End of Church? Religion Dying? Spiritual Awakening? Some Liturgical Musings.

Have you heard the buzz about Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler Bass? The title tells you how alarming are the developments she’s tracking.

Organized religion is in dire shape, while young people are reinventing spirituality. It’s affecting everyone, from Roman Catholics to mainline Protestants to the conservative Southern Baptist Convention.

As Bass reports, some 30 percent of Americans now identify as “spiritual but not religious,” around 9 percent are atheists and post-theists. In 1999, 54 percent of Americans said they were “religious but not spiritual,” while six percent said “spiritual and religious.” By 2009, the percentages had reversed: “religious but not spiritual” fell from 54 percent to nine percent as the “spiritual and religious” rose from a mere six percent of the population to nearly half.

Lots of generalizations in what follows, and lots of things to submit to critical scrutiny, but here is Bass in her own words:

Americans are searching for churches – and temples, synagogues, and mosques –that are not caught up in political intrigue, rigid rules and prohibitions, institutional maintenance, unresponsive authorities, and inflexible dogma but instead offer pathways of life-giving spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justice in the world. Americans are not rejecting faith – they are, however, rejecting self-serving religious institutions.

The end of conventional church isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Christianity after religion, a faith renewed by the experience of God’s spirit, is closer to what Jesus hoped for his followers than the scandalous division, politics, and enmity we have now.

Here are two article by Bass:

HuffPost, “The End of Church” (from which, the above quotation);
WaPo, “Is Religion Dying – or Reinventing?

Bass has a hopeful view of all this. I’m trying to share her hope. But it’s hard to see much good news for traditional liturgical Christianity in all this. Ever fewer young people interested in organized religion; some increased interest in spirituality, but mostly cut loose from church and liturgy – is this the future?

It looks like we’re in for continuing drastic declines in institutional Catholicism, marked by declining Mass attendance, parish closings, school closings, and shuttering of things like the National Pastoral Life Center or the liturgy center at Georgetown. There is growth on the (far) Right, represented for example by use of the pre-Vatican II unreformed Latin liturgy, but this remains a rather tiny fraction of the Catholic Church. (As I’ve said before, growth from .5% to 1.5% of the membership looks huge from inside the enclave, but remains rather insignificant for the Church as a whole.)

One diagnosis says the problem is poor catechesis. We haven’t taught the faith since Vatican II, and we’re now paying the price in having lost at least two generations of Catholics. The solution in this scenario is greater doctrinal orthodoxy, with clearer boundaries of doctrinal identity. Usually but not always unstated is the belief that this will somehow return things to an earlier era of greater church engagement.

The biggest problem with this analysis is that it is stuck within the mindset of the one analyzing, without much attention the people actually living in contemporary society. It is the Authoritarian Solution, and it says in effect: “To those of you who have lost most of your respect for me as a credible religious authority, I am going to state more loudly and clearly why you should agree with me.” I have the impression that some of our Catholic leaders are prone to the Authoritarian Solution, and I don’t see it having much good effect.

The larger question is the extent to which liturgical Christianity is intrinsically tied to Christendom – which of course is nearly dead. Some say that liturgy develops and flourishes in the nurturing greenhouse environment of a society almost entirely Christian, with a Christian state and Christian political leadership. Shared convictions in all aspects of life, by most all the populace, forge the connection between liturgy and spirituality, between liturgy and daily life. In different ways and to different extents, Christopher Dawson and Aidan Kavanagh seemed to believe this.

I once read an essay by Michael Davies, I believe it was in Latin Mass magazine, stating that he was emphatically not opposed to continuing evolution and development of the Tridentine liturgy. He just didn’t believe the conditions exist anymore for this to happen. Throughout the Middle Ages, which is to say within Christendom, the western Latin liturgy was ever changing and developing. When western Christianity began to fracture with the Reformation, Christendom was no longer present in order to foster liturgical evolution. Hence the wisdom of the fathers of Trent, and Pope Pius V, in freezing the liturgy at the last point of its natural development.

I don’t share this view, as the reader will already know, but I’m not sure it can be dismissed out of hand. Maybe everything we’ve been doing since Trent – either in the old liturgy or in the reformed liturgy of Paul VI – has been living off the accumulated but declining capital of Christendom. Something similar would be true of Anglicans/Episcopalians and Lutherans and other variants of western liturgical Christianity. For five or so centuries, we’ve all been enjoying the liturgy as a byproduct of the old order of authority, even as we’ve gradually evolved beyond that order of authority. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t last. Now, as Bass’s research would seem to show, we’re at the end-stage in the inevitable collapse of organized, liturgical Christianity, tied as it is to obsolete models of authority.

For Davies, the Lefebvrists, and to varying degrees the proponents of the 1962 rite, the proper response is to hold fast to the old liturgy, and to the vanished order of authority it presumed. This seems to me like so much pretending. It’s like thinking (to borrow an image from Richard Taruskin in Text and Act, on an entirely different issue) that one can reconstitute European unity by re-staging the Battle of Waterloo in original costumes. Ripped out of their original political and societal context, the dignified and stately rituals of the old Latin Mass are rather meaningless, except for those who find consolation in pretending.

For Bass, the proper response is to name courageously the societal developments under way, and to see hope in the spiritual interest of at least some young people. And as I say, I’m trying to share Bass’s hope.

Is there a new spiritual awakening afoot? Is there a way for this awakening to reinvigorate our liturgical life? Is there some liturgical prophet one out there who has a vision of how to tap into the spiritual longings of people today?

awr

95 comments

  1. There’s a pot load of things contained in this post so I won’t respond to all of them but simply muse about some of them. I’m not sure what Americans or any others are rejecting in terms of orthodox Christianity. What I do believe is that a very rich and materialistic people want to use whatever they can to be sedated, comforted or relaxed and this includes religion. Yes, of course the rich want to help the poor, it helps them to feel better about themselves. Why else are addictions at an all time high, because the truth of religion has become authoritarian or people use everything and everyone for their own gratification, even noble good works? Sure their are selfless rich people out there but has a poll been commissioned as to the real motives of the well educated, rich and comfortable today?
    I’d much prefer a study of poor Catholics in this country and elsewhere and what they understand as important in the Church.
    I personally think if people don’t want the truth but want all the benefits of the truth then they should go and find it elsewhere. The Church shouldn’t be into numbers or prestige, she should be into the truth and preaching Jesus crucified. If no one embraces the truth then we’re in trouble, but God will save us if at least one person does–and I think that was Jesus. BTW, I’m not opposed to rich people helping the poor or the Church if it makes them feel better, at least they’re doing something good even for the wrong reasons.
    In terms of the liturgy, a dignified liturgy where those responsible try to do the best by it, either TLM or the TNO will go a long way in keeping people in the Church for the right reasons. But I do think we have to be liberal enough to let those who don’t want the Church and her truths or her dignified liturgies to go rather than make the Church into their image.

