ARE WE GOING TO
SHOW BRITAIN'S CATHOLICITY?
By Michael de la Bedoyere
W1TH I N a month the Festival of Britain will have begun. There has been a good deal of heated controversy about the wisdom of staging this highly expensive Venture at a time when the country was far from being able to solve so pressing a need as that of housing Most Most large enterprises, especially cultural, can be objected to on similar economic and social grounds, and it would certainly be a poor outlook for the world if economic needs were made the sole criterion of what was to be undertaken for the general benefit.
However this be, it is obviously much too late now to go back. and it is in the interest of all that the Festival should prove a great success, and help to convey to all visitors and the world generally the cultural and social strength of our country.
Here we must concern ourselves with one vitally important element in our national life which, we fear. has been seriously overlooked. We refer to the religious quality of this country and, in particular, to the Catholic Church in Britain.
tr is to be expected that a very large number of visitors will be Catholics. practising or by upbringing and basic faith.
Certainly the United States and Canada will provide a great number of practising Catholic visitors --visitors, moreover, who have grown accustomed to see the Church as a powerful, natural and all-important element in their public life, and one in no way to be ashamed of. From the Continent we may expect many who will inevitably seek Catholic contact in our country and many more for whom Catholicism is the only religious background of their lives.
These visitors, it is true, will not conic to the Festival of Britain with any primary object of religious interest and edification, yet they will take away conscious or subconscious impres sions of the quality and strength of religious life in Britain and of the life of the Church here.
The fact that they may not he directly interested is all the more reason why very special efforts should be made to bring to their notice how we worship, what vitality our Catholic life possesses, the glory of our Catholic heritage, the amount we have contributed to th© national life, the place religion generally holds in the country and the relations between the Catholic C'hurch and other Communions.
WE. have always believed that. despite first appearances, religious faith remains a great strength in Britain.
It would certainly be difficult to explain the still relatively very high standards of public and social morality here, if people did not cling somewhere in their hearts to a faith in God and the sense that God's Will should find expression in conduct generally.
We have to recognise, of course, that in recent years and chiefly through the disruptive influences of two great wars moral standards have greatly deteriorated. The position has not been helped by the widespread failure to recognise that the good life cannot in general survive the virtual secularisation of universal education, while the way in which the law tries to catch op, as it were, with the decline in personal morals by creating fresh low standards of what the State will tolerate and facilitate makes the raising of standards again extremely difficult.
Yet there remains much truth in the saying that the-Englishman does not wear his heart on his sleeve and. in particular, loathes anything like the public display of the intimacy of religious faith and life. Nor are there wanting signs of some definite religious revival in many Communions. It has been noted for the last year or two that congregations at Easter are now a good deal bigger than they were a few years ago.
Apart from the Catholic Church where progress remains steady and solid, though far from spectacular, the outlook for religion generally is not completely unhopeful.
It is right therefore that the visitor should be afforded every chance of realising during the months of the Festival that the virtues which he expects to find in Britain still remain, and that they are still linked to one of the noblest Christian heritages in the world.
WE must trust that the Estab
lished Church will be making a special point of enticing the visitor to see for himself the great cathedrals, historic churches and other monuments of the country's great religious past, and that special efforts will be made to render this sight-seeing spiritually and culturally profitable and historically accurate. Nor do
we doubt that that Communion and the others will have much to show of their vitality and in some cases renascence.
But the visitor, often, we re peat, a Catholic, and often no doubt religiously indifferent will not share the special views of the Anglican Communion. As such, he will want to know more about the significance of these Christian monuments and treasures and how they relate up to the British religious life of today. He will hardly get the full information, save from Catholic sources and with Catholic help.
Take a town like I.ondon or either of the two ancient University cities. What memorials of the ancient Catholic faith of these islands are to be seen in them at every turn! We take them for granted. Not so the visitors, many of whom are doubtless astonished to see in a reputedly Protestant country such a frequent use of the most sacred names of the Catholic Faith for streets and colleges and the like.
MORE directly, we could do a
great deal to demonstrate the recapture, so to say, of the ancient Catholic heritage during the last hundred years under the restored Hierarchy. Indeed some of the work devoted to the commemoration of its centenary could be now devoted to the education and spiritual profit of the visitor.
Tyurn, the relics and memorials of the English martyrs, the work of the C.E.G. near Marble Arch, these all could fit together in special displays, exhibitions and pilgrimages.
The social work of the Church centring on the figure of Cardinal Manning, the development of AC1 L1 and London's dockland would make another subject.
Cardinal Newman, the Oratories, and the story of the relations between Catholics and Anglicans would make a third.
The different types of London's churches, Westminster, Southwark, Our Lady of Victories, St. Ethelreda's are all linked with the work of the secular clergy and the vicissitudes of Catholic life in peace and war.
Such suggestions chiefly affect London, but all parts of the country could make their own special contribution, and the number of possible subjects is almost endless. The great shrines of Britain, Walsingham, Holywell, Aylesford, West Grinstead, and many others could he profitably visited. So could the great monasteries and religious houses. or our older schools and seminaries.
There is no shortage of fascinating material, but it is quite certain that nothing will be done unless someone does it. A chance to see and understand the living faith of Britain will be entirely missed by many if we do not bother to guide and help them.
AND then there is a much more homely and simple programme of action. other cities as well, our ordinary Sunday to Sunday Catholic churches will have their regular visitors from abroad, all of them specially intent on noting everything they see and coming to conclusions about it all.
Surely the occasion offers us a special chance of making sure that everything is ship-shape and the best in quality we can manage.
So homely a thing as a church kept really clean and polished will make its difference. The conduct of the ceremonies, the training of the altar-servers, the quality of choirs, all these things count and can usually be improved without excessive effort.
We for the most part have our own traditions about services, especially evening services, and there is no call to change them; but surely we can try and do them really as well and effectively as possible.
In some churches where there are facilities and perhaps some wider tradition we can show that the greatness and dignity of the Church's universal liturgy can he carried out as well or better than elsewhere, and this will help the visitor to forget provincialisms which may have surprised him elsewhere.
All in all, there is certainly much that could be done in order to take every advantage of one of those occasions where a true and single-minded apostolic opportunity can be linked in absolute honesty with the proper Christian national pride and patriotism.
Our country is a vital link today in the defence of the free and Christian way of life. To endeavour to play a full part in revealing the spiritual springs of our culture will help the visitor as it will also help ourselves.
In London chiefly, hut in many