Project Canterbury

The Catholic Life

Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Fourth Annual Catholic Conference
New York City, November 13th to 15th, 1928.

Auspices of the Central Conference of Associated Catholic Priests.

Milwaukee: Morehouse
London: A. R. Mowbray, 1929.

VI. The Catholic in the Parish

Rector of St. John's Church, Norristown, Pa.

THE TITLE, The Catholic in the Parish, gives the impression that all who call themselves by that name are of orthodox fealty, and gathered together in various congregations form collectively Catholic parishes. If only both contentions were true, religious life would flow smoothly in our midst and all the vexatious problems of parish life, troubling priest and people alike, would cease to exist. We know full well that Catholics, as individuals, group themselves in separate and varied gradations, depending on the emphasis they place upon some particular matter of faith or practice. We realize also, without defining terms and falling back upon the generally accepted definition, that most of our parishes would not be labeled Catholic, and yet, collectively, they make up within our communion that part of the whole Catholic Church wherein we gain our common spiritual life. The fact that a parish is shepherded by bishops and priests, who are compelled to provide the essential sacraments of grace, fulfills the primary conditions that bind all of our parishes within the fold of the Catholic Church.

It is my purpose in this paper, therefore, to place before you the essential background of Catholicity that should pervade the life of every parish, to dwell upon the unifying principles and practices, and to summarize the requirements that make possible the loyalty of every Catholic to his or her parish. I would draw your attention, not to an ideal condition which does not exist to any appreciable extent, but rather to a consideration of certain primary factors that have a practical bearing upon the life of Catholics within the average parish of the Episcopal Church.

I feel reasonably sure that we are all agreed that the most important function of the parish is to provide the means of approach to God in order that God may enter into that full and complete union with our lives which will develop our souls into eternal worth. This demands of us that we place ourselves into a position which recognizes this truth, and worship occupies that place. But we find ourselves so fully engrossed with the multiplication of activities which make up the round of parish life that we lose sight of the fact that worship is the heart and center of our religion. A few years back an interesting and helpful little volume came to us from England entitled, The Splendor of God. The very first sentences captivated our minds as we read, "This book is not about souls, but about God. It is not about the weakness of man, but about the splendor of God." It offered a true prospective, preparing us to read further on this accusation, "most of us base our religion on ourselves and not on God," and again, "there is danger where self looms large and is very close and real to us, lest God be abstract, remote, and unreal. The purpose of this book is to correct this fundamental error and to set forth God as the basis and crown of our life."

The truth of these statements is very apparent and we must absorb into our consciousness the full and complete realization of what membership in the family life of the parish involves. The Catholic must know God as He operates in love and power through the medium of His own choosing, the Catholic Church, remembering always that it is not an abstract being but the Body of Christ, wherein is comprehended living souls. When once we have entered into the life of the Church through the sacramental realities, we are joined together as brethren with all who have gone before, with all in the present, with those who come after; a bond of relationship that exists because of the Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood through Christ. Constantly from within, by reason of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, there wells into consciousness from the innermost soul the desire of the Spirit for union with the Father, alone to be accomplished and satisfied through the Son. Thus every sacrament, every prayer, every service of worship, every desire for purity, love, and sacrifice, fulfills this same condition and result; ever fulfilled as we find Jesus the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, living with us always to meet and complete every striving after righteousness. The way of life, within and without the parish, is the quest for Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.

Such a knowledge and conception of the way of life gives reality to the proposition that the highest purpose of life is to love God, which in turn finds its expression in the worship of God. For in worship we rise above self and make real the inward urgeā€”God-ward. No longer in type and shadow, nor under a figure do we approach the Shekinah; but, in truth and reality, in fellowship with Christ through His re-presentation of Calvary, we gain access to the Father. With so glorious a privilege, the Catholic cannot be content with the minimum of worship expressed in the dutiful attendance at a weekly Mass, but will find a way to come into daily contact with our Lord in His Sacramental Presence, either in the offering of the Sacrifice of the altar, in private devotions before the Presence enshrined in the tabernacle, or at least in a definite act of spiritual communion.

The parish serves the Church as the basic unit of life in exactly the same way that the family life serves as the foundation stone of society. Individual effort lacks cohesion and vigor, is indefinite, and in the end utterly futile to carry on and propagate the vast mechanism of both physical and spiritual life. Civilization is advanced in fulness of vitality only when all that pertains to the family life, parenthood and children, home and unselfish interests in the welfare of the whole, make up this sphere of activity. The parish parallels the family life in every particular and pushes the figure to its utmost bounds, even embracing the diverse tangents of ills and oddities, and the varied complexities that grow out of these disorders. For as the families make up the state and these in turn the nation, and nations cover the earth, just so there stretches out from the parish no limit until, pushing through the dioceses and various communions, we reach the ultimate bounds of the whole Church of Christ, the Kingdom of God.

