Project Canterbury

The Life of Father Dolling

By Charles E. Osborne

London: Edward Arnold, 1903.

Chapter X.

The part taken by Father Dolling and S. Agatha's Mission in the Catholic Movement in the Church of England--His relation to Ritualism--His sacramentalism and ceremonialism--Three aspects of the Sunday services at S. Agatha's: (1) The Sung Eucharist and Solemn Evensong; (2) the addresses to men in afternoons; (3) the mission service at night.

'Fair gleams the snowy altar cloth,
The silver vessels sparkle clean,
The shrill bell rings, the censer swings,
And solemn chaunts resound between.'

TENNYSON: Sir Galahad.

'I saw the fiery face as of a Child
That smote itself into the bread and went.'
TENNYSON: The Holy Grail.

FATHER DOLLING'S Ritualism was, in many respects, sui generis, shaped and coloured by his own strong personality, as everything else about him was.

His robust, genial appearance was as unlike that which lady novelists usually associate with Ritualistic clergymen as can well be conceived. The latter are generally represented as akin in appearance to the 'lean and hungry Cassius,' like men who have long accustomed themselves to rigorous fasts and unsparing castigations. But the lady novelist's 'advanced 'clergyman is about as like the reality, in many cases, as the stage Irishman with his knee-breeches and shillelagh is like the genuine article across the Channel. Father Dolling, especially when in holiday attire, was as unlike the typical presentation of his school as can well be imagined. Common-sense is among the last quality with which those called 'Eitualists 'would be credited by the man of the world. Yet if the latter conceived of Dolling as 'one of those mad Ritualists,' yet he very soon found out that there was a method in his madness, and discovered that he was no impracticable idealist, occupied rather with the abstract fitness of a stately ritual than with its utilitarian worth in regard to the needs of the worshippers of to-day.

Dolling had a clear sense that ritual was made for man, and not man for ritual. He hated all finicking and nervous worrying about correctness, and he sometimes, we think, made his ignorance about ceremonial details an excuse for introducing into a function some little action or motion of his own, where it seemed advisable for the convenience or better understanding of the people. He is said to have once replied to the liturgical request of one of 'the sacred ministers,' 'Pray, sir, a blessing,' with the sotto voce reply, 'That's all right.' He had no mind for biretta-kissing and ceremonial minutiae generally, though he loved anything which he thought expressed the incomparable dignity of the Blessed Sacrament.

Ritual, however, was always second with him, not first, and a long way second. He tells a story in his 'Ten Years' of his boxing the ears of a Ritualistic youth, who was distressed by his 'incorrectness' in his mode of holding his hands at the altar. This was characteristic of his attitude towards that Chinese type of religion which revels in ritual correctness of a minute type. Life, Dolling thought, was too short for those discussions about tiny pieces of correctness which fill the correspondence columns of the High Church newspapers.

Dolling's Ritualism was no mere dignified trifling: it surrounded and centred in the great Sacrifice of the Altar. Vestments, lights, incense, sanctus bell, were but for him the dramatic and historical setting of that which has ever, since the days of the Apostles, been the central service of Christendom. One of the chief objects of Father Dolling's life, considered as a priest of the Church of England, was the popularising the Catholic Faith, especially as regards the Holy Eucharist. He disliked indirect methods of teaching, hence he seemed to needlessly outrage the susceptibilities of Protestants and of old-fashioned Churchmen when he was only considering what he believed to be the need of definitely instructing his own people. He never shuffled in his teaching. He always drove the nail home. Whether people agreed with him or not, they, at least, could not mistake what he meant, and that he was in earnest about it.

His love of putting strongly what he believed caused him to use the word 'Mass' as applied to the Office for the Holy Communion, and constantly he used to say in lectures and sermons: 'What we have got to do in the Church of England is to put the Mass into its proper place.'

In explanation of the above we quote a passage from his parochial magazine, when he was afterwards Vicar of S. Saviour's, Poplar (November, 1899):

'I am very glad that two or three of you asked me why the word "Mass" is in one of the children's lessons. We put it on purpose, because it is by far the most convenient word to use when we describe the Blessed Sacrament. It has no actual meaning of its own, and is derived, as most authorities think, from the last words said in the old Latin service, Ite, missa est, freely translated, "The service is ended; you can go."

'All the other titles of the service represent one part of an act which contains many parts:

'1. "The Lord's Supper" represents, if we may reverently call it so, the social aspect, a party of friends to whom a loving Host presents food common to them all, by which they become partakers of one bread, and therefore are one with each other, and one with their Host.