    1. But I do think we have to be liberal enough to let those who don’t want the Church and her truths or her dignified liturgies to go rather than make the Church into their image.
      =============================
      Fr.McDonald, I suspect those who have left are finding the liturgy they want in the religious community they’re embracing. I suspect few have withdrawn from the Catholic Church over liturgy, “dignified” or otherwise.

      When you say, “let them go”, is to suggest somehow today’s Catholics should feel obliged to pass some ticket agent who punches their exit card. Perhaps, at one time, but now they won’t even bother to let you know they’re leaving, let alone bother to seek permission.

      1. I was referring to those who stay, that we shouldn’t be wringing our hands over those who find personal religious, spiritual and liturgical fulfillment elsewhere. I did not intend to imply that those leaving need an exit ticket, that would be absurd although southern mainline Protestant Churches do write to tell us that one of our members has transferred their letter to them–that’s precious.

    2. Father Allen is again dishing up his version of the right wing sectarian (better word than evangelical) view of America based on outdated facts and theories.

      These views see Americans as materialistic and secular since they don’t share the religious views of these super-patriots and super religious whom many young people regard as hypocritical zealots. Most sociologists view Americans as extremely religious particularly when compared to other countries with wealth and advanced technology.

      The right wing sectarians see the 1960s as the end of religious America. American Grace’s excellent analysis showed that while the 60’s lowered church attendance the percentage of people saying they had no religion remained a steady 4%. Andrew Greeley has established that the sexual revolution was vastly overrated, consisting mainly of widespread acceptance of monogamous relationships before marriage and after divorce. Contrary to the religious right, we remain not only a very religious people but a very monogamous people.

      American Grace established that the growth of the Evangelicals in response to the 60’s was largely a temporary phenomena exaggerated by the slower decline of birth rates in Evangelical as opposed to Mainstream churches (that accounted for 80% of the difference).

      American Grace showed the decline of organized religion (the rise of the Religious Nones from 4% to 14%) in the 90’s was a response against organized religion, largely by young people due to the religious right’s involvement in Republican politics.

      Now we have right wing sectarian Bishops (and some Catholic politicians) who want to take up the leadership of the religious right and Republican politics so that there is a good chance that the religious Nones, especially among the young, will rise another 10% and the young who decide presidential elections will continue to vote heavily for the Democratic Party! How ideology blinds our self interest!

      1. Jack, while your data might be correct, you seem to have left your biases in tact which is unfortunate in a sociologist who should at least report the data in an unbiased fashion or people might think he is skewing his data and tailoring it to fit his fancy and ideology.
        For example, your description of me as a “right wing sectarian” without having met me is very suspicious and even more suspicious is your description of what you call right wing sectarians in your following statement: “These views see Americans as materialistic and secular since they don’t share the religious views of these super-patriots and super religious whom many young people regard as hypocritical zealots.”
        Really?
        In my own experience in the south, most Catholics who don’t participate in the Church except for Christmas and Easter and are ambivalent toward their faith still consider themselves Catholics, maybe not good Catholics, but Catholic nonetheless. The nones though are precisely that, nones, they are more like agnostics rather than nones. Those Catholics who are looking for spiritual nourishment and having been evangelized by family or friends by inviting them to their faith community have made a commitment to God in that tradition that is stronger than their commitment they had as Catholics maybe due to sloppy liturgy, poor preaching and even worse catechesis let alone a failure to teach them how to pray. I say more power to them. But these are not flaming liberal faith communities they are joining but rather evangelical, what you call derogatorily, right wing sectarians which if you know them, they are not. Although most people, religious people, I know today are dissatisfied with both of our political parties. They now consider themselves independents. They are conservative on the social issues, but if Catholic, concerned about the needs of the poor and like universal health care but dispise the turn it has taken by left leaning sectarians who comprise the “monarchy” of liberalism. It is these left leaning sectarians who are dictating to the bishops what the bishops should consider to be a more reasonable approach to “preventive health services.” I’ll take right wing sectarians over left wing monarchs any day!

  2. Does the liturgy tap into your spiritual longings? I assume you are one of today’s people.

    I assume the generations of poor catechesis before Vatican II will become less significant as we internalize it’s teaching. There are no hard and fast lines between Catholics and noncatholics, just read Lumen Gentium’s definitions in para 13-16. Everyone is “related” to the Church, and shares in the grace of it, except those lacking charity. This is the thinking behind “spiritual but not religious.” I know that is a problem for the “identity police” but how can you enforce identity when God wants to save everyone?

  3. Of course, Fr. Allan and Southern Orders says just “let them go”. And to be honest, Fr. Allan, would suggest that you both missed the point of the post or you don’t understand the Ms. Bass’s thesis in her book.

    Posted today by John Allen speaking to the smaller, purer church:

    “Evangelical Catholicism, meaning a powerful thrust to recover an unapologetic and uncompromising form of Catholic identity, rooted in traditional markers of Catholic thought, speech and practice. The effort to foster a “thick” Catholic identity is the clear idée fixe of the church’s leadership class today”

    1. But is that “Catholic identity” tied to the teachings of Christ or is it an amalgam of centuries of grudges and efforts to prove “our” rightousness compared to “their” unrightousness?

    2. Evangelical Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant is the type of Christianity that is growing. Liberal Protestantism is all but dead and so is liberal Catholicism and for the same reasons. Bill I do love John Allen’s articles and style of writing and his last name is especially nice.

      1. Ah yes, liberal catholicism is dead, says Fr. Allan repeating Cardinal George.

        And as Dr. Phil would say, “Hey Cardinal, how is that working for you?”

        Excellent comment, Mr. McKay.

