Restoring All Things—A Guide to Catholic Action

The World Scene of the Christian Apostolate

WHEN an idea takes to itself a body, the result is a revolution.” These striking words of that strange French genius, Charles Peguy, open the introduction of Sheed and Ward’s eagerly-awaited book on Catholic Action, “Restoring All Things,” edited by Rev. Fr. J. Fitzsimons and Australia’s own Paul McGuire. The terms of reference are clear and explicit. “It is not a theoretical treatise; there are already many authoritative works on this subject: the books of Mgr. Civardi, of Mgr. Guerry, of Fr. Lelotte, the collected documents of the Pope . . . and books and pamphlets by the various specialised movements in Europe. Rather is it an invitation to action. To those who wish to do something it says: This is what other people are doing and why they are doing it. Go thou and do likewise.”

The dust cover prepares the reader with a fourfold division of contents:

I. The Governing Elements of Catholic Action:— The Mystical Body, by the Regent of the Dominican House of Studies, Lille. The Liturgy, by Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, O.S.B. The Priest in Catholic Action, by Canon P. Glorieux.

II. National Organisations (Belgium, France, Italy).

III. Group Methods in Four Typical Organisations: Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne, L.O.C., Chretienne Bourgeoisie, The Grail.

IV. Formation for Catholic Action, by Paul McGuire.

Inside, however, the original plan has been slightly modified, and a highly informative” and encouraging survey included on “The World Scene of Gatholic Action.” Further, two practical appendices have been added, one on the “Liturgy and Catholic Action,” drawn up by Dom B. McElligott, and approved by Cardinals Pizzardo and Hinsley, and another on “Preparation for Catholic Action in Schools,” as outlined for the Archdiocese of Calcutta.

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The book moves heavily through the first three chapters, then catches fire as the world scene of the new crusade opens out before the reader. The opening chapter, we think, is unfortunate; an excellent study for a theological review, but by no means a treatment of Catholic Action and the Mystical Body suitable for lay formation. The doctrine of the Mystical Body is taken for granted, and Fr. Chenu, O.P., discusses the social aspect of human society, the Mystical Body as the social inspiration of the Christian community, and, finally, Catholic Action. Theologians will read with questioning surprise these words of Fr. Chenu: . . on the whole, one cannot deny the immense benefits of the socialisation of human resources and activity . . . the person finds a greater and more steady opportunity of progress in a more general socialisation of material and spiritual wealth.” Unfortunately, Fr. Chenu does not define his “socialisation.” Suoh statements are certainly dangerous for the untrained youths of Catholic Action groups. One or two paragraphs in this section suffer from bad translation from the French, and are virtually meaningless. However, Fr. Chenu’s contribution is worth while if only for the following criticism of Catholic tactics in the past:

There was once a time when the Christian recoiled before the magnitude of these social phenomena, especially those of the world of labour, wherein machinism had rendered more sensible and more pressing this new collectivism; and so they withdrew into a fearful seclusion. . . . For a long time, far too long, magnificent apostolic zeal was spent in “protecting” the Christian from his milieu, and in creating for him an artificicl milieu, where he could take refuge, and at last live a Christian life, in a closed group far from pagan and perverse influences. At some given moment this was, perhaps, the inevitable last resource, but its strict empiricism would lead us to a Christianity of exiles, cut off from life, from the realities of their daily life, from their status and classes; to a Christianity without grip or audacity, to a Christianity which was disincarnated, that is to say without incarnation, abandoning the condemned and confounded mass of paganised humanity to its misery. This was more than an error of tactics; it was a structural fault, because it was an error of doctrine.

The reason why this attitude was an error of tactics and an error of doctrine is revealed in the following chapter on “Catholic Action and the Liturgy,” by Dom G. Lefebvre. The title is slightly misleading, for this section is really a detailed study of the theological basis of Catholic Action, running to over thirty pages. The author explains the inner life of the Mystical Body and the place of the Sacraments and the Liturgy in the growth of the lay apostolate. In the Christian liturgy the laity participate in the priesthood of Christ through the Hierarchy. In Catholic Action the laity participate in the apostolate of Christ through the Hierarchy. Both are essential manifestations of the same divine life which Christ our – Lord lives on earth in His Mystical Body. This chapter should be carefully explained and elaborated by priest-chaplains for the leaders of Catholic Action groups. Canon Glorieux, of the University of Lille, editor of the “Notes Pastorale Jociste,” official organ of the chaplains of French Catholic Action, contributes the chapter on “The Priest and Catholic Action.” The author quotes the words of the late Holy Father to the Bishops of the Argentine: “Catholic Action, though it is of its very nature the work of the laity, can neither begin nor prosper nor bear any special fruit without the assiduous and diligent activity of the priest.” He then gently indicates several mistakes to be avoided, and explains the function and approach of the priest in the formation of Catholic Actionists.

