The Society of the Patricians was
established in 1955. Its purpose is to build up the religious knowledge
of the people, to teach them how to explain themselves and to encourage
them to apostleship. Its method was intended to be experimental but it
has remained unchanged. Though minds were busy at first in proposing
alterations, it is realised that all of these were but reversions to
other established methods, such as the catechism class, the lecture
system, the question and answer session. These have their own essential
place, but they do not cope with what is probably the root problem of
the Church: adult religious ignorance and the paralysed tongues of the
laity. The Patricians has been showing itself effective in that field
and therefore must be jealously safeguarded. Its system is a delicately
balanced one. A small interference with it can change it into something
radically different, just as a slight alteration of tuning brings in a
different radio station.
Those other systems provide for one
or a few well-versed persons doing the work of instructing a number of
others: whereas the method of the Patricians is that of the Legion
itself - a united approach to the task in hand. All work together in an
active quest for knowledge.
Analysis shows the Patricians to be
a true child of the Legion, for it contains the various characteristic
elements which combine to form the Legion itself; it is a projection of
the Legion system into the sphere of religious education.
In this department, Mary presides.
It was she who brought Jesus down and gave him to the world. She has
charge of all subsequent communicatings of him to men. This dominance
of hers is signified by the Legion altar which must form the
centre-point of the Patrician meeting. The Patricians gather round her
to talk about the Church in all its aspects, that is about Jesus who is
present in their midst according to his promise. This is a high form of
prayer which is made easy by the variety of the meeting; it would not
be easy to spend two continuous hours in regular prayer. This is one
reason why the Patricians spiritualises while it instructs.
In the praesidium, the primary
requirement is the obtaining from each member of a verbal report. The
Patricians strikes the same note; its primary aim is the eliciting of a
vocal contribution from everyone. The setting and handling of the
meeting are to be directed towards that end. The atmosphere is to be
friendly, appreciative, in fact that of the good family in which,
though some are more talkative than others, all are found expressing
their opinions. That tone depends on the absence of its opposites. The
ordinary tactics of public debate are based on attack, condemnation,
ridicule. If these appear in the Patrician meeting, the members will
If the family spirit is established
in which the "smallest people" feel at home, then the Patrician
foundation has been laid. Each contribution will tend to 'spark off'
another one, as each link of a chain draws another along. Gaps in
knowledge are filled in, detached items are formed into the mosaic of
Catholic doctrine. As knowledge and interest grow, the individuals
merge more into the oneness of the Mystical Body of Christ and are
penetrated by its life.
In its other features, too, the
Patrician procedure represents the application of legionary doctrine
and technique. It is important that the legionaries should fully
realise this so that they will throw into the working of the Patricians
the same sort of conviction that they give to the praesidium. Then they
will be well-armed for the task which confronts them.
It is the sorrowful fact that
Catholics do not speak about religion to those outside the Church, and
seldom to those inside it. A term has been devised for this Christian
disorientation: Mutism. Cardinal Suenens sums up the position thus: "It
is said that those outside the Church will not listen. But the real
truth is that the Catholics will not speak." It seems to be the case
that the average Catholic will not help another in the domain of
religion. Sincere enquirers are not given the information which they
seek, and the incorrect impression is created that Catholics are
indifferent about conversions.
This extensive failure seems to
menace the christian character itself, for Christianity is not
selfishness. But the position is not as bad as it looks. In the main
that silence and apparent unconcern proceed from lack of confidence:
(a) Those persons are excessively
conscious of the defects in their religious knowledge. As a consequence
they will avoid any occasion which would expose that weakness to the
light of day.
(b) Even where knowledge is
substantial, the items are separate, like the answers in the catechism.
The mind has not performed the further operation of joining them
properly together as the parts would be in, say, an automobile or the
human body. There is the further complication that many items are
missing and that others are not in proportion to each other. Even if
assembled, the product would be similar to a machine in which the parts
are misfits, and which will not function.
(c) In many cases there is such
ignorance that faith has insufficient knowledge to rest upon. A state
of half-belief exists. This has but to meet an irreligious environment
to suffer disintegration.
