Monday 21 May 2012

Ascension Thursday Sunday

I noticed this name for Sunday's feast in the OF on Father Z's blog last week (and there is more about it on today's blog).  I thought that this was a good name for Sunday's feast and so I put the name on my Weekly Bulletin which I produced for Sunday.  I explained to my congregation at each of my Masses that since Thursday was the proper day for the feast of the Ascension that this was a good name for the transferred feast. We had just read in both the 'English' Mass and the Latin Mass that Our Lord had spent forty days, not forty-three days, with his Apostles.  The tradition of celebrating the Ascension on the Thursday goes back to the time of the Apostles themselves - this is a long tradition of the Church. Some people, I said, do not care for the Church's traditions, but I love them - they are where we come from, and they have made us what we are. I added that I hoped that the Bishops would soon give us back this ancient tradition of celebrating the Ascension on its proper day. Thursday!

Monday 14 May 2012

May Procession 2012

Yesterday was a cold day, with strong blustery winds.  Still, it was the day of our May Procession in honour of Our Lady.  I usually like to say the Rosary in front of our statue of Our Lady in the church grounds, but in the circumstances I decided that it would be better to process around the outside of the church and grounds before returning to the church for the Rosary.  Hymns to Our Lady were sung all the way during the procession. After the Rosary had been said, I reminded the congregation that I had decided to call our staute of Our Lady "Our Lady of Barnard Castle" - this is her home, just as St John took Mary into his home after the words of Jesus on the Cross.  The statue of Our Lady in the church was then crowned by two little girls whilst the congregation sang "O Mary, we crown thee..." from the hymn Bring Flowers of the Rarest.  Finally we celebrated Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The congregation was large and enthusiastic, probably the best we have had in my time here at Barnard Castle.  All our regulars were joined by the Holy Family Guild who came with all their children, babes in arms and toddlers aplenty. I don't think I have ever had to sidestep so many prams as we left the sanctuary after the service!
Normally after a Procession we go out onto the lawn for tea etc, but in the circumstances (the cold wind) I told everyone to go into the house - and what a crush! Standing shoulder to shoulder with the children squishing past, but the atmosphere was joyful and delightful. Everyone was enjoying each others company.
One being was not so enthusiastic about the proceedings - and that was my dog Storm. Since he is frightened of strangers and large groups of people, I had put him in a back room out of the way; after all had departed, I let him out, and he was practically sulking - he went outside into the back yard, and refused to come back in for over an hour.  It took a long time for me to bring him back to his normal self (what is normal for him anyway!)
Now I am looking forward to our Blessed Sacrament Procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Welcome Back Again

After reading the Bishop's letter at my Masses on Sunday, I commented to my congregations that "I wondered if a proper analysis of what had gone wrong had been done."
Of course, there were changes in the social mores of the 1960's and 70's, which affected church members almost as much as anyone else, but I want to concentrate on the changes in the Church itself.
As I said in my last post, I consider 1970 to be the pivotal year of change, give or take a couple of years.
After the Second Vatican Council, the Church was in an excitable state. In 1967 or 1968 we were given permission to turn our altars around and celebrate Mass in English. It may have been noted that altars facing the congregation only applied to new churches, but that didn't matter - we all did it. All manner of temporary altars were constructed, and, if I remember rightly, there was at first no official translation of the Mass which we should use.  I remember that Goodliffe Neale brought out a loose leaf version of the Missal to which new sections were added at intervals. By 1970 Rome brought out an official Roman Missal which we started to use, and which was promptly withdrawn after a couple of years because the GIRM, the General Instruction at the front of the Missal, was heretical (I think someone has missed out the sacrificial aspect of the Mass altogether). A new Missal was produced, which has been in use until very recently.
But by then a new and radical understanding of the Mass was taking root - it is a celebratory meal in which we take pleasure in each others company while communicating with Jesus - the congregation is an audience. I have to admit that I bought into this idea, at least in part - we had to energise the audien - sorry - congregation into singing and responding to the celebrant and shaking hands, and generally behaving in ways that the congregation had never done before.
One question which I was constantly being asked by parishioners in those days was, "We were brought up to believe that the Mass was unchangeable and could never be changed; why is it changing? And if the Mass can be changed, what about the rest of the Faith?" Good questions, and the answer is not so simple!
Soon it became acceptable to receive Holy Communion standing because forward-altars had removed altar-rails. And then we began to hear that some places were giving Communion in the hand in disobedience to the general rules for receiving Holy Communion.  Eventually, our Bishops petitioned Rome to allow us to continue with this new way because it was by now so entrenched that they would not be able to stop it. I feel sure that many Catholics stopped attending Mass because of some despair and disillusionment at the way things were going in the Church.
And the result of all this turmoil can be seen in our diocesan statistics for practising Catholics.  From 1970 until the present day, an average of 2000 souls a year has ceased to practice the Faith by attending regular Sunday Mass. In 1970 42% of the Catholic population attended Sunday Mass, by 1986 that had dropped to 34%, and by 2009 the percentage was just over 20%. In 1970, the actual recorded number of Mass-going Catholics in our diocese was 119,115; by 2010 (the latest figures) the number was down to 38,485.
I remember reading a slim booklet by Father Schillebeeckx , a Dutch theologian, who was looking forward to a smaller Church because it would be much more devoted and dynamic. We now have a smaller Church, but more devoted and dynamic? Or are we just managing the decline?  What do you think?

Monday 7 May 2012

Welcome Back

Yesterday throughout the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in the north-east of England priests read out at Mass a letter from the Bishop about Welcome Back Sunday. This is an initiative across the diocese in which parishioners are asked to gently invite someone who has lapsed to come back to Mass on Pentecost Sunday and be welcomed back 'home'. The Gospel of the Mass yesterday quotes Our Lord saying "Make your home in Me as I make Mine in you"; the parish is also our spiritual home.
Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with any initiative to bring people back to the practice of their faith, the Bishop says that these folk have not lost their faith but have simply got out of the habit of going to church. I wonder.
I think that there are a lot of reasons why people have 'given up' - an argument with a priest, laziness, agnosticism, and in some cases despair at the changes which have taken place in the church since 1970.
I take 1970 as the pivotal year (give or take a few years either way) in the Church's fortunes.
Being ordained in 1959, I lived through all those years, and my memories of the time before 1970 are of a strong and flourishing church.  All the parishes I served in before 1970 had full churches every Sunday; all of them had active societies - Legion of Mary, SVP, and other sodalities.  Many parishes had at least one curate, the Bishop in those days having the enviable problem of finding places to place his many priests. There were plenty of vocations to the priesthood, to the monasteries and to the convents. There was no need in those days for a Welcome Back Sunday, the Church certainly in our diocese, and I believe in most others, was vibrant, growing strongly, and was definitely not moribund, as some who should know better have claimed. Numbers were increasing, new churches were being built and new parishes set up.
Before discussing the aftermath of 1970, I wonder if anyone would like to add anything to these thoughts of mine; I would like to hear others giving their memories of the years before 1970.