Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The English Catholic Way

The last few weeks I've been pre-occupied with preparing several presentations. On Saturday I returned to the church of my baptism, Ealing Abbey, to give some talks on 'Mary in the Mystery of Christ and His Church' for the excellent Maryvale Certificate in Catechesis. This is a part-time distance-learning course, spread over two years and involving a number of written assignments and study days. The 'students' came from all over London and represented a variety of ages and backgrounds. I fully recommend it to priest and catechist readers - for further information, visit the website.

I've just returned from our Pastoral Centre at London Colney, giving a day of recollection for the diocesan ethnic chaplains. As I've said before, the Centre was originally an Anglican convent and boasts a stunning chapel by Ninian Comper. I was especially pleased to celebrate Mass this morning under the splendid baldacchino (see above), instead of using the modern altar placed at the church's West End.
The theme I was asked to speak on was the 'English Catholic Way.' I gave the chaplains an overview of our ecclesiastical history and then tried to draw out the chief characteristics of traditional English spirituality. I came up with the following list:
  • A great love for Our Lady (England as Mary's Dowry)
  • A close relationship with Rome (as seen in the long tradition of pilgrimages to the Eternal City and the English origins of 'Peter's Pence')
  • Love of solitude (England was once famous for its hermits)
  • Gentleness and moderation (many English spiritual writers display practical realism and a deep understanding of human nature. They don't like to confine themselves to a rigid system)
  • This does not necessarily mean weakness and compromise, though, for the Faith survived long years of persecution and produced a crop of martyrs
  • A profound devotion to the Mass - 'it is the Mass that matters'
  • Formality, especially in the Sacred Liturgy and Prayer
  • A tradition of migration and exile

I would quite like to expand this theme and would be interested to hear of your thoughts regarding the characteristics (at least historically) of English Catholicism.

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Blogger Paul said...

I wouldn't have thought of "Love of solitude" as typically (or characteristically) English - but once it's mentioned it fits. And I'm delighted to see the "tradition of migration and exile" listed; all too often it gets overlooked, or minimalized, in a way that suggests that English Catholics have a "special relationship" with Rome but no history of strong ties to France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, not to mention the other continents of the world.

12:22 am  
Blogger the owl of the remove said...

Humour, Father: Belloc, Chesterton, Knox, Muggeridge etc. Very good list, though.

5:51 pm  
Blogger William Newton said...

Father, do you know: who is the saint depicted in the statue to the right on the...I guess it's a rood screen...as you enter the chapel? He is holding a sword in his left hand and what looks like an ankh. Very unusual representation Is that St. Mark the Evangelist, perhaps?

12:24 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

It is St Alban, the first martyr from this country. London Colney is just outside the town of St Albans.

1:38 pm  
Blogger Pastor in Valle said...

Such a lovely chapel! I'm pretty sure the statue of our Lady doesn't belong there at the altar before the screen, but at the East wall, under the canopy.

7:59 pm  
Blogger J. Benedict said...

I think of maintaining the importance of the prayer of the Office being typically English as well.

We see this in Duffy where he talks about the use of Books of the Hours.


Then the importance placed on the public celebration of Morning and Evening prayer in Anglicanism and in the English Catholic Church down to today...

7:02 am  
Blogger Fratellino said...

What a stunning post, all the way around. A splendid picture, and concise yet comprehensive observations. How did the Catholic church come into posession of the former convent at Colney, which group within the church owns it, and is it going to be able to hold onto it? It looks like an excellent resource!

12:21 am  
Blogger Paul said...

I'm not so sure about the prayer of the Office -- you'll find the same in Italy, France and the Low Countries (with great solemnity in collegiate churches), and my impression of English Catholicism is that it's harder to get people interested in a church service that isn't Mass or Benediction.

12:50 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Thanks for the comments so far.

Of course, characteristics of English Catholicism don't have to be unique to England. What is unique, though, is the particular combination of the different qualities - plus a 'local' flavour.

1:35 pm  
Blogger Ttony said...

Does "English" here equate to "recusant" or does it mean something that includes the 19th century?

A tradition of migration and exile: do you mean a tradition of immigrants and exiled people who come here and enrich our Catholicsm? I'd agree heartily with that.

I can't think that Catholics were particularly or uniquely prone to emigrate - but you might know better.

Gentleness and moderation? I'd have thought of those as Enlightenment Anglican values - at least in those terms. What happened to heretics in Tudor (pre-Reformation) times? And Catholic England was the renowned-for-drinking-and-partying England that isn't a recent phenomenon.

I think I'm tending towards thinking that there is a historico-sociological study to be carried out - your list hits a spot that feels to me like the one we'd like to be hit, rather than the actual one.

But I may be completely wrong - bring on the scholars!

8:27 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

The definition of the 'English' has changed so drastically in the last 50 years that talking of an English spirituality is, to some extent, a historical exercise - but one from which we can learn from and aspire to.

Migration and exile - the peoples who have come to England and enriched the Church and wider culture (esp. the Irish and other more recent groups), but also (historically) the English Catholic diaspora of C16 and C17 and the Irish and Saxon monks who 'migrated' overseas to spread the Good News.

Moderation and gentleness is something you see throughout English spiritual writers - Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich, Augustine Baker, Newman, Knox, etc. The philosopher,Roger Scruton, said that 'gentleness' is the most accurate adjective to use in defining the English character.

Many of the qualities in my list still have an impact on C21 English Catholics, even though things have changed so much!

8:46 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Fratellino: the Anglican nuns left London Colney in the 1970s and the diocese bought it from them. Although London priests often moan about having to make the journey there for meetings, etc, it is a beautiful place and actually in the geographical centre of Westminster (which includes Hertfordshire). How long it will remain our pastoral centre, though, is anyone's guess. Many of the groups that use it for conferences are secular and in this day and age the former nuns' cells do need to be made en suite!

8:49 pm  
Blogger Stephen said...

Mgr R.H. Benson idendifies among other things that a devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus is distinctively, and perhaps even originally English. In "A Book of the Love of Jesus" he has a chapter about English devotions - I'll dig the book out and type up the relevant bits (I'm sure copywright has expired).

6:40 pm  

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