Such is the problem.
is a society controlled by the Legion. Each branch must be affiliated
to a praesidium, and the chairperson must be an active legionary. A
praesidium may have charge of several branches. A branch must have a
Spiritual Director approved by the Spiritual Director of the
praesidium. A Religious may act as Spiritual Director, and (where
ecclesiastical authority permits) a lay person.
The term Patricians, like most of
the other Legion names, is derived from the terminology of ancient
Rome. The Patricians were the upper of the three
grades of society, that is, the Patricians, the Plebs, the Slaves. But
our Patricians aspire to bind all social grades into one spiritual
nobility. Moreover the Patricians were supposed to
be full of love of their country and of responsibility for its welfare.
So our Patricians must be supporters of their spiritual fatherland, the
Church. The Rule does not insist that they be devout or even practising
Catholics, but only that their allegiance be broadly Catholic. Rooted
anti-Catholic Catholics do not enter into this category. Unless the
bishop declares to the contrary, non-Catholics may not attend the
The Patrician meeting is held
monthly. Punctuality and continuity are essential. Meetings should not
be omitted except it is genuinely impossible to hold them. It is not
obligatory that a member attend every meeting. A system of reminding
members of the next meeting will be necessary.
It is desirable that a branch should
not exceed 50 in number, and even that size presents its difficulties.
Setting: To be
avoided is the theatre effect of a platform and audience; but neither
is there to be an air of disorder. As far as possible the seats are to
be arranged in semi-circular formation with the table completing the
circle. On the table is the Legion altar of which the vexillum is an
essential part.The meeting should possess all the elements of
attractiveness, including the material comforts of proper seating,
lighting, and temperature.
Expenses are to be met by a secret
bag collection, and a statement of accounts is to be given at each
Order of the meeting
- The meeting begins with the Patrician prayer said in
- A Paper or talk, strictly limited to 15 minutes, on the
subject for discussion, is given by a lay person. It need not last that
time. If it goes longer, it is like all excess - harmful. It is not
necessary that the Paper be given by an expert. Expertness may mean too
much learning and too great length, which at the beginning of the
meeting could ruin it. It has been suggested, on the other hand, that
there is no need for a Paper. But obviously it is necessary that some
preliminary research be done on the subject. This can only be
effectively ensured by appointing someone to do it. The meeting must be
furnished with raw material on which to work.
- The Paper is followed by a general discussion. All the
other parts of the meeting exist for this part and are to be directed
towards its full functioning. There can be no discussion if the
individual members do not contribute. The Patrician problem consists in
inducing persons, who are initially unequipped or reluctant to talk, to
do so. This problem must be solved for their own sakes and for the
health of the Church.
Accordingly every aid is to be brought to bear, and all adverse
influences should be withdrawn. A harsh attitude towards erroneous or
foolish statements (of which there will be plenty) would be fatal. It
would frustrate the Patrician purpose which is to coax each one to
disclose himself. Therefore freedom of speech is paramount and is to be
fostered even if awkward things are uttered. It is to be remembered
that those things are being repeated like a chorus outside where they
receive no correction.
So the main thing is that the contributions be made and not that they
be wise and correct. The perfect ones may shine the most, but the
common ones accomplish the most; they are training the inarticulate to
It is psychologically important that the contributions be directed to
the meeting and not to any key-person in it. The idea is that when a
speaker finishes, each listener is left face-to-face, so to speak, with
that talk as something which calls for comment, almost as if it were a
conversation between two persons. In the latter case reply would at
once be forthcoming, and this readiness to reply is the position which
it is sought to establish in the Patricians.
It would disturb this psychological balance if people's minds were
distracted elsewhere. For instance it would form such a distraction for
the chairperson to divert attention to himself or herself by
interjecting a comment or even appreciation; or for the reader of the
Paper to intervene repeatedly to deal with points raised on that Paper;
or for the Spiritual Director to solve each difficulty as it arises.
Any tendency in those directions would be destructive. It would
transform the meeting into a panel discussion in which a few
individuals put questions and receive answers from a few experts.