It is needful that the Catholic in the parish ever bear in mind this truth of the vastness and all-pervading presence of the Kingdom of God, so as to live constantly in the atmosphere of this comprehension. Moreover, the Kingdom does not stop on this earth or abide in realms that are exposed to human vision, but it opens up a relationship and a fellowship with the souls who are in the Church Expectant and with the saints and angels about the throne of God. This conception of the Church is bound to color very highly the life of an individual in a parish and must of necessity raise us to an added appreciation of all the relationships secured for us in the Body of Christ. Any thought less than this seems to invalidate and abridge all that our Lord came to reveal and would vitiate the very meaning of the term Catholic.

With such a background in which to develop the religious life, with this conception of the bound wherein that life is to operate, this makes of every Catholic first and foremost a missionary in a very real and definite sense; one who has fellowship and kinship with all other souls, with a well defined duty and responsibility to those who are afar off and to those close by. It embodies a world-wide vision, with a goal and an ideal of brotherhood of man that will never be satisfied until the nations of the earth dwell together as brethren, with a filial bond between them that does away with hatreds and deceptions, and will make warfare an utter impossibility in the future. This condition is approached only as the missionary spirit goes forth from every parish because it is the ideal of every member to win the world for Christ, not only in the condition of morals and ethics, but in the sacramental relationship of brotherhood which is alone possible when the Church is truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Nothing less than this dare we offer as the ideal of the Catholic in the parish life, for therein we fulfill our Lord's command for the Church to go to all nations, "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

The soul and mind of man can never be stirred more than by this very challenge of Christ. No claim ennobles and raises higher the interests of members of a parish than the work of our Lord's Kingdom, that is world-wide in scope and vision and service. And does not that perpetual Presence of Christ depend on this very thing, so that a Church which is weak or gives up its missionary character must of necessity lose that Presence? Concretely then, the Catholic in the parish must be rilled with a burning zeal for souls, an enthusiasm that places the missionary spirit before all other parochial duties and obligations. It means a fresh orientation of purpose and preaching. Because most parishes are not missionary in character, we constantly face the inevitable crisis in the mission fields, a lack of men and women, and the money to send those who are willing to say, "Here am I, Lord, send me." I am truly convinced that it will only come to pass that we will be in a strategic and effective position to advance the cause of Christ, bring the world under the domination of the cross, and lead to fruition that spread of the Christian family life all over the earth, when our so-called missionary work in our parish life occupies first and foremost place.

When once we have grasped these foregoing basic truths of the purpose and the means of fulfillment, the Catholic enters that rich heritage of faith and practice that makes the smallest part of the Christian religion a joy to experience and express. In worship, in prayers, in the reception of sacraments, in this full expression of the real life of a Catholic parish, there is continual intercourse with God; the union with the divine life is a realized fact, and the whole being is illumined with revealed truth. Having subjectively enshrined the divine life within, we can objectively embrace and hold firm our grasp of the real Presence. For all depends upon this realization, if the full life of Christ is to shine forth brightly in the world through us. As we meet every need, every problem, every task of life by the appropriation of the life of Jesus in our Sacramental relationships; and as we find ourselves relieved of the burdens, the worries, and sin-sickness of the soul, through His reaching out and touching us, we are bound to believe that the panacea for the ills of the world, the need of every soul, is to be found in the self-same remedy, the life of Jesus, which life is to be gained in union with His Presence in the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

It is rather startling to find so many people are unmindful of these tremendous facts. I ask, therefore, is it not our bounden duty to do all in our power to develop a zeal, illumined by the Holy Spirit, to bring about a realization of our Catholic heritage and privilege to the greater number? A leader in the English Church Times a short time ago, as comment was made upon the impasse over the Prayer Book revision, contained the following extract: "The faith once delivered to the saints remains unchanging and unchangeable: but the practice of the faith has always been affected by local conditions and different qualities of different people. The Catholic religion is, indeed, at once consistent and adaptable.

Must we not add, that the Catholic religion is for all men, everywhere, because it is the full revelation of the Father's love and power? And do we not bear the responsibility of spreading this self-same religion?