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Over half the book is a survey of what is actually being done in the field of Catholic Action throughout the world.

Nowhere yet has it achieved its mature forms. It is in process of formation, of development. It is not a piece of machinery which can be erected here, there and anywhere by a process of manufacture, to the design of a blueprint. Catholic Action belongs to life. It is a thing that grows. What is growing is a new community, a new society, a Christian society. . . . In some places and amongst some peoples it is more advanced: it grows faster than amongst others Each country, each milieu, each local group, must modify its methods and ultimately shape its technique and its organisations according to its needs, its native’ temperament and tradition, its human climate.

The world scene of Catholic Action reveals considerable local variations within the official framework, but hardly anywhere has a completed structure as yet appeared. Catholic Action, however, is definitely in being—in Poland, Peru, China, Argentine, Chile, India, Canada, South Africa, Ceylon, Uganda, West Africa, French North Africa, Jugoslavia, Hungary, Switzerland, Roumania (the first example of Byzantine Catholic Action), Germany, the United States, England, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Italy, France, and Australia (to which twenty lines are devoted by the editors). Special chapters are given to Catholic Action in Italy, Belgium and France, because these countries have developed more mature forms, especially in the sphere of specialisation.

The principle of specialisation . . . is implied in the most elementary forms of Catholic Action. . . . Further, the Holy Father has indicated the need for specialisation according to vocation, when he has said that the apostle to the working man must be the working man, to the employer the employer. This is not an emphasis upon differences in economic and social status. It does not confirm class-divisions. It recognises the fact of these differences and its influence in the work of conversion, and ft recalls to each man his responsibility to those about him. The employer has no familiar understanding of the worker’s milieu, and he has neither the opportunity nor the experience to make a successful apostolate of it. Similarly, the worker is hardly likely to bring Christ to the employers. He is not himself one of them. The underlying principle of specialisation is this: if the world is to be won for Christ, then each one of us must strive to win his own little world, the world of his daily communications and intercourse. . . . So far from this specialised action confirming class distinctions, it is, in fact, the one way to overcome them: for as each class grows in knowledge and understanding of a Faith made common to all classes, so the common obligations are stressed and enforced with common sanctions. Catholic Action is theologically based on the doctrine of the Mystical Body: we are members, one of another. It is only in the realisation of that transcendent fellowship that the true social unity can be achieved. For the diversity of men, diversity of methods; but it is a variety in unity.

The chapter on Italy is a short history of the Catholic Revival, a story of persecution and struggle, of violent opposition and undaunted courage. The reforms of Pius X. and Pius XI. are outlined, and the conflict between the Fascist Government and Catholic Action briefly described. The section concludes with extracts from the statutes of Italian Catholic Action. The chapters on Belgium and France make fascinating reading, and the development of Catholic Action in these lands contains valuable lessons for Australia. Here the rise and growth of the Jocist movement, which the late Pope called authentic Catholic Action and the finished article, is traced to its full flowering in our own day. The spirit and methods of the J.O.C. have been described time and again in the pages of “The Advocate.” But the present book supplies in English a complete history, with a description of the Inquiry Method for the specialised formation of militants in particular environments. The concluding chapter on “Formation Technique,” by Paul McGuire, leaves little to be desired. It is clear, practical and already familiar to Australians who heard Mr. McGuire’s lectures last year, or who have read his articles in “The Advocate.”

There are no real conclusions to be drawn from the foregoing chapters, write the editors, apart from an insistence that movements and organisations have been described to illustrate the forms which Catholic Action may take, and has taken, in different countries. It is of the essence of the lay apostolate that it is supple and flexible, in which nothing vivifies more than the spirit, and nothing is more deadly than ready-made forms. . . . There can be no question of fixing duties and penalties where everything depends on circumstances, but could there be more solemn words, fitting words with which to conclude, than those of our (late) Holy Father, the Pope of Catholic Action: “Catholic Action is a function of the pastoral ministry, and, therefore, so bound up with Christian life that whatever assists it or hinders it is a definite assistance or a violation of the rights of the Church and of souls”?

Sheed and Ward have done a service to the English-speaking world in the publication of this book, and, although it bears traces of hasty assembling, contains many needless repetitions, and is without an index, it will be for long an invaluable handbook for priests and the lay leaders of Catholic Action.


Restoring All Things—A Guide to Catholic Action (Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), Thursday 6 April 1939, page 11) (Trove)

First Principles in Catholic Action

By REV. FR. WILLIAM KEANE, SJ., Moderator of the National Secretariat of Catholic Action.

