Excerpt: History relates that some years ago a Scotch Presbyterian, with serious religious difficulties and doubts, came for advice to a then well-known Catholic priest. In the course of the interview he asked to be informed as to what his position would be should the result of his inquiries lead him to join the Church, “Among us,” he said, “I know exactly what the status and rights of the laity are, and I should like to know what is the exact position of a layman in the Church of Rome.” “Your question,” replied the priest, “is easily answered. The position of a layman in the Church of Rome is twofold: he kneels before the altar - that’s one position; and he sits before the pulpit - and that’s the other; and there is no other possible position.” This brief statement, which illustrates one view of the question under discussion, cannot, of course, be taken as furnishing an adequate or accurate definition of the status of the Catholic layman of the present day. To begin with: he is always being invited to assume another, and, as things go, a most important position in regard to the Church, namely, that of putting his hand into his pocket for the money necessary to meet the thousand and one imperative wants incidental to the present circumstances of Catholics in England. I am not called upon, however, to discuss the main question, having been requested merely to illustrate, as far as it is possible in a brief paper, the functions of the laity in the mediaeval parish. I am dealing with facts as I read them in pre-Reformation documents, and am not concerned to expose or advocate this or that theory, or suggest this or that solution of difficulties experienced at the present day. Whilst fully believing that the past has its many useful and suggestive lessons for us to-day, I am not such a laudator temporis acti as to suppose that we ought to imitate, or that we could imitate successfully, all we find flourishing in mediaeval Catholic England. At the outset, I may remark that what strikes the observer most forcibly in dealing with the records of parochial life in pre-Reformation times, is the way in which priest and people are linked together as one united whole in Church duties. In these days the strong sense of corporate responsibility in the working of a parish, and the well-being of a parochial district with which our Catholic forefathers were imbued, does not exist. I am not concerned with the why and the wherefore, but with the fact, and of this there can be no doubt. The priest in modern times has, for the most part, to worry through his many difficulties in his own way and without much assistance from his flock as a body. No doubt, in the main, he has to look to them for the money with which he carries out his schemes, but money is not everything, and the real responsibility for all lies upon the priest himself, and upon the priest alone.
Dom Adrian Gasquet OSB, Paperback, ISBN 10: 1530885353, ISBN 13: 9781530885350