The Christian Programme
The Individual And The Community
By DOM BERNARD MeELLIGOTT
Mr. Belloc told us recently, in an essay on the present state of England, that we were blessed with a pictorial imagination. We see things in clear mental pictures; we have a penchant for the picturesque. The national gift for pictorial vision has given us English poetry and humour; Shakespeare and Tennyson, Dickens and Mr. Rohey. Concrete imagery comes easily to us. But he left us wondering whether that national talent is not sometimes more of a nuisance than a blessing. We see the externals of a thing so vividly that we may miss the thing itself. The progress of the liturgical movement in England, for instance, is probably being hindered by a tendency to identify it with its externals. Many Catholics still have a vague idea that it is a movement for making larger vestments, using a different kind of prayer book, and having a new sort of music at Mass. Keeping a reasonably wary eye on anything that seems to be " getting at " them, they regard the liturgical appeal with some suspicion, or even with complete indifference, as a mere matter of externals.
But far from being mainly concerned with the externals of our religion, the liturgical movement takes us to the very heart of Catholicism. To miss its importance for ourselves and our distracted world would be a tragic blunder.
Why is it important? Can it he shown that the Liturgy. and what follows from it, provides the main solution to the problems and dissensions that are tearing our world asunder?
A Few Propositions Aware of the dangers of over-simplification, let us nevertheless set down a few propositions. It will probably be agreed that at the back of all the natural issues, economic, national, political and psychological. which are setting men in violent opposition at the present time, stand the two dominating ideas of the Individual and the Community.
These are the two fundamental realities on which human society is built.
The ideas of the Individual and the Cornmunity are perpetually at tension; to those who have not the key they appear of their nature hostile. Sometimes it is two interpretations of the idea of Community that are at war, as with Fascism and Communism. Sometimes it is opposition between one nation which emphasises the individual and another which regards the community as more important. This, as many think, is the main difference between France and Germany. Mr. Wall, for instance, writing last week in the Catholic Herald puts this point shortly when he says, " The French tend to be rationalists. individualists," whereas the Germans lay an " emphasis on the mass, which they often incline to see in a mystical light."
The introduction of the word "mystical "
is significant. When one of these ideas, the Individual or the Community, is exalted at the expense of the other, there is the tendency .to invest the choice with the attributes of worship, to give it a status above reason and to engage around it the emotions of religious veneration. It becomes a phantasy, a passionate tipping of the scales, and a danger.
A Source of Discord
The problem is to get exactly the right relation of the industrial to the community. One-sided ideas about this are the prime source of discord. Mental and psychological conflicts in the individual himself are fought on the same battleground. The inner tensions, such as we know all too well today, which set up intense mental strain and nervous illness, principally revolve, as medical psychology bears witness, round the warning instincts of self and society. We can see that, broadly speaking, the inspiration of the Middle Ages was the idea of Community, nurtured by the Catholic Church. Then the tide turned, and with the Renaissance and Reformation came the exaltation of the Individual. Catholic teaching was gradually abandoned, and the corporate Sacrifice of the Mass (which establishes in itself a perfect relation between individual and community), was very largely lost. Individualism has run its disintegrating course. Its finer elements seem to have succumbed at length to its baser. The moulds are breaking up, and now we are fumbling for the idea of community again. Social sanity and stability, the redress of obvious economic injustice, the renewal of spirituality and of good natural things; all this requires, particularly from Catholics, a new understanding of the community ideal. Particularly from Catholics, since we as well as others have been unconsciously, but deeply scored with the wounding effects of individualism. And particularly from Catholics, because the Catholic Church alone has the remedy. What form of the Community idea shall we adopt to redress the balance? Clearly not the will o' the wisp of C.onnnunism, which denies the truth by which we live. And also, Communism is not common enough. Denying God and his universal love, it does not care truly for the community. The ideal of Community to which Christians can adhere has to be more communal than Communism; its case for the individual and the community must cover the whole field of man's natural and supernatural happiness and destiny. It must be the perfect solution of the right relation between the Individual and the Community.
We have no need to look round for this ideal. It is a part of our faith, an old doctrine which is now coming more clearly to our sight as the solution of this great problem.
Where Lies the Solution?
What is the solution?
One side says, " The rebuild-mg of the world through the Individual."
The other side says, " The rebuilding of the world through the Community."
The Catholic Church says, "The rege eration of the world through the Mystical Body of Christ."
This is the Christian programme.
To understand and live up to the doctrine of the MystiCal Body of Christ, with all that it implies, is the complete solution of our present bewilderments. The Mystical Body is the intimate and Teal union of Christ-and-Christians, the community of Christ and all men reborn into supernatural life.
The Liturgy is the Mystical Body at worship and prayer.
Catholic Action, the apostolate of the laity under the Bishops, is the Mystical Body at work upon the world. Social and economic regeneration can (we may consider) only come about as a " baptised " relation between the individual and the community. It will greatly depend on the lives of members of the Mystical Body.
In the life of the Mystical Body there is no opposition between the ideas of the Individual and the Community. Only from inside the Mystical Body can they be seen to harmonise completely. The individual finds, develops and fulfils himself in the life which he shares with the other members of the Body of Christ. He gives to that Community and takes from it, to his own and its enrichment.
The importance of the Liturgy is that it is par excellence the prayer and worship of the Mystical Body. It is the considered and corporate worship of Christ-and-Christians. In it the individual can enlarge and perfect his individuality to its true limit. because in the Liturgy he knows he is contributing to a common life. His own prayer is part of a larger whole. As Romano Guardini says, "The Liturgy is creation, redeemed and at prayer, because it is the Church at prayer."
The Source of the Spirit
The Corporate Sacrifice of Mass is the very centre and heart of the Life of the Mystical Body. Taking part in Mass, therefore, in a corporate manner as the Church directs, can easily be seen to be the true centre of the Christian programme. It is " the prime and indispensable source of Christian spirit," as Pius X told us in 1901 In their Joint Pastoral, the Bishops lay it down that Catholic Action must be built on prayer and sacrifice. Since the Liturgy, especially the corporate Sacrifice of the Mass, is the principal prayer and Sacrifice of the Mystical Body of Christ, a willing understanding and communal offering of Mass becomes the first and most practical necessity for the people of Christ.