TO-DAY our subject is the life in an English parish. We have had the parochial system existing for over a thousand years now in England: and in that way a complete provision has been made for every one to be in touch with the life of grace and the sacraments. This organization has of course developed further in course of years: but the principle has been the same all the time.
For instance, Mirfield, the place in which our Community has its Mother House, was, one thousand years ago, in the large parish of Dewsbury. That was a very ancient Christian centre, for St. Paulinus is said to have preached there in 627: there are still some stone crosses in the Church belonging to those very early days; and the church is still dedicated to St. Paulinus. But the parish was too large: consequently the outlying portions were cut off and made into separate parishes in the twelfth century. About the year 1280, our part (Mirfield) became also a separate parish with its own church and parish priest. Finally, when the population grew, in the last century, our bit was further sub-divided, and Mirfield now comprises five parishes.
Parishes have been thus sub-divided in many parts of our country wherever the population has greatly multiplied. But in the country districts there are countless villages where the parish remains the same area and the same unit as it was a thousand years ago.
The purpose that lies behind all this machinery is evident. The object is to secure for every soul, his own pastor, his opportunity of teaching, sacraments and sacramental rites--in fact, the means of grace that he needs to live a Christian life.
The English Church at home makes this provision for every one: and it covers the whole ground, because all the inhabitants are, or ought to be, its faithful children. That is one difference between the Church and the Dissenters. They collect any one whom they can get to adhere to them: they form a number of congregations, that is all. They compete like business houses: they open new institutions where they think they will succeed, and close them again where they fail. But the Church, like the Government, has its claim upon all and its responsibility for all. Even for those who pay it no respect, and acknowledge no allegiance to it, the Church holds itself responsible. They are its children, though they may be indifferent, alienated, or hostile.
That is the general idea. We will now carry our minds into a single parish--an imaginary but typical one--and try to see its life and its ideals. We will suppose that, at the moment, the benefice, or parish priest's office, is vacant. The late priest has died; or he has been called to work elsewhere.
Meanwhile the lay officials called "churchwardens" are responsible: and they with the help of the bishop and the clergy of the diocese or neighbourhood arrange for the services and other things necessary during the vacancy.
Meanwhile a new priest is being found for the place. I will not now describe the system of patronage: that will come later on. But it is enough to say that some one will find him: and then will present him to the bishop for institution to the care of souls in that parish. After due formalities, and provided that all is satisfactory, the bishop will institute him, that is to say, he will commit to him in the name of God the care of the souls of all in that place. This is a solemn ceremony. It may take place solemnly before the people in the parish church, if the bishop can visit the parish for the purpose. But often he cannot: and the new priest goes to the bishop and is instituted by him in his chapel. In either case the act is a solemn and a significant one. He kneels before the bishop, holding in his hand the deed of presentation to the benefice: and the bishop, as chief pastor of the diocese and source of all ecclesiastical authority, confers on him the care of the flock. The position is exactly described by the old Latin formula, which is still in use--Accipe curam meam et tuam--"Receive this charge, which is mine and now also becomes thine."
Another ceremony follows, which corresponds, on the ecclesiastical and legal side, with the spiritual act of institution. This is called "induction": it puts the new priest into possession of the rights and property of his office. This is done by the archdeacon, or his deputy, in the parish church. For the archdeacons, with us, are officials who have an administrative and legal jurisdiction, under the bishop, over that part of the diocese which is allotted to them. The new priest is thus put in authority over the church, he is installed in the seat of the parish priest, and he rings the great church bell as a sign of his taking possession. This is picturesque and it has its importance: but it is, of course, much less significant than the solemn institution.
Let us now consider what is the ideal of the newly-come priest, as he takes charge of his parish. Very familiar words define it for him. Always in the Liturgy he prays for bishops and all those who have cure of souls--"that they may, both by their life and doctrine, set forth God's true and lively word, and rightly and duly administer his holy sacraments." If his thoughts fly back to his own ordination to the priesthood, he will recall the ideal then set before him. It corresponds very closely with the opening of your Russian treatise, On the Duty of Parish Priests. If he thinks of his people, for whose souls he now has to care, he will regard himself both as their ruler and as their servant. He is their servant, not because they appoint him, or employ him, or control him; for they do not. He is sent to them by the bishop in the name of God. But just as the Son of God whom the Father sent into the world for our salvation, said to His Apostles, "I am among you as one that serveth": so the new priest, as minister of Jesus Christ, will try to follow the Master's example, and be an unwearying, faithful and humble servant of his people.