      1. Emily my blog is very pedestrian and I don’t claim it to be anything else but a hobby of mine. Once I realized that people were actually reading it and commenting on it, I began to freak out and thought seriously of stopping my blogging. So I think Bill really knows the anxiety I experience with so many actually looking at my blog, over a 1000 daily hits, and knows the angst this causes me and is trying to get me more followers so that I will actually stop blogging. He knows what he’s doing in promoting my blog! 🙂

      2. Then I will help you out and only look at the Google cache so it doesn’t bump your stats!

      3. Thanks, Katherine. Emily – if you peruse Southern Orders and compare what Fr. Allan says and posts with his “modified” comments on PrayTell, you find that he is, at minimum, disingenous; at worst, he is pulling someone’s leg.

        Of course, in a small town parish that now has three priests, guess it does give the pastor plenty of time to wile away his time on his “pedestrian” blog.

  4. Are we interested in religion as a means to study the Prime Mover/Creator/God and find the path to living in harmony in God’s creation? or are we interested in religion as a means of obtaining the best fire insurance? Is God Abba who loves us, or the Eternal Accountant trying to catch us in mortal sin so as to send us to Hell? Do we engage in Liturgy to celebrate God, to learn of God, to receive Gifts given not earned and to gain strength to follow the proper path? Or do we engage in Liturgy to propitiate God, to more or less buy him off?These are very harsh comparisons, but increasingly I think I see people choosing one path or the other.
    No one ever said that it would be easy to be a Pilgrim people!

    1. Fire insurance isn’t a bad motivator but should be the foundation upon which a more altruistic approach to God’s loving embrace is experienced. But don’t forget, a parent warning a child about the possibility of getting run over if they don’t look both ways before crossing the street is an act of love on the part of the parent. I hope, though, you aren’t decrying the prophetic ministry of the Church, which prophets of the Old Testament only reluctantly acquiesced knowing the misery telling the truth to the people of God would entail for them personally. I hope you wouldn’t substitute in the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, “be happy, not sad” when what is prescribed is, “Repent, and and believe the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Two of the best things that remain with me from my liberal Catholic seminary training of the 1970’s is our Biblical professor stating that “comfort” religion and constant tinkering with the “style” of worship, a preoccupation if you will, was often at work in the most corrupt periods of Israel’s history. Of course in the 70’s both of those concerns were paramount for progressive liturgists.

      1. Ah yes, again we have the Fr. Allan tale about his disastrous “liberal” 1970’s Catholic seminary training. And somehow you survived with the “truth”, uncorrupted by those nasty liberals.

        As you say: “Two of the best things that remain with me from my liberal Catholic seminary training of the 1970′s is our Biblical professor stating that “comfort” religion and constant tinkering with the “style” of worship, a preoccupation if you will, was often at work in the most corrupt periods of Israel’s history.” Well, Fr. Allan, your Southern Orders and your “blessed” hybrid merger of the EF,OF, TLM is a “perfect” example of “comfort religion” and “constant tinkering with the style of worship”. But, of course, you appear to be blind to that.

      2. Bill get the acronyms correct, it’s the TLM and the TNO and both traditionally nifty ordos are about Catholic evangelical identity. A week from Monday your life will change if only you embrace God’s grace, travel to Macon and experience an evangelical TNO ad orientem of course!

      3. The use of fire insurance doesn’t draw people closer to God, but rather to an image of God that is a source of a multitude of misunderstandings. I don’t know if it is worse that some people are driven away by the image of a God who offers fire insurance, or that others cling to this image.

      4. Brigid, in either case your description of the “image” of God could be seen as idolatrous–people are either drawn or repulsed by the true God of Scripture and Tradition who is personal and involved in salvation history. But wait, if He is involved in salvation history, He must be saving them from something (insuring them against something). That something God is insuring us against through His activity in salvation history isn’t just psychological angst but something much more insidious and incendiary. But God provides this insurance against that in the most personal and loving way possible, but a love that also can be described as “tough love.”

      5. a parent warning a child about the possibility of getting run over if they don’t look both ways before crossing the street is an act of love on the part of the parent.

        True, but warning a child that should he ever cross the street without looking both ways, that he will face eternal torture is not the act of a loving parent! Nor is telling the child that his friend who looks to the left first rather than to the right is doing it wrong and will face eternal torture for that reason.

  5. I grew up appreciating spirituality but not religion and what bothered me the most about structured religion was the hypocrisy – the dichotomy between what the church taught and how the church acted. People who don’t go to church anymore often still appreciate the spirituality, the prayers, the liturgy and in many ways they can still practice this stuff on their own, but when the liturgy is more about selling a Vatican approved brand of theology and less about fostering a knowledge and experience of God, it will matter less and less to peple who don’t have an investment in supporting the structure.

  6. It’s fine to make the observations that we have serious numeric problems in the Church at the moment, and have a robust and frank discussion about them. You can’t really argue with the numbers, after all.

    But when the proposed solutions to our problems look and sound very similar to J.A.T. Robinson’s Honest to God and Don Cupitt’s post-1980 oeuvre (among other things), that’s when I start to lose interest.

    After religion? The end of Church? Is this really the model of evangelism the New Testament presents, or is it a capitulation to the I-feel-therefore-I-am postmodern cultural vibe?

  7. I found much of interest in the article, but feel there is no support for the idea that those who attend the TLM are pretending. The comparison to Waterloo in period costumes does not work, since liturgy is a living thing regardless of the actual missal used, and not a historical reenactment.

    I think I get what AWR meant (you can’t recreate Christendom by simply using the liturgy formulated by it), but he went too far by saying those who use the old liturgy are pretending – which seems like a needless slam against people he doesn’t agree with.

    1. I don’t want to put words in anyone else’s mouth. However, when I hear people talk about why they want to use the old liturgy it always seems to me that while they think they are worshiping God, they are in fact worshiping a man-made image of God. I feel sorry for them, not because i think they are going to go to Hell, but because they could have so much more if they were willing to accept God’s gifts.
      I look back myself and wish I could have known years ago some of the things i know now.

      1. while they think they are worshiping God, they are in fact worshiping a man-made image of God

        Can that not also be true about people who celebrate the reformed Roman Rite?

        And how do you know what gifts they are not receiving that God is offering? Or, what makes it seem to you that they are not receptive of those gifts?

      2. To Brigid and Jeffrey:

        And who’s not to say that both types of liturgies are not both equally acceptable and pleasing to God? It’s the insistence that one liturgy is superior, or that God likes one liturgy better or that the ultimate goal is for there to be only one liturgy that cause the discord. Allow those who prefer the traditional rite to have it and allow those who prefer the reformed rite to have it. As long as the basic beliefs about God are observed by all, the liturgies are just window dressing. Forcing one liturgy upon all will never be accepted.

