The time for the implementation of Cardinal Hinsley's orders in regard to the institution of Catholic Action is drawing' short. In the foreword to the important document issued early in July we read " It is our desire that during the next two months both clergy and laity should prepare themselves by studying the published scheme and mastering its main features. "
The following lines are the fruit of one such study. They are submitted as a modest contribution to the discussions which will accompany the early stages of a movement destined to affect the whole of Catholic life in the metropolitan area. They will also remind the public of the scheme of Catholic Action and stimulate their co-operation.
THE publication of the scheme is in itself a thing to be thankful for. At last a lead has been given which will absorb the zeal of the most impatient. Conversely the programme implies long and arduous work, so there is every reason for the far-sighted to be hopeful.
Here is no loose fitting framework which will enable us to congratulate ourselves upon falling into line with the efforts made elsewhere to put into operation the Pope's appear for help from the laity. Under the simple principles of the scheme, which was only issued after considerable preparations, may be seen the germ of a profound change in the attitude of the few thousand Catholics of London to their millions of neighbours. Everyone is to become an apostle.
Essentially an Apostolate " Catholic Action, observes Cardinal Pizzardo in a valuable introduction, is the participation of the laity in the Hierarchical Apostolate of the Church."
His Eminence, who is the leading authority on the subject, goes on to summarise the whole teaching of the Pope on Catholic Action in a few lines. He lays emphasis on the fact that Catholic Action
is essentially an apostolate. By its very nature it is religious and spiritual, but although its purpose is altogether supernatural and so independent of all political preoccupations, it embraces the whole field over which Christian principles should reign. Thus, as well as the strictly religious apostolate, there is room for apostolic work on moral and cultural lines, educational and social lines, and indeed in every phase of life open to Catholics.
The requisites are plainly set out in an all-important paragraph, upon the understanding and practise of which the success of the present scheme will turn.
" Formation is necessary for a fruitful apostolate, this involves (i) a thorough basis of religious knowledge; (ii) a vigorous sacramental life; (iii) and a zeal for souls, especially in the directing members of Catholic Action."
This threefold condition enables us to gauge the possibilities of this scheme which aims at enrolling " all Catholics over the age of 15 who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation." Even a handful of people fulfilling these conditions would be a great spiritual force, but it is clear from paragraphs 9 to 26 which set out details of the " parochial councils " that the movement foreseen is to be a mass-movement.
The Laity on the Move Of the two supervisory groups envisaged, the Board of Direction whose function it is to " initiate (in consultation with the Archbishop and with his approval) such works of the Apostolate of the laity as may from time to time be deemed advisable," is less of an innovation than the " parochial council " which is to be set up in every parish " to undertake or cause to be undertaken any apostolic work " that is approved by the parish priest and not already covered by any " associated society." Clearly set out in paragraph 3 of the scheme is a long list of suggestions which will provide material for serious examination of the parochial conscience.
For it is plain that the parish as a whole, and not only the overburdened individuals who already do more than their share of apostolic work, is expected to respond to this call for action. The preamble to the main part of the scheme reads as follows :
" In order that the parish branches of Westminster Catholic Action may take part in the work of the Apostolate of the Laity. . . . It would seem that the laity is on the move.
Importance of Parochial Unit
Unquestionably the erection of parish councils, two-thirds elected, and presided over by a chairman appointed by the parish priest introduces an element into parochial life which promises well for the success of the lay apostolate. Nothing quite like it has been incorporated in the schemes launched by the hierarchy in other countries. Though the parish is invariably the unit, as it must be, the membership of the parochial council is more commonly made up of the leaders of pre-existing apostolic works or of tried workers coopted by the parish priest. In Westminster, owing partly to patchy representation of the pre-existing societies in many parishes, and partly no doubt as a concession to English democratic traditions, the majority of the council are to be elected.
" 14. The electorate will consist of all members of Westminster Catholic Action in the parish. . . ."