But he is their ruler too: his actual title as parish priest is Rector, or ruler. He has the authority of the priesthood; he has the power to absolve, and bless, and consecrate. He has to be an officer too of the discipline of the church, and a guardian as well as an administrator of the holy sacraments. It is this authority that is given to him, and not anything that he has of his own, which makes him ruler. His power is from above. The treasure is in a poor earthen vessel, as St. Paul says; but it is the living and life-giving grace of the Eternal and Almighty God.
Let us look at the ideals a little more in detail.
i. The parish priest must know his people, as the shepherd knows his flock. Otherwise he cannot be a faithful pastor. We have in England a great tradition in this respect. The priest's duty is not only to be in church, for the people to come to him. It is his duty and his privilege to go to them. He visits them in their houses; and, almost without exception, every door is open to him. Even the careless people, and those who are Dissenters, will welcome him. People, who will not come to church themselves, will feel that they are neglected if the clergy do not come to visit them: and will complain. But in general our English proverb is true: A house-going priest makes a church-going people.
There are, no doubt, places in the great towns, where population has increased with lightning speed, and where the people have consequently been left unshepherded: in these places, it may be, the parish priest is not expected at every house, or he may even be not welcome. But such places are exceptional: and, in these last fifty years and more, a great deal has been done, and is being done, to recover the lost ground. As our priests follow St. Paul's example of teaching, both publicly and from house to house (Acts xx. 20), they are enabled by God's mercy to win back many who had fallen into carelessness and sin, and in some parishes even to turn a desert into the garden of the Lord.
So the new rector sets to work to know his people. He probably receives help from the previous rector. There is a list of the communicants which is handed on to him: so perhaps he begins by visiting the inner circle of faithful souls. Probably also there is a list of all the parishioners in some degree of completeness. If the parish is small there is little difficulty about this. But if the parish is large, it has probably been harder for the previous rector to keep his roll of streets and houses. Perhaps also the parish may lie in a poor quarter of a town where people change their houses continually after very short stays. In that case it will be impossible to have a full and accurate catalogue. But there is probably some list existing, that is handed on to the newcomer.
Besides if it is a large parish there have been assistant clergy--perhaps two, three, four, or even more, besides the parish priest. Some of them perhaps still remain in the parish; and they help to bridge the gap. Also they too should have lists of the people, each one his own, relating to that part of the parish which has been allotted to each as his special charge. So in some way the people are generally known.
There is probably also a list of the sick who are being specially visited: and in a large parish this list is revised week by week. Some will be visited every week, some oftener, every day or many times in a day if they are dying. The people are told to send for the priest at any time of day or night, in order that he may minister to the dying or baptize an infant in case of sickness. In an increasing number of parishes the Holy Sacrament can be brought from somewhere, where it is reserved, for the viaticum of the dying. It is only recently that any of our bishops in England have sanctioned the restoration of this old English custom: but the provision is now being much more generally made; already it is widespread in Scotland, America and some other parts of the Anglican Communion.
2. Secondly, the new priest has received the charge which our Lord gave to St. Peter, when He said: "Feed my sheep." And the food that he has wherewith to feed them is the sincere milk of the word whereby they are to grow, as St. Peter says (i Peter ii. 2) and the food of the sacraments and especially the Holy Body and Blood of Christ our Saviour.
The main provision of services is the daily Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Liturgy at the least on Sundays and festivals. But the new priest probably sees from the records that have been kept of the services, or from the parish magazine, that a good deal more has been provided than this minimum. In a small country parish there are few, if any, as a rule who will come and join with the priest in saying his Morning and Evening Office. Perhaps there will be some of his own household, or some leisured people from the estate, or some old people, who will gather when the bell rings morning and evening. But perhaps as a rule he will say his office alone, joining with the angels and the prayers of the saints and faithful departed.
