I promised I would write to you so here goes. Well I've got here and if I had my way I would come home tomorrow; I expect the country's O.K. for those that like that sort of thing but I am not one of them at least I do not think so. I mean I don't care much for cows and pigs smelling like one o'clock and school a long way off and no buses or trams and no pictures to go to and its all so quiet at night I get the wind up. And father there's such a funny church here not a bit like ours. When you go inside it smells all damp and cobwebby and there's graves or tooms or something all over the shop and its got an old old clergyman who wears such funny clothes and hes got a moostarsh (don't know how to spell it) and a wife and would you believe it there's no Catechism here at all. I could knif old Hitler for busting up our Catechism and stopping my house winning the prize for being built first. And I was sick in the train. Give my love to mum but don't tell her about me being sick please. Love and kisses from Peggy.
This was one of the letters I had in 1939 from Haggerston boys and girls uprooted from their native East Two heath by the canal and gasworks of Shoreditch, and pitchforked into an alien if not unkindly countryside. Of course it was for their safety that they were evacuated, and I would not have had them here in the air-raids of 1940 and 1941. But I too would fain knif old Hitler for busting up our Catechism: though, had he not done so, the Rev. R. M. B. Mackenzie, Vicar of St. Mary's, Shrewsbury, could not have written thus in his parish paper:
On July 9, 1941, a watcher was in St. Mary's Church, rather hidden away in a corner. Three children, two girls and a boy (ages about 12, 10, and 8 or 9), poor and ill-clad, wandered in. A gasping intake of breath; "Coo, wot a luvly church." On tiptoe, hand in hand, they wandered up the nave, eyes all big and round with wonder, and so to St. Anne's Chapel. Here, though not so much to the surprise of the watcher, accustomed to the ways of the Cockney children of London Town ("Coo" is a great expression there), they all kneeled down at the Communion rail, and, led by the elder girl, said together Our Father and another prayer not heard by the watcher. Making the Sign of the Cross they rose and bowed to the altar. The pilgrimage continued to Trinity Chapel, where the same drama of prayer was enacted. The watcher left his place quietly and went to a corner of St Nicholas' Chapel. After a prayer at the High Altar the three little scraps of humanity, Jesus' children, arrived. The leader at once saw in the surrounding darkness the perpetually burning light before the Presence. In an audible whisper she said, "Jesus is 'ere; bow yerselves." And on spindly legs (poor waifs, they looked half-starved), down they went on the cold stone floor on their bare knees in adoration of the presence of Jesus in his sacrament. They moved to the rails, and a small piping voice said, "Jesus, dear, keep daddy safe on the sea. Amen." The watcher felt the burning tears streaming down his face in shame at his own and his people's many lost opportunities of prayer, compared with this single opportunity seized upon by these three wandering pilgrims from London. He moved to brush away the tears, and the form creaked. The children turned and saw him*. "Allo, farver." He joined them at the Communion rail. The elder girl led them in prayer, and the watcher (unnecessarily, as he thought afterwards) exercised his priesthood and gave the pilgrims the Church's blessing. "Where do you come from?" "London, farver." "What church?" "Saint Orgustyne's, 'Aggerston. Goodbye, farver." They tiptoed away. The watcher remained to thank God.
When these three, whose identity I have been unable to discover, Peggy, and many others, return to their East London, I hope that they may find that there is still a St. Augustine's in Haggerston. I also hope that it may be my happy fortune to be in that church with the Catechism on Sunday afternoons; for that great priest, Cardinal Manning, was right when he wrote in his book, The Eternal Priesthood,
Children come round a priest not only by a natural instinct, drawn by kindness, but by a supernatural instinct as to one who belongs to them by right. The love of children for a priest is the most unselfish love on earth."
Until that day I keep my hand in by writing what follows. I hope that it may perhaps be of some small use to both those in whom is vested the tremendous responsibility of teaching religion to children and the Peggys (with their brothers) in whose churches "there's no Catechism at all."
* * *
Much of the following paragraphs is in a book of mine called Chalk and Children, published by Mowbray & Co. in 1939
St. Augustine's Catechism is confined to boys and girls between the ages of ten and fourteen, though of course this limitation is purely arbitrary. (Infants are catered for, at the same time, by Sisters in the adjoining parish- hall; and, before Germany again began to make a nuisance of herself, I also had in church from 4.0 to 5.0 a Catechism for people over fourteen and under ninety- nine, of which there were some fifty members.)
