Where to place the X?
If letters to this magazine are anything to go by, Catholics face a quandary at this election. Correspondents point out that all parties fall well short of embodying Catholic principles on everything from abortion to asylum. They recognise, nevertheless, that they have a duty to haul themselves to the polling station on May 7. But where to place the X? We do not presume to tell our readers who they should vote for, but we do suggest that there has never been a general election in which one party has perfectly expressed Church teaching. Catholics in this country have always had to weigh a host of factors before dropping their vote into the ballot box.
In their well-judged and useful election document, available at cbcew.org.uk, the Bishops of England and Wales identify five themes the faithful should consider before voting.
Respecting life While the bishops caution us against single-issue voting, they underline the gravity of life issues: abortion, euthanasia and experimentation on human embryos. The next Parliament is likely to see yet another push for assisted suicide. This is a very important consideration as we cast our votes.
It’s possible, too, that pro-life MPs may attempt to tighten the abortion law, so we should carefully scrutinise candidates’ views on the unborn child’s right to life.
Supporting marriage and the family The bishops note that families are “more diverse and fragile” than in the past, so it’s vital that support for the family “should be at the heart of social and political life”. We should distinguish between candidates who are only paying lip serv-
The bishops have identified five themes the faithful should consider before voting ice to the family and those who would take steps to strengthen marriage, and improve the lot of poor and fractured families.
Education As Tim Montgomerie points out in our cover story, public opinion is turning against church schools. All the more reason for us to vote for candidates who support the right of Catholic parents to educate their children in Catholic schools. Our responsibility does not end there: the bishops urge us to back those who would “ensure that the poorest have access to high quality education”.
Building communities The hierarchy asks us to consider a range of factors that help to build up community life: fair pay, a well-supported voluntary sector, a thriving, socially responsible private sector and a just immigration policy. Then they identify a topic we believe to be of great importance: religious freedom. It’s crucial that we know whether candidates will fight for the right of Britain’s believers to practise their faith, both in private and in public, and, most importantly, to stand up for persecuted religious minorities around the world.
Caring for the world Finally, the bishops urge Catholics to consider prospective MPs’ positions on overseas aid and climate change.
Our responsibilities, of course, do not begin and end on election day. Many observers foresee an uncertain period after May 7 as parties struggle to form a coalition. The country may feel a little shaky and it will be our task not only to pray for our politicians but also to loudly and clearly express the ethic we believe should be at the heart of our national life.
A treasure from the East
Imagine a Mass in which Communion loaves are ceremonially baked; the unbaptised are liturgically “expelled” from the building; the Creed reverses the order of the Incarnation so that Jesus is made man before being born of the Virgin Mary; the words of Institution (“This is my body”) are often left unsaid; and at which communicants receive unconsecrated bread as well as the Eucharist.
If you think this sounds non-Catholic, you are mistaken. This is the Eastern Syrian Rite, parts of which date back to the third century AD, used by ancient Churches in the Middle East. Some of them are in communion with Rome,
including the 4.6 million Syro-Malabar Catholics of India – the second largest Eastern Rite Catholic Church after the Byzantine Rite Ukrainians.
Now they have been given two personal parishes in Lancaster diocese, their first in Europe, by Bishop Michael Campbell.
This is a wise and wonderful gesture by Bishop Michael. Wise because the Syro-Malabar community is growing in England; wonderful because it reminds us that the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, now refreshed by its new English translation, is only one of several rites, forms and usages of the Mass. This magazine is delighted that the Extraordinary Form and the lovely Ordinariate usage of the Roman Rite have been, respectively, liberated and created by Rome. Of course we recognise that the Novus Ordo in the vernacular is the preferred option of most Catholics.
But it is good to be reminded that these unfamiliar liturgies – in the case of the Syro-Malabars, startlingly different from our idea of Mass – are part of our heritage. All of us are free to fulfil our Sunday obligation by attending them. Perhaps we should try to do so by attending at least one. For they remind us that the Church loyal to the Holy See truly is Catholic and universal.
CATHOLIC HERALD, MAY 1 2015 3