In a town parish, where there is a vigorous church life, there will not be this difficulty. There may be two or three clergy; and then they will assemble and say their office together. Often there will be others, who are given up to the work of the parish--sisters, or deaconesses, or church-workers--who will be there also: and probably some will be found too, like Simeon and Anna, who love to haunt the courts of God's Temple, and meet their Lord in prayer and worship and thanksgiving with the Benedictus and the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis.
In such parishes the Liturgy is probably not confined to Sundays and Holy Days: but is said on ordinary days too. In a rapidly growing number of churches there is the daily Eucharist: in some, where there is a staff of clergy and many desire opportunities of Communion and Eucharistic worship, there will be two or three celebrations in a day habitually. The whole tendency of the present time is to multiply these opportunities: and the people are increasingly eager to take advantage of them.
The service on a week day does not last much more than half an hour. For you will remember that in the West the development from very early times has been to multiply opportunities so as to give every one, as far as may be,--and even busy people--a chance of being present every day. Therefore our Western Liturgy in order to be frequent has become shorter in its contents and simpler so far as ceremonies are concerned. The two main features of difference in this respect are these: (i) that the Western Liturgy varies far more from day to day than the Eastern, and (2) that it has never developed an independent part for the deacon as has been done in the East.
On Sundays, of course, in our parish there is much more by way of services; and they are sung and not said (even in village churches), so that they take more time. Morning Prayer is followed by the Litany which in turn precedes the Liturgy, and there is a sermon preached then. That is the natural order. But the multiplication of Eucharists has in one way or another altered it during the last century; and now our parishes are not at all uniform in order or in hours. The plans are determined by local conditions and convenience. In old-fashioned parishes the largest congregation will be at Morning or Evening Prayer; and at the Liturgy there will be few, if any, besides those who are going to communicate. But in others the contrary is the case. And many parishes are in a state of transition from the one point to the other.
A similar difference and a similar state of transition exists as regards the vestments. In the greater number of churches the vestments of the clergy are of the simplest kind--only a cassock, a surplice, a hood, and a stole. This plan has tradition in its favour; for this simplicity was adopted generally in the sixteenth century in the revulsion against mediaeval custom. But while the Church tolerated so little, it prescribed more: and in the revival of church life in the nineteenth century the fuller use of vestments was recovered; the chasuble, dalmatic, cope, etc., are being increasingly adopted.
The same is true of the ceremonies. In the Western Church, as the ceremonies were gradually cut down, there developed two ways of performing the Liturgy.4 In the solemn one the celebrant was assisted by a sub-deacon and a deacon, who sang the Epistle and Gospel respectively, and also by a number of lesser ministers--that is to say, the candle-bearers, thurifers, cross-bearer and the rest, who joined and bore their part in the performance of the Liturgy. The choir sang and all was solemn, stately and lengthy, though less so than in Eastern Services. In the less solemn form, there was probably no choir, no deacon or sub-deacon, and it fell to the priest to say the parts of the service belonging to them: and he perhaps had only a boy with him, to assist him on the one or two places where some help was indispensable.
This simpler form--low mass as distinct from high mass--is the one that was described and laid down as a minimum in our Prayer Book when it was re-formed in English in the sixteenth century: and this with the simpler vestments has in the main prevailed. Tradition, however, preserved in the great churches some features of the more solemn performance; and they went on in varying degrees down to the nineteenth century, when the revival came and the more solemn performance was again recovered. It is only slowly winning its way, partly for want of many material things and of sufficient clergy: and also because our people are by nature very conservative and traditionally suspicious of ceremonial in religious worship.
So far then as the prescribed services are concerned the picture that must be imagined is a varied one. It will be still more varied as regards what are called "additional services"--that is to say, services which are not imposed, but are sanctioned by episcopal authority. These are a great feature of the present movement of religious revival. They vary according to the needs of the place. Some have come into more or less general use--such as the "Three Hours' Service," which is held on Good Friday from twelve to three, as a watching with our Blessed Lord through the hours of darkness when he hung upon the Cross. Very general also are some services of preparation for communicants before they receive the Blessed Sacrament.
