In the late 16C, the Protestant Dutch Republic 20 December 1581 officially prohibited the overt practice of the Catholic religion. However, while Calvinism became the dominant faith, many Catholics remained faithful. Having to clandestinely practice their faith, private churches were not unusual in the Northern Netherlands. They celebrated Mass in their living rooms, places of work and warehouses, often with the tacit consent of the authorities, who were prepared to turn a blind eye for a small favour, as long as the churches remained unrecognizable from the outside.
The underground Dutch Catholics focused on practical action rather than theological debate, as a way of responding to the situation they faced living under oppression unable to openly practice their faith. They worshipped in secret and had to maintain connections with each other even while facing persecution. They provided mutual aid and support, as well as education and spiritual formation for each other. They worked to help one another financially, materially and spiritually, providing food, clothing and shelter, as well as access to education through clandestine schools and Catholic universities abroad.
The Dutch Catholics worked hard to create a sense of community within their small Catholic circles by holding regular meetings, sharing meals and discussing spiritual matters. They also helped the sick or elderly with their daily needs, provided financial assistance when needed and even organized cultural activities such as music concerts or theatre performances. The Dutch Catholics also sought to spread their faith through evangelization, using clandestine means such as printing and distributing Catholic literature and other materials. They also engaged in charitable work, providing help to the poor and needy.
Today’s Old Roman apostolate descends directly from the persecuted Dutch Catholics of the 16C and our contemporary experience has striking similarities. In the present climate, particularly in those places where Christians face overt oppression and persecution; but also where those faithful to Catholic Tradition have had to forsake churches and parishes to retain the Faith and preserve the Traditional liturgy. We face much the same challenges our 16C forbears did, few resources, small communities and great need. But like them, we can overcome difficulties, transform the community around us and preserve a legacy for future generations.
In this article, we’ll explore ways in which the contemporary Old Roman apostolate can mirror the experience of the past for the benefit of the present and future.
We note from Old Roman history how the sixteenth-century persecuted Catholics of the Netherlands focused on gathering together for prayer and mutual support. The small communities they formed often met in secret, and it is here that the seeds of the Old Roman apostolate were sown.
Traditional Catholics today must seek out others committed to preserving, persevering and living out the perennial lifestyle, traditions and customs of our faith. Old Roman missions are formed from gathering together in one place such Catholics as desire to receive the sacraments according to the traditional rites and offer worship according to “the Mass of the Ages.”
In the present context, we should not underestimate the refuge that Old Roman missions offer to distressed and anxious Catholics, worried about the trajectory of the contemporary Church. They are genuinely seeking an authentic expression of the faith not just from knowledge but from lived and living experiences. While the last generation to have learned the traditional Catholic faith in childhood is fading away, the relevance and importance of our efforts to retain and maintain orthodox Catholic praxis are all the more pressing.
The faithful brought up knowing only the Novus Ordo rites and culture are largely ignorant of the former devotional customs and lifestyle of traditional Catholicism. But there are signs of hope, as the protagonists of the new-style religion themselves begin to retire, perceptive younger Catholics seeing the disastrous effects of the changes wrought by Vatican II desire more and more to know the ways of the past and especially the liturgy.
However, the focus of our Old Roman apostolate is not only the liturgy, but first and foremost the living out of the traditional Catholic faith – not just customs, but spirituality, true devotion and conversion of life and surrendering of the heart, mind and will to God. What our Old Roman missions should offer is not just the appearance of an alternative expression of Catholicism, but an authentic traditional way of being Catholic in continuity with the lived experience of Christian saints for 2’000 years.
Our Old Roman missions should be schools for sinners striving to be saints, full of compassion and mercy, mutual learning and shared experience. Those who come to our missions should find communities of encouragement, service, fulfilment and love. We must example hospitality and friendship, care and concern, and above all a welcome after Our Lord’s own Heart.
We can learn from the example of our forbears and strive to build tight-knit communities of faith, united in prayer and mutual support. This can be done through regular gatherings for Mass, devotions, and spiritual conferences; as well as through other activities such as charitable work or social events. Such gatherings provide an opportunity for members of the community to share their faith and strengthen their bonds of friendship.
