage in a prolonged work of Liturgical Reform whose aim is not to shorten or ease the prayer of the Church, but to centralise it so that it may be restored to an earlier purity and depth. It is not a question of a shorter Mass or Divine Office, but of a Mass and an O
tual quality and interest will make it easier for the hardworked priest to pray with intelffice whose spiri
ligence and according to the deepest mind of the Church.
" It is interesting," writes Pere Doncoeur, " to note the changes, whether by reducing or raising priorities, which show how the Church has been moving since Pius X.
" Following a tendency prevalent even under Leo XIII, the Popes have been giving ever greater priority to the celebration of the Great Mysteries of the Life of Christ, which are distributed according to the 'Proper of the Seasons.' With this in mind, they reduce in rank or suppress numberless devotional offices, whether addressed to the Saints or to the Person of Jesus Christ. Thus, in Pius X's reform, offices on the Fridays of Lent dedicated to certain instruments of the Passion, the Crown of Thorns, the Five Wounds, etc., have disappeared. The present Decree resolutely follows the work of Pius X. It reduces to the rank of simple all the feasts of the saints which were semidoubles, and suppresses those that were simple. . . . Such reduction of rank corresponds to an increase in ferial offices, that is, those which reflect or prolong the Mysteries of the Proper of the Seasons,' such as Easter, Pentecost, Advent or Lent. These apparently banal ferias should be seen as commemorating the unique Christian Mystery, that ' Mystery of Christ, hidden in God, enduring through the centuries, and today for us revealed ' and in us lived."
Pere Doncoeur has much more to say on this long work of liturgical reform of which we shall see even more striking examples in the years to come, and he emphasises that its object is not to make the full Christian life easier, in the sense of less troublesome or of shorter duration, but to make it so vital, so meaningful, so inspiring. that it will become easier, in the sense that the Christian will find it more absorbing. Duration is not psychologically measured by the clock, but by how absorbed we are during any interval of clock time. Five minutes of boredom can seem like an hour—an hour of absorption can seem like five minutes.
ALL this, we feel, is not without its bearing on the evidently growing interest of the laity itself in the liturgy and in liturgical changes. Some, not excluding members of the clergy, feel that all this is much ado about nothing, or mere pressure to lighten the burden of the Christian life. What was good enough for our grandfathers should be good enough for us.
But is this true or fair? Surely this widespread interest, this discussion, this imaginative seeking for better ways, is a wonderful sign of real interest, of a sense of the need to live and pray nearer the heart of the Christian Mystery.
And while this interest quickens, the Church in her wisdom moves slowly, but surely. her ear attentive to the serious desires of the members of Christ's Mystical Body.
This is a time when much is being done to raise quality, whether among clergy or laity, and that is why on the occasion of a Vocations Exhibition it is not out of place to pray that more and more men and women may prepare themselves now to derive full profits from the movement of the Church herself towards conditions that increase the opportunity for benefiting more fully from the spiritual life, whether in religion or in the world.