|Freshers' Fair in Oxford: how do we reach these young people?|
Once again let us ask ourselves: are we missionaries by our words, and especially by our Christian life, by our witness? Or are we Christians closed in our hearts and in our churches, sacristy Christians?
A couple of images come to my mind when I think of a Church closed in on itself. One is the famous remarks of Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) on Mass celebrated versus populum.
The turning of the priest towards the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning towards the East was not a "celebration towards the wall"; it did not mean that the priest "had his back to the people": the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together "towards the Lord." As one of the Fathers of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, J. A. Jungmann, put it, it was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, knowing that together they were in a procession towards the Lord. They did not close themselves into a circle, they did not gaze at one another, but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us.
|The stall of the Gregorian Chant Society, devoted to supporting the celebration of the Traditional Mass|
The [old] mass allowed people to engage the sacred in their own fashion, providing for a while range of religious demands and sensibilities and drawing people into the space where there was evidently something more to life. It provided a fixed centre to which people could relate their changing worlds. The emphasis given to the sacredness of the space itself enclosed within the precincts of the church reinforced this. Nor was there any need to belong to any particular community to take advantage of it.
(This is part of a longer quotation I posted and discussed here.) He goes on to say that the 'changes' were not as disastrous for the Middle Classes as they were for Working Class Catholics because with them came a series of opportunities for engagement in Church life, liturgically, spiritually, and administratively, which had some appeal for them. He discusses the rise of parish councils, house Masses, and charismatic prayer groups. We might add things like the rota for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, liturgy committees, and the like. The point about all of these things is that they are manifestations of an in-group, a group of specially 'churchy' people, what we might call 'sacristy Christians'. That's not to say that there is anything necessarily wrong with these people, nor is there anything wrong in principle with them wanting something extra spiritually or wanting to make a helpful contribution to parish life - on the contrary, these are good things. The problem is that having lost something which could draw in the marginal Catholic and the outsider, what was gained was of benefit only to the insider. The energy and focus of all these things was and is ad intra. At best this can make the parish church look cared-for and welcoming. At worst, and too often, it can turn a parish into a series of warring cliques of busy-bodies, surrounded by a much larger number of pew-sitters who haven't got a clue about all this internal stuff and feel they have been left out in the cold.
|Singers of the Chant Society and the Newman Consort at a Traditional Solemn Mass in Oxford|
In relation to what the Holy Father has been saying, I don't suppose what I have said has occured to him, but if we are challenged about being inward-looking this is what we can say. It is not the supporters of the Traditional Liturgy who are inward-looking, we are promoting something which, in terms of liturgical symbolism, points outwards and upwards towards God, and in terms of evanglism has a genuine appeal beyond the core vote. This is in stark contrast to those, like Mgr Basil Loftus, who think the salvation of the Church lies in reviving the failed experiment Parish Councils, a constant theme of his Catholic Times columns. I sit on enough committees to know that, necessary as they may sometimes be, they are no way to evangelise.
|Many of these singers also helped during the procession for the Oxford Pilgrimage, giving|
witness to the Faith in the streets of Oxford.