PRESIDENTIAL MASS
JUNE 24th 2006

Louis Charles Casartelli became Bishop of Salford in 1903, and used his first pastoral letter to persuade the Catholic laity to respond to the challenge of a new age. The Bishop was a man of remarkable vision. He saw very clearly that the Catholic community had to abandon the ghetto existence of the past and make a real contribution to public life in the country.

The Catenian association, founded in 1908, was a response to that pastoral letter. John O’Donnell, the first President of the association, wrote in 1912 “The idea underlying the Catenian association was conceived from the Bishop of Salford’s first pastoral letter, in which he pointed out that as Catholics in this country enjoyed the fullness of political and civil liberty, such rights bring with them a corresponding duty of exercising them for the common good.” He went on to quote from Bishop Casartelli: “Apart from party politics there are vast fields of action for the general good in matters social, municipal, philanthropic, educational, artistic and literary in which we may exercise the powers we enjoy.”

You may well think that these ideas have a distinctly modern flavour to them. In many ways they anticipated, by half a century, the ideas of the 2nd Vatican Council. During the first half of the 20th century the term “Catholic Action” came into vogue. It was an attempt on the part of the Church to mobilise the ordinary Catholic laity in the service of the Church. It was greatly encouraged, by Pope Pius XI in particular, and helped to involve many lay men and women in the active work of the Church, and in a huge range of apostolic work. In those days it was still seen very much as an extension of the ministry of the Bishops and the clergy. The Lay apostolate was seen as the laity “helping the Clergy and the Bishops”.

Bishop Casartelli had a different idea. He valued the apostolic work of Catholic Action, but he also encouraged laypeople to act on their own as mature Christians. He saw the vital role of the individual Catholic man or woman within their own professional environment. In this he anticipated the thinking of the Vatican Council, which recognised that “apostolic work carried out within the social environment is the layman’s affair, and a responsibility which he alone must shoulder….”

The Catenian Association has made an important contribution to Catholic life in this country by providing brotherhood and support for generations of Catholic men in living out their faith in a secular environment. This evening we celebrate with the Seaford Circle the beginning of a new year under the presidency of Michael Logan.

But what of the future? It seems to me that Bishop Casartelli’s vision is no less relevant today at the dawn of a new century than it was in 1903.

In a rapidly changing society it is as vital as ever for Catholic men and women to be present in every walk of life. We need men and women of faith and conviction who can make a real contribution to the life of our country. To do that, in a more and more secular society, will demand that you have your roots deep in the Catholic Faith. It will demand that you are well informed about the Faith, and articulate in speaking about it to others. And above all, it will demand a genuine personal relationship with Christ, but always within the community of the Church. You will need to be nourished by the Word of God in the Scriptures, and fed with the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist.

It would be surprising if the Catenian Association were not to change in the years ahead. Indeed it would be a sign of decay and not of life, but the essentials will always remain. Nine years ago now Cardinal Hume came to celebrate Mass in Brighton to mark the centenary of the Association. He reminded us then of the essentials at the heart of our Faith: a deep love for the Mass, a profound sense of the Real Presence of Christ in The Holy Eucharist, and a strong sense of what it means to belong to the Universal Church, in Comunion of faith and love with the Successor of St. Peter.

This evening, as we thank God for all that has been achieved over the years, we renew our dedication to go on providing this vital opportunity for Catholic life and witness in the professional world.

May God bless you :- and Thank you.

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