A DVENT is primarily a time for looking forward; for -"" pondering the future unfolding of God's plan for man's salvation. Christmas as we usually regard it on the other hand, is a time for looking backwards, often with a kind of regretful nostalgia, not only at the childhood of Christ but also at our own. In this article I propose to look back only in order to look forward. For, as T. S. Eliot puts it,
"Last season's fruit is eaten, "And the Milled beast shall kick the empty pail, "For last year's words belong to last year's language, "And next year's words await another voice."
What have we been fed with (or perhaps become fed-up with) this past year? What was in the pail we must now kick away? I can only suggest the things which remain in my own mind. These will concern largely those matters which have aroused public interest and debate.
THE YEAR BEGAN, after a feeling of disappointment and frustration over the meagre results of the Council's Second Session, with Pope Paul's pilgrimage to the Holy Land. At its close he was again on his travels, this time in India. From a traditionalist Catholic point of view. these journeys mark an unprecedented freedom of pontifical movement.
But, splendid though they were as gestures, it is difficult not to conclude that, except as breaches with an outworn past, they can have little lasting effect. For in an age when every other world figure hops on and off aeroplanes every week. the Pope's decision can hardly be seen as more than another attempt to catch up with the modern age. Brilliant though the idea was in itself. something more solid has to be done before the world is convinced by it.
This is why, at a first glance, the rejection of the Council's Schema on religious liberty seemed so tragic. It is still hard to tell whether this move was just another manoeuvre by a reactionary clique, or whether it was a justified and necessary part of the movement of the Church towards open and thorough debate on important issues. We shall not know the answer until the next session, when a vote on the Schema will be taken. Will it be accepted as it stands? Or watered down? Or even strengthened? The price of religious liberty for others is eternal vigilance by Catholics over their own "organisation men".
IN THIS COUNTRY a number of issues have been debated with exceptional vigour, and occasionally acrimony. Contraception. This topic caused by far the greatest amount of argument, not only in public places hut in private discussions. The article by Archbishop Roberts in Search (April 1964) only added spice to the already rising mixture. The apparent clash between what the Dutch bishops said and what our own bishops proclaimed gave the prob lem all the more publicity, and even pleas from on high to stop saying anything controversial, especially about the "pill", did not wholly quench the enthusiasm of controversionalists.
What is the likely future course of the debate to be? It seems that the Schema on the Church and the modern world will not deal with the question in any rigorous, exacting detail. This is understandable in view of the complexity and technicality of the issues. But what is likely is that the problem will spark off a far more searching analysis of the whole idea of natural law than we have had so far. We can expect a number of publications fairly soon in which this concept will be given a detailed analysis. Judging from straws I have seen floating in the wind, the notion of the natural law is likely to become more, not less, respectable in the philosophical sense, but its applica tion to the issue of contraception may change radically. Unlike most other clear and dogmatic teachings, the prohibition on contraception is exceptionally closely con nected with a number of purely philosophical arguments which are themselves open to much debate. The present problem is not so much whether the Church ought to prohibit contraception, as what the present prohibition really means. It is the intelligibility (if any) of the doctrine, ratherthan its existence, which needs first of all to be vigorously examined, in the light of a complete theology of marriage. We may expect some fairly devastating demolition work soon from highly reputable quarters in this regard, before construction work can be done.
ENGLISH v. LATIN
Liturgy. The debate about the liturgical changes, which continued through the year, was naturally affected, at the close, by the introduction of English. which had been so eagerly awaited with enthusiasm by some and disgust by others. The amount of preparation for it in most parishes seems to have been pitifully inadequate: but despite this, success was generally immediate. Only one person to my knowledge has decided to stop going to Mass because of the changes: and this was not in disgust at the abandonment of Latin but at the obsolescence of the English version that has replaced it! But many people I have spoken to have mixed feelings about the results so far, good though they will be. This is because, as it now stands, the liturgy of the eucharist is an uncomfortable mixture of three languages. We are asked to switch from one to another with alarming speed. The translation of the collects, secrets and introits will help when it is ready. But we must now get ready to face the next stage of the liturgical reforming-movement. This will surely be for a normal parish Mass entirely in the vernacular, said aloud from beginning to end, with the celebrant facing the people over a table, round which they are grouped in a semi-circle. I foresee a widespread and increasing demand for this, in the coming year. Much can be accomplished even within the present laws, given the enthusiasm and understanding of those who have to apply them.
A vast recording of the internal arrangements of existing churches, plus a pressure for the Englishing of the canon, and an audible level of speech throughout, can surely be predicted for the future.
Education. There has been, as usual, a simmering discontent with the Catholic school system evident during the year. But there is an important shift of emphasis in the debate which has become noticeable during 1964 and this will inevitably continue in 1965. The burning issue now, especially since the election of a Labour government, is the problem of secondary school reorganisation. Catholics seem. like the population generally, to be divided on the issue of comprehensive schools. The clumsy work of the Liverpool Education authority, and the articulate protests of the parents of Bristol grammar school children, have contributed colour and urgency to the debate. There .is little evidence of a general hostility to comprehensive schools among Catholic policy-makers. But the financial and organisational problems for them are complex, and perhaps insoluble without further financial aid.
The issue must surely force into the open a number of hidden, but important considerations for Catholics. One is the fact that, despite the slogan that Catholic schools are justified because of the rights of parents to choose the kind of education they want, parents are in fact scarcely ever
Brian Wicker looks forward
consulted and are grossly under-represented on the policymaking bodies. This is not a situation peculiar to Catholic education; but it needs to be remedied quickly if the cause of separate Catholic schools is not to lose any force it still has.
A second question is whether the difficulties in the way of Catholic comprehensive education are due, in any measure, to the attitudes and influence of the religious orders who at present are deeply entrenched in the grammar and private school sphere. Here too, the government's policy of trying to give the public schools some kind of reasonable justification in our open democratic society, by setting up a trust to examine their role, will have to be faced by the Catholic public schools.
It will be interesting to see if they react differently in any significant way from their fellows in this search for equal opportunity within the community as a whole. I can guarantee that the educational question will loom large in 1965.
Another important educational question will be raised by the Council's Schema on the seminaries. The problem of contact between them and universities may well become a topical one in this country soon. The important book Theology and the University published in 1964 ought to become required reading in the coming year, for anyone involved in the work of trying to make theology more relevant to everyday existence.
Ecumenism. The last point leads directly to this final subject. For in the application of the new theological advances to the life of the ordinary Catholic lies the true secret of our ecumenical renewal. Only when we have both a clergy and a laity sufficiently alive to the thought and traditions of other Christian churches to be able to have a dialogue which is neither arrogantly condescending nor flabbily compromising, shall we be able to say that the ecumenical movement has begun to build the foundations of genuine reunion in charity.
It will take more than the next year to achieve anything remotely like this. But it will be a good year if, in the spirit of the recent statement by our hierarchy, a serious step is taken towards it by some systematic attempt to organise the dialogue with other Christians at the level of the ordinary parishes up and down the country.
1965 could be an exciting, and even epoch-making year in the Catholic life of Britain. Let us hope and pray that it will be.