  8. End of Church? Religion Dying?
    Hmmm….
    “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”
    Mark Twain

  9. Response to Jeffrey Pinyan March 9 @ 10:33 PM

    It’s difficult to put into words precisely because to do so puts me in the position of being judgmental. There are many who imposed the letter of the reform without understanding the spirit, that’s a certainty and we’re still picking up the pieces. But to put it bluntly, many traditionalists seem to be channeling the “good” son, wanting to see the Prodigal punished and feeling they have earned a reward for doing the right thing. I see many describing a world in which people commit mortal sins almost inadvertently every day of the week. Is God eager to punish us and send us to Hell, or does God love us so much that it is very difficult to actually commit a mortal sin?
    Maybe the vapidness that some see in the vernacular Mass comes about when people discard all the elaborate trimmings without stepping forward into a fuller understanding. To know that one is loved, to confront a God who would have died for “me” and me alone, is terrifying, shocking, exhilarating, burdensome, wonderful, unspeakable; but certainly not boring nor vapid!

    1. many traditionalists seem to be channeling the “good” son, wanting to see the Prodigal punished and feeling they have earned a reward for doing the right thing

      Punished over what? Is this about the tone of “now you know how it feels” surrounding the changing of the liturgy?

      I see many describing a world in which people commit mortal sins almost inadvertently every day of the week.

      Well, I would probably say that people commit sins that, if committed with knowledge and free will, would be mortal. Am I happy about that? No. And would I be happier if these people were committing the sins with full knowledge and will? Certainly not. But then, at the same time, it upsets me that there are people who just don’t know how sinful some of the things they do are. If only they knew, and knew how much God loves them (and what God has done for them, both for now and eternity — call it fire insurance if you will, I call it salvation), then maybe they’d repent and try, with the help of God’s grace, not to do such things again.

      Is God eager to punish us and send us to Hell, or does God love us so much that it is very difficult to actually commit a mortal sin?

      This is one of the places where I think distinguishing between sin as mortal or venial is unhelpful. No sin is good. We shouldn’t be content with not sinning mortally. We shouldn’t be content with only mourning over our mortal sins.

      I’ve been reading the desert Abbas and Ammas for the past three weeks, and they have some serious herculean remorse for sin and resolve for love of neighbor. That’s the sort of witness we need today.

    2. Brigid said “To know that one is loved, to confront a God who would have died for “me” and me alone, is terrifying, shocking, exhilarating, burdensome, wonderful, unspeakable; but certainly not boring nor vapid!”

      I would say that many adherents to the old Mass like it specifically because they think it emphasizes that aspect, and dislike the Novus Ordo because it downplays it (which is why it is boring and vapid).

    3. Brigid R stated:

      “I see many describing a world in which people commit mortal sins almost inadvertently every day of the week.”

      To which Jeffrey P replied:

      “Well, I would probably say that people commit sins that, if committed with knowledge and free will, would be mortal. Am I happy about that? No. And would I be happier if these people were committing the sins with full knowledge and will? Certainly not. But then, at the same time, it upsets me that there are people who just don’t know how sinful some of the things they do are. If only they knew, and knew how much God loves them (and what God has done for them, both for now and eternity — call it fire insurance if you will, I call it salvation), then maybe they’d repent and try, with the help of God’s grace, not to do such things again.”

      Of course, no sin is good, but living a life 100% without sin is a virtual impossibility, although that doesn’t mean it should not be a goal. Because God knows this He is loving and forgiving when the people committing the sin are sorry, or commit it unknowingly.

      But, I agree with Brigid. The view of God that I see coming from many traditionalists, is a God that has many complicated legalistic rules, and that if you don’t dot every i and cross every T exactly the way the traditionalists say that God demands, then He is going to be standing there waiting to say “Gotcha!”.

      That’s not the God I was raised to believe in. Mine is Abba. Mine has very few rules and the rules he has are uncomplicated rules – basically to love Him and my fellow humans. Mine knows that the more complicated the rules are, the more conflict it will create as people disagree on how to follow them, especially since we can’t easily get clarification from Him.

      Imagine how much more simple it would be if we could ask God whether he prefers us to take communion in the hand or on the tongue, and get an answer directly from God. How simple it would be if we could…

      1. Abba […] has very few rules and the rules he has are uncomplicated rules – basically to love Him and my fellow humans.

        We (humans) tend to complicate the rules because the question inevitably arises, “does this action express love of God or not?” Sometimes there’s a unilateral answer, and sometimes the answer depends on the person’s state in life. St. Paul said the same as you: whatever commandments there are can be summed up by “love”, because love does no harm and therefore fulfills the law. (Yes, the law of God.)

        How do we manifest love of God in our daily lives, in our interactions with people? The beatitudes are a good starting point: make peace, hunger for justice, seek purity of heart, live meekly. Jesus gave us some other good rules too: do not lust, do not speak hatefully, and avoid whatever leads you to sin! Of course these are hard, but so is dying as an innocent man for a world full of sinners, so I think the least we owe to God, with our love, is our desire to live according to His commandments and to repent with sincerity when we fail to do so.

        I admit that liturgical rules rarely appear to have anything to do with love of God, and seem more concerned with love of rules. I think they were meant to foster harmony among believers, to avoid discord in the ecclesiastical act of worship… but along the way they have become tools for division.

  10. Fr. Ruff —

    What does “liturgical Christianity” mean? How does it differ from the other kinds of Christianity? How is it the same?

  11. Alexander Schmemann insisted all true worship is eschatological. Maybe that is the direction to ‘bridge the gap’ into ‘liturgical Christianity’. Neither the ‘happy clappy’ sort nor the ‘traditionalist’ sort take this emphasis seriously — but it must be the ‘key to entry into God’s Presence”.

    1. Bingo. Both sorts are, at least in the mind of far too many of their adherents, concerned with style over substance. God help us all if liturgical style determines who gets to stay and who should leave. God help us all anyway!

  12. Reading Anthony’s original post, especially re authoritarianism, I remembered how Catholicism survived in countries behind the Iron Curtain — Poland especially — precisely because a religious authoritarianism existed within and unknown to the other kind — the Communist authoritarianism. It was the only way to remain an underground Catholic.

