Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Hermeneutic of Continuity

The Catholic press has suffered in the decades since the Second Vatican Council, I expect not just in terms of quality and Catholicity of content but in terms of sales. Now it faces stiff competition from the free, alternative news and opinion sources of individual blogs.

There was, I presume, a time when Catholics would receive their copy of The Universe and even The Tablet and rejoice.

Looking over a volume of 'From the Archives of The Universe Catholic Weekly' the other day, I was filled with wonder at photographs from what appears to have been a 'golden age' for Catholicism in the United Kingdom. I saw a marvellous image of G K Chesterton and his wife walking into Westminster Cathedral, for instance. This 'golden age' seems to have been from the late 1800s, through the decades until the ravages of the Second World war, or rather its aftermath, and the resulting 1960s 'new age'.

It appears to have been a time when Priests and Bishops behaved and dressed like Priests and Bishops, when the laity voluntarily built shrines to Our Lady in the East End of London, when couples loved the Faith so much that they would get married in freshly bombed Churches, when processions were massive, piety and devotion to the Rosary was strong and the Catholic identity ran through British Catholic life like a stick of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. In that novel, the innocent Rose tells bad boy Pinkie that suicide is a "mortal sin". Pinkie's response is that "one more won't hurt". Nowadays, presumably, Pinkie would tell Rose that you can't talk to people about Salvation and ask her whether she means something about climate change.

The archive images are fascinating, but they throw into sharp focus the present age and how aspects of Catholic worship, liturgy and dress are absolutely unrecognisable from what they once were.  When you compare the ornate vestments, birettas and lace albs that were just what Priests and Bishops wore routinely, it just appears as if everything was taken so much more seriously in those days! There was a sense of timelessness and majesty to the images. The Faithful really were faithful. Full of faith. That is certainly how it appears, anyway.

'From the Archives' Hardback Book
You can search through the Total Catholic website for the individual copies of 'From the Archives' which you can buy (they are cheap, by the way!) and I see that they have compiled a book, interestingly, due to the popularity of the series among Catholics who look back not only with nostalgia, but also those who look forward to a restoration of the Catholic identity and a widespread embracing of the Church's roots in the United Kingdom.

It always strikes me that it appears that many senior Priests and Bishops are embarrassed by the Church's past in the UK. I have a feeling the time will come when future generations of Catholics will feel embarrassed by them. This isn't just history. This is our history. These are our roots! These are images of Bishops, Priests, Religious and Laity with whom we are still in communion, as much as we are with the Saints! I recommend the series very much.


Left-footer said...

It is striking how, in old photographs, both Clergy and Laity are usually unsmiling. They are doing something important which has to be done. Now there are smirks and grins.

Thomas Hardy somewhere remarked that you could tell a genuine tradition from a revival, or fake: those engaged in the genuine don't look especially happy. They are just busy. The revivalists, disconected from tradition as a duty, are clearly enjoying themselves.

Hardy was a poor theologian, but a penetrating psychologist.

umblepie said...

Thanks for this interesting and encouraging post. I see that the 'Book' you mention is available at £10.00. I must definitely go for this.

pelerin said...

Thanks for giving this link - shall have plenty of time to look at them as I have broken a bone in my foot and am confined to home!

Catholic Identity said...

Archbishop Nichols words are worth recalling.
You Tube audio recording on

Strangely, someone on another blog removed the first link but it is freely available on You Tube.
Why would anyone want to delete it?

georgem said...

Future generations? There are enough of us in the present generation who already feel that way!

Savonarola said...

Every age is potentially a Golden Age, as every age is the time when we can know God. We can only know him in the present, never in the past or the future. Dreaming of past Golden Ages may help our faith, but may equally be a distraction. The worst temptation of course is to imagine we can or should get back to our preferred Golden Age.

Paul said...

I'm sorry, but there is little more incongruous than the local Anglo-Catholic priest treading the shiny wet cobbles of my poor northern town in his biretta leaving a trail of insense, "more Catholic than Rome" as the local RCs say.
Really nice Anglican bloke, but our excellent RC PP looks more like a smiling John Wesley as he visits the parishioners in his approachable simplicity.
Our services are equally as simple and sincere and well-attended.
Birettas in the sunshine and culture of Sicily ok but here? now?

Colin said...

"Archbishop Conti tells clergy: do not promote the Extraordinary Form of the Mass – there is 'no call for it'"


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