Also where there are many poor and uninstructed people there will be simple services of prayer and teaching and singing adapted to their needs. Again there may be special gatherings for men: special services for children are universal: and the numberless guilds and societies (of which I shall say a word shortly) have probably each of them a service of its own from time to time. Also there are generally some services of intercession--perhaps for the parish and its needs, perhaps for Foreign Missions: these very likely take the form of a Litany. In some parishes there may be also services in commemoration of the faithful departed or in commemoration of the Holy Sacrament.
So the new priest will find a great deal that he has to carry on in church besides the prescribed services, and besides all the "occasional offices" corresponding roughly to your Trebnik. All this involves too a great deal of preaching. Our people are very fond of sermons, and insist on having a great many besides the one which is prescribed to be given in the course of the Liturgy. In every parish there will be two or three every Sunday, and probably another on some week-day as well. In large parishes and where there are many clergy there will be more.
3. This leads us on to a third ideal of our parish priest. He must teach his people. The young are to be taught in school and in church. All our English poorer children have to attend the elementary schools, and if the priest is lucky he will find in his parish a public school, which is managed by the Church on behalf of the State under State supervision and with grants of public money for its support. The Church in olden days had established such schools throughout the land. But it was not able to cover the whole ground, even supplemented as it was by religious schools founded by the sects. Consequently in 1870 the State began to supply education, where it was needed and was not already provided. But the teaching of religion that is given in state schools, and the spirit that often prevails in them, is not satisfactory to churchmen, even though in many places the teachers in state schools are zealous church people. So the Church has tried to keep its own schools wherever it can do so, and so secure by that means full teaching of the faith to as many of the children as is possible.
The priest is happy then if he finds such a school forming part of the equipment of his parish. But in any case there is also Sunday available as a day of instruction for the children; and Sunday schools for purely religious teaching are practically universal. There is also a more formal instruction prescribed to the parish priest, viz., the catechizing in church on Sunday afternoon. And in many parishes this is developed into an elaborate system which (like the Sunday school) employs not only the clergy but a number of voluntary helpers, both men and women. Immense advances are being made year by year in the efficiency of Sunday schools and catechisms, and increasing care is taken to make teachers competent and methods scientific.
Again, the youths, the young women, and the adults too, have to be taught: and there are probably classes for them on Sunday or on the week nights. Especially the Sunday school teachers have to be trained and taught in order that they may teach their children properly; and in an ordinary parish this task devolves upon the clergy.
Sickness affords another great opportunity of teaching. In cases of prolonged illness a whole course of instruction can be given. It may be necessary to train the uninstructed in repentance and faith, in order to prepare them for the solemn office of the Visitation of the Sick, which the Prayer Book provides. They are to be moved, if need be, to make a sacramental confession then: and if they have grown up in ignorance about it,--as alas! very many of our people have--they need to be taught about absolution. In any case, they must be shown how, by self-examination, contrition and amendment, to make a good confession to God, whether as a preparation for a new life, if they recover, or for death and judgment, in case they are dying.
But perhaps the priest's happiest opportunity of teaching is in preparing his candidates for the bishop's laying-on of hands in the sacrament of Confirmation.6 With us this sacrament is confined to the bishop. A considerable part of every year is taken up with his journeys about his diocese, giving Confirmation. In this we follow strictly the example of the Apostolic Church in sending St. Peter and St. John to impart to those Samaritans whom Philip had baptized the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying-on of their hands.
It is customary that Confirmation should take place about the time when the soul passes out of childhood, and begins to undertake its own responsibilities. Those boys and girls who attend only a primary school and then go out to work are generally confirmed at this important point of transition in their lives. They then receive their first communion and become regular communicants.
The preparation for this occupies at least a number of weeks; part of it is given in class or in general instruction, and part is more personal and individual. The proportion of these two elements varies according to circumstances. The preparation is threefold--of head and heart and conscience. The Church Catechism is provided as a form of instruction for the first object. It deals with the Baptismal Covenant, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, The Lord's Prayer, and the two universally necessary sacraments which were ordained by Christ Himself. This is the basis of the instruction in the faith, given to candidates for Confirmation, but many of them will have already been taught it for years.
