Tuesday, 4 February 2014
The Fruits of Vatican II: We Cannot Go On As We Are
The universal call to holiness was Vatican II’s primary call; the Council’s aim being to increase holiness in the Church Militant and help all mankind to embrace the Gospel. To achieve these aims it sought to re-invigorate the liturgy and inspire the laity to mission. Let us look at these for a moment.
Sadly, it is possible to say that the liturgy has become a ground-bed of dissent in that norms are frequently disregarded, which demonstrates an alienation from the mind of the Church. Now if we can disregard norms coming to us from the mind of the Church designed to protect the celebration of “the source and summit of the entire Christian life”, then we can disregard anything. When we see the Communion plate omitted; when laity purify chalices; when celebrants leave the sanctuary to offer the Pax, we see the beginnings of dissent. Worse still is seeing dances and mimes not envisaged by the Missal used to “get the message across”. This is doubly problematic. In the first place it misunderstands the core purpose of the Eucharist, which is to give praise, thanksgiving, adoration, propitiation and supplication to Almighty God. It is also a damning indictment of the Missal itself, since if the Missal needs (or has to allow for) additions to get a message across, it is an inadequate, failing Missal.
Disregard for the norms of worship sets a precedent for (and all but allows for) disregard of Magisterial teaching. Thus the term ‘sensus fidelium’ is misused as a synonym for the heresy of receptionism, that heresy which says that if a teaching is not accepted (received) by the people it is wrong and the Magisterium must abandon it. The true ‘sense of the faithful’ refers to the understanding of the Faith by Catholics of all times in all places; if Catholics of any one time or place reject what has been held by the previous generations they are undoubtedly in error. Such folk are not expressing the ‘sense of the faith’ but advancing the ideology of their time.
Such a misuse of the sensus fidelium has brought many pastoral problems: Catholic couples contracepting vocations and the Church out of existence; others engaging in same-sex activity or pre-marital sex (not all the single parents out there are non-Catholic). God is waiting to pour out His mercy and strength on such souls as He is upon us; He calls to souls at every moment in order to heal and restore. We must do the same before the Gospel disappears from this land.
As for collaboration and the Apostolate of the Laity, these too have their problems: all-but morphing from ‘lay mission’ to the world into ‘lay ministry’ in the Sanctuary and office. When laity are predominantly formed (as they are today) to take up places on committees and in the sanctuary rather than for mission to the world, permeation of the local and wider society by the Gospel in evangelical outreach is not as it should be; it is not as it was when the Legion of Mary was in every parish knocking on doors and visiting the sick; not as it was when the SVP was in every parish supplying furniture and finances to those in need; not as it was when the Catholic Evidence Guild taught on our street corners.
When folk declare that good fruits have followed the Vatican II I think they are really saying, “I like the Church better with the changes”, since they are not saying and cannot say that the Church is growing as a result of the changes; cannot say that Christ is being brought to more souls. Indeed the opposite is true: souls are not finding Him (we have fewer conversions) and many are walking away from Him (we have massive lapsation). We hide the reality from ourselves by playing the same game as pro-abortionists -which is the game of re-clothing hard facts in inoffensive terminology: pro-aborts speak of “the products of conception” rather than babies; clergy speak of “resting Catholics” rather than “the lapsed”. Yet we fail God and souls by ignoring the reality of our situation.
Ecumenism too has produced its problems. Rather than seeking to be “peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd” (Lumen gentium 15), religious indifferentism has arisen: “We’re all the same now Father”. Well, all people are the same, but their religious systems are not. As Lumen gentium 8 says, “many elements of sanctification can be found outside the Catholic Church...these are gifts properly belonging to the Catholic Church and possess an inner dynamism toward Catholic unity.” Many no longer seek such Catholic unity.
Even the ‘preferential option for the poor’ cannot be claimed as a fruit of the Council, since the Church has always undertaken and promoted social justice. Haven’t the missions been feeding and educating the poorest of the poor for hundreds of years? Where did social services, hospitals and schools originate if not in Catholic monasteries? Indeed, Rerum Novarum is over 100 years old; Aid to the Church in Need began in the 1940’s and HCPT (The Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust as was) had its greatest growth period in the 1960’s (when the ‘bad old’ Traditional Mass was celebrated, for heaven’s sake!). No, the ‘preferential option for the poor’ and social justice are not new; they are not fruits of the Council.
Even our schools have developed problems. By taking in more and more non-Catholics so as to remain open, and by blindly following Government guidelines for sex education, our schools are all-but State schools today. The adage that “we get converts and parents returning to practice” is not strictly true either: we certainly get some conversions and returns, but they are few. Children still lapse at a rate of about 90%.
With this lapsation comes the lamentable reality that many young men have been lost from altar serving. They have been lost not only because they don’t like working alongside girls (which they don’t) or because they aren’t attracted to a role deemed suitable for girls (which they aren’t) but because they go to our senior schools and are mocked there even for coming to Mass. With such mockery in our Catholic schools, what hope is there for the Church’s future?
Collaboration of priests and people properly done is invaluable. The dedicated assistance of laity in visiting the increasing number of the elderly-housebound, and their like-to-like witness in catechising for Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage, is invaluable and often impressive -as is their assistance in day to day administration and their advising on financial dealings of the parish. But we are in danger of going off-track into a ‘power-sharing’ that runs contrary to the Divinely instituted hierarchical nature of the Church, especially when we talk of lay-led communities: there can be no authentic expression of the Body of Christ without its head. There is a need to recognise that difference of role does not mean inequality of persons or disempowerment of one group; it means persons of equal dignity undertaking equally important yet different responsibilities in the Lord’s vineyard.
The Council has the potential to be a great grace for the Church if it is implemented in a hermeneutic of continuity: we can have reverent liturgy; we can have good relations with those of other faiths; clergy and laity can collaborate more effectively. We cannot go on as we are; which is implementing Vatican II in a hermeneutic of discontinuity; we cannot go on erroneously and sometimes maliciously denouncing what went before so as to make today look good. With around 80% of Catholics lapsed today we should be desperately reviewing our strategies and bringing back what always worked: a way of worship that focuses on God; sound doctrinal and moral teaching in pulpits and schools, and promotion of the lay apostolate in society. If we don’t recover these now, the much-lamented closure of parishes will only accelerate as the elderly -who currently make up the majority of our congregations- leave the pews to enter eternity.
I join many who express sadness and concern at the lapsing, contracepting, dissenting Church of today. Pockets of devout liturgy, orthodox teaching and loyal obedience do exist; no Diocese is without its orthodox parishes or persons. But it is like examining the spark plugs of a car up close: they may be clean and intact, but when one steps back to see the whole car one sees the engine is mangled and the suspension gone. Repair –or Restoration Work- is surely needed.