Monday, August 15, 2011

Holy Day Restoration: Pt 2: The need for a return to the full truth and practice of the Catholic faith

In his letter to Julia Ashenden, Archbishop Nichols could only offer two argumemts in favour of moving  certain feasts, from their 'correct' liturgical days to the nearest Sundays. Both arguments are pragmatic and are presented as a solution to a perceived problem, although he does not elaborate on its roots and nature. On the surface the solution was supposed to be seen as making things easier for people as they struggled with 'the pressures of economic life' and for priests under the stress of running a parish singlehandedly.

Plainly, what the bishops really wanted to address was the falling Mass attendance on Holy Days. I mean the figures were out there and could not be hidden. I'm not convinced that the decline in attendance happened as the result of 'the pressures of economic life', if by that His Grace means the need of many people to be at work rather than getting up an hour earlier, or going to Mass on the way home from work.. It is more likely
(imho) that fewer and fewer people went to Mass on those days, because they no longer felt that it was sinful not to go. As Archbishop Nichols himself affirmed in an interview, I think with the Daily Telegraph, in 2010, 'the old language of mortal sin, for example, was a misguided attempt to motivate the faithful'. Aside from the fact that this 'old language' is still used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, even if you agree with the Archbishop, and surely if you no longer use that language then it is your duty to find another way of motivating the faithful. Has this been done? I don't see any great sign of it. I cannot remember the last time I heard sin mentioned, mortal or venial, from an English Catholic pulpit, or the last time I heard an exhortation to pray for the soul of the deceased at a Catholic funeral. (The above observation is based on long personal experience of Mass attendance in Sussex, Devon and several districts of London. It is backed by the witness of friends in those same areas and in the dioceses of Portsmouth, Birmingham, Southwark and Clifton.).  The major drive seems to have been to make people feel secure and comfortable in the faith in the hope that as a result they will flood the churches. Well no, actually they haven't. One could argue that they have just gone on being less and less rigorous with themselves, more and more self indulgent and lukewarm in faith.. Many of them, and over several generations, have never had the full faith preached to them, and many, particularly those who were part of the Anglican influx in the immediately post 1992 era, seem to have been received without full instruction. From the bishops' point of view, I think that this can be explained, to some extent by several historical, ecclesial and socio-political factors.

Fifty years ago it seemed desirable that British Catholicism should come out of the ghetto and be seen no longer as some exotic alien sect whose members had more loyalty to the Pope and Rome than to the Queen and the lands of their birth.  They and their bishops did feel the need for acceptance at 'home'. I lived through the period and I understood that motivation. Then came all the changes in Catholic practice following Vatican II, the gradual loss of Christian faith and the secularisation of Briitsh society at large. Catholic leaders increasingly went for the ecumenical option with the Church of England. ARCIC may have faltered on certain doctrinal differences but in fact the Roman church  whilst holding onto its doctrines, in practice did much which had the effect of concealing them, in the organisation and presentation of its churches and their practice. (I sometimes wonder whether that was the reason why the blatantly inaccurate translation of the Mass was accepted.)  Further, Catholics themselves have not seemed aware that Anglo-Catholics themselves split into two groups (at least). The first major group stuck with tradition and the second aligned itself with the 'spirit of Vatican II'.

If I go into most Catholic churches in England (and in France) it is like going into a low church of England - the type I left at my conversion to Catholicism. The differences then were plain to see, and most of them sprang from the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ on the altar in the tabernacle. Now those differences have largely disappeared. Our Lord has been pushed out of the way to a side chapel; there is no  lamp in the main sanctuary; no communion rail etc. etc. Many people no longer genuflect towards that side chapel as they enter the pew.  Catholic identity sank further and further below the parapet.

I am not surprised that there is a crisis of faith in the Real Presence. Constant chipping away at the externals has undermined the belief they represent.

Then the C. of E. threw in the bombshell of women's 'ordination'. What on earth was the point of ARCIC anymore?