'2. The "Holy Communion" implies the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ Himself, our daily supersubstantial Bread, which strengthens us, body and soul, to eternal life.

'3. The "Holy Eucharist" implies that Sacrifice of Praise which we, in common with Angels and Archangels, offer to God the Father in this mystery for the Life and Sacrifice of His dear Son.

' 4. The "Holy Sacrifice" implies that re-presentation of the Sacrifice which our Lord Jesus Christ, throughout His whole life, at the Last Supper, and upon the Cross, made for the sins of the whole world, which He now presents to His Father in heaven, and which we present here on earth by the shewing forth of His Death until He comes again.

'5. The "Blessed Sacrament" represents this Sacrament as above the others, because it is the actual communication of Jesus Christ in His Divine and Human Natures to the soul.

'Now, the word "Mass" represents all these aspects of the Holy Communion. In our own Church, for instance, early in the morning on Sundays, almost everyone receives the Holy Communion; at 11.30 the majority of the people do not; and therefore you want a word that conveniently expresses what all these people have been doing, and so the short form, "to hear Mass," or "to assist at Mass," comprehends it all. I much prefer the latter term, because it implies the Priesthood of everyone present, and that they are joining with the priest in doing whatsoever he does.

' The objection that the word is used by Roman Catholics is surely a foolish objection, because almost all the words we use in religion we use in common with the Roman Catholics. Bible, Creed, Collect, Offertory, Oblation, Sanctus, Gloria--these are all survivals of the old use, and anything that binds us to the past and to the rest of Christendom is invaluable. Besides, there can be no policy more fatal than the surrendering of terms, unless they are in themselves wrong, to other bodies of people; because Dissenters use the word "conversion," therefore we ought not to use it; because the Roman Catholics use the word "Mass," therefore we ought not to use it; the consequence of which error has been the Church of England fifty years ago had largely lost any idea either of conversion or of the Blessed Sacrament. That the word in itself is not wrong for us is manifest by its being used in the First Prayer-Book of Edward VI., 1549, the first English Prayer-Book. (In that book the title of the service is "The Supper of the Lord, or Holy Communion, commonly called the Mass.")

'Moreover, the word is specially endeared to us by our Lord's birthday being called Christ's Mass (Christmas), and St. Michael and All Angels' Day is also Michaelmas.'

Again he says, in regard to this whole subject:

' All baptised Christians in a Christian country ought to be conscious of their duties and of their benefits as members of the Church of Christ, and I believe the reason why so many people in England are ignorant of them is because, for the last three hundred years, the Church of England has practically forgotten to teach the people by means of the Sacraments. The pulpit and the clergyman have taken the place of the Altar and of Christ.'

Anyone who has had experience of the best methods of getting a movement to grip the popular mind will agree that the first requisite is to translate it out of the language of the academy into the language of the people. Dolling had a firm grasp of Catholicism, as he understood it, though he never was in the least near to the distinctively Roman system. His conviction was that the Catholic Faith and Historical Christianity--that is, a full and adequate Christianity--are one and the same thing. This conviction delivered his utterances from the stammerings of hesitancy. He had no reserves of limitation in the background of his mind. What he believed he believed fully, simply, and unreservedly, and you could not be in his presence for five minutes without seeing that he was transparently sincere. His boldness of utterance was in him the outcome not of notoriety-hunting, but of candour and unconventionality.

He once said at a homely Instruction at a Sunday 'After-meeting 'in S. Agatha's:

' Some, in teaching Catholic principles, are like a bathing woman who coaxes the child in by gradual stages: in this Church we are like one who plunges the child in at once from head to foot.'

This method was calculated, as might have been expected, to produce results similar to those in the kill or cure system. The patient either took the prescription, or else immediately left the physician in disgust. In all this Father Dolling was an unconscious disciple of Richard Hurrell Froude rather than of Keble or Isaac Williams. 'Reserve in communicating religious knowledge 'would certainly not be the best way of describing his method. 'What thou hearest in the ear that proclaim on the house-tops,' might have been taken rather as its justification. But secretly sinister, and of the spirit of a cabal--the kind of thing identified with the Oxford Movement by Mr. Walter Walsh--the ways of 8. Agatha's, Landport, whatever their faults, certainly were not.

