THREE year or so ago, when my husband and I decided to bring our family to live in Montreal, we knew very little about the Church in Canada. Since Vatican 11, Cardinal Leger's name was a familiar one and, if asked, we might have said that our expectations of parish life in our new country would be that it would be very French end mildly progressive.
Montreal is an island about the Si7C of the Isle of Wight. The majority of the 20 per cent.
E ngli sh-spea k i rig population live in the west of the island, and we chose to live in Lachine, which has about half and half English and French population. About a third of the English-speaking population is Catholic.
To live in a community where it is normal to be a Catholic was a new experience for us, even though we had come from an area south of London with a fairly high proportion of Catholics. We found that, as with the Church of England in Britain, many people here are only nominally Roman Catholic.
The school boards levy their own taxes, and every homeowner must opt to pay taxes to either the Catholic School Commission or to the Protestant School Board, so as far as having a religious label is concerned, there can be no sitting on the fence.
On our first Sunday in Lachine we were impressed by the warm and vital atmosphere in the church, and with the enthusiasm with which the congregation joined in the "pop" singing of the Our Father although it was the first time that a folk group had played at Mass. Afterwards we met the young priest who was new to the parish himself.
We realised that the only way to get to know people quickly in our ne w environment was to join an organisation. In England I had heard of the Christian Family Movement, so when it was announced at Mass that the C.F.M. was to show a film in the parish hall we decided that one of us should go along. As a result of this evening we were soon active members of a group of couples who were mostly immigrants themselves, from England, Holland, and Pakistan.
Through our involvement with C.F.M. we were drawn into other parish activities, and within the movement we have made our closest friends.
Canadians have a talent for making one feel welcome, and I remember feeling almost overwhelmed by the warmth of the greetings when I went to my first "C.W.L. meeting soon after our arrival. The relationships between clergy and people are easy, and the clergy's own sense of freedom is a reflection of the nonautocratic, fatherly hierarchy in Montreal.
There are a French archbishop and five auxiliary bishops, one of whom holds the title of Episcopal Vicar for English Catholics. He guides his flock of 30 English speaking parishes in an active diocesan life and he is able to maintain contact with bishops throughout Canada through the Canadian Conference of Bishops which meets regularly and fruitfully under the chairmanship of Bishop Power.
They are enabled in this way to present a united front, as they did recently at the Synod. when the Canadian bishops were united in supporting the motion in favour of ordaining married men. This progressive attitude in Canada is in marked contrast to that in the United States, where hierarchical opinion covers all shades from repressive to ultra-progressive and where the Underground Church has a strong following.
During our first few months in Resurrection parish, Lachine. we were struck by the lack of emphasis on moneyraising. The envelope system is used at the Offertory and people who give regularly get receipts to send in with their tax returns to claim remission of tax on oharitable donations.
In our parish of 1,300 families the collection averages $800 to $900 on a Sunday. Outdoor collections, occasionally taken up for the missions or other such causes are generously supported and usually yield about $500 at any one time.
Free from the burden of supporting a separate school system the Church is able to give money-raising a much less prominent place in parish life than in England. Under an Act of Parliament, unique to Quebec, Fabriques were set up in 1966 to administer the temporal affairs of the parish. They consist of the pastor of the parish and six elected wardens who make all decisions regarding the upkeep of the church property.
The basement parish hall is usually the setting for such money-raising events as are held. Traditionally, people look to the Church to supply entertainment and recreation during the long, cold winter in Quebec, and regular annual events, such as the Wine and Cheese Party, the Sleigh Ride, the St. Patrick's Card Party and — the highlight of the social year — the P.T.A. Dance, are very well supported.
There is a coffee shop in the hall after the 9 a.m. Mass, and there is a Sunday school for pre-schoolers and a nursery for toddlers.
All these activities help build the parish into a community. Community is a concept which has real meaning in Canada. It is something which is taken for granted in England because of the long-established. slowly changing social order, but here the varied ethnic groups and diverse origins of the residents make the community-building aspect of parish life into a conscious force.
The feeling for community is reflected in the liturgical life of the parish. We have found that the various changes which have been introduced since we came here have been readily accepted. The handshake at the Kiss of Peace, receiving Communion in the hand. and the distribution of Communion by laymen, are all part of the normal Sunday liturgy.
House Masses and small group Masses are common, and these are often very informal. The Liturgy of the Word may take the form of a discussion of a passage from Scripture with the participants sitting around in easy chairs. The priest often wears only a stole over his normal clothes for the more structured Eucharist, and after Communion under both species, the participants may use spontaneous vocal prayer for the Thanksgiving. All this happens in a parish which is considered by no means "advanced" in its liturgical celebrations.
Although people have a strong feeling of community, we have found that the attitude towards social welfare is backward compared with that generally accepted in Britain. We, ourselves, grew up to accept the Welfare State as good, but Canadians are very suspicious of State aid.
The idea that people have a right to be helped, when they fall on hard times is only slowly gaining ground. and this seems to be reflected in the attitude to charity dispensed by the Church. People give very generously of money and goods for the poor at Christmas, but in general they do not have such an underlying sympathy for the povertystricken as people would in Britain.
A recent innovation in Montreal (one that was imported from England) is the "meals on wheels" service. This was set up in Lachine two years ago as an ecumenical project and now French and English, both Catholic and Protestant. are co-operating in financing. cooking, and serving the meals to housebound disabled or elderly people. The separation between the French Catholic and English Catholic Church shocked us when we first came here, but now that we understand more of the background of the division we realise that the rift is more apparent than real.
The English Catholic parish in Lachine developed 25 years ago from an arrangement whereby one Mass was said on a Sunday for the Englishspeaking residents of the French parish. Before that time there had been one English class in the French school and now many families in the English parish have one French and one English parent.
The language barrier is not insurmountable, but people feel more at ease in a church where priest and people understand each other readily and where the type of spirituality is the one which comes most naturally to each racial group
In some ways English Catholics are able to bridge the gap between the French and the WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) in Quebec. They also benefit by being able to transfer their children easily to French schools. We have embarked on the experiment of sending one of our children to a French school this year in the hope that he will become bilingual.
The English Catholic elementary school shares the same plot of land as the church while the high school is about half a mile away. Nuns and brothers teach in both schools on the same terms as lay staff and, as both wear lay dress, it is often difficult to distinguish them.
Under a new Act of Parliament which will reorganise the structure of the school system along language instead of religious lines it will soon be possible to send one's child to a "neutral" school. although most schools will still be Protestaneor Catholic. Here, as in England, the relevance of Catholic education is being questioned and, in particular, the value of religious instruction by those who are only nominally Catholic.
Other deeply felt concerns are the defection from the formal practice of religion. the alienation of youth from the Church, and the falling-off in vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life.
In contrast to the situation in England, there have been very few departures from the priesthood among the Englishspeaking clergy here. Only two priests have left the Montreal diocese in the last ten years, but there has been a decrease in the number of ordinations, though not to the same extent as on the French side.
The faithfulness of the clergy in Montreal is a further tribute to the liberal and fatherly attitude of the last two English bishops who, because of the small size of their pastoral area, are able to know their priests personally and to understand their problems.
To be a Catholic in Montreal today is to belong to a Church which has embraced Renewal without becoming infatuated by it. It is a Church which, while it is aware of its heroic legacy from the pioneers of the Faith in North America, has its face firmly turned towards the future.
The term "priesthood of the laity" has meaning. "Com
munity" and " interdependence" are key words. and recently the term "subsidiarity" has arisen to describe a possible relationship with Rome which would be loyal and united in faith but increasingly independent in discipline.