THE SURVEY is over. The faithful, or at any rate those who read the Catholic Herald., have filled in their answers, the computers have done their work and the results have been studied, sifted and analysed.
The experts have formed their conclusions and we have all of us formed our own. Many of us with axes to grind have ground them so as best to chop down hostile brushwood and sharpen our prejudices. Here are the consequences of grinding my own axe.
For me these vital statistics presented by the People of God have filled in an intriguing gap. I know, at last, not only about my readers but also something at least about the people who surround me in church.
A London parish is an anonymous entity. For years I have seen the same faces growing older and more familiar, yet they remain the faces of strangers. Why are they there? What do they think about? Now at last we have some facts and figures.
Not all of them of course. Many questions were never asked in the survey. "Do you believe in God?" . . . "What does your religion mean to you?". Such issues were deliberately and perhaps wisely avoided.
But "Why, madam do you always take the outside seat in the pew and then look so cross when others attempt to pass by you?" is a question I have often longed to ask. Or "That 10p, Sir, that you drop in the plate; does it represent a tithe of your income or even a tithe of a tithe?". That one we might many of us ask ourselves.
But these are relative trivia, Here I am at Mass in my middle-class London church and, armed with the survey results, I can look at my fellowparishioners with a fresh interest. It is a sung Latin Mass, and this it seems, greatly to my relief, is not surprising. Seventy-five per cent of us like the Latin when it comes to singing and only one-third are happy with the New Order in English. The Secretary of the Liturgy Commission finds this puzzling and disturbing and calls for a raising of standards of worship in English. I think he is wasting his time. It is rather like telling a man used to a lifetime of good wine drinking that water is better for him and that every attempt should and will be made to make the water tastier.
We evidently know what we like and will probably stick to it until we die. We have stated clearly also (Rome and the hierarchy please note) that we would prefer a choice of rites old and new.
Our dying, of course, may not be all that far off. Looking more closely at my fellow worshippers I observe that they
are predominantly (as the survey
indicates) over 35 (84 per cent, and indeed that 66 per cent are over 45.
At last perhaps, when we are gone, the Liturgy Commission will reap its harvest. But how large, one wonders, will it be? There are plenty of children at Mass, but in view of the almost total absence of older teenagers the perseverance of the younger generation is in question. The young are not notoriously silent in protest and opinion yet only 4 per cent of those under 24 bothered to fill in the survey.
Meanwhile, there is nothing new in the fact that our congregation is predominantly female. It falls largely into the "Cl" social grade, and will for the most part vote for Mrs Thatcher in the next election.
We are in fact a pretty conservative lot in most ways, and therefore it comes as a slight surprise to find that a majority will accept Holy Communion in the hand if it is offered and that most are not unwilling to shake hands with strangers at the Kiss of Peace.
Many still look startled, however, and I for bne gaze benignly at my neighbours and avoid physical contact if possible. Fifty-nine per cent of us said in the survey that we
preferred vocal participation in the prayers of the Mass, but to judge from the very minimal noise we produce — one wonders.
And what, during the sermon — if it is a dull one — or the still fairly incomprehensible readings, does our congregation think about? Here, if it is of matters religious, our survey tells us a lot, The children, it feels, should definitely be in Catholic schools.
When did the parishioners last go to confession? Not as recently as in their parents' day (65 per cent two or three times a year or less). Is there enough lay participation in the affairs of the Church? "No" say 44 per cent, and yet one wonders how many of them, if actually asked to sit on the parish council (of which 64 per cent have heard) would wish to do so?
Fifty-eight per cent believe that the Church falls short in its efforts over Northern Ireland. But how many could say just what the Church should do?
It is the same when incomes to supporting the many good causes listed in the survey. There is massive moral support for nearly all of them, but with the notable exception of Third World charities and the missions, relatively few give much time or money. With so many surveyconscious distractions, the time passes quickly. The Mass is over and I watch my fellowparishioners as they file out and disperse into the indifferent London gloom. What, after all, are they really like?
I seem in this article to have posed almost as many questions as the survey itself. But a picture of the average middle-class practising Catholic does begin to emerge.
There is nothing very surprising about it. He, or predominantly she, remains set somewhat apart from other beings in belief and practice very much opposed to abortion, for example, and in favour of the continued celibacy of the priesthood. But in our still over-affluent society, cossetted with central heating and the telly, our beliefs and practices are being watered down and old-fashioned piety is on the way out. We do what we are told in a vague and fairly unquestioning way, clinging to the hope that whatever comes out of the Vatican must still somehow be right. That, after alt, is one of our early beliefs which we are still enjoined to retain.
But the monolithic and often irrational splendour of Rome has vanished and in its absence it is hardly surprising that many (44 per cent) seek greater progress towards the goal of the unity of the Churches.
1 am aware that I have overgeneralised. I have mentioned only the outstanding majorities and major tendencies, taking little account of the strong convictions of minorities. Yet I have a feeling myself that it is the minorities, particularly the traditionalists, who may survive the longest.
We have the majority of us – opted fur the middle of the road, a road paved with good intentions. And it is an old saying that the man who sticks to the middle of the road is sooner or later knocked down.