It is desirable that an atmosphere should be created which encourages
timid persons to speak.
The chairperson should be tolerant in regard to isolated irrelevant
contributions. The calling of a person to order could have an
intimidating effect on the whole assembly. But if that irrelevancy
leads others off the track, then the chairperson must restore them to
Persons should rise to speak. Probably the contributions would flow
more freely if they remained seated. But this would risk reducing the
discussion to a disorderly exchange of sentences amounting to a mere
Members are not limited to a single intervention. But a person who has
not spoken has a prior right to one who has already spoken.
- One hour after the beginning of the meeting the discussion
is suspended. Immediately before this point the financial statement is
given with a reminder that the secret bag will circulate immediately
after the Spiritual Director's talk.
- Then some light refreshment (for example, tea/coffee and
biscuits) is served. This is an essential feature of the meeting and
must not be left out. It fulfils many important purposes:
(a) the imparting of a helpful social aspect to the Patricians;
(b) the exchange of thoughts;
(c) the loosening of tongues;
(d) the opportunity for apostolic contact.
It has been suggested that the refreshments be omitted but that the
interval be retained for the other purposes. In practice it would not
be easy to justify the interval without the refreshments.
This interval is to last 15 minutes.
- Then follows a talk of 15 minutes' duration by the
Spiritual Director. Everything has worked towards this talk and it will
be listened to with a concentrated attention. It is a vital ingredient,
throwing into orderly, correct form the subject-matter of the
discussion, raising it to the highest plane, and inspiring the members
towards the greater love and service of God.
It has been said: Why not put this talk at the end of the meeting where
it could take account of all that had been said? The answer is that the
talk is intended to form precious material for further discussion. This
it could not be if it were at the end. There is another reason. It is
that the talk may not be fully comprehended by all those present, in
which case the "interpreting principle" (described later) will operate
during the resumed discussion.
- After the Spiritual Director's talk, the general discussion
continues until 5 minutes before the end.
(a) the chairperson briefly expresses the appreciation of the meeting
to the reader of the paper; there are to be no formal votes of thanks;
(b) the subject for the next meeting is to be determined. The subjects
should bear on religion. Merely academic, cultural, literary or
economic topics should be avoided;
(c) any other announcements are made.
- Then the final prayer, which is the Creed, is recited in
unison, all standing.
- The meeting concludes with the blessing of the priest. This
should be received standing so as to obviate the disorder of trying to
kneel down between chairs in a crowded room.
Thus the total length of the meeting is to be two hours. Precise
time-keeping throughout is imperative. If any item exceeds its time,
the others have to suffer and the balance of the meeting is upset. A
chart, summarising the parts of the meeting and their timing, is given
There is to be no summing up. There is no need to be
distressed if some important issues have remained unsettled. There will
be another and another meeting and in the end completeness will be
There is no work-obligation. No tasks are to be assigned from the
meeting. Pressure is not to be put on the members to take on additional
activities. But the friendly contacts which develop should be used to
lead people on in every way, particularly into Legion membership,
active, auxiliary, or adjutorian. Wisely used, the Patricians
can send out such strong impulses as will give benefit to everyone in
- Group psychology. People require the
help of each other, and naturally they assemble into groups. The group
exercises its influence in the degree that it has rules and a spirit.
Individuals endeavour to keep up with a group to which they belong, a
fact which can work for good or for evil. They cease to be purely
passive. They share in the life of the group. If they are at home in
it, they will be a force in it. Applied to the Patricians, this means
that a quiet but irresistible pressure exerts itself on all, including
the most backward, to assimilate what they hear and to keep up in other
ways. Of course a group, while accomplishing that much, can itself fail
to advance. This is provided against in the Patricians by having some
high-minded members who will ensure the flow of superior ideas. By the
force of that group psychology, these ideas will be absorbed by the
members, so that the body can be made to expand in quality all the
- The painful pauses. Long silences
between contributions may prove disconcerting. The chairperson is
tempted to start pressing the members to speak. This would be wrong
policy. A sense of strain would be created, rendering everyone the less
inclined to speak. The proper point of view here is that families do
not feel the need for non-stop talking and that there is comfort in
occasional pauses. So when that silence occurs, let all sit placidly as
they would at home. The silence has to break. When it does, it will
ordinarily be followed by an atmosphere of ease in which tongues move
- Postponement of solution. There are two
broad ways of settling a problem. One is to get the answer straight
away from an expert. The other is to try to work it out for oneself.
