Arthur Middleton on renewed expressions of parish life inspired by Fr Michonneau’s writings
The trend in contemporary worship is towards attractive services to communicate political or sociological information, enhancing the feel-good factor and instant comprehension. ‘Fresh Expressions’ culture is part of post-ordination training. Media technology makes worship an advert for media faith instead of an encounter with God and is not a mirror of reality.
Unit of mission
Trivialized religion robbed of serious intentions becomes a branch of show business, making worship a means to some other human end. The assumption is that God exists for man and heaven for earth and worship has no value unless it contributes to the immediate benefit of people assessable in terms of this world. Worship reduced to religious concert loses its meaning, ceases to be prayer and becomes an action to manipulate group activity, depriving it of power.
Fr Michonneau’s Revolution in a City Parish (1949), where the parish not the diocese is the unit of mission, influenced thoughtful people. His purpose was to advance the boundaries of the living Church everywhere by using the parish for such growth. Traditionally, it had been the expression of religious community life across Europe embracing all living within it, a±enders and non-a±enders. By 1949 things were different. Many were spiritual drifters, others aggressively irreligious and hostile to Christianity, and the majority were religion-less. With insufficient clergy it is hopeless to operate the parishes as in the days of faith.
Well-springs of evangelism
But the parish can become an outpost for re-conquest. The priest is the evangelist at the head of a spiritual fighting force which must include a lay apostolate ready to bring Christ into the homes and hearts of parishioners, and realizing they are not proclaiming the Christian message for the first time, which makes it more difficult. Today, ‘We’ve heard all that before’ is the prevalent attitude and they look elsewhere for values.
Central to Michonneau’s thesis is the need for priest and laity to participate in the reverent and ordered celebration of the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy and the revival of the basic pra›ices of prayer life. These well-springs of evangelism, Eucharist and Daily Office, are where the interior life of prayer for priest and laity is sustained by a constant solicitude for the work of Christ for the sanctification of the parish.
Here lies the inspiration for mission, as priest and people are conformed to the sacrificial love of Christ that becomes the seed-bed of an evangelistic holiness. This must be the way of the apostles of modern Europe in which they become sufficiently alert and dynamic to persuade people today that they are mistaken and that the quest of man leads to Christ.
These ‘renewed expressions’ of parish life recall us to the truly Catholic concept of the all-embracingness now replaced by a pervasive congregationalism. Let our parishes become outposts of spiritual attack, with priests and laity so mobilizing parish life to a±ract the forgo±en and unattached into the sacramental life of the Church. Christ came for all, Christ died for all, Christ calls all, not only the practising Anglican.
Bishop Frank Weston told the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, ‘You have got to come out from before your Tabernacle, and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and and the same Jesus in the people of your cities.’
Today priests have got to get away from their computers, the churning out of printed paper and the proliferation of meetings. It is easy for mere tools to become magnificent obsessions becoming obstacles that kill personal contact as they keep the priest o¶ the streets. ND