THE Catholic Men's Society is what it seems to be: a collection of men who set out to build their friendship around being Catholic. That may seem a pretty exclusive way of going about things.
Some 130 years ago, when the society first saw the light of day — in fact, as little as 20 years ago — exclusiveness was certainly the keynote. Catholics preserved themselves from contamination by the world. They huddled together.
Twenty years ago the society was characterised by its Catholic Men's Society football Leagues, its Catholic Society clubs, its big numbers — at one time more than 30,000.
Whether you would regard the society as exclusive now depends on what you mean by exclusive. It appeals now, and is designed to appeafnovv, to people who want to direct their religious impulse outwards.
It is dramatically smaller than it was, a mere 3,000 or 4,000, but slowly growing, spread in small groups around Scotland, South Wales, the Midlands and the North of England. It is now more a launch pad than a refuge.
While 50 years ago the members gathered in large numbers in club rooms to lick their wounds, now they gather in small numbers in their front rooms to flex their muscles.
This is not to say that links with the past have been sundered. The Centenarian St Vincent's of Sheffield, a branch of which the society is specially proud, retains its club and large numbers and marries the new emphasis on apostolic endeavours with the old emphasis on social intercourse.
Nevertheless, the movement
of the past 10 years has been away from large numbers and social support, to small numbers and outgoing activity. The society is now firmly and irrevocably a centre of learning by doing. There are three principal "promotions" through which the society sets out to develop its members — the Mass, planned study and community service. What is made of these promotions is a matter for the branch, tile fundamental parochial unit, to determine. Planned study, for example, could be, and usually is, the plan devised by the national executive, This year, for example, most branches will be considering questions about the transmission of the Faith.
In all of this you may find it hard to distinguish between a branch of the Catholic Men's Society and the parish it sets out to serve.
This reflection is true. The society exists to point more sharply to what is commonly perceived. It is difficult for lay people to grasp their respon. :sibility without specific support. In embattled days the Catholic Men's Society provided comfort. Now it builds confidence.