If, as someone has well said, "Life is the leading of us to a goal wherein the present anticipates the future and the future explains the present," we will look back over that period of Catholic revival in our communion, and we will see the best growth in those days of heroic self-sacrifice, when faithful priests went into the slums of great cities, showing forth a zeal and desire to win souls, that reflected so much of the Christ-like character. It was a time when all the important essentials of the Kingdom were set forth, the preaching of the Gospel, administering the sacraments in love and power, with the Sacrifice of the Altar as the heart and center of worship and life: yet, with little concern for the minutiae of the mechanics of services. That period marked out men loyal to their own communion, to the Prayer Book services, striving and laboring with the use of the basic essentials; and the magnificent result was the growth of Catholic parishes with amazing rapidity.

The time has come when we must face certain facts that would seem to warn us that a crisis has been reached in the development of the Catholic revival in our day and generation. At the danger of being called reactionary and merely High Church, I venture the proposition that many parishes have gone onward in certain directions that most of our parishes cannot follow. It has brought about a situation in which we find small, isolated groups in far separated parishes carrying on what are generally considered extravagant forms of services, and services outside the Prayer Book, all of which might just as well be in an unknown tongue, in so far as they are understood or appreciated by the multitudes. Dare we crystallize into a hard, unyielding form our ways of worship, our services, our devotions, and our spiritual aspirations?

There must be room in our parish life for latitude in the mechanics of ritual, variants in the non-essentials, all of which we put under the head of parochial customs. But I submit to you, that there are limits even in these things, especially when the temper and qualities of the people we seek to influence are the exact antithesis to much of this.

There is, both in England and in this country, in the Anglican communion, an apparent halt in the growth of numbers and enthusiasm among Catholics. I venture to suggest that we place a different emphasis upon our parish services. I am well aware that many and various reasons can be assigned for the lack of interest in church attendance in our present age, but I am convinced that in our service arrangements we are partly at fault. For example, I have attended a number of churches in England and some in our own country, where, some years back, large congregations thronged those churches for the service of Choral Evening Prayer and sermon or instruction, where now a comparatively small number of people attend the service of Benediction. I saw a scheme worked out in one of our city parishes, where the full faith had always been taught and practised, that illustrates what I have in mind. For years this parish had as a Sunday evening service Benediction, with a congregation of from fifteen to thirty-five people. Then the rector substituted Choral Evening Prayer, with an instruction on the fundamentals of the faith in place of the sermon; and from then on, the evening congregation was almost equal to that of the morning at High Mass. This service was made to be of local missionary character and much that had been taken for granted was explained. The members were enlightened, they got a fresh enthusiasm for the Catholic faith, and they brought others to that service, who were in turn led into the sacramental way of life. At the same time, an adult Bible class was conducted one night a week in the church, followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; and, in place of the pitiably small congregation which formerly attended this service of adoration, there were many times that number present.

I would urge the use of only Prayer Book services on Sundays and for the clergy to adapt courses of public instruction on the faith and practice of religion in place of the sermons at the evening services. Prejudice and bigotry can only be dispelled by teaching the truth, and then by witnessing to that truth in our daily lives. I would urge a faithful adherence to the liturgy, for it lends itself, even in its present form, to dignified ritual. I am pleading for loyalty to our Prayer Book and the definite life of the Catholic revival that is of real worth.

Many of us need to learn once more the essentials of Catholicism. They are not to be found alone in parishes where there is the most ritual and the full complement of extraneous services. They are to be found in every parish of the Episcopal Church, where at least once on Sunday the Holy Eucharist is celebrated and where the priest will hear confessions. For wherever we can hear the Gospel preached, be baptized, confirmed, receive the Holy Communion, be absolved from our sins, married, and buried, there is the Catholic Church.

The first years of my ministry were spent in a parish, in a rapidly developing section of a large city, where the rector had done a splendid work of developing an old church into a Catholic parish without losing the older congregation. New Church families, from various down-town parishes, came to our neighborhood in large numbers. It was one of my duties to make a house to house canvass, and the results of that experience have largely colored my work in the ministry. For we were able to gain the allegiance of but a small part of those new Church people. Our services consisted of a faithful rendition of the Prayer Book services, a daily celebration of the Eucharist, an early one on Sundays for communion, with a later one for worship, plain Morning Prayer, and Choral Evensong. Hours for hearing confessions were announced. The essentials of Catholic ritual, with the exception of incense, were always used. Every facility for Catholic worship and practice was provided. Most of the Protestants refused to come because we were High Church; most of the Catholics refused to come because we did not use incense or for some other equally light-weight reason. Many of both sorts excused themselves by saying that they desired to keep their connection with their former parish, a condition that I found practically untrue in almost every instance where I inquired of the rector of their particular parish. In the main, they went to neither church regularly and supported neither parish loyally nor financially. My great discovery was the fact that in the essentials of the faith and even of Catholicity, there was a profound and prejudiced ignorance.

