LETTER : Catholics break out of the ghetto

Sir: Your feature on Roman Catholic church attendance prompts one to ask just how typical Brompton Oratory is of the rank-and-file Catholic laity in England ("The resurrection that never was", 10 December).

In the old days before Vatican II, the priest would come into the school and say to the children, "If you do not go to Mass on Sunday, what is it?" To which the thunderous reply was, "A mortal sin, Father." The Church was seen as a sort of supernatural travel agency assuring the faithful of tickets to Paradise if they kept the rules.

But Vatican II produced the marvellous decree on Religious Liberty and it was no longer a sin, let alone a mortal sin, not to go to Mass on Sunday. Nowadays there may be fewer worshippers in church on Sundays but at weekday Masses the attendance is much greater. In our small parish church of some 400 souls, there are often 30 people at 9.30am Mass during the week. Moreover, the number of people undertaking serious study of church history and practice, theological ideas and pastoral care is far more than it used to be.

The present Pope is seen as a reactionary, old-guard Catholic, because he finds it necessary to defend very vigorously the age-old never to be abandoned Christian teaching on sexual matters, but his frequent meetings with members of other religious bodies, including shamans and Aboriginal healers, gives a lead to all Christians in ecumenism.

JOHN BATE

Oxford

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