Dolling's plan was, indeed, largely justified by results, and that in unexpected ways. For instance, two old men, officebearers or ministers of some sort in some special Baptist denomination, attended the Sung Mass, in order 'to see the mummery for themselves.' They were riveted by Dolling's most evangelical discourse, which outbalanced in their minds the incense smoke, the tapers, the vestments, the elevation, and the sanctus bell. They came again and again to the same service at eleven o'clock on Sundays, and ended by being prepared for confirmation, and by becoming singularly devout communicants. Mere Ritualists they never became, nor did they lose one whit of their original evangelical belief, but they perfected it by sacramental truth, and found its adequate expression in Catholic worship. Such people as these never passed through the stiff legalist 'High Church' phase. As was written of Dolling after his death, in a remarkable article contributed to the Pilot by 'a Roman Catholic friend':

' As one who knew him intimately for a quarter of a century, the writer of this article, who, to a large extent, owes his faith to Father Dolling, never at any time regarded his submission to Rome as humanly probable. Incredible as it may sound to Protestants who looked upon him as a Romaniser of the extremist type, he was, in spite of his easy adoption of nearly the whole system of Catholic dogma and practice, an Evangelical to the backbone; that is to say, his whole interest was in the saving of those individual souls--and they were thousands--with whom he came in contact, and not in any ecclesiastical system for its own sake. He cared as little for theology and scholarship as did S. Francis or John Wesley, and it was because he discovered by intuition and experiment that Catholic beliefs and practices were efficacious for the sole end he cared about, that he adopted them fearlessly without much deference to Bishops or Articles. For the same reason he took over boldly, and to the scandal of ecclesiastical dilettanti, such elements of Methodism as by their efficacy with the multitude had proved their right to survive. A lawless mind it might seem to some, but only because it was governed by a somewhat neglected law which puts the absolutely necessary end before any dispensable and less necessary means. The Times, in stigmatising him as "injudicious," utters the verdict of a large number of prudent persons, chiefly ecclesiastical. Well, he was an Irishman, no doubt. But when, pray, since the days of Christ, or S. Paul, has any great work been done for the Church save by these straight-to-the-point men who take to the stone and the sling, and cast aside impatiently the cumbersome armour of intrigue and diplomacy? Of these a hundred may fail, but here and there one will do more by some happy shot than gray-headed prudence will effect in a century. Sacramenta propter homines, the priest for the people, and not the people for the priest, was a Catholic principle that had taken deep root in a soul governed, as his was, by a passionate devotion to the multitudes; and it was because he fancied that an inversion of this principle was not a transitory accident, but an inherent characteristic of the Church of Rome, that his affections remained alienated from her to the end.

'Indeed, the egoisms known as "Sacerdotalism," "Prelacy," and "Absolutism" were offensive to his democratic spirit of Christian brotherliness wherever they might prevail, whether inside or outside his own Communion. He was impatient of the "respectability" and "culture" of the Church of England, and perhaps of its root-cause--the Establishment; nor for all his so-called Ritualism could he tolerate the ecclesiologists whose neo-Rabbinism would sacrifice the worship of the heart and intelligence to liturgical punctiliousness; hence he was the despair of finicking rubricists.

'Of his boundless powers of sympathy with all sorts and conditions of men, women, and children; of his genial boyish hilarity, which a world of troubles and worries could not crush; of his apostolic spirit of charity and liberality; of his childlike faith and deep personal love of Christ, it is needless to speak to those who knew him; idle to those who did not. His soul goes before God, fortified by the love and the prayers of thousands of hearts.'

While S. Agatha's, Landport, was, in one-sense, one of the most advanced Ritualistic or Anglo-Catholic mission churches in England, yet, amid any mistakes which may have been made by its clergy, it never was a hotbed of that sickly type of so-called Ritualism which arises from an almost exclusive attention to external, as distinct from internal, religion. Amid, no doubt, many failures and mistakes, the ceremonial vesture of the great realities of religion was never made a substitute for those realities themselves, nor was there either inclination or opportunity to cultivate ecclesiastical whims, or to waste time on fads or side-issues. A broad, simple, forcible presentation of the main Catholic and Evangelic truths is what was aimed at, however imperfectly.

There is a story told of a youth of Ritualistic tastes who had come a considerable distance to S. Agatha's, in order to attend some special observance which he thought would be held there; but, finding this non-existent, he went home deeply saddened to offer a blue lamp before Our Lady's image in his private oratory, as a reparation for the un-Catholic conduct of the clergy of the mission.

