Page 4, 1st March 1963

1st March 1963
Page 4
Page 4, 1st March 1963 — "English Catholics cannot expect the council to produce a kind of patent medicine for their ills"

Report an error

Noticed an error on this page?
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it.


Organisations: Secondary Modern School
People: Wau, Anthony Sampson
Locations: Rome


Related articles

New Look For Church?

Page 2 from 8th March 1963

Diversity Of English Catholics

Page 4 from 5th March 1971

But Pope Paul Vi, In His Pentecost Sermon And In

Page 4 from 11th September 1964

Time For Action

Page 5 from 3rd December 1965

Why Not Make Dolly The M.c.c. Captain?

Page 4 from 3rd February 1967

"English Catholics cannot expect the council to produce a kind of patent medicine for their ills"

Keywords: G, Religion / Belief



PERHAPS it is not too late to take advantage of the pause in the Council to ask. whether English Catholicism stands in need of a renewal. Can we complacently say. as one leading layman has already done, "the same again. please," or is there room for change? English Catholics have not been conspicuous for a vigorous active contribution to the national life and universal Church. In recent years Continental Catholicism has enjoyed a considerable renaissance while English Catholicism has been in the doldrums. Newman's "Second Spring" has not so far materialised. The Church's expansion has not been the result of large-scale conversions. Most English Catholics are of emigrant Irish ancestry. With the exception of the national figures of Newman and Manning, English Catholics have had no great impact on society. The situation could hardly have been otherwise. After a long period of persecution and exclusion from national life the Church was too busy putting down roots for itself and staking a claim to have any surplus energies to play a dynamic role in society. An introverted adolescence was perhaps inevitable. Today, on the face of it, the outlook would seem promising. The growth of the Church since the early nineteenth century has been tremendous, from a handful of gentry to an estimated 10 per cent of the nation. Some "cream" has not been wanting, and Catholics are prominent among peers and novelists. Again we often like to compare our crowded churches with those of other denominations. The progress reports of the Catholic Enquiry Centre are reassuring. Diocesan Directories, full of facts and figures of new churches and schools, help to round off for us the picture of an apparently vigorous Catholic life.


This activity does not necessarily reflect an underlying vitality. We English Catholics mirror in our way the shortcomings of the affluent society. Far from being a creative force in contemporary Britain, Catholics appear fairly self-satisfied and content to plod on in their own fashion, asking only to be left alone to build yet more churches and schools. Admittedly, we are a minority with a past, but this does not absolve us from responsibility for the present. In his widely-praised book Anatomy of Britain, Anthony Sampson subjected to close scrutiny almost the whole range of British life. Two pages out of over 650 were devoted to English Catholicism. In the approach to unity the major initiatives have not come' from English Catholics but from Rome and the Anglicans. The tragedy of English catholicism is that it has never been fully integrated into national life. We have always been peripheral to English life, seeking acceptance at the price of conformity. The distinctive social, artistic and intellectual achievement which could have won us a place without undue conformity has been lacking.


Weaknesses are not hard to find. The amount of new Catholic building since the last war is astounding but the quality of the new churches leaves much to be desired. Design is hardly inspiring. Styles are often traditional and lack the originality to be found on the Continent. As for conversions, the highest annual total has touched the 15,000 mark but the conversion of England is a long way ahead at this rate. The latest figures from the Catholic Directory for 1963 show a drop of several hundred. One might even talk of a slackening-off of conversions. At best the position is pretty static. It should not be forgotten that the Anglican Church claims a considerable number of converts from us. Far more serious is the problem of the leakage, which is assuming frightening proportions. A priest of one Northern diocese told me that 80 per cent of the Secondary Modern School children in the diocese were lost to the Church within a year or so of leaving school. The Catholic chaplain of a large city hospital said that out of every 10 Catholics who were given the last rites seven were lapsed on entering hospital. People flow back and forth, a comforting thought but hardly a healthy state for the Church.


