Part of the Anglican Patrimony at Most Precious Blood, Borough, seems to be coffee after the Sung Mass on Sunday: and quite a lot of people stay to it. It’s a great opportunity to get to know people. I was talking to a lady who has been at MPB for quite a few years, and she was reminiscing about her Catholic upbringing in Scotland. I found it fascinating: it was her father who took the lead in in overseeing the religious life of the household, and it involved things like blessing yourself at the holy water stoup before going to bed and family recitation of the rosary in the evening.I guess the nearest I ever came to that in the C of E was at Parson Cross, Sheffield, where I served by first curacy. My colleague who ran the Repository had as his motto, “A Sacred Heart in every home”, and true enough, the image of the Sacred Heart or a Crucifix was to be found in nearly all the homes of the congregation. The practices of the Catholic religion were taught simply and insistently: we used all sorts of ways of doing it. I remember teaching the children a song to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon” which went:
Where the white light burns I humbly bow the knee, for there the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus waits for me This is where we greet him, this where we say, “Jesus you are Lord and God, present night and day.”
It would be very easy to knock this sort of thing, and the surrounding parishes were often pretty snooty about our ‘popular’ Christianity, though they never could quite explain why their intellectual liberalism never seemed to be very good at filling churches, but that’s another argument. In fact, there was a biblical/evangelical strand to the life of that Sheffield Anglo-Catholic parish which rooted it in the 19th century revival, and which might very well provide us with a model for the New Evangelisation.
On 31st May 2013, on the authority of Pope Francis himself, a significant change was made to the rules by which the Ordinariate works. (These are called the ‘Complementary Norms’ which flesh out in practical terms the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, which set up the Ordinariates.)
The modification addresses a particular question of who is eligible for membership in the Ordinariate. Here is the modification in the Complementary Norms:
Article 5 §2: A person who has been baptized in the Catholic Church but who has not completed the Sacraments of Initiation, and subsequently returns to the faith and practice of the Church as a result of the evangelizing mission of the Ordinariate, may be admitted to membership in the Ordinariate and receive the Sacrament of Confirmation or the Sacrament of the Eucharist or both.
Quite simply this broadens greatly the groups among whom the Ordinariate may evangelise. Previously, only those who had been Anglicans might become Catholics within the Ordinariate. Now, those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church – but did not them proceed to Confirmation and reception of the Eucharist, may also join us.
We can see immediately how this might work in practise. A member of an Ordinariate group gets into conversation with a colleague at work. The colleague tells him that his parents were lapsed Catholics, and he was baptized, but never went any further. He is fascinated by his friend’s enthusiasm for his new Catholic faith (which he contrasts with his own vague, tribal sense of being a ‘Catholic’) and agrees to come to a Sunday Mass with him. The vibrancy of the worship and the strong sense of belonging which he experiences there leads him to re-examine what is important to him in life, and he senses the presence of God at work. He approaches the Ordinariate priest, and is prepared for Confirmation and Holy Comunion.
But this change in the Complementary Norms is not, first and foremost, about increasing the numbers in the Ordinariate: it is about making new Christians through the work of evangelisation. Now, of course, those who have been baptized already stand in a different relationship with the Lord: they are not ‘pagans’. A seed has been planted in their lives by the faith of parents or grandparents. But that seed has remained dormant, and those people have not continued on their sacramental journey to Confirmation and the Eucharist. They are not living within the family of faith according to its pattern of prayer and behaviour.
Let’s be honest, there are millions of Christians, yes, millions of Catholic Christians, in this very situation. It is the the state of Christianity in post-Christian Europe: many people who could hardly even be described as ‘lapsed Catholics’ for they have not practised the faith beyond their baptism.
Those of us who have lived and worked as Anglicans will be very familiar with this situation, for in the 1950’s and ’60’s the majority of parents in the UK were still bringing their children for baptism, or ‘christening’ as it was usually known. It was a ceremony in itself, and was not intended to lead to anything else. Much smaller numbers then went on to Confirmation (which for Anglicans always preceeded the receiving of Holy Communion). In the 60’s and 70’s attempts were made to tighten up this ‘rite of passage’, usually by introducing some sort of preparation and by moving the baptism ceremony from Sunday afternoon to its celebration during the main Sunday Eucharist. There was often considerable resistance to this, and indeed it was acted out on Coronation Street with Deirdre Barlow complaining that the vicar had asked her to attend church before Tracey was baptized!
There are, I think, signs that a similar situation has grown up in the Catholic Church, but rather more recently. The Catholic Church has always been much clearer about the responsibilities of parents and godparents – and clearer too about what is expected of a Catholic. ‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’ was something we often heard among the older generation in the C of E. A Catholic could hardly have said this: we all knew that Catholics had an ‘obligation’ to go to Mass on Sunday! But the sense of obligation has grown thin and the promises made by parents who have brought their children for First Communion may well not be fulfilled beyond the day itself. Perhaps we shake our heads and ask how they can in conscience make promises knowing that they won’t keep them. But we live in an age when people are used to getting what they want, when and how they want it. It is not for the priest (or anyone else) to make conditions.
Baptism and the First Communion need to become real opportunities for evangelisation and the recovery of the lapsed – or those who never made it beyond their own baptism! But however warm the welcome of the priest, however good and thoughtful the teaching of the Catechist, it may well be what the family ‘catch’ from the people they sit next to at Mass. Do they get anymore than a limp handshake at the peace? Do they see their neighbour in quiet prayer, in enthusiastic singing, in devout participation in the liturgy? Or is the person next to them late at the beginning, obviously bored out of their mind during the Mass, and gone as soon as the blessing has been given? Just being at Mass because you feel guilty otherwise, is no good for you – and may well put off the person next to you. It is the attitude, the behaviour, the commitment of each person at Sunday Mass which – in itself, evangelises. This is why, above everything else, the New Evangelisation needs a faithful, Spirit-filled laity, able to talk about their faith – but above all daily living the love of God, and showing his love by their behaviour to the people all around them.
I began with reminisences about Catholic families fifty years ago. Once dismissed as ‘folk religion’ we desperately need to recover the rich spirit and practice which joined Catholic homes to the Sunday Mass and to the liturgical year. It needs refreshing and reinvigorating in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council: a revival of mindless antiquarianism will convert nobody!
We also know that the laity before the Council were weak in their understanding of, and love for, the Scriptures, the written word of God. I was told recently that many African Catholics are envious of their Pentecostal friends for their Bible knowledge.
Many of us in the Ordinariate are discovering the Cathechism of the Catholic Church as an authoritative resource for building up intelligent and thoughtful Catholic faith among the People of God. For we live in an age when, like it or not, “The Church teaches…” cuts little ice. We need to know – and to be able to explain WHY the Church teaches – and WHY we believe it.