The problem of arousing people to a desire to know what Christianity really is, that confronts us today, goes to the very root of all our religious ills, spreading its harm to every sphere of life. This is as true of Church people as of those outside the Church. That little book of Father Carey's, Have You Understood Christianity? shows the problem to be the same on both sides of the sea. Apathetic Catholics can do more harm than those who deny the faith. Study to know the truths of the Christian religion, and the simplicity, yet wondrous beauty of the faith, will enlist a loyal devotion.

Frequently, Catholics find themselves living within a short distance of a parish church where the services show few earmarks of Catholic ceremonial, but because of this, are they justified in going off to some distant church, or even to some other town or city, where they may enjoy to the full these externalities? Occasionally, yes; but would not the cause be helped by Catholics remaining where they find themselves living, and in the deepest sense of humility, becoming a leaven to the lump within the parish bounds? We cannot know the weight of influence for furthering the full practice of the faith that even a single soul might be able to exert by prayer and sensible example. It takes courage to go to a priest who has never given any outward evidence that he is accustomed to hear confessions and ask him to hear our confession. But it has been done, and it has accomplished the wonderful result of eventually leading the selfsame priest to desire the peace that comes from the words of absolution.

There are few parishes indeed where at least one celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays is not the rule, so that always the opportunity for communicating is afforded us. There is much to be gained from Morning Prayer (though I am not advocating it as the best form of Sunday worship), and it is not for us to despise the reading of the Psalms, listening to the reading of the Bible, and the saying of prayers that translate a common desire expressed by souls throughout the ages. Morning and Evening Prayer may very definitely be used to open the way of the soul, in the attitude of worship, to approach the throne of God.

Are not we of the clergy somewhat at fault in our insistence upon some Shibboleth, with the result that we lose the opportunity of ministering to a great number of souls? Parish after parish has been sorely wounded by an unsympathetic presentation of the Catholic religion, putting forward the unessential before people are rooted and grounded in the faith. It is inexpedient, to say the least, to have a small group of devotees saying the Rosary, when the greater part of the congregation has not yet learned to connect up the fruits of the Incarnation and the Atoning Sacrifice of Calvary with the celebration of the Eucharist. We dare not lose our people in the myriad by-paths of the forests when most of them have not yet found the main road through the woods. Conditions in this country, the temper and qualities of the people, are such that many people find a great deal of what may be of use in one communion of the Catholic Church to be most indigestible spiritual food. Even nomenclature may be used that will dispel ignorance and find a response to truth that will lead our people to a better understanding.

I am confident that I have been able to instruct my people in full knowledge of the faith in regard to the Mass and Purgatory, for instance, under the titles of the Eucharist and Paradise. I have heard a number of the foremost Anglo-Catholic priests in the course of sermons and missions, when dwelling upon the fundamentals of the faith, never once use a word or title that would arouse the slightest antipathy or prejudice. And I do believe that we will relieve a great deal of irritation on the part of the laity when the liturgy, as the Church gives it to us, is used in that same order; and, since it is in the vernacular, it is surely meant to be said in clear and audible voice, that the sense of hearing may also play its part in the worship of God. I do not believe that our clergy need courage to become "spikes" in their respective parishes, but rather humility, to live and labor as they who truly minister in Christ's Name.

There is no doubt in our minds of the absolute truth of the Catholic Church being the Divine Institution that brings Christ to us as the way of life. The personal appropriation of Christ is for no selfish purpose but in reality must be translated into a lively zeal for the conversion of other souls. More and more we need to learn that our church going is not primarily for what we receive, great and glorious as the gifts of God are, but rather to give of ourselves, along with our brethren in Christ, of heart and mind in the worship of God. Personal piety will never take the place of our fighting with our brethren against the awful wrongs that the social order of today finds in the world. We are called upon to win the world for Christ and we must start in our own parish, among the circle of our own acquaintances and in the small family group. Life in a parish must be pregnant with a love for souls, for the brethren in Christ, for the brethren who do not know Christ. And just in proportion to our zeal in doing the will of God within the bounds of the parish, so will the Kingdom of God, the Catholic Church, be advanced in the world.

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