    As soon as the Communist “shell” disappeared”, people realized that how the Catholic Church operates in Poland is in its own way just as bad. It is also extremely hierarchical and heavily preoccupied with money in a materialistic way that does not exist in Western Europe. The result is that shedloads of Polish Catholics have abandoned the Church, especially when they have emigrated to other parts of Europe. In England, we have very large numbers of Polish immigrants (one of the major cities in my diocese is 15% Polish). They fall into two categories: the (rather small) “ghetto” Church which maintains the old model and repels any attempt to integrate it into the life of the “host” Church, and the vast majority who won’t go anywhere near a Catholic church (except for the Easter Blessing of Food) because their experience back home was so dire. Trying to persuade any of them that the Catholic Church in England feels very different from what they grew up with, and could be a rather more pleasant experience, is an uphill struggle.

    Applying this to declining numbers of young people seems to indicate that an authoritarian policy of injecting packets of doctrine into them is not the answer, except for the tiny minority who respond to that kind of treatment.

    We are often not offering young people something that appeals to their desire for spirituality (although the Taizé community seems to have got it right, in spades), and they perceive the Church as not being truly concerned with matters that they themselves take more seriously than we think: justice and peace, ecology, etc. Those are the sorts of areas in which we need to do some serious work, rather than ramming home the Church’s view on sexual morality almost to the exclusion of everything else.

    1. You hit the nail on the head Paul!

      It’s all about perception. And there are two perceptions. The Righteous Church and the Political Church.
      The righteous Church:
      Churches shouldn’t be forced to pay for contraceptives, religious liberty. Church wins, 90%+ support.
      Churches shouldn’t be forced to perform gay “matrimony” Church wins, 90%+ support.
      Justice/peace/ecology: Church wins, 70%+ support

      The self Serving Church:
      No company, including Taco Bell, should have to pay for contraceptives. Church loses, bishops lose most of their credibility, 30% support.
      Contraception is a sin. 8% support. Church loses.
      No gay “civil marriage” for Catholics, Protestants, Jews and non religious. Church is losing fast.
      (Percentages are approximate).

      In my opinion, when the Church behaves appropriately and its message is judged as correct by the laity it is a Righteous Church, in the mind of the laity, no problem and it gets support. But when it appears that the bishops are nosing around in bedroom politics, outside of their legal territory, it loses big time and people leave because they smell that awful smell of politics and fear a theocracy.

  13. In all seriousness, Mr. Inwood do really think that the core problem with Christianity in modern, Western society is the Church’s tone or how she presents herself to the world? That if the Church focused on “justice and peace, ecology, etc.” instead of abortion or contraceptives, then the Church would suddenly find herself relevant to modernity? With all due respect, this type of thinking strikes me as almost naive as the “Save the Liturgy, Save the World” mentality prevalent in traditionalist circles: that if we just restored the “Mass of Ages” we would usher in a new Catholic Renaissance.

    A change in tone may make a difference on the margins (although I’m not certain I’m willing to even concede that; you may win over some Bobos but at the risk of losing some traddies), but I just don’t see how it addresses a centuries old decline that has more to do with the West’s unprecedented material wealth and the simultaneous collapse of a coherent moral philosophy (see MacIntrye, Alasdair).

    This is super anecdotal, but here it goes: I’m a 20 something lawyer at a large law firm in a major American city. The vast majority of my peers are left-leaning on social issues, mildly conservative on economic issues, urban dwelling, professionals, “socially conscious” consumers, highly educated, and non-religious. Based on my interaction with them, I’d be shocked if any of them gave Catholicism a second look b/c it talked less about abortion and started sounding like the chaplains of NYT Editorial Board. On the other hand, I would only be mildly surprised if one them became Catholic b/c he or she had some “coming to Jesus” moment as a result of some struggle with a sin, addiction, depression or emptiness. It may not make for sexy, glossy fliers, but may be this is what the Church should be focusing on rather than quasi-political talking points.

    1. I’m really not interested in making the Church “relevant to modernity”, whatever that phrase is supposed to mean. I am, however, interested in the Church genuinely reaching out to those in need and those that she has hurt, and in speaking to people where they are, not where the Church thinks they ought to be. This means, I think, getting really engaged with the issues which preoccupy people today, rather than just pontificating about them from the sidelines while simultaneously hectoring people on more personal topics when they have already decided what they think about those and have clear consciences as a result.

      1. Paul

        Where “people are” (and “are” most frequently) is in their own lives: their loves, their conflicts, their own preoccupations, their own happiness or misery. These are the things that bring people to the Faith, not stances on secular issues.

        The success of the evangelical Protestant groups has nothing to do with their collective stance on the political sensation of the moment and everything with their appeal to the people as individuals who are in need of the message of Our Lord.

        The failure of the approach that you seem to be advocating is manifest in Anglicanism, which is widely (if unfairly) parodied as being willing to discuss recycling but embarrassed to mention God.

  14. My daughter lost her faith in 7th grade, when one of her classmates was killed by his mother. I was unequal to the task of explaining theodicy, and she drifted into the “nones.” As time went by, I encouraged her, whatever the content of her faith life, to be a light bearer. She spent part of a gap year volunteering in East Africa, began the study of public health, and had several seemingly chance encounters with a minister who, with a few simple sentences, spoke to her heart. Last fall, she began attending an Episcopal Church. It’s an older, more traditional community than would probably be ideal for her, but she’s going every Sunday. As she said to me, “A lot of bad things continue to happen in the world, but I began to appreciate that even if God didn’t prevent those bad things, Christians responded in a way that I wanted to be like.”

    A friend of mine says that we can go along for years in our individual selves or our nuclear families, often oblivious. Then a seismic event – a divorce, loss of a job, death in the family, chronic disease – breaks us in half, leaving us open to the possibilities of the Holy Spirit. I believe that it is for those moments, regardless of the liturgical form they take, that faith communities exist, and that we are called to be faithful in our liturgies — living in the moment between memory and anticipation — for the Holy Spirit to do its work.

  15. This topic could and should be the theme of a conference or an exchange of papers. That’s the first thing I’ll say.

    The second is that, with apologies to Fr. Anthony, the question is far larger than liturgy. He is correct to turn the subject to Christendom. But the truly important question is whether Christendom is over. Charles Taylor can be helpful here. He certainly says in his 1996 lecture, “A Catholic Modernity?” that Christendom is not over. It merely has reached a new, fuller realization in secular liberalism. His Modern Social Imaginaries and Sources of the Self flesh out the idea of what the emergence of modern selfhood means. One thing it means is that the Gospel has reached its fullest fruition in human life. One thing is does not mean is that we have escaped Christianity because, in fact, Christianity brought us here.