The former seems the direct and simple way, and most education is based
upon it. Its defects are that the answer is often only half-understood,
and that the pupils' resource and sense of responsibility are not
developed. The second method is more laborious. It throws the problem
on to the learners. They must make their own effort. When they present
their rough product, expert guidance is given to them. Then again they
are thrown on their own to struggle a little higher. The final result
of this process of aided self-help is that they
have really learned. As the solution has emerged from their own slow
fashioning, they are at ease with it, will remember it, and are made
confident for the future. That is the Patrician method. It further
requires that when something inaccurate is stated, it should not at
once be put right by authority, but should be left at the mercy of the
discussion. It is most likely that it will be eliminated. If it should
survive as grave error, it should be corrected but not in such a way as
to humiliate. Think of Mary teaching her child.
- The asking of questions. Lecture systems
recognise the desirability of producing a reaction in the audience, and
accordingly they invite questions. Some persons respond; then the
lecturer replies. The Patricians, on the contrary, does not welcome
this but regards it as an interruption of the debate - almost
equivalent to a short-circuit in electricity. Many persons will
initially have no other idea of contributing but to address questions
to one of the key-persons. If the attempt is made to answer them, the
discussion would be struck at, and in fact turned into a classroom in
which the members will not stay.
Here the golden rule is that those propounding a relevant question must
add on their own ideas as to the answer. This has proved itself able to
turn the question usefully into the tide of the discussion.
- The building-up principle of the Patricians.
To build up knowledge by adding, so to speak, brick by brick is good.
But what takes place in the Patricians is rather multiplication than
addition. The Patricians builds with living bricks in the sense that
each new contribution interacts with all that has already been said,
springing from them and in turn affecting them. Opinions are modified
and new ideas are germinated. This complicated operation, worked on by
grace, must inevitably cause a fruitful ferment in each mind. But it
also produces a common effect, that is on the whole body. This effect
is comparable to a flowing tide. It gathers the characters and thoughts
of the members into a forward, positive impulse. This imparting of
energy and direction to stagnant faith and religious outlook must
result in the changing of lives.
- The key-roles. Just as the praesidium
depends on its officers, so does the Patricians depend on its
key-persons. These should be careful not to exceed their functions. If
they do, they lessen the function of the ordinary members. They stray
towards the schoolroom. It is vital that the Spiritual Director, the
chairperson, and the reader of the paper keep within the time and other
limits specified for them, no matter what the temptation to the
contrary may be. Most people are uncomfortable in the presence of
expertness and authority. Therefore those key-persons should act
according to our Lord's own formula for the successful passing on of
knowledge: "Learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart." (Mt
11:29) Probably it can be said that the more they efface themselves
during the actual discussion, the more freely it will run. But this is
not to restrict them drastically to their own prescribed times; they
may intervene as ordinary members would, but with restraint.
- The "interpreting principle".
Pre-eminent among the Patrician characteristics is its "interpreting
principle." Thereby contributions, which for one reason or another are
beyond the complete comprehension of the bulk of the members, are
brought within the understanding of all. This means that advanced
thoughts and difficult ideas can be expressed and eventually passed on
to the simplest members in a form which they grasp. This capacity to
place the most learned and the least learned on the footing of
understanding each other is a jewel of great price. Here is how it
operates: Let us suppose that the opening talk (or any contribution) is
of such an advanced character that only ten per cent of those present
understand it. Therefore if it were an ordinary lecture, it would be
wasted. But in the Patricians, some of the ten per cent who had
understood it, begin to discuss it. In practice they do this in a
manner attuned to the standard of the bulk of the members, so that the
difficult talk is in process of being reduced to the level of general
understanding. Others then begin to speak, and finally an operation
equivalent to that of grinding down corn into fine flour is
accomplished. All the obscurities contained in that original talk have
been, so to speak, interpreted or translated into the mental capacity
of all the members. In this way nothing contributed to the Patricians
This feature of the Patricians possesses an unique
value in conditions such as those of the missionfield. There the task
of the missionary is the teaching of the fulness of Catholicism to
people whose language he does not completely understand and whose
mentality is different from his own. The interpreting power of the
Patricians bridges these deep chasms.