Turning from hard facts to trends and movements it is clear that English Catholics have lagged behind in precisely those fields in which the trend of change in the universal Church is strongest--liturgical renewal, the ecumenical movement, the role of the laity. Two causes for this poor performance suggest themselves. One is simply clericalism. By clericalism I mean the almost complete dominance of the clergy in matters which could well be tackled by the laity. There are many parishes where everything is "a one-man show", It is most • evident in the liturgy where the faithful arc so often excluded from active partici pation. Another cause is simply our past history. Our Catholic past would benefit from a little more realism. The English Martyrs are rightly praised, but it is not always remembered that we were a defeated minority with a defeatist mentality. Our outlook became one of conservatism, loyalty. withdrawal and passivity. In other words a back pew ideology which is still with us. Recently Mr. Waugh, labelling himself as "fairly typical" of English Catholics, wrote: "As the service proceeded in its familiar way f wondered how many of us wanted to see any change. The Church is rather dark. The priest stood rather far away. His voice was not clear and the language he spoke was not that of everyday use. This was the Mass for whose restoration the Elizabethan martyrs had gone to the scaffold . . ." But if our Tudor ancestors had understood the Mass there would have been no need for the Elizabethan martyrs. Far more typical is Fr. Martindale's story of how he once asked a quite intelligent boy of about 17 what he did at Mass. The boy replied--quite angrily— "How do I know what 'e's doing at '{other end of the Church"?


Is there any "cure" available? A recipe for renewal which would re-invigorate the Church and win for it a new place in national life? A place which the restoration of the Hierarchy last century seemed to augur but never fulfilled. Automatically, one thinks of the Council. Certainly the Council is part of the answer. Yet it would be naive to suppose that the work of the Council will bring an overnight rejuvenation to English Catholicism.

This is not intended to be a pessimistic forecast on the Council. With previous ecumenical councils a long time lag has often occurred between their actual sessions and the putting into ellect of their work. Decrees are drawn up but mere legislation is insufficient. Equally important is its implementation. English Catholics cannot expect the Council to produce a kind of patent medicine for their ills. The Council will provide a plan of reform but it will then be up to Bishops, priests and laity to clothe it in flesh and blood, _ DYNAMIC.

If English Catholics are to find a new dynamic there must be a renewed emphasis on the vision of the Church as a single community made up of clergy and laity. Lip service is paid to this ideal but in reality the laity are treated as very much second class citizens of the Church. So the laity must he givers a New Deal instead of the decidedly raw one they have had. Pope Pius XII called our age the age of the laity. It has yet to dawn in England. It could be ushered in by some epoch-making gesture of leadership from our Hierarchy. A lay charter which would initiate a crash programme of reforms. Something similar has already been launched by Cardinal Leger. A start could be made in the following ways. Lay responsibility and activity in many parishes should include responsibility for parish finances. Planned giving schemes should become the norm instead of the exception. More democracy must make its way into the Church in England. Parish councils might he tried, A timely suggestion made in the CAMOLIC HERALD recently was that of a lay board of consultors to whom the Bishops could turn for an expression of lay opinion. This permanent body could be linked to some kind of an annual national lay congress. Such organs would help to remedy the lack of an effective outlet for lay opinion in the Church. Letters to the Catholic Press often pull no punches but the impression of shadow boxing is hard to resist. Lay representative bodies at national, diocesan and parochial levels would also provide valuable contact between a clergy and laity who at present rarely come into personal contact.


For most Eniglish Catholics the Church means simply their Sunday Mass. Unfortunately, for many of them, the Mass is not the spiritual centre of their lives. If the laity are to become a new leaven the Mass must become a much more meaningful experience instead of the weekly routine it so often degenerates into for many. Firstly it should be intelligible. In other words we must have much more use of the vernacular.

Secondly, if the laity are not to be bored they must have something to do. A full Dialogue Mass will help a good deal. A clear lead must be given here from those in authority. At a Christmas Mass 1 attended recently in France the congregation took a very lively part in everything. but only perhaps because there was a priest who throughout the service led the congregation in singing and responses. Teams of laymen could be trained for this task. It is often said that people do not want to change but, if so, it is truly remarkable how quickly congregations have adapted themselves to the recent changes in the minutiae of the Mass rubrics.

It would he foolish to imagine that outward changes such as the vernacular and the Dialogue Mass will of themselves make people more spiritual. The meaning of the Mass and l-iturgy most be explained in sermons and instructions. The Bible needs to be seen in relation to the Liturgy. Parish Bible readings and study groups would help.


English Catholics must create among themselves an informed lay opinion capable of influencing the Church from within and conducting a dialogue with those outside. The establishment of a Catholic Higher Institute would be an im

Continued on Page 6

blog comments powered by Disqus