Page 4, 5th December 1941

5th December 1941
Page 4
Page 4, 5th December 1941 — THE PRIEST'S ROLE

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People: F. R. Hoare


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On Sound Spiritual Foundations the Laity Can Work

THE War has, for the time being, interrupted the proper functioning of Catholic Action. The need for it, however, has grown greater than ever. This fact and its special adaptation to present circumstances. assure us that it will yet play the part in re-creating a Christian civilisation for which it was designed. That being the case, it is imperative that we should understand its nature.

Much may be learned from a consideration of the conditions under which it arose. These have been fully described in Mr. F. R. Hoare's The Papacy and the Modern State. From this source we learn that it was the failure of the Centre Parties which led to the inception of Catholic Action. Those Parties had attempted to bring Catholic influence to bear on national _ life by utilising the usual political channels. But the establishment of National Governments heralded the end of the party system. Moreover, it was soon seen that these blocs, enlisting, as they did, the support of many who either were Catholics only in name or else, though endorsing Catholic principles, were not in communion with the Church. could not do the work ex,pected of them. They lacked that supernatural foundation which might have prevented them from succumbing to the corruption of the political world. It is not surprising therefore, says Mr. Hoare. " that a Pope coming to the Chair of St. Peter in 1922. should have determined that (so far as it lay with him to decide) the impact of Catholics upon civil society should be transferred from the field of party politics to the definitely supernatural plane of CathOlic Action." The fact that it is based on a supernatural foundation, therefore, constitutes the very raison d'etre of the movement.

THE. RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PRIEST THIS lays a heavy responsibility on the Priesthood. but that responsibility may be easily misunderstood. If clerical superintendence is allowed to cripple the initiative exercised by the laity, it will destroy the very spirit of Catholic Action. Conflict between the priesthood and the laity can be avoided only by each confining itself strictleato its own distinctive functions. What those of the priest are beyond forming the original nucleus of militants will be seen by a single consideration One does not attempt to build a mansion on foundations laid down for a cottage; foundations and building must be on the same scale. The same principle may be applied in the present case. The supernatural basis and the practical work of Catholic Action must be all of a piece. If the theological teaching aed sacerdotal ministry: which fall within the province of the priest. be not adjusted to the structure they have to support there will he ruinous confusion. Now, Catholic Action is essentially a corporate undertaking, a social apostolate. It demands not merely an aggregation of individuals but an organic body representing the Church as a whole. To rear such a structure on a type of Catholicism which, on account of its unenterprising and individualistic character, is out of date is to court disaster. The private piety which avoided public life and made no effort to influence culture. commerce, and industry, even though it may have produced saints, is tragically inadequate for the vast undertaking to which the Church of to-day is called. The position is so anomalous that it cries out for readjustment. And it is this readjustment which is the distinctive responsibility of the priesthood. If it fails in this respect, it is vain to think that by invading the sphere of lay action it can make Catholic Action work.

THE DIVINE SOCIETY I N the first place, it is necessary that teaching concerning the nature of the Church shall be such as is calculated to inspire and direct an organic and dynamic movement. It is significant that we owe the conception of the Mystical Body, the revival of which is characteristic of our socially-minded age, to one who is known as the Apostle. St. Paul illustrates exactly what was just said as to the co-ordination of theological emphasis and apostolic service. The impression made by teaching which presents the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ may be expected to generate just that spirit of corporate enthusiasm which is required.

But it will do more than that. It will set before those concerned the social ideals which it is their business to realise in the world, The Church exemplifies supremely the laws governing social life. It is the model society. The union of the whole with the Head, the interdependence of the members and the freedom of each to perform its individual functions and other features brought out in St. Paul's parable of the human body are applicable on the lower plane. It is from its own economy that the Church derives those abstract principles which are enunciated in the encyclicals dealing with the social order. In the past we have depended too exclusively on instruction in those principles and teo little on pointing to the concrete Example presented by the Divine Society itself. If we can get back from this abstract teaching to the living Fact from which they are derived we shall be able to note a marked change in the impression made and particularly an increase in that dynamic enthusiasm required for an apostolate. To effect this change is the business of the priesthood. As none but the layman can carry out the teaching thus conveyed, so none but the priest can give the teaching. It cannot be said that the responsibility is a slight one.

THE LITURGY LITURG1CAL worship is the devotional embodiment, of this conception of the Church. To 'get people to join together in public worship is the first step towards getting them to act together. There is very little hope of launching successful Catholic Action on the basis of individualistic piety. The union in offering the Holy Sacrifice of priest and congregation and of the members of the congregation with each other creates just that sense of solidarity in Christ which is indispensable for the effective conduct of the apostolate. Liturgical worship serves still another purpose. Eucharistic worship is Catholic theology in action. Expounded as it might be, it brings in review as living facts all the primary truths of the Faith. It is one of those examples of the way in which we learn by doing and theory is discovered in practice. A congregation which has learned to participate intelligently in the Offering of the Sacrifice will be a theologically educated congregation—none the less so if the educative process be partially unconscious. Liturgical worship has the further advantage that it presents a rightly balanced and integrated view of Catholic Truth. Moreover, the Catholicism which it mediates is of the classic order, the severity of which is a corrective to the romanticism which has so perilously ennervated modern spirituality. The training it gives hardens and braces. It is, in fact, the kind of training needed by militants enlisted for a Crusade.

THE PRACTICAL TEST WHAT has been here said is not mere theory. It records an impression made by the study of Catholic Action, prior to the War, on the Continent. That spirit of the J.O.C., for instance, which the late Cardinal Verdier declared was without parallel since the days of the Crusades, has its explanations in the Dialogue Masses accompanied by symbolic action which characterise the Jocists. It is, in fact, to just such teaching and practice as that indicated we owe the creation of the most vital and hopeful movement in modern Catholicism.

If Catholic Action in this country has not exhibited the same spirit, the explanation we venture to submit is not far to seek. There has been a timidity in entrusting the laity with the responsibilities which. according to a right division of labour, belong to it. It cannot be denied that the confidence in the ability of the rank and file which is required calls for a large measure of faith. Faith in what, it may be asked. In human nature? In the wisdom of the laity? No. It is on the effect produced by the exercise of those distinctively sacerdotal functions which have been described that reliance must be placed. In other words, if the priest has fulfilled his part in this joint enterprise and thus made those in his charge conscious of themselves as fellow-members of the Mystical Body, this in itself will be sufficient guarantee. It is his part to lay spiritual foundations commensurate with the scale on which Pius XI planned this great modern movement. If his courage, zeal arid wisdom have been equal to thattask,h t i eim may safely commit the rest of the work to those whose business safely commit the rest of the work to those whose business

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