One great preservative of S. Agatha's from an overmuch and disproportionate attention to matters of ceremonial detail was the splendidly manly tone of the conferences or addresses to men which Dolling gave monthly on Sunday afternoons, and on all Sundays in Lent. Who that has been present on those occasions can ever forget them? Dolling, when giving those addresses, was, in our opinion, at his very best in such an environment. S. Agatha's then presented a remarkable aspect, crowded to the doors by men of all classes and social types in Portsmouth, though mainly of course of the working classes. Many a young fellow owes to these services the revelation that Christianity is not a mere feeble skulking from the battle of life, but that men who are Christ's followers ought to be real men, with pluck and energy, and with keen enthusiasm for the emancipation and betterment of mankind. Dolling was at these' Men's Services 'like Charles Kingsley at his best. Sometimes he had the tone even of a Savonarola. All prophets are not necessarily ascetic solitaries, and with all Dolling's cheery geniality and unconventionality there was something prophet-like about him in the way in which he hailed the coming of a type of Christianity that should be the instrument of the redemption of man, of body as well as soul, of society as well as of the individual. The depth of his faith in Christ's Gospel as the sufficient solution of the social problem was only equalled by the ardour of his fraternal heart and by his boundless hopefulness for man.

Many a young fellow from every part of Portsmouth, clerk, shop-assistant, soldier, sailor, artisan, looked forward to the address to men as an inspiration sent by God straight from a brother's heart. Applause took place at times, but never in an unseemly way, and even an Agnostic section who frequently attended behaved with marked respect for the sacred character of the place.

Not infrequently a leading merchant of the town, or a military or naval officer, would be seen keenly intent on Father Dolling as he gave a good hour of what he called one of his 'straight talks.' He always hit out from the shoulder, and was loved all the more for it, even by those who felt that he had hit them hard. Radical as he was on most subjects, several convinced Conservatives and Unionists were among his most constant auditors. Indeed, he gained the confidence of almost all good men of every description in the borough of Portsmouth. His hatred of lies, shams, and cruelty, was an infection and a flame. It was impossible to be mean-spirited and attend Father Dolling's 'Talks to Men.' There was a thorough fraternity, too, about these services. A colonel might be seen sharing his mission hymnal with a private soldier, a merchant with a shop-boy. The spirit of the Comrade Christ, the symbol of whose crucifixion hung beside the preacher's platform, seemed to pervade the assembly. Lacordaire, or Frederic Denison Maurice, would have rejoiced at the sight.

Of the Socialist aspect of these addresses we shall write in a subsequent chapter; suffice it to say here that when politics were alluded to, it was from the aspect rather of Christian citizenship and human development than of the partisan interests of the hour. Most of the addresses were on such subjects as purity, family life, the Christian view of labour, etc. All questions of human well-being were claimed as Christian in the name of the Carpenter of Nazareth. We can never [forget the tremendous force with which the necessity of chastity to true manliness and the terrible consequences of the degradation of fallen women was, on one occasion, pressed home on a closely-packed concourse of men.

But what we are chiefly concerned with here is to note that the ceremonial at the Sung Mass and other services could be safely employed with fitting dignity when it was felt to be not the swathings of a dead Christ, but the robe of a living one.

The ministry of the priesthood is in no danger of disproportionate exaggeration wherever it is exercised side by side with the prophet's insight and courage and the evangelist's zeal and love.

In spite of the power and vitality of Polling's message as given at the Men's Services, he was perhaps most of all himself at the distinctive Mission Service, the 'After-meeting,' on Sunday nights. At the conclusion of the Solemn Evensong and sermon came the above service, which Father Dolling regarded as his own special province, and which, when at home, he invariably conducted himself in a highly unconventional and yet always impressive and edifying manner.

Imagine a stuffy brick mission church, the fumes of incense used at the previous service still hanging about the building, and with the aspect of having been used by all sorts of people, mainly the poor, from the early morning of the Sunday--that sort of aspect which meets one so rarely in an English church, a sort of mixture of religious mystery and of homeliness of behaviour; a collection of people also of a kind seldom or never seen within a Church of England place of worship, dropping into it, one by one, or in twos and threes, in ragged coats, poor thin shawls, battered old bonnets. Kind friends, men and women, have been during the sermon at Evensong seeking these people and bringing them in to what the clergy and workers used to call 'our Dissenting worship.' Then such a hymn as 'I need Thee, precious Jesu' (to the tune of 'Home, sweet Home '), and Father Dolling walks up and down the aisle in his cassock--no formalities of any kind. He pats a ragged-looking man on the back, or gives a kindly smile to one of the 'mothers,' as he strolls about during the hymn, which he shouts lustily all the time. Sometimes 'Master, the tempest is raging 'is sung, when the roof seems almost to shake.