What is Catholic Action? Why is it necessary? Is it a mass movement? What are the functions of the National Secretariat and what is it doing? These and other questions are briefly discussed in the following article, a summary of an address given recently by the ecclesiastical moderator of the National Secretariat of Catholic Action.

THE Pope’s repeated pronouncements have made us familiar with the general idea of Catholic Action. It is in. the definition which he gave after much prayer, thought and, as he says, not without inspiration, ‘”the participation of the laity in the Hierarchical apostolate.”

I am not going to touch on the theory of Catholic Action. Fr. Crofts, the Irish Dominican, gives an excellent account of the dogmatic basis and theological deductions of the Pope’s definition.

The canonical position of Catholic Action is well set out in Mgr. Civardi’s book, the relevant volume of which has been translated by Fr. Martindale. I pass to more practical points.

First, why is the Pope so insistent on Catholic Action, or the lay apostolate? He repeatedly gives the reason. He says that the ordinary apostolate of Bishops and priests is quite inadequate to the needs of our time.

To quote his own words: “The activity of parish and other priests, however zealous and earnest it may be, is unequal to the great needs which the apostolate must confront in the times in which we live.”

There is a vast body of men with whom Bishops and priests cannot come in contact—apart altogether from Catholics whose lives are coloured with non-Catholic ideas.

The existing spiritual and charitable organisations, for the most part, do not enter the field where apostolic work is needed in cur midst. They either concentrate on the lofty work of the personal holiness of their members—the source but not the end of Catholic Action—or, if their work is external and charitable, in most cases the work of the apostolate is only approached by them in an indirect manner.

The Pope says there is only one way of facing the problem. The first apostles of workmen must be workmen; the immediate apostles of the industrial and commercial world should themselves be employers and merchants.

He says that Catholic Action is lawful, necessary, indispensable; that without Catholic Action it would be a miracle, and a miracle we cannot ask of God, if any practical result or true success were obtained.


Accepting the teaching of the magisterium that Catholic Action is necessary, we next ask what form it is to take. The Pope is constantly insisting that it must be organised and unified. “Catholic Action must have its own proper organisation, single, disciplined and able to control all Catholic forces. Lack of co-ordination weakens the force of the army, and is a misfortune to be avoided at all costs.”

Accordingly, at the Plenary Council held in Sydney last September, the Australian Hierarchy decided to set up a Catholic Action organisation.

To carry out this decision, an episcopal sub-committee was named, of which his Grace of Melbourne is chairman, and his Grace of Hobart is the secretary. -Under them has been appointed, in accordance with the Pope’s idea, a lay organisation, called the National Secretariat of Catholic Action, consisting of one full-time and one part-time secretary, with what is technically called an ecclesiastical assistant attached.

The office of the Secretariat is at 368 Collins-street, Bank of New South Wales Buildings. ‘Phone: MU 1024.

The Secretariat is already aware of an initial and irrevocable error. The staff see that at least a year’s work should have been done in preparation before active operations commenced.

For as soon as the office was opened there began to pour in a stream of requests for advice, help and guidance that is consoling only to this extent, that it shows what an enormous reservoir of zeal is waiting to be tapped’ and, what is of equal importance, what an amount of effort might be directed in a futile and even dangerous manner unless under due control.

The Secretariat has not had time even to complete its office arrangements. It has not had time to take more than the very early steps to an examination of the work to be done and the resources at the disposal of the Church for that work. It has been overwhelmed with calls from all over Australia. In one direction it had to act speedily.

The Pope has specially called the attention of those engaged in Catholic Action to’the need of safeguarding the social and moral conditions of the workingmen, and the Hierarchy have drawn the special attention of the staff to this matter.

It was found necessary to concentrate at once on certain aspects of this question, and to call in all the help available. Without delay certain work was undertaken and, for the time being at least, has been effective. A good deal of organising work has been done in the dioceses of Maitland, Wagga, Adelaide and Hobart. But much work has had to stand over because of the restricted means available.

In Melbourne certain bodies immediately affiliated with the Secretariat, such as the Chemists’ Guild, the Assisian Guild, the Campion and Clitherow societies, little being needed but to point the way in which their help would be most useful.

A start has been made with the work ordered by the Pope in organising in Corpus Christi College groups of senior students who are preparing to study this branch of what the Pope calls the new pastoral theology. The medical guild of St. Luke has, at its own insistent request, adopted within itself a form of organised groups working along suitable lines. Heads of colleges have begun an investigation, under the auspices of the Secretariat, of the best manner of preparing the young to take their place in the ranks of Catholic Action.


But this touches only the fringe of Catholic Action. Though certain progress has been made along developing vocational Catholic Action, the main work, still scarcely begun, lies in the parishes.