The preparation of the heart is designed to arouse a real personal response to God's call and love; to secure an acceptance of the faith which shall be vital and spiritual, not merely intellectual; and to induce a dedication of self to the whole-hearted service of God. It is the reality of this inner dedication by the soul of itself to God which will best enable the priest to decide which of his children he is to present to the bishop. Some, who are not yet ready, he will probably defer till a later opportunity can be found in some neighbouring parish, or till the bishop comes again in the following year.
As the priest sees the young souls opening to the love of God, and beginning to hunger and thirst, he goes on to help them in the preparation and training of their conscience. They need instruction in morals, to know what is right: and in repentance, that they may return to God when they do wrong. Already the foundations of all this, as of the rest, have been laid in previous religious teaching: but now, a more conscious and thorough repentance is needed, especially in preparation for the Holy Eucharist. To some of the candidates this is their first occasion for seeking sacramental confession and absolution. It is not with us obligatory to do so either at Confirmation or at any other time, except in case of a formal readmission after excommunication. It was formerly obligatory, for a period of three hundred years from 1215 onwards. But the effects of such compulsion were not helpful to real penitence: and for the last four hundred years we have returned to the primitive tradition of the Church as being a wiser one. Now therefore we are content merely to offer the opportunity for sacramental absolution to all, leaving each to accept it or not. The opportunity in fact is very variously utilized--in some parishes by many, in other parishes by few or none. On the whole the use of it is increasing very much: and this increase goes alongside with a very salutary increase in frequency of communion.
Some of the candidates will know the service of the Holy Communion well already: others will not, being more accustomed to attend Morning and Evening Prayer: but all are trained in liturgical worship, to an extent which is probably not equalled elsewhere. Our people know and follow every point in the services: they are not silent, but habitually join in all the services and sing throughout. Indeed they are impatient of anything happening in which they cannot take an intelligent interest and share. Everyone has books and uses them in church. During the preparation for first communion the priest will see that every candidate has, besides the official books, a book also of private devotion to use at home and at communion. This will contain private prayers (which will for the future supersede the child's prayers which have been used up to now): helps to repentance and preparation for the Holy Sacrament: i.e., self-examination questions, acts of contrition, a form of confession and other penitential devotions. It will also contain prayers for private use before Holy Communion, intercessions and other prayers for use during the service, and thanksgivings to be said after receiving. Besides that there will be in the book other prayers of one sort or another, as is suitable to the individual, e.g., prayers in sickness, or in preparation for death, or for fasts and festivals. There is a vast number of manuals of this sort available; so it is easy to suit all classes.
The special preparation for first communion may be made before the Confirmation; or it may be after it, if the first communion follows at some little interval of time. The minimum rule of the Church about communion is, that all should receive three times in the year, of which Easter is to be one. In practice young communicants are usually advised to begin by making their communion every month, and to come monthly, for some time at least, to a special service of preparation before it. But as soon as may be, they are encouraged to communicate oftener; and, if they are seriously seeking to grow in holiness, to do so, as far as they can, every Sunday and Holy Day.
The recovery of frequent communion in this last eighty years has been one of the greatest blessings which God has given us. With the greater frequency has come far greater devotion. And the Church has benefited infinitely by recovering its people out of a state of spiritual starvation, with only three or four communions a year, into the richness and vigour of that life of union with Christ, which He has bound up with the feeding upon His most sacred Body and Blood.
Among the candidates for Confirmation there are probably adults also, who have deferred Confirmation through carelessness or ignorance, or who have come back to the Church from the dissenters. In the last case they may or may not have already received Holy Baptism. If they have not, they will be baptized after the instruction and before the Confirmation: and there are few more joyous days in the parish priest's year than those when he sees the fruit of his labours in the moving service of the Baptism of Adults and in the first communion of his children.
4. The fourth ideal of the pastor is to protect his lambs and sheep from the hireling and from the wolf. Time would fail me to tell of all the organizations for this purpose which are usual or frequent in an English parish. Some are quite worldwide in their extent, like the Girls' Friendly Society for young women with its branches and homes in many parts of the world. The boys too have many organizations, that are established in the parish, but are wider too in their range, like the quasi-military organizations of the Church Lads' Brigade or the Boy Scouts. The mothers have their Mothers Union, which is a general society, as well as meetings and classes which are purely parochial. In the last ten years a great society of men has also grown up called the Church of England Men's Society; and you may now meet men wearing its badge in all quarters of the globe. Other organizations have special objects, e.g., those which combat intemperance or discountenance impurity. The former have been especially blessed: and by the efforts of such societies, religious and secular, England has in the last quarter of a century become a different place, so far as sobriety is concerned. A whole generation has grown up, of whom a considerable section has never touched alcohol: and this teetotal movement has quite transformed public opinion about intemperance in many strata of society.