At this Mission Service at night Dolling was most entirely and characteristically himself. It was the talk of a father to his children--affection, humour, even playfulness penetrated by the energies of a living faith and of an untiring and un-despairing love. Extempore prayer was used by Father Dolling at these services. No one was forgotten--' Our dear soldier lads,' some sailor boy gone to sea, the mothers, the children, the 'out-of-work 'people; finally, 'our dear dead,' 'for all live unto Him.' Hearty amens are interspersed from many of the flock. Then all sit. Father Dolling sits, too, his favourite teaching attitude (like a primitive Bishop). The address begins with 'Now, my dears.' Some old ladies in the front sigh or purr in acquiescence with the Father's teaching, while, like the ancient female in the little chapel of Browning's 'Christmas Eve,' they 'maternally devour the pastor.' It was indeed as a pastor that Dolling shone at those 'After-Meetings.' His humanity, his tenderness, his evangelical piety, his playful humour, all had their part in the most delightfully unconventional addresses which he gave on such occasions.

The Mission Service congregation was of those who attended the church the most ignorant, the least in touch with organised religion, but not the least loved by the priest of S. Agatha's. Writing of such in his 'Ten Years,' he says:

'I have seen deeds of the purest chivalry, self-sacrifice which the love of God alone can measure; I have seen the withstanding of temptation even to tears and blood; I have seen agonies borne without a word for fear I should be vexed. I take them out of my heart, where some of them have lain for eight long years--I take them out one by one--thieves, felons, tramps, loafers, outcasts, of whom the world was not worthy, having no place for them, no home for them, no work for them. I read in their eyes a tenderness, and in their hearts a compassion for me; a bearing with all my ill-temper, and paying me back a hundredfold in the richest coin of truest love.'

We conclude this chapter by quoting the words (from 'Ten Years ') in which Dolling explains what he calls the 'method 'of his religious teaching and spiritual and social work. It will be seen to be a profound and poignant statement of the intimate connection with which his unshaken faith as a believer in the religion of the Incarnation, and his consciousness about the Christian Sacraments, were united in his mind with that boundless hope for and trust in man which this brother of humanity had learnt from the fraternal Heart of Christ.

'I know,' he writes, 'but one method by which this change of character can be effected--the method of Jesus Christ, not merely to show to people the perfection and beauty of His character, that oftentimes might lead only to despair, but to enable them, by the means which He Himself has ordained, to be partakers of His very nature. To say to a poor, sin-ruled creature, whom you know all his old companions, every public-house door as it swings open, will allure into the ways of sin again, "Be like Jesus: be good," is only making a demand that you yourself know can never be fulfilled. But to be able to say to him, "Here is this Jesus, who for your sake became real Man, as you are man; who worked in the carpenter's shop, earning with the sweat of His brow daily bread for Himself, His dear Mother and her husband; who was disappointed and injured by His friends as well as by His enemies; who was really tempted by the devil; whose life in many respects was just like your own; who never turned away His face from any poor wretched outcast, but spoke to them tenderly and gently words of love and hope; who, when He could do no more for you by way of example, willed to die for you: having nothing else to give, He gave His own life-blood, and in the giving of that won for you a power of union with Himself; that, though you must do your part, and be sorry for your sins, and try to be better, He will as surely do His part by letting His precious Blood wash away your sin, and strengthen you to live an amended life. Here is this Jesus standing, as it were, between the living and the dead--so few, few living, so many, many dead--dead with a death more terrible far than the worm and corruption can effect (for they but touch the outward covering of a man), with a death that has destroyed the real life, the knowledge that God was their Father, that they had souls that were capable of everything that is beautiful and true. Here is Jesus, who can give even to the clumsy, vulgar body the power of doing gracious acts, of speaking true words; who can give to the intellect the power of realising true, noble ideas, and so assimilating them that they become a very fibre of their thoughts."

'In almost all our people there was this death, this living, hopeless, faithless death. Who could deliver them from the body of this death? One who could restore to them faith in the supernatural, hope in themselves, love towards their fellow-men. No preaching can do this. I believe nothing can but the Blessed Sacrament. The compassion which Jesus learnt in the trials of His life taught Him to realise that man, if he is to be touched, must be touched in his entirety, that an attempt to deal with him spiritually alone is bound to fail. How Christ-destroying is all that theology that tries to be wiser and more spiritual than the Christ! The Blessed Sacrament is not only the prolongation of the Incarnation in the world, but it is a means by which Jesus wills that He shall be apprehended of the multitude. And so ten and a half years ago I set upon myself this as the method of my ministry. Some, I know, make the Blessed Sacrament the crown of their religion. I desired to make it the foundation as well. As the Incarnation is the revelation to us of God the Father, so the Divine Son wills to be known in the Breaking of Bread.'

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