By Bernard Prentis THERE has been much said and written of late on the conver
sion of our country. But it is abundantly clear that no large scale conversions will, or can, take place unless our own Catholicism, in our own parishes, is full, real and vital.
Yet let us face the fact that the average Catholic parish in our coun try to-day is a dead thing. It is, perhaps, a Witt in the same way as a postal district, or a local government ward is, but it is not a unity. and more important. in any real sense, it is not a conimunity.
But apart from the necessity of endeavouring to live ever fuller Catholic lives there are things we could do, here and now, on the human arid organisational plane which would most notably contribute to the re-establishing of the parish as a Living community. Among these things are three which it is proposed to suggest and discuss briefly here. They are: 1. A more formal acceptance of membership of the parish.
2. A fuller and more just and more regularised system of support of the clergy and the works of the parish.
3. The endeavour within the limits proper to laymen to help the parish priest and shoulder some of those responsibilities which fall within the lay sphere.
Membership of the Parish It is surely anomalous that membership of the parish should be of so accidental and tenuous a nature as it is. The parish is the ordinary human and divine instrument by which a person enters the Church, receives her sacraments, her teaching, her 'special instructions and where (by canon law in some cases) he should fulfil his most obvious outward spiritual obligations. Yet, in point of fact, the average Catholic enters this community, becomes a member of the parish, willy-nilly, conscious or unconscious, by mere location of domicile. This makes it sound like something important but it means 'where he happens to live," In no other department of modern life (it is of modern life we are speaking, not history) is association in benefits and responsibilities so purely haphazard. The association of our fellow-workers (our trade union), or of our fellow-merchants or industrialists (the employers' association), or our fellows in our profession in law or medicine, the political party and the associations for our leisure and our sport (the club social, tennis, bridge, cricket, etc.), all require to know the name, address, standing and qualifications of the prospective member and reasonably demand some form of election or enrolment, a subscription, and some outward act which indicates adhesion.
Rut membership of the parish whirli should he, after the family, the association to which the Catholic gives the fullest loyalty and devotion demands nothing.
Enrolment in the Parish A first suggestion therefore in regard to membership of the parish is that we should forthwith institute some form of enrolment for every member of the parish.
This enrolment would involve nothing with which the modern organisation of life has not made us already only too familiar. Whatever its mechanics, whether the roll be kept as a register or a card index system (this, incidentally, is the method used in some well-organised parishes abroad), it is obvioue that if the person is to take a full and devoted share in the responsibilities and duties of the parish community that the enrolment should show some or all of the following details: Full name, date and place of birth, address and telephone number of home or homes and nosiness, nature and place of occupation or work, qualifications, trade. professional or academic, interests, hobbies and pastimes, wage or salary or normal profits of business, apart from the more obvious religious details of place and time of eeception, of the major sacraments.
For heads of families to these, in the first instance at any rate, ought to be added like details in regard to the wife and the children in so far as they are applicable.
So many details might at first seem altogether too much, a prying into our private affairs rather than a statement of those facts which might prove useful in the conduct of the parish life. But many if not all of them we are already required to give to the various associations and government departments which form the interest of, or rule our secular lives.. And for all of them it is easy to see how the knowledge might prove useful in the organisation of the various activities of parish life or the sharing of its responsibilities. Kinds of Membership of the Parish These considerations necessarily involve consideration of kinds or degrees of membership of the parish.
It is clear that every baptised Catholic is a member of the Church and usually of a parish.
I; is suggested. therefore, that membership of the parish is thought of roughly in three stages:
(a) Infancy from Baptism onwards up to (h) Confirmation onwards to (c) Manhood and womanhood.
With regard to the infant member of the parish little need be said ex cept that it is important, if the adult is to think of the parish as the most important association in which life will involve him, that every step should be taken to ensure that the parish church is the scene of those religious, and sometimes social functions, namely: First Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
Far too often, and certainly more often than is necessary, these important religious and psychological events are " school events " and not as they should be. family and parish events.
Confirmation. the receiving of the Holy Ghost is by its special graces and gifts. and by the time at which it is now in the Western Church normally administered, suitable as
a time mark at which the young Catholic may reasonably be admitted to some kind of formal membership of the parish community.
Surely we could do more to increase the devotion and co-operation of the child about to be confirmed so that Confirmation is openly and manifestly a great family and parochial occasion, an event in the supernatural order which has its place in secular Catholic life, Some remnant of this tradition remains in the Anglican communion.
From this time forward the child might he counted as a member of the parish in its own right, not merely as a child of the family to which it belongs, and be entered' on the register or cards of the parish as such.
Full Membership of the Parish Full membership of the parish should be attained when the person becomes self-supporting and therefore able, and hound in conscience, to contribute to the support of the parish and its priests.
This will normally occur about the time that a young man or woman reaches the legal age Of manhood or womanhood, when they will, in our present democratic system, be called upon to use a vote in national and local government.
In many walks of life he will already be a qualified workman or tradesman and a full member of his trade or professional association. He should now accept the responsibilities and be prepared to discharge the duties involved in being a full member of the parish.
The most important aspect of this full membership will he that he will be called upon to contribute to the support of the priests and his parish: to place at its disposal such special qualifications as he may have gained; and to take his place in its deliberations and management.
It will, as already suggested, involve some form of enrolment to which his life will have already accustomed him, He will as for the other associations have to make a contribution. He will be given some " voice " in the management of the affairs of the parish which may he judged to fall within the competence of the community as a whole.
More important than all this perhaps is the fact that the event should be marked by some outward and physical sign which shall impress on the young member of the parish his new ditties towards the community.
It could be a special Mass for the young men and women " graduating " as it were. at which they received Communion and were given a special address on these dunce and responsibilities and the meaning of the parish and its life, the whole ceremony including special hymns to the Holy Ghost.
It ought at least to involve some public declaration either from the pulpit in the notiees, as in the manner of banns. or posted prominently on the church notice board.
Ifwe are really to be persuaded of the importance of bringing the Faith we hold firmly enough in our breasts out into the market place, the shop, factory, or Government office then we must openly and firmly belong, and declare our adherence to, the community through which in the first instance we may most effectively act—the parish.
Moving from one Parish to Another
he help such a form of enrolment as is suggested above would be to the parish priest and his assis tants needs no stressing. But the advantages it would have when parishioners moved from one parish to another are also worth a thought.
The parish left ought to know that it is losing one of its members and an announcement or notice of the fact ought to be made if possible sonic time just prior to the departure so that the normal human courtesies being observed the parish may feel itself closely knit together.
The details of the enrolment in the parish ought to he sent on to the parish to which the family is moving with perhaps sonic note of the special contribution which the members had made to the life of the parish.
Arrived in his new parish the new member ought to make himself known to his new parish priest
without delay, and complete his enrolment in the new parish with the details not available from the register of his old parish. and this enrolment ought to he the subject of an announcement or a notice conspicuously placed in the church porch. Active members of the parish and organisations could then the more easily call upon the newcorner and make him feel, as he should, at home and welcome in the community. In these human attentions the Nonconformist congregations give us a lead that we have no right to ignore.
As it is, a Catholic may move into a new parish and be lost for
years. Natural modesty. preoccupation with the affairs which forced the move, natural disinclination to take upon himself more responsibility may prevent a newcomer as he has to do now calling upon the priest and making himself known. If it were part of the routine of joining the parish even in that bit of organisational help the fears of the timid, the hesitations of the humble, and the laziness and natural disinclination of the average person might find that human corrective without which only the heroic and the outstanding give of their best.
[In a second article, to be published next week, the writer will discuss the raising of parish funds,— EDITOR. C.H.)