Posted by our religious correspondent, Richard Rawlinson
“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”
Sir William Gladstone
Following the recent spate of arson attacks and looting sprees, it’s easy to conclude some of England’s more feckless vandals have been dragged up expecting rights without responsibilities, and that we’re doomed unless we rein in aspects of the liberal social experiment of recent decades.
One of the challenges of society today is the nature and speed of cultural change, in particular how people seek meaning and hope. Ritual has always played a part in helping us process life transitions, whether from bachelor to husband or wife to widow.
In today’s pluralistic, late-modern world, fewer people are using religious rites of passage to help understand meaning in life and death. Secular state-endorsed civil marriages and funerals are providing an alternative. But even when humanistic services include religious elements, do they not tend to be consumer-driven – ‘what the client wants, the client gets’?
If the Church is trying to revive her relevance, I don’t think the answer is accepting requests for ‘Fly Him To The Moon’. So what does she offer that’s different, what’s her ‘unique selling point?
Regular church-goers receive community support and consideration of bereavement beyond the funeral. But so, too, do those surrounded by friends and family in a secular community, so pastoral care alone is not a justification.
The true answer also won’t wash among non-believers: faith in God and the hope of His love for eternity. It’s a chicken and egg dilemma for the Church. No faith, no gain. No gain, no faith.
So the question is how to inspire faith, and increasingly the answer is a return to traditional liturgy and rites, not yet more guitars, tambourines and pagan-style dancing in the sanctuary. This traditional revival, driven by His Holiness Pope Benedict, is not about empty aesthetics, but about liturgy and ritual showing how beauty and truth connect with one another. Interestingly, it’s the young who get it and are cheerleaders for the cause. They’re fed up with Vatican II aging hippies making them cringe as they try desperately to be ‘in touch’.