I will not trouble you with a catalogue of these countless agencies. We have too many of them rather than too few: for the English mind is apt to exceed in that direction. But I must testify to the value of them all the same: and especially in two ways. Such expedients protect the young and the weak. They bridge over the difficult time between childhood and adult life, and save many a soul from temptation and sin: though the devil is alert and strong, and snatches many in spite of the pastor's best endeavours.
Further, these organizations also offer opportunities of working for the Kingdom of God to many, who, in thankfulness to Him for what He has done for them, are anxious to spend time and strength in helping others and advancing God's glory. The parish priest tries to set before his people that every citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven must be a worker for the Kingdom. So, in spite of disappointments, and many of them, about persons and plans, he rejoices to find himself surrounded by many enthusiastic helpers in all the manifold activities of the parish; and not the least important or least active of them, very often, are his own wife and daughters.
5. The fifth ideal that he has is the rescue and recovery of the perishing and of those that are out of the way (Heb. v. 2). The story of St. John and the robber is perpetually repeating itself. In a small parish the responsibility for each soul is an ever-present reality. It lays a clearly recognizable number of burdens on the heart of the parish priest, which he cannot ever forget. In a large parish this sense of responsibility for every one cannot exist in the same degree. But, first, there will be those, with whom he has once been in close contact, who are now going astray, and have to be recovered. Secondly, there are always the careless, whom no one has ever yet influenced. Yet they are to be won, if it only may be by God's mercy. In some parishes highly skilled and highly organized work is needed for the recovery of prostitutes, or those who are in danger of falling into that sad class. As a rule this work is not entirely parochial, but it is organized for a town as a whole, and worked by a committee of clergy and laity. A great deal of the best work of this sort is done by the Sisterhoods: but much is done by others also. There are organizations also for the care of prisoners, reformatories for young offenders and so forth. With all of these the parish priest will be in touch to whatever extent it is necessary. But stronger than any organization is the redemptive power of love and self-sacrifice; and those form the shepherd's crook with which he holds and recovers the straying and lost sheep.
6. Sixthly, the parish priest must have his ideal about the difficult work of the care and relief of the poor. For the Church, like its Master, tends the bodies, as well as the souls, of men. Few parts of his work are more perplexing. Indiscriminate almsgiving is well known to be degrading in its effect. If the Church enables people to live without working, it is putting a grave temptation in their way. On the other hand if it does not supply the wants of the needy, it fails in Christian love. How is it to steer between these two forms of danger? This problem is very acute in the towns. There is further the danger that people may make godliness a way of gain and profess piety in order to secure help. Then the Church's spiritual office is dragged in the mire: and a new form of harm is done. In all ages the Church has found its relief work most difficult. What the priest's ideal about it is to be, I cannot say. There is no very clear policy prevailing in our English parishes. We are in a condition of transition; and the tendency is more and more to look to the State to deal not only with poverty but with sickness also. This tendency, as it advances, relieves the parish priest of a good deal of the burden, and throws it on the Christian and philanthropic conscience of the public as a whole.
But even so, there remains a work of mercy and charity for the parish. The parishioners are bound to be rich in Christian almsgiving. They must care for the sad cases in their own place, and especially for such as lie outside the lines of governmental relief. So the money for the sick and needy is collected in church from time to time and distributed, perhaps by a representative committee composed of clergy, churchworkers and lay people, including the lay officials called churchwardens and sidesmen. These officers exist in every parish and (perhaps with others) they form a sort of council for the parish, established in order to care for its interests. Officially they are entrusted with certain duties and powers, financial and otherwise; and besides they are now undertaking increasingly, in conjunction with the clergy, all sorts of other valuable tasks and responsibilities.