At the beginning of each of the three quarters of the year - a two months' holiday is taken in the summer, which is good for both catechised and catechist - the members ("children" never: there are few things that a child hates more than being called a child: to this day I recall my unutterable, if unuttered, contempt for the priest who, in my Eton-jacket best-Sunday-suit days, persisted in using such phrases as "Children, sit," "Now, children, as I was saying last Sunday," "Children, kneel") are apportioned to rows; five in each; sexes unmixed; a slightly self-conscious monitor, of about the same age as the other four, in charge of each row. Members choose with whom they will sit; and I find it wise to allow a fresh choice to be made each quarter, since friendships change with devastating speed in schooldays. Monitors, however, are appointed by myself. Behind the rows, at small tables, are two young women in their twenties who add this to their practical Christianity, that they spend most of their Sunday afternoons in helping their small brothers and sisters in God to learn religion; and that by the dull but necessary means of dealing with hymn-books, writing- blocks, pencils, and other similar paraphernalia. They are the intendants. At the back of all, near the west door by which every one enters, also at a table - except when she plays hymn-tunes on a not very grand piano - is a Sister of St. Saviour's Priory. She is the registrar; keeps the records of attendance at Mass and Catechism, visits absentees, tells me when such are ill.
The normal programme is as follows, though the autocratic management reserves to itself the right to make occasional and startling variations as and when it wills.
2.30. The two M.C.s (chosen by me each quarter; for some reason that I have never been able to discover, envied by every one; not so much Masters of the Ceremonies or holders of the Military Cross, as Masters or Mistresses of the Cupboard) appear in the church porch, generally sucking liquorice. They plus catechist, the latter having politely declined a moist segment of the confection, proceed (as the Navy says) into church, and make all things ready. Monitors' cards, hymn-books, newly-sharpened pencils, scribbling-blocks are placed in appropriate rows.
Two vast blackboards and easels are carried from the clergy-house, and erected in the choir tantalizingly the wrong way round. Piano is opened. Wastepaper-basket is put by the Sister's table. And so on. When Catechism has begun, absence of fuss is not unimportant.
2.55. For some minutes it has been apparent that an increasing concourse is assembling in the porch, to the ill-suppressed fury of Rab and Mick who growl and bark their remonstrances from the clergy house yard. At five minutes to the hour the bell-ringer (a boy, generally proud in his first long, trousers only worn on Sundays) begins to ring the church bell. At its first rather weary notes - it is more than sixty years old, and has had much to put up with - the doors are fastened open by an M.C., and the Catechism pours in over the still wearier and entirely disillusioned horsehair mat. Stamp-albums (product of the Faith Press) are handed to the Sister, in order that she may enter in her registers 5 marks for attendance at the morning's Mass; though stamps are unobtainable after the Gospel has begun. Remnants of sweetmeats are either swallowed whole, or removed by the frugal into the safe keeping of fairly clean handkerchiefs for fixture attention. The chatter dies. The bellringer, warmer, forsakes the rope. The clock strikes.
3.0. The opening prayer, as indicated on a subsequent page, is always the same. It is said aloud by all; and is followed by a hymn, requests for favourites having been made to the Sister and nearly always being granted. During the hymn late-comers trickle in; and receive full marks, (it is less important to go to Catechism than to Mass!), 4 if they are in their places before the end of the last verse. Subsequent arrivals only receive 2.
3.7-3.15. Questions. A vitally important, and indeed essential, part of the religious education of children: on no account should it be neglected. The twelve questions (I think that they should be neither less nor more) are thought out by me with some care; and, on the preceding Monday, are displayed, for everybody's information, on a notice-board in the Catechism Comer. Marks given for answers (2, if correct; 1, if half so) are immediately entered by the monitors in small figures in the relevant squares; thus:
(Miss Carpenter, it will be seen, began the new year by being late for Catechism, but made amends by answering a brace of questions; and the Misses Bluck and Marygold were seemingly so replete with Sunday dinner that they sat mute.) The monitors' cards are given to the Sister at the end of question-time, who transfers their markings to her registers. At the annual prize-giving three special awards are given for question-answering. The asking of questions is an invaluable means by which the catechist may learn how much, and how little, of his teaching has been understood and remembered. (For example, in reply to a question as to what was known of St. Matthew I was once confidently assured that "E kept a cab-rank"; because I had said that he collected taxes) . It is, of course, the essence of "Catechism: a system of teaching drawn up in the form of questions and answers." May I repeat that the questions should no more be asked without forethought on the part of the catechist, than the instruction should be ill- or un-prepared by him? Nor should they be difficult.