- Giving God something to work on. In this
matter there is more at stake than the bringing together of a number of
bricks and the moulding of them into a structure. There is the
principle of grace which, surpassing nature, enables us to construct an
edifice far larger than that for which we had the materials.
We must realise that in the department of revealed religion nobody has
the full answers. For faith and grace have always to enter in. Even the
wisest arguments may not avail to bridge the gap, but it would be wrong
to infer that less wise utterances are thereby useless. The fact is
that God takes even the weakest contribution into his hands and does
something with it. When all have done their best, the gap that seemed
unbridgeable may have been covered. Whether it is that the gap was less
than it was thought to be, or that the human contribution was bigger
than it seemed to be, or that God just filled in what was lacking - one
cannot tell. But the whole work has been done.
The foregoing must always be our philosophy - and on a wider scale than
for the Patricians. All must make their contribution even though they
know it to be inadequate. A feeble effort is better than none. The
converting of the world is the question of bringing Catholic effort to
bear. There will be insufficient effort so long as Catholics are
whispering to themselves: "I do not know enough and therefore I had
better lie low". But this latter is the prevailing situation in which
the Patricians seeks to play a helpful part.
THE PATRICIAN PRAYER
(To be recited by all in unison, standing)
In the name of the Father etc.
bless the Society of the Patricians
into which we have entered
for the purpose of drawing closer to you
and to Mary, your Mother, who is our Mother also.
Aid us to the knowing of our Catholic faith,
so that its transforming truths may be operative in our lives.
Help us also to an understanding of your intimate union with us,
by which we not only live in you, but also depend upon each other,
in such manner that if some relax, others suffer and may
Enable us to glimpse the weighty but glorious burden which is thereby
laid upon us,
and to yearn to bear it for you.
We realise the kind of people we are:
The reluctance of our nature:
how unfitted we are to offer our shoulders to you.
Yet we have confidence that you will regard our faith rather than our
and the necessities of your work rather than the inadequacy of the
So, uniting our voice with the maternal pleadings of Mary,
we beg from your Heavenly Father and from you the gift of the Holy
to abide with us:
to teach us your life-giving doctrine:
to supply all things that are needful to us.
Grant, too, that having been bounteously endowed,
we may generously give;
for otherwise the world may not receive the fruits
of your Incarnation and most cruel Death.
Oh do not let labour and suffering so great be wasted.
In the name of the Father, etc.
0.00 Patrician prayer (recited
in unison, all standing).
Address by lay speaker (limited to 15 minutes).
0.59 Financial statement and
reminder that the secret bag will circulate immediately after the
1.00 Tea interval.
1.15 Talk by priest (limited to 15
1.30 Discussion resumed.
Secret bag collection.
Announcements (word of thanks to
reader of paper,
date and subject of next meeting, etc.).
2.00 The Creed (recited by
all in unison, standing).
Blessing of priest (to be received standing).
College and Junior Branches
In the following cases where it may
be genuinely impossible to conform to the normal system, that is in:
(a) branches inside colleges and institutions, and
(b) branches where members are all under 18 years; the following
compressed procedure (total length 1½ hours) is permitted:
0.00 Patrician Prayer, followed by
lay Paper (limited to 5 minutes).
0.05 Discussion (40 minutes).
0.45 Interval (10 minutes) (tea may
0.55 Talk by Spiritual Director (10
Secret bag may be omitted.
1.05 Discussion resumed (20 minutes).
1.25 Announcements as above.
1.30 The Creed, etc. as above.