You often hear that the Church before the Council was high bound, formal, authoritarian, hierarchical, out of touch, distant from the people. God was believed in almost in spite of, rather than because of and nourished by the Church.
I simply do not believe it. And yes I know that I am too young to remember the Church before the Council. But then again, so are you. Probably.
I would say, from my own experience, that I remember not necessarily specific instances, but the tone, the feel, the je ne sais quoi of the Church when I was about 13 or 14 years old. So to remember the Church before 1962 (to pick a convenient date) you would have to have been born at least in 1948-1949. And I would further suggest that if your memories begin to be reliable at that time them you would have to be a few years older than that. So by now (I know this is plodding but I teach Maths as well as religion) in the year 2012 you would have to be at the bare minimum 63 or 64. To have a solid set of experiences let’s say you were 20 when the Council opened. By now you’re 70.
Lots of 70 year olds out there, I know. But it probably does not include you.
I remember sitting on a train going to London – in clericals. And a rather nice woman told me that although she had been brought up as a Catholic she no longer went to Mass and definitely didn’t go to Confession anymore. The reason was, she said, that the Church used to be so starchy and oppressive, which oppressed and grey and lifeless. Tosh – she was the same age as me!!! She knew nothing about the Church before the Council!
What she had done, I guess, was that she had used a mishmash of half-truths to justify her turning away from the Church. And the sad thing was that she didn’t have to make in up herself, this nonsense is spoken of so often that people simply believe it.
But the reality was that the Churches were full, converts were thriving, seminaries and religious houses were expanding and the number of instructional pamphlets, religious tracts, pious devotions were legion. This does not speak of a distant Church out of touch with the world and in desperate need of reform!
It is like saying that a champion runner, at the top of his sport, winning trophy after trophy doing what he was designed for is in fact a complete and utter failure. ‘Absolute Piffle’ you cry! And I do the same for the position of the Church before the Council.
I not want to get into ‘did anything need to be changed or reformed’ I want to make the bold but obvious assertion that the vast majority of what was said about the Church before the Council simply could not have been true.