3.16. Second hymn; for young limbs like to move, church-pews are hard, and young voices like to sing.
3.17-3.22. Five minutes' (never a split second more) instruction. This is given from the pulpit, for it is well for the catechist not to remain all the time in the same spot, as young heads easily grow sleepy, especially at the worst possible time for teaching children - Sunday afternoon, when young "tummies are full by reason of the best dinner in the week. The instruction MUST BE (I apologize for the capitals, but it simply MUST BE) carefully written out and learned by the catechist; so that it is given clearly, fairly quickly, and without trace of hesitation or surreptitious (always spotted) perusal of notes. It ends with such words as, "Now draw that" - cue for the M.C.s to leap violently eastwards from their pews, at long last reveal what is on the other side of the blackboards, and switch on choir-lights so that there may be no straining of young eyes.
3.23-3.28. Complete and voluntary silence, while nearly every small right hand draws the picture on one board, and copies what is printed on the other.
3.29. "Sorry. Time's up." "Co-oo-oo, faver!" Blackboards are ruthlessly returned, blank backs to front; blocks and pencils are collected by intendants.
3.30-3.35. Homily. Jam after powder. Story, fable, relevant anecdote or incident from the life of a "current" saint or concerning the contemporary festival. Sometimes, a serial, running for six or seven weeks. Told by the catechist as he walks up and down, or stands still, in the nave. Told also without notes, but also not without preparation.
3.36-3.41. Prayers; including, inter alia, both intercessions sent in by the members, and the Birthday Prayer for those whose natal days fall in the ensuing week.
3.42. Notices. It seems better to give these at the end, rather than at the beginning. Punctuality is not one of the more noteworthy East London virtues.
3.43. Concluding prayers. Always the same. Said by all, aloud.
345 (without fail). Blessing. Followed by leisurely departures, individual conversation-pieces with the catechist, visits to the Catechism Comer, and frequent collection of "our kids" who have been at the simultaneous Infants' Catechism in the hall.
* * *
The blackboards are some six feet by five, for St. Augustine's is a large church. On one is drawn, as has been said, the picture, sometimes accompanied by a few words: on the other is printed in large block capitals the gist or summary of the instruction (it is similarly printed in the suggested instructions that follow).
During the five minutes at their disposal such members as feel so inclined (of course no compulsion is used: Catechism is not a "kids' show," but neither is it "school") make rough pencil copies - as rough as they like. Each who does so is given, at the end of Catechism, a plain postcard. The rough drawings, etc., are copied during the week on to the cards - frequently to the interest, and occasionally to the edification, of "mum" and "dad"-, which are handed to an intendant on the next Sunday, who marks and returns them to their owners a week later. Nearly all children like to try to draw: every one of them has the collective instinct. When a member can show half a dozen consecutive corrected cards he or she is given a post-card album in which to keep them. I know of more than one present-day soldier and member of the W.A.A.F. who has at home a complete set of cards, of which I suspect that he or she is still secretly proud. The best card each week is framed and hung in the Catechism Comer, though it gains no extra marks. Marks awarded are high —maximum, 20 ; and of course take no cognizance of the ability to draw.
The ideal, of course, would be to draw the pictures before the Catechism's eyes, as one gave the instruction. To this, however, I have never aspired; for the adequate reason that I am constitutionally incapable of inscribing a straight line without a ruler, or a curve or circle without a piece of string tied round a stick of chalk—which, as often as not, breaks at the critical moment. After Mass and breakfast on Monday, I write in my manuscript book the intention which I purpose to give on the following Sunday. Then I search my bookshelves until I find a simple and relevant picture which even I can both copy on to the blackboard arid trace into the notebook. Children's books, annuals, magazines; illustrated stores- catalogues and trade-circulars; the Encyclopaedia Britannica; press-advertisements in magazines and daily papers: such are frequent sources of inspiration. Then follows the long task of enlarging the picture to dimensions commensurate with the blackboard, which I place on an easel in the privacy of my vast dining room. Rab and Mick stroll in now and then to see how I am getting on; but after a few moments of pained survey of my attempts the Scotsman remarks, "You know, my lad, the Old Man can't draw for little dog-biscuits. I ask you ! Have you ever seen an angel with wings like that? Let's go out in the garden, and see if we can find a cat." If I am lucky the picture is finished before I take my lunch some three hours later.
