The Liturgy And The Leakage
By DOM BERNARD MeELLIGOTT Last week a plea was made in this column for the recognition of the Liturgy as the true centre of all Catholic education. I hope a little further consideration of this subject will be forgiven.
" Plea " is probably the wrong word. It suggests a personal opinion to be advanced with deference—the attitude of the muchadvertised perfect butler proferring the
cigarettes, But the teaching church does not plead with us for a hearing. She speaks with authority, with the voice of Christ Who said " He that heareth you, heareth Mc.It is the teaching Church in the person of the Vicar of Christ who says "People are better instructed in the truths of faith . . by the celebration of the sacred mysteries in the course of the year Man by even the mightiest pronouncements of the teaching Church." (Italics mine). The full passage from the Encyclical on Christ the King was quoted last week. I quote this clear and strong statement again to place beside it another utterance of Pius XI. this time from an audience granted to Abbot Capelle: " The liturgy is a very great thing. It is the most important organ of the ordinary teaching power of the Church."
The Liturgy, then (by which is meant principally the Mass), is a greater and more powerful teacher of the Faith than any human instructor or body of instructors, clerical or lay; nay, greater than the weightiest pronouncements of the teaching Church itself. It is easy to see why. For the Liturgy is the Faith itself, prayed, grasped by the imagination, absorbed by the soul in living contact with the divine source of light and life. In the active and sincere offering of Mass Christ and Christians share the same supernatural life of illumination which the Head of the Mystical Body imparts to the members. It is teaching by incorporation into Christ, and Christ is the teacher.
Children in Catholic elementary schools, adolescents in our secondary and public schools, Catholic undergraduates at the universities; should not they (as well as all of us) be formed, built up and grown into Christ by the supreme teaching power of the Mass? To Catholics taking the Pope's teaching seriously there can be no other first principle of Christian education. But there is one essential condition. Only an active, intelligent and truly sacrificial participation in the Mass will effect this. A passive " attendance " at Mass will not do, because then the soul with its faculties of understanding, loving and willing is simply not put into effective contact with the Sacrifice.
The tragedy (not altogether unperceived by them) of thousands of young adolescent Catholic fives at present is that they do not know and love the Mass, and the liturgical Christian life which springs from it, as their • worship, something that they do. I suggest that we have here a principal cause of the leakage front the Faith.
Most of them no doubt know the textbook answers. But these are by themselves dry bones. They must be made to live by doing, by performing the Mass itself as a conscious act of sacrifice which demands the co-operation of intelligence, heart, imagination, body and voice.
If the Liturgy, especially the Mass, is the centre of the Christian's fife—and there can be no doubt about that —we reach this conclusion; that a Christian's everyday life is, or should be, an extension of his worship.
His education for everyday life, then, should be centred on, and develop from, the truths of Faith which he learns in his worship; for we remember that the liturgy instructs us in the truths of Faith better than even the weightiest pronouncements of the teaching Church. Following this line, it is clearly demanded of Catholic education that it should put the liturgy first, and particularly the intelligent, corporate and vocal offering of Mass.
Have we not in practice very largely kept the teaching of doctrine and actual " attendance " at Mass in separate pigeonholes if not in watertight compartments? In doing so, have we not, incredible as it seems, followed unconsciously the very tactic of the Reformers? We cannot separate dogma from the living liturgy. Is it any good to teach adolescents abstract truths about the Mass in the classroom if in church they sing popular hymns or keep silence during the Mass itself? Is it any wonder that in such circumstances the abstract classroom instruction has no real meaning for them? Can we be surprised if it makes no vital contact with their imagination and so does not stick? For imagination, as Chesterton splendidly remarks, is a sense of the meaning of things.
The meaning of things can be taught in the Catholic classroom, as a preparation for actually doing, learning and praying them in the liturgy of the Christian year. The great feasts of the liturgical year are not mere pious landmarks, releasing in us a nostalgic and ineffective sigh for the glories of the ages of faith.
They arc dynamic; they powerfully present to us Christian truth; they teach the doctrines they embody. When we take an active part (intelligently prepared) in the liturgy of such days as Christmas, the Annunciation, Good Friday, Pentecost, SS. Peter and Paul, Christ the King, All Saints and All Souls, the Immaculate Conception, we are, by submitting ourselves to the Church's expression of these truths, " assimilating it into our very flesh and blood " (Pius XI). As a Catholic writer has excellently said, " Christian education is not so much information apart from Christ as formation of Christ through Christ" Each feast as it comes has its own power of instruction, of adding to our grasp on the Faith.
It is for Catholic education to use this power to the full, by joining intelligent and imaginative (in Chesterton's sense) preparation in the classroom to actual corporate offering of Mass in the church. The perils of our situation, as well as the direct teaching of the Holy See, demand this.
A passive, mechanical attendance at Mass leads (can we not see it?) to boredom, ignorance of Christian truth, a mistaking of external conformity for the realities of sacrifice and prayer, a sense of personal restriction instead of spiritual expansion and growth.
The peril is real. But so is the opportunity. There is evident among English Catholics an increasing desire to give practical effect to the teaching of the Popes concerning the primacy of the Liturgy in Catholic life and worship.