VI.—THE OLD AND THE NEW
May we not remark the great difference that exists between the “Rules” of 1887 and the “Articles” of 1731? And is it always for the better that changes have been made? Gone are the quaint old entries. Gone are the obscure and involved and ill-spelt passages. But gone also are the devout homilies and apt quotations that point the moral and adorn the bare unpolished rule. How cold and cheerless in comparison are the hard cut-and-dried rules, as we have them now, stripped of all poetry and romance. Stripped are they also to a large extent of their piety. No rule now enjoins any spiritual works upon the members, except in so far as they contribute to the Charity. But members are no where in our present rules told that they must say “five pater nosters, five ave maries,” or that at meetings the Litany of Loretto should be said, or once a quarter the Litany of the Saints. No rule now bids them “hear mass once a quarter for ye good Intencion of ye company and upon a work-day if it can be.” Nor is it anywhere even hinted now that when a member dies charity demands that as many of the company as are able should “come to burial and say by the corpes of ye deceased Brother five pater nosters,” or any other prayers at all. Nowhere is any mention made now in the rules of such things. Yet such acts of piety were among the first things laid down by our good founders. Fr. Splaine, in his “History,” of which mention has been made, animadverts on all this. “These obligations,” he says, “were undertaken ‘to the honour of God and for the good of our souls.’ One feels curious to know whether the reasons for their abrogation were equally sound..”
It is curious also that no conditions are laid down in the rules to-day as regards the qualifications for admittance of members. True, a candidate has to be proposed and seconded and voted for by the assembled members. That, we presume, ensures that (in the words of the old rules) “no one shall be rashly admitted.” But a new member is not required to read the rules and sign his name as a token of his willingness to obey them. All that we now read is; “Payment of entrance money and one quarter’s subscription shall constitute membership.” (Rule 8.)
When it came to be enacted that (see Rule 3) the Rector of St. Wilfrid’s should be always Chairman of the Society, and the Rector of St. Augustine’s the Vice-Chairman (see Rule 6), it is now impossible to decide. So it is according to rules. But this rule was not made later than 1887, nor before 1853. For it is not mentioned in any of the minute books that are now available. In the very old days of the Society there were no Clergy among the members; and, when they came in, they came as ordinary Brothers. It was not until, as we have seen, June, 1817, that the Clergy were given an ex-officio position as “Directors.” And then it was only tentative.
That the Rector of St. Wilfrid’s should have been selected for a special honour is more than merely intelligible. Until 1837 there was no other parish in the town than St. Wilfrid’s. Consequently he would surely have prescriptive right to any special position of honour, who followed in the long line of Rectors of that parish. But at the time when Rule 6 was drafted, there were at least three other parishes than St. Augustine’s, viz., St. Ignatius’, the second parish of the town, and St. Walburge’s, established about 1850, besides St. Wilfrid’s.
Rule 4 has been changed of recent years. At the quarterly meeting held on October 24th, 1917, this rule was amended so as to read as follows:—”The business of the Society shall be managed by a General Committee, consisting of the officers and 14 other members (two from each parish), to be elected as hereinafter provided; five to form a quorum. The 14 other members shall be elected for two years, one-half of whom (one from each parish) shall retire each year; but such retiring members shall be eligible for re-election.”
Rule 9, in the form given in the last chapter, has given rise to much discussion. At the annual meeting in January, 1903, we read in the minutes of the Society, a lengthy discussion ensued relative to the large reserve now in the Bank to the benefit of the Spiritual Fund, and, as there was apparently a strong feeling amongst the members of the Society that the fund was unnecessarily large, Mr. James Seed gave notice that he would at the next quarterly meeting move that Rule 9 be rescinded or altered.” This he was prevented from doing, because he had not given his notice in writing, a fault which he at once put right. A Committee was elected to “report on the working of Rule 9 and the financial condition of the Spiritual Fund.” In consequence of this report, when at the July quarterly meeting in 1903, Mr. Seed put his motion that Rule 9 should be altered so as to end: “When the cash standing to the credit of the Spiritual Fund amounts to upwards of £100 the members may, on a majority of votes at any quarterly meeting, transfer some portion of the same to the Fund for the relief of the poor,” it is reported that “the Society rejected the motion by a large majority [“]. However, the matter was not allowed to drop. On April 25th, 1905, Canon Cosgrave proposed a motion, of which he had duly given notice. After a long discussion it was decided by 26 votes to 14 that Rule 9 should in future read as follows:—”The income of the Society shall be divided into two Funds—(a) ‘Fund for Spiritual Benefits’; (b) ‘Fund for Corporal Benefits.’ One-third of the income shall go to Fund (a); the remaining two-thirds of the income shall go to Fund (b); but providing that Fund (a) at the end of any year stands at more than £100, all over and above this sum shall be transferred to Fund (b), which shall be retained as a provision for the relief of the poor and the necessary expenses of the Society.”
The mode of granting relief to the poor has varied considerably. In the very early days the sums received would seem to have been distributed by the “President or Prefett.” Then in 1817, as we have seen, “the Revd. Gentlemen of the Society” were appointed “Directors,” and it appears to have been their duty to investigate petitions for relief. But they did not actually give the relief, they merely sent “a written paper to the Treasurer with the name of the petitioner and the sum to be given.” A further change was made, when, in the words of the rule, relief was granted “by a ticket signed by one of the clergy, the ticket being in the form of a cash order upon the Treasurer for the amount thereon specified.” Modern custom is different again. Members say how many tickets are to be given to each of the clergy. But tickets are not given. Two shillings and sixpence are given in cash for each ticket voted, and it is left to the clergy to distribute the amount how they will to deserving poor at their own discretion. Still each member may, according to Rule 18, propose some particular poor person for some special consideration, a privilege of which avail is now never made.
Another point of difference between the old and the modern rules appears in Rule 11. It is a small point. But it has some interest. We are in surely matter-of-fact times. Does the spirit of materialism of the world at large invade our religion and our piety? In olden times “We conclud to begin the year att the Nativity of Our Blessed Lady, and every year that to be the Election day of President and Prefett.” In olden times ” we conclud to begin the year at Easter.” In olden times the dates for the quarterly meetings were given as—
1st meeting on the Feast of St. Stephen,
2nd on the Sunday nearest the Annunciation,
3rd on the nearest to Sts. Peter and Paul,
4th on the nearest to St. Michael.
All these are Feasts of the Church, spoken of as if well known to members. Now members are bid to assemble and pay their subscriptions “on the first Mondays in the months of January, April, July, and October.” So cold, so prosaic, so unchristian! Instead of on such and such feast of Our Lord, or Our Lady, or of such and such Saint, we are called together on the first Moon Day in the months sacred to Janus or Julius Caesar, or in the month when the buds open, or in the eighth month (which is really the tenth) of the year.
The Spiritual Benefits, as given in Rules 22 to 24, are much in advance of what the old first members received. But it must be remembered that the subscriptions are more, the number of members is far greater, and the “Revd. Gentlemen of the Society” are considerably more numerous.