It may be suggested that all this is a waste of time. I do not think so. To my mind no pains (I use the word advisedly) are too great which are spent in trying to make the learning of religion both easy and, as we say in the purlieus of Hackney Road, "inter-itf-in." So often we priests are brought to this most difficult task, the teaching of Christianity to Christ's little ones, without ourselves having been taught how to do so (in this connection may I protest violently against the all too common custom of delegating the Sunday School or Catechism to the junior curate merely because he is the junior curate, while the incumbent indulges in forty or more winks on Sunday afternoon?). But at least we can realize the gravity and responsibility of the undertaking, and bring to its fulfilment all the enthusiasm and energy at our command. In the years to come, we ourselves will reap the fruit of our labours; when those who were "our children" grow to man's or woman's estate, and still both call us "father" and also treat us as such. In Westminster Hospital young Ernie lay dying. He was one of my Wolf Cubs. We said some prayers together. Then he asked me to talk to another small boy in the next bed. I talked to him about God, showed him the small crucifix that I always carry on the end of my watch-chain, told him that that was how much Jesus loved him. He said, "Who's Jesus? I've never heard about him, except when dad swears. And I've never seen a crucifix before. Is he still dead?" Ernie died, smiling, holding my hand, unafraid. In a village near Adelaide there once came to see me two strapping young sheep-farmers. The nearest church to their home was miles away. So every Sunday afternoon they taught their children about God out of their old instruction-books written when they were small boys in my Catechism at St. Matthew's, Westminster. A week or two ago a young mother sat by my fire, talking to me about her three year-old only child, evacuated into the country, who had slipped away from her care, walked into a stream, and was drowned. After a while she said, "I want to thank you now for all that you taught me in Catechism. It has just kept me going."
It may be said that few catechists can draw. This is probably true; and I repeat that I am not one of them. But every one can ultimately produce on a blackboard something which is at least recognizable, provided that he or she is possessed of sufficient patience, enough chalk, and a duster. I would add that children are neither hypercritical nor, in general, unappreciative of what they speedily realize to be hard work on their behalf.
And, to judge by my own experience, the necessary inspirations for the making of the pictures are not very hard to come by, assuming that one uses one's imagination and remembers that one was once a child.
* * *
I think that the somewhat fashionable cult of Children's Corners can be overdone; if they are made the most attractive part of the church, and surpass in splendour the sanctuary and altar. But, at the same time, it is well to provide children with a corner in their church which they feel belongs to them alone; and for the cleanliness and tidiness of which they themselves are made responsible. Ours is at the west end of the church, hard by the door. Our children like, and use, it. But no child has ever been found praying there. That is naturally to be done at the other end of the same aisle, in the chapel where a white light burns before the tabernacle, in indication of the perpetual presence in the Sacrament of his own devising of the Children's King.
In the railed-off comer (a notice by the entrance proclaims that "Trespassers will be Prosecuted") hang the Scouts' Cubs', Guides', and Brownies' flags. On the two walls are a number of pictures, mostly given by the children themselves, and changed periodically. On the step of the small altar is built at Christmas a small crib, and at Easter a miniature resurrection-garden (both obtainable, at no great cost, from the Faith Press). On a bracket among the pictures stands a happy image of the Holy Child, some three feet in height, with arms outstretched in welcome. There are a well-filled bookcase (contents also changed from time to time), chairs of the right height, a table with its own electric reading-lamp, notice-boards for the display of marks, charts, and so on.
When Peggy and her friends were removed into the country, and the one-time Austrian house-decorator began to paint Europe red, we were in the throes of creating a Catechism Housing Estate. At the beginning of the quarter each of the twenty-three rows had been given a house to build. The bare outlines were drawn on squared paper. Every five marks earned meant the painting in appropriate colours by the catechist during the week of a yellow brick, section of green front-door, or part of light- blue window. All the houses were of identical size, and stood in a long row on detachable boards hung in the corner. Each member could earn over 30 marks a week (Mass, 5; Catechism, 4; Questions, 4; Postcard, 20): 5 in each row =150=30 squares. The houses were growing fast. Peggy's was ahead, nearly to the red roof. Hence her bloodthirsty desire for that knif.