In turn those elected will nominate the remaining number. No fixed quorum is suggested but there are not to be less than six or more than fifteen members altogether.
Role of Parish Priest A leader-writer in the CATHOLIC HERALD hailed the scheme as truly revolutionary because it gives the laity " genuine initiative in the actual work of the Apostolate," and after pointing out that both in the Diocesan Board and in the parish council the clergy only assist in an advisory capacity, went on to rejoice because real work and real responsibility were being entrusted to the laity.
Though the prospect is no doubt heartening for all who look forward to the gradual flowering of the whole scheme as a result of much prayer and hard work, the transformation is not going to be easy, or very rapid, and the bulk of the strain is bound to fall on the already busy clergy, whose part even when the preliminary stages are over, is not quite so light as a cursory glance at the scheme might indicate.
Though the parish priest is not to be a member of the parish council. he or his curate will be the " ecclesiastical assistant " to the council. (This seems the -blaze to lodge an appeal against this cumbersome title, surely " chaplain " would be adequate.) Nothing is said about his attendance at meetings of the parish council, but
it may be assumed on the analogy of the duties of the ecclesiastical advisors to the Board of Direction that he " will be invited to attend all meetings." Certainly he will have to attend the quarterly general meeting of the apostolate whose business it will be to " receive instruction in the aims of the apostolate." The smaller councils may meet as often as once a month or even more frequently, if business is pressing.
Dual Formation of Leaders Then there will be the by no means light work involved with the task of formation entrusted to the Guild of the Blessed Sacrament and the Archconfraternity of Christian Doctrine in which future leaders of the apostolate are to be trained. Doubtless the more experienced members will in course of time relieve their assistant, whom they are really there to assist, of all but his priestly anxieties; but meanwhile the great part of the real work and real responsibility must rest on his shoulders. Hence the suggested " acting councils " which are recommended in the appendix in order to get the machinery of W.C.A. going during the next six months. This will be a period of much anxiety but if it is embarked upon in the right spirit it should produce lasting results for good. Patience, tact, and much charity, will lay the foundations of a fruitful apostolate.
The Co-ordinating Board of Direction " In order to secure co-ordination of every branch of Westminster Catholic Action there will be set up a Board of Direction." Its functions are to secure the adhesion of as many Catholics as possible without interfering with Societies already doing good work, that is to encourage, coordinate and extend their activities and also to fill gaps which may be found to exist between them when this is desirable. Further the Board will keep in touch with each parish council, collect information, and invite suggestions, so as generally to form a clearing house for the exchange of information and practical experience
throughout the whole organisation of W.C.A. Once a year there is to be a meeting of delegates from all parish councils, each of which is required to submit a report in anticipation for the scrutiny of the Board.
The Associated Societies
" 27. All societies engaged in the field of Catholic Action will be included in the organisation of Catholic Action, and will be known as the " associated societies." They are to be grouped by the Board in accordance with the nature of their work and will be linked with the Board through representative committees. Their internal organisation is safeguarded by the right to appeal directly to the Archbishop himself.
This section of the scheme is remarkable for its terseness which is sufficient to reassure the members of existing good works without committing anyone very much. A vast and delicate web of crossthreads is involved because of the existence in Westminster of units of every one of the many Catholic societies at work in England. ClagSifying them and linking them through committees will not be the least exacting part of duties of the Board of Direction, whose members, no doubt, look forward to the " advisory capacity " of the ecclesiastical advisers appointed to ensure that nothing is done without the knowledge and approval of the Archbishop.
A Motto Suggested There is no room in such a scheme as the one before us for much in the way of detailed instruction. beyond questions relating to finance and procedure at meetings, but we may perhaps pick out paragraph 22 which suggests that there should be an annual day of recollection, or a retreat, for men and another for women as a sign that W.C.A. means " to do good wisely " in accordance with the motto suggested some years ago to his helpers by Cardinal Villeneuve of Quebec, and so prove that its call is indeed " entirely different from the appeal to join any particular existing organisation."