It was from the Netherlands that the devotio moderna originated, and so we can look to this movement as an example of how to live out the Old Roman apostolate in our own lives. The devotio moderna was based on a commitment to prayer and meditation, as well as self-denial and charity, as evidenced by one of its most famous exponents, St Thomas A Kempis, all of which can be seen as essential elements of the Old Roman apostolate.
The sixteenth-century persecution forced Catholics in the Netherlands to focus on education as a means of preserving their faith. This was done through catechism classes, study groups, and other educational initiatives. Education remains an important part of the Old Roman apostolate today, and members are encouraged to study both sacred scripture and Church documents to deepen their understanding of the faith.
In the past, catechists would gather with their students in small groups or one-on-one to teach them about their faith. This practice was often supplemented with books, lectures, and other resources. Today, we have access to a wealth of knowledge about our faith through books, websites, podcasts, videos, and other digital media. We can use these resources to teach ourselves and others about our faith in more depth than ever before. We can also learn from the example of past catechists by meeting with our students in small groups or one-on-one and engaging in meaningful conversations about our faith.
This is especially important for those Catholics seeking to recover and regain their heritage, to learn from the testimony of the Saints, and their lives of holiness and dedication. All too often the Saints are presented today as being “ideal” rather than an attainable goal for our salvific ambition. Ignorance of the Saints and their lives and stories can be remedied by delving into the rich treasury of their writings, teachings, and lives. By learning from their example, we can gain a more profound understanding of our faith and what it means to live a life of holiness.
Finally, we should also strive to learn from our own experiences and those of others in our faith community. Through prayerful reflection on our own experiences and those shared by others in our community, we can grow in a deeper understanding of the faith. By engaging in these conversations we can become better equipped to answer questions and strengthen our own faith journey.
Ultimately, education remains an important part of the Old Roman apostolate. Through education, we can better understand our faith, share it with others, and live lives of holiness. Likewise, being educated in the ways of God enables us to discern His Will and appreciate ourselves, our neighbours, and our world more deeply in our relationship with Him.
Building Community (internally)
The sixteenth-century underground Catholics also recognized the importance of socialising together to strengthen their sense of community. This remains true today, and members of the Old Roman apostolate are encouraged to participate in activities such as prayer meetings, retreats, and social gatherings. These activities provide an opportunity for members to build relationships with each other while also deepening their faith.
We read in the second chapter of Acts of the Apostles the nature of fellowship the early Christians enjoyed, and how important this was to their sense of common purpose and attracting new members to their community. This same principle can be applied to the Old Roman apostolate, as members are encouraged to come together to share and support each other on their journey of faith. Hospitality is a great way to introduce and welcome new or prospective members to the community too.
The beauty of Catholic tradition is that it is timeless and can still be applied to the lives of Catholics today. The Old Roman apostolate is a living example of how it is possible to maintain the traditions and values of our ancestors while adapting them to meet the needs of modern-day Catholics. At the same time, it is important to recognize the importance of fellowship and to ensure that members are given ample opportunity to build relationships with each other, as well as deepen their faith.
Overall, members of the Old Roman apostolate are encouraged to come together and build community through both social and devotional activities. These activities can help foster a sense of unity and purpose among members while also allowing them to deepen their faith.
Building Community (externally)
The sixteenth-century Catholics also recognized the importance of charity in living out the Gospel. Today, members of the Old Roman apostolate are encouraged to serve those in need through acts of charity. This can include providing material assistance such as food or clothing, or offering spiritual guidance and support. Through charity, members can show their love for God and their neighbour while also helping to build a better world.
We should as Christians be perceived not only as being different from others by our way of being and living, but also by making a difference in our communities, our presence should be both observable and tangible. It is not enough to be good, we must do good. St Philip Neri said, “Do not let a day pass without doing some good in it.”
Members of the Old Roman apostolate living locally to the chapel will have the opportunity to identify the needs of the surrounding community. This will help inform ways in which the mission can serve the community and possibilities for partnerships with other organisations or the local authority where the task may require more help than the members alone can give.