* * *
If what I write in this, and other parts to be published later, is of use either to those who take Catechism, or to those who make it (I try to express myself in language suitable to both), I shall be glad. It would be kind of them to say a prayer now and then, both tor me, and for my at present Peggy-less Haggerston.
ST. AUGUSTINE'S CLERGY HOUSE
It is, I find, well to use set forms of prayer during Catechism. Thus they become unconsciously learned by heart, and return to mind at all sorts of other times. Late one night in the London Hospital I had given communion to a boy about to undergo a serious operation, from which in point of fact he did not recover consciousness. While we waited for the trolley to take him to the theatre, I began to say, "Jesu, thou art my greatest need . . ." He replied, "So, Jesu, never leave me. 'Sright, ain't it?"
In addition to the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, Apostles' Creed, Gloria, and Divine Praises, we use the following:
At the beginning of Catechism
O God, bless this Catechism. Help us to fight against our sins, to learn and love thy truth, and to live our life in Jesus, our pattern and our king. Who liveth ...
At the end of Catechism
Jesu, thou art my greatest need,
Without thee I am poor indeed;
Then let me never lose thee.
Without thee I cannot be good,
Nor ever do the things I should;
So, Jesu, never leave me.
Holy Mary, be a mother to me.
St. Augustine, and all saints, pray for me.
My guardian angel, watch over me; to keep me from all sin.
Jesu, have mercy on me.
Mary, pray for me.
May the souls of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God,
rest in peace.
Grant, O God, that thy children (N & N), who are dear to us, and whose births we now commemorate with gladness may remain thy faithful children for ever; and may so grow in grace in this life that, in the life which is to come, they may be thy loving children for ever in heaven. Through ...
For those preparing for the Sacraments
O God the Holy Spirit, bless and strengthen all who are now getting ready for Holy Confirmation, First Confession, and First Holy Communion. Keep them thy faithful soldiers and servants to their lives' end. Through ...
For our homes
Visit, we beseech thee, our homes, and drive far from them all snares of the enemy. Let thy holy angels dwell in them, to keep us in peace; and may thy blessing rest upon us evermore. Through ...
For the parish
Almighty God, who dost govern all things earth, hear the prayers of us thy servants, and grant to this parish all things needed for its spiritual good. Strengthen the faithful. Bless the priests and sisters. Protect and guide the children. Comfort the ill, the old, the sad, the tired. Convert the wicked. Rouse the careless. Recover the fallen. Restore the penitent. Remove all that might hinder truth. And bring us all to our true home, heaven. Through ...
That Christ may keep us
Heart of Jesus, think of me.
Eyes of Jesus, look on me.
Hands of Jesus, bless me .
Arms of Jesus, enfold me.
Feet of Jesus, guide me.
Body of Jesus, feed me.
Jesu, make me grow like you.
Make me always Your loving child.
Another of the same
From thy high throne, O Jesus,
Stoop down and hear me.
In thy great godhead, Jesus,
Always be near me.
From thine altar, O Jesus,
Turn thy face to me.
Lift thy pierced hands, Jesus,
In blessing over me.
To thine altar, O Jesus,
More and more draw me.
In thy love, Jesus, Hold me
And keep me
That Christ may go with us
Jesus divine, Sweet brother mine.
Be with me all the day.
And when the light Has turned to night,
Be with me still, I pray.
Where'er I be, Go thou with me;
And never stay away.
To St. Michael
Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And do thou, Prince of the heavenly host, thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.
In preparation for Holy Communion
Grant, Lord Jesus, that all thy blessed angels and saints, and especially thy glorious mother Mary, who, face to face, behold thee whom we here receive beneath the sacramental veils, may help us by their prayers; that we may so receive thee here at the altar, that we may hereafter see thee for ever in heaven.
For someone who has recently died
May the angels lead thee into paradise; the martyrs receive thee at thy coming, and take thee into the holy city. May the choirs of angels welcome thee; and mayest thou, with Lazarus once poor, have everlasting rest. May the face of Jesus Christ appear to thee kind and joyful ; and mayest thou be with them who are with him for ever.