My dear friend, Servus Fidelis, has provided a link to an excellent article by Fr Robert Baron, in the Catholic Telegraph. Fr Robert’s message is that the dumbing down of the seventies generation has been a ‘pastoral disaster of the first order.’ There is so much sense in it.
I was reflecting on what Rob Cottrell has been writing, and the discussions provoked by Geoffrey’s stimulating thoughts on the news that Anglicanism is going to try to find a way of evangelising pagans. I had been thinking of the contrast between what goes on in my church on a Sunday, which does attract younger people, and the rather plain service I get when I go to C451’s Catholic chapel with him.
My generation is very visually orientated, and being brought up with plenty of moving images, we’re actually quite literate and comfortable with imagery; if you ever go to a gig, there is lots of imagery, smoke, and there is almost a way of doing things with which we are all familiar; but there is activity, images, light and sound. That is not terribly different from what we get in my church, with the incense, the candles, the carrying of the Cross in procession, the kissing of the Bible, the kneeling at the altar, the icons and the statues – and the beautiful choral music. These things all hit the parts of us that are not just intellect. I am not the only one who responds to the beauty, the sense of the numinous, and the sense of mystery. This is something and somewhere special.
That corresponds to what Fr Robert says about ‘leading with beauty’. I am not downplaying the importance of reading and preaching, but if that is all that happens in our churches, it isn’t going to be very attractive to those looking for something ‘spiritual’. Go into my Anglo-Catholic church with its Gothic architecture, its rood-screen, its incense, its icons and its statues, and you are immediately aware that you are somewhere special for something special. You don’t get there what I find in C451’s plain Catholic chapel – which is people gossiping right from entry to the point at which the Mass starts.
The cope, the chasuble, the robes, in which Father is dressed mark him out as being the man who makes the sacrifice of the Mass on our behalf. The altar-rail separates him and the other celebrants apart in a holy place. It seems the most natural thing to kneel in that place. Even before we see the sanctuary light, there is a sense that God is there with us. And yes, kneeling there, I do adore Christ, and the choir’s chanting, the lingering smell of the incense, and the light transformed by the stained-glass windows, the world is lost to me and I to it.
I wonder sometimes whether that very literal generation of the seventies gets, or ever got, any of this? If I want to listen to guitars, I can go down to the pub on Thursday night, where there is a good selection of amateurs and a nice sing-along. Guitars in church are like ‘dad-dancing’ or some other embarrassing expression of trying to be ‘with it’ by a generation which still thinks that phrase means anything.
I do not know any easy way to break this to the generation which approved of the changes of the seventies, so I will say it straight. No doubt at the time you did what you thought was good, but take a look at the results – is it working in terms of bringing people to Jesus? No, not really. So what do you care about most – your pride or Jesus. My generation has no problem with beauty and imagery and ceremonial – we like a sense of mystery, and our feelings and emotions need to be engaged – and the sort of services you brought in don’t do it for us. So could you quietly cede ground and let us get on with it? We’ve had enough of your cynicism, your infantile need to revolt against your parents even when they are long dead, and your lack of a sense of reverence. We are against all of that, and we will outlive you, so go now, and let us, and those of your generation who did not drink the kool-aid put it right.