    The most difficult question asks what that all means for the churches, which are stuck in time in the late middle ages as social institutions—even the megachurches, too. But that question was asked before Vatican II and outside the Catholic world. We do see it in Merton (“I wonder if we are really going to have to get along without a structure one of these days. Maybe it will be good, but Lord it will be tough on most people.”) and Delp. But we also see something like it in Barth, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, and in other places. The most urgent goal of Vatican II was to begin to address this problem, ingeniously bringing up to date by going back to the beginning and skirting all of the accrual of the middle ages. The slow unwinding of Vatican II and the reassertion of those medieval accruals over the last five decades have undermined the Church’s credibility to address the question of what ‘church’ means to modern women and men. That is what brings us here today, in my opinion.

    Given the last five decades and where we are now, I really don’t know where we begin to address this problem today. It is a…

    1. I think that for some of us, the anti-war movement, the save-the-earth movements, Woman’s liberation, Gay Liberation, etc, etc are signs that Christianity is changing the World. For others, it is a sign that Christianity has been overrun by the World.

      John XXIII pointed us to a gentle path, but I fear his successors have taken us to the edge of a cliff. We’ll end up in the same place eventually, but it’s going to be a nasty trip!

  16. Well stated, Mr. Millies.

    Allow me to add Karl Rahner’s closing remarks late in life that the future of Christianity/Catholicism will require us to become “mystics”.

  17. Fr. Ruff (article): For Davies, the Lefebvrists, and to varying degrees the proponents of the 1962 rite, the proper response is to hold fast to the old liturgy, and to the vanished order of authority it presumed. This seems to me like so much pretending. It’s like thinking (to borrow an image from Richard Taruskin in Text and Act, on an entirely different issue) that one can reconstitute European unity by re-staging the Battle of Waterloo in original costumes. Ripped out of their original political and societal context, the dignified and stately rituals of the old Latin Mass are rather meaningless, except for those who find consolation in pretending.

    I hesitate to identify Tridentine political and socio-cultural asynchrony directly with pretending. Tridentine liturgy has been frozen since the birth of nation-statehood, philosophical enlightenment, the call for justice in the face of liturgical violence, and the recognition and participation of the lay individual in modern ritual. Those who are attracted to Tridentine worship must soberly realize and struggle with anachronism in both its uplifting and troubling aspects.

    Honest participation within anachronism crosses over into pretending when modern ideals are steadfastly refused. As in Father Ruff’s paraphrase of Richard Taruskin, this refusal is akin to recreating Waterloo as if doing so would transform the historical consequences of Waterloo. The refusal to soberly compare the Tridentine and reformed rites represent a contrary-to-fact position akin to the impossibility of recreating past battles.

    The Tridentine liturgies hold a transformative place within the Church so long as its adherents permit it to change in some degree with postconciliar reality. At that point pretending moves towards dialogue, even if Tridentine liturgies retain value-neutral anachronisms which comfort or inspire adherents.

  18. Fr. Anthony, there’s a lot of ideas I can give on this topic based on my experience with young adults. In talking with a good number of young adults, a lot of the information Ms. Bass gives is accurate for a majority of people for different reasons. There is also a group of young adults that values orthodoxy and seeks to defend it but this tends to be a minority of people. Even the people that believe in orthodoxy have different beliefs about what it should look like, particularly in the area of homosexual marriage as that has become an issue that pastorally affects so many people. I think between the sex abuse crisis and the leaks scandal that’s talking heavily about money laundering in the Vatican, people want no part of a Church that seems to be serving only themselves. I know I’m in that camp as well even though I choose to remain a Catholic unlike a lot of the people I run into. Another major problem is that the Catholics we do have tend to look more like Evangelicals than they do Catholics, particularly on their images of grace and God. A lot of this has to do with poor constructs and images of God. And we can create bad images of God in both “traditional” and “progressive” senses. (Yes, bad terminology, but I think my point rests clear.) We can create a God that only cares about a certain clique no matter what our methodology. And that’s really the deepest problem in the Church right now: we don’t present an image of God that cares about everyone. We present images of God that destroy the mystery of faith, God, and the human person. This lack of mystery is what is driving many young adults away from the Church, and sadly the ones that stay and are happy with the Church tend to lose themselves to the Institution. The people that are disaffected see this and become afraid to be religious.

    1. Thank you for such an excellent expression of many thoughts I’ve had but couldn’t quite put into words.

      And please, these are my words, so hold your fire against Mr. Fitzpatrick – but it is very easy to mistake the glamour of beautiful language, gorgeous fabrics and wonderful music for Mystery. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens often enough to put me on guard.Beautiful language, gorgeous fabrics, fine art and music are wonderful things in and of themselves, and they are the tools of Liturgy, but they can be mis-used.

      1. Is confusing beauty for mystery truly a problem in traditionalist circles, or is it a problem you have projected onto them that perhaps isn’t prevalent at all?

    2. “We create a God that only cares about a certain clique no matter what our methodology. . . ; we don’t present an image of God that cares about everyone.”

      Hm. The last time I checked our biblical sources (all the Hebrew Prophets, Proverbs 19,1; Mark 14, 7; Matt.25, to cite a few), God has made an option that was eloquently articulated by the Latin American bishops 42 years ago at Medellin. That option was not created by us but from the very living Word of God

      Though it is true that God cares and loves everyone, revelation has also made clear that God has a deeper concern for the anawim [literally, the bent over ones]–the oppressed in whatever form, and woe unto any among us who have contributed to that oppression (Luke 6, 24-26), for that is to sit in judgement before God.

      What the Church[es] needs boldly to do is to reclaim her prophetic office and continue to speak out against those methodologies and systems [social sin] that continually oppress everyone, including the oppressors.

  19. “Is confusing beauty for mystery truly a problem in traditionalist circles, or is it a problem you have projected onto them that perhaps isn’t prevalent at all?”

    Without having any particular quotation or event in mind, I base my observation on the general tone of comments, legalisms and fear of Hell that I often find associated with traditionalist bloggers. Again, sad to say, I have seen priests impose what they understand as the rules of Vatican II while also missing the Mystery.

  20. While we work feverishly in our parishes on improving catechesis and liturgy, the problem is deeper than that–many (most?) of the general population are functionally agnostic.

