The true significance of altar rails
SIR – Mr B Robinson (Letter, December 7) asks whether we can have our altar rails back. The answer is in the affirmative, but who at this time is likely to mandate their reinstatement? Their removal was never authorised by the Vatican, being an example of yet one more “good idea” from the 1960s.
The significance of altar rails is the symbolic separation of the divine from the everyday. We seem to have lost our sense of the mystical. For example, in some of our churches minutes after receiving Holy Communion, following the ending of Mass, there are those who descend into casual conversation rather than prayers of thanksgiving, and no one appears unduly perturbed.
We have “laicised” the priesthood and “clericalised” the laity. We look upon the Holy Mass as a communal meal rather than the unbloodied Sacrifice of Our Lord. We find no October devotions, no Benediction, no public recitation of the holy rosary, and we are the Catholic Church? Are we asleep or has something worse happened to us? If we want to know how a Catholic church looked before the changes initiated some 50 years ago, my immediate suggestion would be to visit the London Oratory.
As the Catholic Church in England and indeed elsewhere, we need to restore a more proper relationship with God. While social and environmental issues have their particular level of importance, we need to fix eternity more firmly in our sights. Though not by itself the whole answer, restoration of altar rails must surely be an important factor. Let us pray that this day is not unduly delayed.
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
We are too ready to condemn bishops
SIR – In response to Martin Clitheroe’s letter (December 7), I would like to point out that I was not suggesting that hierarchy in itself was necessarily superior to any other system (Letter, November 30).
I was rather expressing the belief that God can work through whatever system is in place, and at the same time that no system as such is immune from diabolical attacks. The beautiful anonymous “Letter of the Week” in the November 23 edition is much nearer the mark in suggesting how we recover from our present crisis.
I do feel sad that we are so ready to condemn bishops who in the most part spent their formative years in a pre-1960s world where nobody spoke openly about sex, let alone about such things as child abuse. Nor did anybody except perhaps a few trained psychologists understand the psychological harm that this terrible offence caused to the victims.
Why do we assume that the bishops’ motive in hiding these things was only to preserve their own positions or their colleagues’? Isn’t it far more likely, and a more charitable explanation, that they wanted to protect their flock, the souls under their care? There is a terrifying piece in the Gospels about “giving scandal”. They would have known that making such offences public would undermine the faith of many good souls, as indeed has happened following the disclosures in our more open culture, and they felt that as good shepherds they must not make such things public.
Our judgments have become anachronistic in recent years because people don’t seem to understand what British culture was like before 1960.
The return of Judas
SIR – It is general knowledge that the Catholic Church has been and continues to be grievously damaged by the activities of some priests and high-ranking clergy.
To the ordinary lay person, this is outrageous and almost beyond comprehension. Not only is the abuse of another person intrinsically sinful, but to deny any wrong-doing adds to the enormity of the crime.
Like many of the laity, I have prayed about the state of the Church and have come to the conclusion that there is a parallel to be found here and in the New Testament. Judas, like ordained priests, willingly became a follower of Jesus. Like the priest at Mass, he supped with the Lord and declared his love for Christ. Like the clergy who are bringing Christ and his Church into disrepute, Judas was prepared to betray Him – all for 30 pieces of silver.
Could it be argued that a similar situation is existing in the Church today? The clergy who are denying Christ through their sinful behaviour and using Church money to fund a good (and, in some cases, luxurious) lifestyle are no better than the traitor Judas. As Our Lord said: “Better for a man if he had never been born.”
This betrayal by Judas led to the Crucifixion. Is this what lies ahead for the Church? Let us hope and pray that our hierarchy and clergy continue to stand up and be counted, thus giving leadership to the faithful and protecting the faith from error.
SIR – Your leading article, “Taking liberties”, in the November 30 issue, is right to say that “we should put pressure on our elected representatives to stand up for persecuted minorities around the world”; but first of all we should put our own house in order.
For example, persecuted Christians (and others) are seldom if ever mentioned in the bidding prayers; there is no Sunday specially dedicated to the persecuted; and there is no regular diocesan collection in support of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) or any similar charity.
It is as though we wish to be shielded from such disturbing thoughts; which is odd, to say the least, given the long history of persecution in the Church and its prevalence today, as ACN reports.
Solihull, West Midlands
Newman the priest
SIR – The evocation of the qualities and accomplishments of Cardinal Newman as stated in the fine piece by Matthew Schmitz (Comment, December 7) should have made reference to the final statement in the official petition of Newman’s Cause to Rome. This formally declares that even had the cardinal never written anything, he should be considered a saint for his work as a parish priest.
Stourbridge, West Midlands
SIR – Reading through the article (Vatican news analysis, November 30) on the revised Italian translation of the Our Father, I was mystified by references only to how the Latin or Greek should be translated. Surely a more profitable line of enquiry would have been to try to work out what Jesus would have said in Aramaic and from there decide whether the Koine Greek is a reasonable reflection of that. Getting back to the Aramaic of the 1st century AD is not straightforward but there will be scholars around who could have a stab at it.
The idea that God could or would lead us into “temptation” does need to be knocked on the head by someone.