The cathedral pattern
For those among us who find an appeal in Christian monasticism––that quiet and sober keeping-watch that demands nothing other than a strong, clear-eyed faith––the cathedral is quite a marvellous thing.
The cathedral church, in contrast with the parish, usually does little more than present the service, often beautifully, making few claims about its own quality and expecting little to nothing from those who darken the door. There are few people about to suck the visitor into an impromptu, overly personal (and highly awkward) conversation. The parish always seems to want something. The cathedral makes no demands. Its mission compels it to keep the hours, irrespective of whether anyone should be there to listen. It carries out that part of the Church’s mission concerned with simple remembrance, with keeping faith, with taking heart. I’m not making this up. Go to an English cathedral, or the National Cathedral, or St. Thomas Church, and this is what you will find, week in and week out.
She felt so much the need of a soothing influence that, in the afternoon, she went down to Christ Church to hear service at the Cathedral….
It was quiet and pleasant in the Cathedral. She lingered in her seat for some time after the nave had emptied and the organist had finished the voluntary.1
Is this not what the Church is for? To soothe, to give strength for the often wearying journey through a life? To reinforce the reality that God intervened in the world, on our behalf, once for all, and that things cannot, in the end, be that bad?
That Christ Church Cathedral is still there in Oxford, singing the service daily in 2011, as it was in 1935, and, for that matter, as it was in 1635, is a fortifying thought indeed. It bespeaks an eye focused on the eternal, which must take the long view of human weakness, human sin, and human hope.
Absent here is the childish spiritualism which is too prevalent in our contemporary Church, and which gives the impression that Christ’s death was an unpleasant episode in the overall cheery party to which God the Father has invited us as the guest of honor.
When our parish churches achieve this grounded-ness, this long view that eschews parochialism and the little-minded faddishness that goes along with it, they are doing their job. When so few seekers have their own churches to go to, it is ever-more important that we offer havens for them, which demand nothing, offer much, and which allow them to discover the faith in the best way possible: by hearing the word read and taught with conviction and grace.
1. Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1979), 177.