    Even among the small fraction of the general population who still comes to church on Sunday, what would they say if you asked them about a personal God who directly influences their lives? I think you’d get a range of replies. Do they believe in a spiritual realm beyond the physical realm, complete with deities/angels/demons/grace and other supernatural stuff? What happens when people die–is there really a heaven and hell? Do people stand in awe of God’s power to judge their eternal fate? Probably not much anymore. For many, it’s something like, “Jesus was a nice guy, one model among many we could choose to emulate, he basically wants us to be nice to each other.”

    All of the liturgical catechesis in the world is wasted if participants don’t really believe in God, or at least not the way we think they do. The problem is worse than we imagine. O Lord, increase our faith!

  21. Re: Brigid’s comments about mistaking beauty, etc., for mystery—RIGHT ON, SISTAH (I’m from Boston!). The very heart, foundation, raison d’etre of the liturgy is a certain Jew crucified on a Roman cross for our salvation and for the healing and reconciliation of the entire cosmos with God. Not a pretty sight, but the most beautiful expression of love ever known and also the most profound of all mysteries. Should our common worship of this magnificent Lord be supported by whatever human beauty we can provide, to show our love and reverence? Of course. But beauty and reverence are deeply subjective and relative, so a multitude of liturgical forms and a diversity of linguistic, musical and artistic expressions should not only be “allowed,” but positively promoted within our very diverse church. And let’s not forget God’s corrective to David’s wanting to build God a house! So much of what we quarrel about are things that, deep down, satisfy or annoy US. They have little or nothing to do with the living God of Jesus Christ.

  22. I may be repeating others above, and if so, I apologize. But I would agree with the light criticism of Fr. Anthony’s characterization of proponents of the ’62 missal as merely pretending to remain in the world of Christendom. The more interesting and important question raised by Fr. Anthony is whether “liturgical Christianity” itself is tied to ‘Christendom’ or not. If it is, then the charge of pretense applies equally well to both ’62 missal and Missal of Pope Paul VI Catholics – in addition to Lutherans, many Methodists, Episcopalians, Orthodox, etc., etc. It is not the “stately rituals of the old mass” alone that seem meaningless to many today, but also the sometimes stately, sometimes humble rituals of the current ordinary form.
    This at least has been my own experience with college undergraduates in a very large east-coast city, as well as my upbringing in a small-town, rural midwest.
    Now, if it is the case that liturgy as liturgy is already out of step with the contemporary world then the question before us isn’t “which liturgy?” But, “why liturgy at all?” This is the question Guardini raised in the conclusion to his Open Letter to the Third German Liturgical Conference in 1964. And while Guardini doesn’t offer any answers, the raising of the question sheds light on the common complacency of people already involved in liturgy that the liturgy is (generally) a good thing and we ought to keep doing it and encouraging people to do it with us.
    Moving forward, what needs to be articulated in a variety of ways is what it is that liturgy offers us and why liturgy alone can offer it. I don’t believe that the primary issues keeping young people from the Church are those of images of God as vengeful (in my limited experience, young people are all too trusting in the benignity of God – modeled after a non-judgmental counselor), clerical corruption or other such issues. What drives people from the Church is the deep sense that there is no reason to be there.

    1. I think this develops a good train of thought, and I’d follow it with an observation that may seem harsh or off-point. But from the 60 Minutes piece last Sunday to this upcoming Saturday, I keep thinking to myself that the Catholic bishops of Ireland have accomplished what Cromwell and the Orangemen never were able to do. Of course, what those Catholic bishops did was nothing more than has been done long and everywhere else: they maintained a hierarchical institution modeled on the needs of an earlier time and, in important ways, made the maintenance of that institutional identity the purpose of the Church. They lost perspective on what actually vivifies the tradition they were trying to protect.

      I’m not trying to open another front in the discussion of what properly is a liturgical debate, and is ecclesiological only so far as it addresses Butler Bass’s original point about the survival of the churches as institutions. I do mean to say that I’m not certain we can sever the vengeful images of God or clerical corruption from “the deep sense that there is no reason to be there” so easily. I agree that that “deep sense” is our problem, and arguments about liturgy express the problem in articulate ways. But I’d renew my point that we should describe the overall problem as the churches (plural) not having adequately even begun to address themselves to the reality of modern (never mind, postmodern) selfhood.

      I doubt very much that even the postmodern self can be so alienated from human nature that ritual no longer speaks to us. The question we must answer is what sort of ritual offered by what kind of church can serve the timeless aims of the Gospel today. And, we are more than five decades behind where we need to be on starting that.

      1. I share your observation on the success of the Irish bishops in driving the Irish from the Roman Catholic Church. The question both there and throughout the (formerly) Christian world is whether the people have lost their faith as well as their religion? Regardless, we need to decide whether it is more important to preserve past liturgical forms or do whatever it takes to bring the Good News to people today. At Mass, we should be sharing the stories and breaking the Bread. I have no idea what it means when someone starts asserting that the Mass is a sacrifice and someone else starts arguing that Christ has already made the sacrifice. It is enough to know for me that one man, the Son of God, did this the night before he died and told us to do it memory of Him. Make that real to people, that when we do this, we are following the actual instructions of a real person, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.

      2. Steve and Brigid –
        I agree that the institutional questions cannot be easily set aside. And therefore I would further agree that the liturgical problem is just as much an ecclesiological problem. (Noted by Guardini in his open letter, too!).
        Ritual is, I believe, a central component of human nature, and (post)modern ‘selves’ are ritualistic and ritualized too. Because of that, however, I don’t agree that the question is “what sort of ritual…can serve the timeless aims of the Gospel?” nor should the primary goal be to “do whatever it takes to bring the Good News to people.”
        While I may be misunderstanding you, the sentiment expressed seems to hold a far too extrinsic relation between the ritual performed and the “message” being communicated by the ritual. I don’t think one can simply boil down the content of the Gospel and put it in any form. Furthermore, there is a problem with imagining the liturgy as principally a communication of a message. Such a view encourages the tendency to drop “extras” and just accept the desired essence.
        I am no expert, but ritual theory has at least helped to show that ritual (of any kind) is not so much about communication but performing a specific action. Rituals are not interchangeable. One could not discard one and replace it with an equally as good or better one and still “do” the same thing (broadly).
        The question for liturgical Christianity is then not “what ritual or what church” will communicate the Gospel best to (post)modernity but “what are we doing when we perform liturgy that is only done in the performance of liturgy?” and, “why is that important?” Interestingly, I think these two questions actually support thinking about the Gospel and liturgy because, in the last theological analysis, liturgy must be soteriologically significant if we insist upon doing it. In order to say what important thing we do in liturgy we must first answer what is the Good News and then say how liturgy…

    2. Let me take just a moment to clear up the misunderstanding which must be my own fault because I am not a theologian, I’m not really thinking as much about that part of the problem, and I’m certain I did not express myself well.