Being of service to our community means having an active role in it. We can volunteer our time, donate money and resources, provide support to those in need, and advocate for justice. We can also use our talents and skills to benefit our community. This could include teaching classes, organizing events, or helping with local projects. In this way, we become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Serving the community is a great witness to the faith and the way it can be lived out practically. It is a tangible expression of love and care for our neighbours and an opportunity to share the good news of the Gospel. In doing so, we demonstrate what it means to be a follower of Christ and how we can make a difference in the world.
Building a sense of community in our congregations and in our local areas is an important way to serve God and our neighbours. By engaging in service opportunities and partnering with local organisations, we can make a positive impact on the lives of those around us. This can help to build relationships, foster understanding and unity, and provide meaningful ways to live out our faith. Through service, we can show the world that we are committed to loving God and loving others.
The following are suggestions for the type and nature of activities that the Old Roman apostolate in its missions and chapels could engage in. It is certainly not exhaustive and may inspire other ideas!
1. Suggested group devotions
“The family that prays together stays together” and that is as true of a church family as it is of a household. Group devotions can create a sense of unity and purpose, while also providing a powerful spiritual experience. Here are some traditional Catholic group devotions that can be used to bring the members of a church community closer together:
- Divine Mercy Chaplet
- Stations of the Cross
- Litany of the Saints
- Novena prayers
- Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
- Litanies of Humility and Litanies of the Sacred Heart
- Litany of Loreto
- Prayer vigils
- Bible study
- Group discussion
- Worship services
- Holy Souls Guild
2. Suggested Community Building Activities
“The family that eats together stays together” and likewise that is true of the Church family whose main worship is the Mass, a heavenly banquet! Chapel Missions can be an important and powerful way to bring people together in the spirit of Christian fellowship and love. Here are some suggestions for social activities to accompany chapel missions:
- Picnic lunches
- Potluck dinners
- Game nights
- Movie night
- Bring & Share meals
- Austerity lunches
- Prayer Breakfasts
- Men’s Group
- Women’s Group
- Mothers & Toddlers
- Youth Group
- Servers Guild
- Altar Guild
- Music Guild
- Outreach events
- Missionary work
- Community service projects
- Fundraising events and drives
- Arts and crafts activities
- Retreats and pilgrimages
- Gardening on chapel grounds
- Outdoor activities such as hikes, fishing, or camping trips
3. Suggested outreach activities for chapel missions
“The family that acts together stays together” sharing activities that serve others can be a powerful way to build a strong Christian community. Here are some suggestions for outreach activities to accompany chapel missions:
- Outreach to the homeless and those in need
- Community clean-up days
- Organizing food drives
- Organizing clothing drives
- Visiting nursing homes
- Visiting lonely elderly
- Visiting hospitals
- Prison Ministry to inmates /families
- Hosting community events
- Hosting special guest speakers
- Hosting medical clinics
- Organizing prayer vigils in public places
- Organizing Bible studies in public places
- Tutoring and mentoring programs
- School breakfast clubs
- After-school programs for at-risk youth
- Youth sports programs
- Advocacy for social justice issues
- Environmental conservation efforts
- Organizing educational seminars on Catholic topics
- Partnering with local charities and organizations to provide services to the community
- Fundraising concerts or benefit events for charity organizations
4. Suggested partnership activities for chapel missions
For larger projects or smaller missions, or those with fewer resources, partnering with other churches or organizations can be a great way to make an impact.
- Organizing a joint service project with a nearby church or community organization
- Visiting local soup kitchens and helping serve meals
- Organizing a joint charity event with another church
- Partnering with local charities to collect donations for those in need
- Volunteering at a local animal shelter or wildlife sanctuary
- Partnering with other churches to organize a faith-based retreat or conference
- Partnering with other churches to organize educational seminars on Catholic topics
- Forming partnerships with local schools
- Forming partnerships with local parishes
- Forming partnerships with other churches and religious organizations
- Partnering with community organizations to provide services to the community
- Partnering with local businesses to provide job training and employment opportunities
- Partnering with universities and colleges to provide educational programs
- Building relationships with leaders in the local government