QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Conducted by Fr. JOHN SYMON
Question. in many parts of the country there seems to be an Increasing practice of closing churches all day on weekdays. Why should this be so, and can you tell me if there is any obligalion on parish priests to keep these churches open?
Answer. The easiest part of this question is the legal point. Yes, there is some obligation so that, unless he has a good reason to the contrary, a priest is supposed to keep the parish church open every day to allow the faithful to pray before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. This rule is written into the Canon Law and was repeated two years ago in the Instruction on the Eucharistic Mystery.
As to whether there is an increasing practice of closing churches on weekdays, this is much harder to assess, For many years now, one of the distinctive feat ures of Catholic life has been that our churches are open daily and, in the bad, old, pre-ecumenical days, one used to hear Catholics making disparaging remarks on the contrast between our own practice and that of Protestants.
Even in the heart of the countryside, we expect to find our own churches, and Anglican ones, too. for that matter, open for prayer.
Further. in the centre of our cities the same is usually the case and in large towns up and down England and Scotland the visitor can almost always find at least one church to which the local Catholic community is deeply attached. Such a church is not usually the largest, nor the most elegant; sometimes it is rather quaint and often, as in my own home-town, it is the oldest and dates back to penal times. Within the prayer-steeped walls of these favoured buildings, from early morning until evening, there is hardly a moment when one or two worshippers are not at prayer. '
Although it is difficult and dangerous to generalise. at least in some parts of Britain, there is a tendency to close churches on weekdays; this does not happen in the country nor in the heart of cities, but it does tend to happen in some of the sprawling, gang-ridden, housing schemes in the suburbs.
However, before confronting parish priests with quotations from Canon Law, we need to remind ourselves that usually, in closing the church, they are not acting arbitrarily but are simply trying to protect the building and its furnishings from the sort of vandalism which is one of the less attractive characteristics of our contemporary civilisation.
I wonder if the sociologists would care to take up this matter; certainly the incidence of vandalism, and its precise targets, varies markedly from one part of the country to another. While in and area the local thugs will rip up the telephone kiosks. attack the crews of late-night buses, and slash the seats of foot
ball special-trains, the Catholic church seems to be respected and to enjoy a high degree of welcome immunity.
If we live in these areas with an unmolested church, we are fortunate but, on the other hand, we should not be over-hasty in our criticism if. visiting another part of the country, we are disconcerted at finding the local church closed. The locked door is probably not a skgn that, having imbibed an overdose of ill-digested paperback theology, the priest is discouraging devotion to the Blessed SacrameM.
The explanation is probably a Rood deal more drab; most likely the kicked door means that local tribal customs have involved repeated cases of rifled money-boxes, disfigured statues, torn altar-cloths, and slashed cushions.
Where vandalism is rife but the priest wishes to keep the church open, the One workable solution seems to be that, outside public services, worshippers should have access to a small area at the back of the church, cut off from the main part of the nave by a grill rather like the bars of a prison.cell.
The general effect is inelegant, but at least it is much better than closing the church completely. I wonder if some reader has a better solution to offer.