Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I have no doubt the bishops of England and Wales are always on the lookout for ways to improve their training in pastoral relations, so I offer an excellent field exercise for free.
It’s called the “No Alternative” or “Because We Do” scenario.

Take four children away for a weekend staying with friends in the country. Have a very jolly evening on Saturday night, perhaps slightly jollier than intended: “Another? Well, I’m not driving home...”

Forget completely about bedtimes, and eventually dispatch about a dozen exhausted children into various beds, sleeping bags and futons around the house, at around midnight.

Your mission, Your Grace: to get the whole lot of them to church next morning.

To add to the fun, you’re away from home and not 100% sure where the church is. We will deduct points for each minute you are late for Mass and you will lose a grade for each of “your” children whom you fail to bundle into the car…and out of it. Children posted in through the tailgate fast asleep in sleeping bags, and left outside the church, do not count as “active, conscious communicants”.

Now if all bishops in England and Wales were set this task once in their careers, they would never, never have even contemplated cutting back on Holy Days of Obligation.

Because – as Mr J and I were reminded forcefully last weekend, there is only one way in which this exercise can be accomplished.

“Why are we doing this?” wailed one groggy family member, surveying the red-eyed, tousle-haired, rag-tag-and-bobtail crew which emerged blinking into the sunlight outside a charming little Catholic chapel with one minute to spare on Sunday.

“Because we are Catholics and this is what we do,” Mr J. snapped back at me. “There is no alternative.”

The biggest difference visible to outsiders between the Catholic Church and the Church of England is not the clergy, not the liturgy, not the structure.

The biggest difference, and therefore the one most likely to be missed by people immersed in the ways of the Church, is that Catholics turn up. We go to church. We don’t just talk about it nostalgically or watch vaguely religious programmes on BBC1 as a substitute.

When I was an Anglican, I would wake up on a Sunday morning, and think “Hmm, shall I go to church today?”

As a Catholic, I wake up on a Sunday morning and think, “How are we going to make it to church today?”

From the very first minute that you are given permission to consider an act of worship optional, then from that moment onwards, dozens of other little obligations start to bob up their unsightly heads and cry out “Me too! I’m important too!”

And before you know it, the obligation to worship has been drowned in a sea of “must-do” items.

Time-management experts call it “controlling your diary” – the habit of independently establishing an absolute priority. It is very difficult to do this without an authority figure. Ask any writer who has tried to finish a book without a publisher or agent breathing over the shoulder.

People prioritise getting to work on time, because they don’t want to lose their job. Most children I know feel uncomfortable if they have not brushed their teeth, or washed their hands after going to the loo, because they have been drilled all their lives into doing it.

It is possible to raise children who feel uncomfortable, as adults, when a Sunday passes without worship. At the very least they ought to feel a twinge of guilt: “I have to make up for that somehow.” But to achieve even this level of commitment, an visible outside authority is essential. And, Your Graces, that means you.

Most Christian parents in the UK don’t go along with this. They would argue that a child raised in the “shall we go to church today?” ethos may become a fine young Christian and have more personal commitment to their faith than a child who has been “dragged along to church”. But these fine young Christians are a minority: they have held onto their faith despite, not because of, the absence of drilled-in habits.

The bishops would point out that they have no intention of doing away with the Sunday Mass obligation. What they don’t realise is that by raising the issue of HDOs at all, they have just made my life as a parent a little bit more difficult. To the keen legalistic eye of the average teenager, the principle has been established. Yesterday you said it mattered to go to Mass on Corpus Christi. Today you say it does not. Where will you stop?

1 comment:


I just had to compliment you on your article,entitled Let a bishop take my children to mass .You have written so much sense.I am a mother of three and though they are grown up now I did bring them up to go to mass on Sunday and holidays and other days ,if possible.All three still go to mass regularly.
I am a retired teacher who still works as a confirmation catechist etc so am very aware of the thinking today.
I can notunderstand any parent allowing their 11 year old to say I am not going to mass.Would we allow them to say I am not going to school??? And as you say it does not help when the bishops said it mattered to go to Mass on Corpus Christi and now it doesnt.
This does nothing to help parents to encourage their children in the practice of their faith...the Mass being central to it.
Good luck in bringing up your children.I am sure you will do an excellent job of bringing them up in their faith
Best wishes
Kathleen Campbell