My car recently failed its MOT test because of the rosary beads hanging from the rear-view mirror. The mechanic said it was now illegal. I hadn’t noticed, having merely followed my previous bishop’s suggestion to hang beads as a simple witness of faith in our secularised society. Surely the new restriction has nothing to do with bigotry; it is purely a matter of safety: “obstruction within driver’s field of view”. Let us not complain – during penal times, we would be hanged if found with beads.
In 2018, though, how truly safe is our Catholic identity? Have we noticed any new restrictions to our rights as believers in past decades? If we haven’t, others have. Christianity is in peril worldwide, and “almost vanquished” in Britain and Ireland, as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor put it in 2001. This was before the legalisation of gay marriage. What would the cardinal say today, after the Irish referendum on abortion, the ban on prayerful witness outside abortuaries and the advance of transgender ideology even in Catholic schools?
With more and more intrusive laws passed, and with fewer clergy to provide advice and support, the situation is getting worse. How will faithful Catholics survive? Moving close to each other, near fully fledged Mass centres, will make us stronger and happier. Instead of trying to resist the assaults of secularism in isolation, families can pool together and build up dynamic communities where embracing the fullness of Catholic life will not be an oddity or a crime, but an expectation and an incentive.
The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP) wants to meet this growing need by embracing what I call ‘the Village Option’, around St Mary’s Shrine Church in Warrington. A village has no walls. Neither fortress nor ghetto, it is a place of convivial dwelling on a human scale, open to all. Whereas taking as our model the New Jerusalem might be slightly too ambitious, we modestly aim for a Nazareth in Lancashire – a place where families and individuals will like to live, growing in sanctity around a beautiful church with daily Mass, confessions and homily; with catechism, spiritual direction and processions.
In addition to building a parish hall, a music room, clergy office, and classrooms, we wish to have a pro-life office, a Catholic bookshop, workshops for vestment-sewing and sacred art, and accommodation for retreatants.
Prominent Catholics have lent their support to our project. Jacob Rees-Mogg has written: “I am glad to support the Priory Project [as it is known] in Warrington. At a time when many sacred buildings are converted to secular use, St Mary’s retained its original purpose when the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter saved that beautiful Pugin church from closure. More space is now needed around St Mary’s Church for pastoral activities. Acquiring the former Priory buildings next to the church would answer that urgent need.”
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool has said: “I am very pleased that such a beautiful church remained open for divine worship and provides a spiritual home for many. As the local Ordinary, I have ordained four priests at St Mary’s Church over the past three years, and I have twice conferred the sacrament of Confirmation. I eagerly support the Priory Campaign which will secure for St Mary’s Shrine the space needed for their increasing pastoral activities.”
Other supporters include Robin Haig of SPUC, Robert Colquhoun of 40 Days for Life, Dr Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society, Maria Haynes of the National Association of Catholic Families, and Viscountess Ashbrook.
What next? Once my car passed its MOT test, I hung my rosary beads back on the mirror. Catholic tradition itself is like a rear-view mirror: you look back so as to move forward. And the beads are no obstruction to our field of view. Rather, they help us aim for what will last. With God’s help and Our Lady’s, we will build a village that is part of the Kingdom.
Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP is rector of St Mary’s Shrine, Warrington. To support the Priory Campaign, email [email protected]
This article first appeared in the August 3 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here