Horizontal and vertical Aidan Mayoss CR

Some fifty years ago when I was a baby curate, summer was the time for processions out of doors! Only the Evangelicals called it still by its original name “The Anniversary’, meaning the anniversary of the Sunday school, but the children were much in evidence in our procession, which usually contained 150-200 people.

Two obvious things were effected by this endeavour: the strength, or otherwise, of the parish was made public and also those who were not afraid to make public their allegiance to the church, which, in a mining parish, was also significant. Later I was involved in the three dramatic representations of the way of the Cross, literally drawing a thousand or so onlookers who by the end were participants and involving a huge cast and even bigger back-up. They were all ecumenical endeavours, and very much better for it. I was reflecting on this during the procession at the National Pilgrimage at Walsingham as the procession wound its way along: what has happened to ‘outdoor religion’? Is it that our numbers are now so diminished that we dare not show them in public? Or is our time so filled with what is now called ‘spirituality’ that there is no room for or perhaps even no need for any sort of public display, even when most if not all of our churches are firmly closed and locked?

If this last sentence is indeed true then there is something grievously wrong with our spirituality. Remember the words of Jesus: ‘for their sake I sanctify myself, or William Temple’s often quoted remark about ‘the church being the only organization which exists for the sake of those outside it’ and he was not thinking solely of ‘bums on pews’, hence the title, ‘Horizontal and vertical’.

Yes, the vertical is vitally important; this is the whole area of our relationship with God formed through our worship, through the sacraments, and very specially those of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and ‘vitally’ because our life depends on it, seriously, and without it we are as good as dead, and all our displays, endeavours, processions or exhibitions are, as Shakespeare says, ‘Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. Concentrating solely on the vertical with no concern for or witness to our neighbour is self-indulgence in block capitals!

At the end of every Mass, in whatever modern rite is used, the dismissal of the people contains the word go’. Sometimes this is added to, but it is a reminder of the command of the risen Lord Jesus to his followers: ‘Go quickly and tell…’ Telling is often better without words than with them, but what we tell, what we do and what we say depends on the strength of a vertical relationship.

Saints come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. None of them ever thought of themselves as saints or as doers of much good; they thought of themselves as forgiven sinners, forgiven over and over again, and because of this they did and do what the Lord requires: ‘To do justice, love righteousness, and walk humbly with thy God’ [Micah 6.8].