So, returning to 2006, what did our good bishops do? Did they really address the  problem of low Mass attendance on Holy Days? Did they determine on a church-wide mission to properly catechise the faithful? Did they instruct their priests to preach the meaning and importance of these days, and that we go to Mass, first and foremost because we love it and not because it is a duty. We go, glad of an extra opportunity to adore, thank and contemplate the mysteries of our faith in God? I don't know the answer to those questions. But I know from Archbishop Nichols' letter that they appealed to Rome to dispense English and Welsh catholics from attending Mass on 3 Holy Days. They wanted to leave the days as they were and just remove the obligation. Rome wouldn't wear it as the Archbishop attests. It all seems like the line of least resistance and a misguided attempt to go along with the 'zeitgeist'. It is weak, and above all it is a negative reaction. I simply do not see how you can hope to strengthen faith whilst telling people to do less than they have always been expected to do before.

The visit of Pope Benedict does appear to have given, (at least some) bishops fresh courage, but to reintroduce Friday Abstinence will seem a rather contradictory act UNLESS the Holy Days are restored. Of course there is one difference in the two obligations. Obedience to the Friday abstinence rule cannot be monitored in the same way as can Mass attendance. Non-observance of the first will surely mean a visit to Confession. Ah, Confession! - another practice that has gradually been allowed to fall into lack of regular use
Back to that lost sense of sin which I remarked on earlier.

Before completing this post I read the August 12 'Praytell' blog on Aquinas and the sins of the blogosphere. It is considerations of this kind that make Catholic blogging most sensitive and dangerous. Indeed there are some bloggers who are probably guilty of these sins listed as follows: defamation, backbiting, detraction, tale-bearing and derision. As you know I fight not to fall into them myself, and when I have, I always feel rotten afterwards, and say so. But I think that most of us are fired by love of our Lord and of the Faith He left us and there are times when we rant in anxiety and frustration that both are being discredited and inadequately defended by those who have authority or influence in the Church. We know the Faith we were taught and thank God that it continues to shine in the teachings of our Pope. Pray for him, for all our bishops and that we may celebrate Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi on their correct days in future. And please write to your bishop begging him that these Holy Days be restored.

I leave you with a closing quote which has particular reference to Corpus Christi.
"The Pope (Urban IV) asked St Thomas Aquinas to complete the mass and Office, and in 1264 published a Bull commanding observance of the feast and its date, but he died shortly afterwards. Succeeding popes took great pains to secure celebration and the Council of Trent spoke of it as a triumph over heresy. Almost from the beginning, the custom of carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession was part of the ceremonial. The feast became popular possibly because this allowed the faithful to witness publicly to their faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and to proclaim their gratitude to God for the spiritual benefits it brought to them." (Copyright Jane Mossendew 'Crown of the Year' Continuum 2005)

This still holds true, if last September's Hyde Park Vigil is anything to go by. So please your Lordships, restore Corpus Christi as well as Epiphany and Ascension. Its resonance in the Catholic mind is equal to, if not even greater than, that of the other two feasts.
A holy and happy feast of the Assumption to all here.


Annie said...

Thank you for a great post Jane. Hope you have a wonderful Feast Day x

Jane said...

Thanks Annie.
Yes I've had a wonderful feast.
That chocolate cake you shared with Mac a few days ago, looked absolutely scrumptious. What Dickens did you talk about? Wish I'd been there!

Love and prayers,

umblepie said...

Excellent post Jane. Thank you.

Jane said...

Hello Brian. Glad our little boat is still afloat, albeit with only two crew now! God bless and prayers,

Anna said...

Are you pro-life? Would you like the opportunity to help stop abortions taking place in London? Could you give up a few hours this Saturday to help spread awareness in East London?

Newham Borough in East London has the highest abortion rate in the U.K. (39.9 per 1000 women) and has the sixth highest number in Europe, with 2,341 abortions taking place every year. BPAS have recently opened a new abortion centre in the area, and so the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children will be doing a pro-life outreach there on Saturday 20th August. We aim to inform the local public about the positive pro-life services available, raise awareness about exactly what is happening in the area, and campaign against the new opening. Join SPUC this Saturday as help is needed to man the stall, distribute pro-life literature and engage with the public.

Meet outside Stratford Tube Station at 10.30am. We will finish no later than 2pm. Other details are on our facebook event:

Hope to see you there!

Any queries please contact: 0207 820 3140
Daniel Blackman –
Anna Gomes –
Frances Roxburgh –
Daniel Loughnane –
Paul Smeaton –

Genty said...

Jane, I feel your pain. It is mine, as it is many others'.
If the bishops wanted to be truly pragmatic they could, in metropolitan areas at least, arrange for pps to divvy up times of Masses on Holy Days. Where there's a will . . . . .