Given at the Mass for the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Truth Society on 19th June 2018 at Westminster Cathedral
It is a great pleasure for me to celebrate with you, today, the 150th anniversary of the Catholic Truth Society (CTS). I thank the CTS for their kind invitation, and in particular, I thank all of you who have come to the cathedral, this afternoon, for your presence.
When we look back over the history of the Church in this country over the past couple of centuries, we see how God has blessed us richly with so many men and women of great stature and real faith. He has also sent them to us at the right time. The theological acumen of Blessed John Henry Newman was perfect for the ecclesiastical and scholarly climate in which he lived; the oratorical and literary flourish of Ronald Knox sat well in the earlier years of the twentieth century. Cardinal Herbert Vaughan was another churchman well-suited to the age in which he lived. He was, as we know, of a rather shy and nervous disposition; he may not have thrived in the Church of the twenty-first century. But his life, coinciding almost exactly with the reign of Queen Victoria, continues to show how generosity of spirit, openness to the call of God, personal holiness and sacrifice, allowed God to work great things through him.
I suppose that many people would say that Vaughan’s greatest legacy is this great cathedral. They may not be wrong. It is indeed a building of faith, an ongoing inspiration to all those who glimpse in its marble and mosaic, or hear in its music or in its stillness, a whisper of the voice of God. But the beauty of Westminster Cathedral finds a counterpart in Vaughan’s other great gift to the Church, the Catholic Truth Society.
A hundred and fifty years after its foundation, there must be few people brought up as Catholics in England and Wales who have not heard of the CTS. Memories of the stand at the back of the church, often faithfully tended by parishioners week in, week out, are fresh to us. I am sure that many CTS parish representatives are here today, and I thank you for your important ministry. The Simple Prayer Book, which sold as many as two million copies in its first twenty-five years and countless millions more since, has helped many of us with the language and quality of our prayer from our earliest days. As publishers to the Holy See since 1964, the CTS has played a pivotal role in communicating the teaching of the Magisterium. More recently still, in 2011, the new translation of the Missal was introduced; and so it is from liturgical books prepared and printed by the CTS that the prayers of the Mass, that great pinnacle of our prayer, are proclaimed to this day.
Things might have been very different. Just four years after he had founded the CTS in 1868, Father Vaughan was made Bishop of Salford. The weight and breadth of episcopal responsibilities diverted his attention from the Society, and it faltered. Thank God, a relaunch in 1884 put it back on the path to success: an exhortation to perseverance if ever there was one!
The two legacies of Cardinal Vaughan, cathedral and Society, fit together well. The CTS motto ‘God’s truth, beautifully told’ hints at why. That Westminster Cathedral is beautiful is beyond question, but its beauty is purposeful: it is there to lead us towards Jesus Christ, who is our Truth. Those whose hearts are stirred by beauty may start to ask themselves questions about the source of that beauty and wish to inform themselves more deeply about it. The work of the CTS is there to provide a practical response to that desire.
In a similar way, the truth which the CTS seeks to disseminate in its publications is not some sort of compendium of sterile facts; it is a truth that, for the believer, engages and transforms. It points the way to Christ our Truth, who shows us the path of life, and how to live it in its fullness. It echoes for us the invitation we heard in the First Reading to ‘turn our hearts towards him so that we may follow all his ways and keep the commandments’. And those who take time to understand the truths of our faith will be able to appreciate all the more deeply its beauty, expressed not least in this cathedral, through the eyes of that faith.
Truth and beauty are two qualities of our being that traditionally go together with a third: goodness. Listen again to those words of Jesus from today’s Gospel: ‘I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last… what I command you is to love one another’. Our Lord is reminding us that in our Christian life we must always have a care for the other. Without that care, theological writing can be reduced to intellectual jousting. With this firmly in mind, theology is evangelisation. Box-tenders and parish ‘reps’ of the CTS down the ages were and are agents of evangelisation. Those who write the pamphlets did so and do so, in the end, to kindle a flame of love for the things of God, to whet the appetite for more.
All of these themes, of truth, beauty and goodness; of history, evangelisation, and service, are brought together in the most powerful of ways in this cathedral, in the hanging crucifix. When Pope Benedict celebrated Mass here in 2010, he said, ‘The visitor to this cathedral cannot fail to be struck by the great crucifix dominating the nave…. The Lord’s outstretched arms seem to embrace this entire church, lifting up to the Father all the ranks of the faithful who gather around the altar of the Eucharistic sacrifice and share in its fruits. The crucified Lord stands above and before us as the source of our life and salvation.’ It is our privilege, and our solemn duty, to ensure that all our writings, all our efforts at evangelisation, seek to proclaim that message of life and salvation and encourage many to share in that life in communion with Christ’s holy Church.
‘Always be thankful.’ So says St Paul to the Corinthians in the Second Reading. Today we have so much for which to be thankful. And, as we look to the past 150 years of the Catholic Truth Society with gratitude, it is our fervent, and confident, prayer that the truth to which the Society has borne such steadfast witness in past years will, in the years to come, bring many to a deeper appreciation of the beauties of our Catholic faith, and inspire them to live that beauty in the goodness of their lives. Amen.