Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Vatican II and the Experience of the Laity


So moving from perhaps what before the second Vatican Council and what happened during it, what have the results been?

I have read enough vicious attacks on the internet about ‘that’s not my experience’ to approach this subject with trepidation so first I have to say that what follows is my experience and ideas that flow from it and also a reflection on my time as a Priest and what this time has meant to my parishioners.

I think that I want to put this under three headings:

  1. change in liturgy
  2. failure in catechesis (i.e. what the faith means)
  3. a spirit of freedom
Actually the second and third are related, but never mind.


We have to remember that for the vast percentage of Catholics their only real contact with the Church is and was Holy Mass.

And so to begin. In most people’s minds the Council brought about the liturgy (the Mass) as we have it. And let’s just put a few discussions to one side.

I know that our present Ordinary Form of Mass was not what the Council wanted and was not mandated by it.

I know that the Ordinary Form can be celebrated in Latin and with Gregorian Chant and the Priest facing God – and I know as well that in most places this is not the case. Here in Chavagnes I celebrate Mass in Latin with chant, facing God, communion on the tongue and kneeling, and for the boys it may as well be another rite of Mass. Generally it is not what they get in their home parishes.


So all that being said, let’s not doubt that for most people the Council changed the Mass into English/French/whatever and made the Priest face the people… and it’s much better than it was. And all three of those statements are false of course – but they are believed.

And it meant that this Mass was different and better than what had gone before - what was old had to be changed. The Mass was more accessible. The old way was just about the Priest and the people where just onlookers. If you wanted to get more people to Mass then you should adapt the Mass for what the people wanted. After all that’s what the second Vatican Council had done.

I don’t even know where to begin with these lies. For lies they are, have no doubt about it. But the people believed them… and why would they not? After all it was their Priests who were telling them these falsehoods. But fundamentally I want to say that if the Mass could change, then everything that went along with it could change. And at the same time they were being taught nonsense.

If you want to be depressed then look at a book from the early sixties about what someone leaving school should know about the faith. The rot had not yet set in and the faith is clear and exact. Of course not all would know that much, but now it would not even be hoped for.


So the Mass changed and at the same time Catechesis collapsed. They were clearly connected. You could not use the old teaching books because they referred to the Mass and the Mass was now radically different. And the world… well the world was going down the ‘there’s no real right or wrong – it’s just how it affects you’ route. And don’t forget that we had the engage with the morals of the time and not condemn them because otherwise we would not be allowed to play in the big experiment of making the world a better place.

And anyway, if the one unchangeable star in the Church’s firmament, namely the Mass – the holy and august, bloodless sacrifice of God to God – was now not only unrecognisable from what had gone before, but the old Mass was forbidden, mocked and lied about by Catholics then was there actually anything that was timeless and true? And the new books never even mentioned the subject of eternal truth. Indeed was the idea of ‘teaching’ the faith, and not living it and allowing it to form you and be formed by you, even valid anymore?

And a spirit of freedom? Well no one, including the Church, was telling you what was right and wrong! The sense of obedience, even as a notion, was seriously damaged. And what could you be obedient to? One priest told the people one thing another told them something else. Priests and even Bishops snubbed and ignored one of the most important documents in modern times, Humanæ Vitæ, condemning the use of artificial contraception. Even now to mention it brings clerical death.


And the people left. What was there left to die for in the faith? Our English and Welsh martyrs died a Mass that was now open to scorn. What could you point to if you wanted to identify yourself as a Catholic? Fidelity to Rome – not when you ignore her teachings. And if you won’t die for it, then you won’t live for it. Well perhaps as a social club, but not if it actually makes some demands from your life. So they stopped the thing that Catholics did, i.e. going to Mass (or even thinking that they should be there when they weren’t).

All of this led to the collapse in the fidelity and fervour of Catholics, who ended up with no idea of what the faith was and a vague feeling that you could do more or less what you liked. But all the time they had a sneeking suspicion that this stuff that they were being fed was a pile of tosh and that Catholicism was really about something more solid.

Well I hope that’s what they believed. And continue to believe.
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