The parish priest is happy in having a good body of lay men and women, to co-operate with him and the other clergy in all these works. He can always count upon some, even in a tiny parish. The tradition of the English landowner is one of great friendliness and co-operation; and he and his family will often be among the most zealous supporters of the church work. Where they set a good example, others, who are less well-to-do and less conspicuous, will join in. Even if they do not lead the way, there will be some who will be valuable helpers. In a town parish with a mixed population there will very likely be a large body. In many a parish consisting exclusively of the poor the case is harder: but even then, though overworked, overtired, underfed and sorely strained, some will heroically help: and the witness and power of such labours is of priceless value to the Church.
In thus describing the parish priest's ideal, perhaps I may seem to you to have spoken too much about machinery and organization and too little about spiritual forces--the life of Faith, the workings of Grace, the power of the Holy Spirit, and so forth. Well, I have all along taken for granted that those are the things of real importance. That fact we all know: and those things, thank God, we all share. Besides there is no contradiction between spiritual forces and parochial organization. Quite the contrary. God's way with us is to work through human agencies. And if we have the privilege of being fellow-workers with the Almighty and Allwise God in His workings, we feel bound to make our efforts, and even our machinery, as efficient as they can be. For God is not honoured by inefficiency: and His own all-efficient universe is the model of all our service.
7. The parish priest then is a spiritual man, as befits a minister of God; all the power, which he administers, is spiritual power: and his final ideal is that this spiritual power should work through him and through all the parochial undertakings with the best possible efficiency, for the salvation and sanctification of man and for the honour and glory of God.
Let me now use up the time that remains in trying to describe the parish from the point of view of the parishioner. We do not want to confine ourselves to a purely clerical view: we want to see what it represents to all its members. The parishioner finds in his parish, wherever he may be, his spiritual home. He is in the household of God, serving Him there; and he has God's steward set over the household to give him his spiritual meat in due season. When he was born, the Church took him under its care: it blessed his mother after her child-bearing, and gave him his baptism: and perhaps the earliest thing that he can remember is the privilege and wonder of being taken to church as a tiny boy. Besides, if he is happy in his parents, the Church has been with him at home. The family prayers of the household at home have made him familiar with some sort of corporate worship from his earliest days: just as the private prayers, that he himself has been taught to say morning and evening, have given to him his own personal way of drawing near to his loving Father and Saviour.
His school has carried on the tradition of the family prayer, and there his day begins by a piece of corporate worship. If he remains at home during his schooldays and does not go away to a boarding-school, the link with his parish is not in any way lost. If he is musical he may sing in the choir: if he is devout by nature he may have the privilege of serving the priest at the altar. As he grows older he may help to supervise at the catechism, or may begin to teach in the Sunday school.
His Confirmation may, please God, be a real spiritual awakening, so that he passes at that time out of the stage of traditional religion into the consciousness of his own personal relation to God. Then he will, of course, continue as a regular communicant, and grow through the Holy Sacrament in the life of holiness. He brings his work to be consecrated to God, and his recreation as well, in fact, all his life as a young man. Later on he brings his love to be consecrated, too; and some of the happiest part of his courtship is his association with his fiancée in worship or in the work of the Kingdom of God. Next he receives the Church's blessing upon his marriage; and, in due time, he comes again to rejoice in the glory of fatherhood and brings his first-born to the holy font of regeneration. What the Church has taught him, he in turn teaches his children, watching over all their first steps in that life of prayer and grace, which he himself has been brought up to lead. The church festivals bring to him and all his household a happiness like no other happiness: and the fasts have equally their message for them all, enjoining watchfulness, discipline, penitence, and teaching them to love the life and sufferings of our Lord.
When he is sick, the Church is at his side with its message, its warnings and its consolations. It brings him absolution, if he desires it, in his penitence, and unction, if he claims it, in dangerous illness. In the hour of death it watches by him and prays with him. It cares for the body that he leaves behind, and performs for it the last offices. It remembers him in thanksgiving and prayer, at every Liturgy, among those who have died in God's faith and fear; and prays that, in the company of all God's faithful people, he may be a partaker of the heavenly kingdom.
Thus all life through he is in the keeping of the Church within the special fold of his own parish.