This brings us to the question of the priest’s part in Catholic Action, how he is to help and at what he is to help. The Pope, or his approved spokesmen, have unweariedly urged the paramount place of the clergy in this movement.

All Catholic laymen, the Pope tells us, are called to the royal priesthood of the apostolate. But there can be no independent apostolate. Participation, collaboration are the words to be stressed.

Nor can anyone be blind to the danger of a lay apostolate unless wisely guided. The guidance is to come first from the Pope. The immediate direction is to be under the Hierarchy.

“Nil sine episcopo” is primary, and the importance of that motto has, I think, already been learned by the staff in a practical manner. But the actual work will assuredly fall on the priests of the parishes.

To cite the Pope’s words, “The clergy must do their part, because Catholic Action can neither begin, nor prosper, nor produce its proper fruit without the assiduous and diligent activity of the priests. The lay apostolate is the forward movement of the laity to promote, by word and example, the principles of Christian morals and social order within the Church, and, especially under modern conditions, outside the Church.

The work of the lay folk is the huge task of permeating society with the Christian spirit. Such an apostolate demands serious preparation, and only when something corresponding to the spiritual and intellectual preparation of a seminary has been received can these apostles be fitted supernaturally and intellectually for work in their own special environment.

As the Pope says, there -can be no mass movement to this apostolate. The response to the lay apostolic vocation will be at first limited. Groups of leaders will be the backbone of the movement.

The Pope adopts the analogy, familiar alike to Scholastics and Communists, of growth by cell division. Such growth, the Pope reminds us, must be gradual. It cannot be forced. Those who have been trained for the lay apostolate will, in their turn, be the source of inspiration and channel of education for others. The building by cells goes on.

Much has been written, often vaguely enough, in praise of the results won and to be won by the lay apostolate. But behind all success lies the laborious and trying work of preparation.


The Secretariat, bearing these ideas in mind, does not think the time ripe for setting up any new and rigid form of parochial organisation throughout Australia. No organisation suited to the whole country can be envisaged. Conditions vary through the country, and even in the same diocese.

At one and the same time the staff has been engaged in drawing up programmes of preparatory study for workers, two groups of farmers in country parishes, at opposite ends of the State, the Medical Guild groups, and some groups” engaged in the Youth movement amongst girls.

The position is further complicated in Australia by the peculiar manner in which many of our Catholic people have the double status of suitable members of a parish association and suitable members of a vocational group.

The view of the Secretariat is that for the present the steps to be taken are to affiliate those bodies already engaged in Catholic Action and to eliminate overlapping where possible; to make use of existing organisations where their programme includes apostolic work, and to leave it for the present to the parish clergy to choose such members within and without their parish bodies as would form a suitable nucleus for parish associations. It is the training of these which is the main contribution which the clergy can make to forwarding the work of Catholic Action.

With the growth of such cells the need for organisation will appear, and also the best form which such organisation may take. Meanwhile, the Secretariat will devote part of its time to the study of conditions at home and methods abroad so that, when the time seems ripe, the form of organisation most suited to local conditions may be erected.


To make the work of adult education easier, it has been found necessary to draw up a list of topics of wide range, to subdivide these, and prepare courses of study of them. The sources of study have been divided into books of a scholarly or advanced type, books of a more popular type, pamphlets.

This list of programmes has been printed and published by the Australian Catholic Truth Society under the title, “What to Read.” Further, to promote this work, the Secretariat will be able to supply, at any rate in rotation, a number of volunteer lay helpers experienced in work of this type, who will help the early steps of parochial associations and familiarise them with methods. Such relations will also help to later interrelations and subsequent co-ordination when it is desirable.

The next suggestion is that the clergy allow the Secretariat the benefit of their experience and helpful criticism. The staff is facing a new task, in which its theoretical knowledge must be helped cut by practical experience, not excluding the experience of its own mistakes.

I have said nothing about the spiritual implications of the lay apostolate. It is obvious that it calls for the exercise of much virtue among the laity. In particular there will be need of the virtues of zeal, of prudence, of obedience, and of avoidance of the spirit of criticism that springs from inexperience, impulsiveness, or pure human “cussedness.”

The Pope does make one special recommendation, the promotion of the retreat movement especially amongst the lay apostles.

To summarise what has been said:

(1) The work of the lay apostolate in its organised form is one which experience, Episcopal instruction, Papal direction, teach to be of primary importance for the kingdom of God;

(2) that the work rests for its success, humanly speaking, chiefly on the zeal and initiative of the parish clergy;

(3) that the Secretariat, at its present stage of development, thinks that its most useful public work will be done, not in large-scale organisation, but in giving such help and impulse as may second the work of the clergy.


William Keane SJ, First principles in Catholic Action (The Advocate, 16/06/1938)