      I don’t really mean to suggest any separation of the liturgy from the ‘message’ at all. I totally agree–to do ‘whatever it takes’ to bring the message would not be liturgy. Liturgy needs to develop organically from the tradition, just as the Church’s theological and philosophical traditions must develop organically. Development cannot mean casting off the past. But it cannot be cut off from the present, either.

      Ritual is social. We don’t want to separate that from how we think about the liturgy either, and the Council affirmed that several times. While the liturgy is other things too, being social demands that it take into account the people who are present. Why did the Eucharist take the form it has taken? Because the Jews gathered around the table recognized the Passover meal. It emerged from a context.

      Let me say definitively that I’m not talking about “paisley vestments” or “consecrating pizzas” or any of the other caricaturish foolishness that some people sometimes suggest so-called ‘progressives’ are defending (and which, even growing up in the ’70s and ’80s I never saw.) We cannot separate liturgy from ‘message’ or theology or philosophy. All of those elements must work together. It is, in sum, one tradition.

      I only would re-state that, being social, the liturgy must develop from the tradition to meet men and women where they are, as they are, today if it hopes to succeed really as worship. Even if the liturgy were to develop in that way, it cannot be developed in isolation from the institution that celebrates it. The whole Church must address itself to women and men of today. We are farther from that than we were fifty years ago, and that fact is the root of our present disaster.

      1. I could offer a litany of questions about your unsupported assertions, from Why must liturgy develop organically? to What present disaster? I suspect we would not get far, so I will go another way.

        The Tridentine liturgy showed itself as a disaster during WWII. The courtly etiquette and authroitarian hierarchy that determined its gestures failed catastrophically. The Eucharist should have been a bulwark against injustice, but it instead wa twisted to support Mussolini, Franco, and even Hitler.

        Sometimes organic development means cutting back or pruning. Sometimes it means casting aside the obstacles to growth that have grown up alongside it. And sometimes it means keeping those same things. It is obvious that postwar Europe needed a changed Church that lived up to the responsibilities for peace and justice. That is the context for understanding the changes of the last 50 years.

        There has been some success in these years, as is shown by the anti-totalitarian movement in Poland. And there have been some failures, as in Rwanda or Croatia. And there will continue to be successes and failures as long as humans are involved.

        As long as we are pre-occupied with paisley garments and other minutiae, we risk the “lack of charity” that makes a person in the Church but not of it. (LG 14) We need a Church where our salvation is made present, where the Word dwells among us. I believe that will only happen when the liturgy is ordered toward the message of Christ and strives to touch the hearts and minds of the whole world, not just an elite few sitting in the pews.

      2. @Jim McKay: I only agree, and agree, and agree. But I’m not comfortable having my unsupported assumptions pointed out when I’m working under a 2,000 character limit. Give me 20 pages, and I promise I’ll make the case.

      3. re: Jim McKay on March 14, 2012 – 7:32 pm

        Jim, I have not always understood well your assertion that the Second World War demonstrated the inadequacy of the Tridentine liturgy and praxis as a “bulwark against injustice”. The textual content and derived message of the Tridentine liturgy are certainly often violent. In Tridentine liturgy, Anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic texts are often arranged in ways which have objectified and occasioned inhumanity, murder, and violence against Jewish people well before and including the Holocaust.

        You write that “the courtly etiquette and authroitarian (sic) hierarchy that determined its [the Tridentine liturgy’s] gestures failed catastrophically.” (my additions) Here it’s important to take one step back and consider ritual and totalitarianism as a more general phenomenon outside the specific examples of the three dictatorial Catholic or Christian regimes you have mentioned. Liturgy as a vehicle for violence is certainly not limited to Christianity or even theism. One could say that the mass games of the Kim regime in North Korea, or Mao’s substitution of traditional Chinese opera with performances expressly designed to indoctrinate, also are liturgies which have facilitated (or continue to facilitate) violent ideologies and physical violence. The arguably authoritarian, perhaps feudal, gestures which gird Tridentine liturgy cannot by themselves effect violence. For liturgy to be an effective vehicle of violence, it must also contain the dual catalysts of textual message and a political regime with a totalized inhumane ideology.

      4. Jordan,

        The traditional monarchies of Europe supported and were supported by the Church. Quite properly this formed the ritual that was used after Trent. But social change was not reflected as the rite was reprinted, and paradoxical imagery was simplified. Prince of Peace reinforced princeliness instead of peace. (or would have if it had been in use)

        As society changed monarchies became more remote, which promoted cries of injustice and totalitarianism. That loop was mimicked in the Catholic Church with its unchanging liturgy and association with a far off monarch. The gestures used locally became impositions from the center, and unquestioned obedience to an authority who could not hear the questions became a common theme.

        This played into political movements, pushing some to adopt that culture of obedience. Generally the Church did not support despots, but despots could use the Church’s “endorsement” of unquestioning obedience as a template.

        That whole structure collapsed after WWII. No more kaisers or czars to claim universal or totalitarian authority as their divine right. Yet the Catholic Church still had a Pope who made analogous claims. They still had a liturgy adapted to a long dead courtly culture. At that point, change to the liturgy was inevitable.

        Of course, this is just my opinion. I highlight the catastrophe after WWII only to contrast with Steve’s remark about “the present disaster.” The liturgy makes our salvation present and makes it known. The situation today is less dire than before, but we should not turn our backs on the preaching the kingdom of God out of nostalgia for the earthly kingdoms we used to have.

      5. re: Jim McKay on March 15, 2012 – 9:42 am

        I certainly agree Jim that the Tridentine-era model of Church governance is unsustainable after the two world wars of the last century. For example: the old papal coronation was more than an anachronism: it absolutely ceased to reflect the postwar shattered monarchical order. The inter-religious reconciliation and social justice documents of Vatican II might not have been ratified without Pope Paul VI’s repudiation of the temporal-prince model of the papacy. A rejection of a most visible image of Tridentine ecclesiastical government, along with an implicit rejection of a feudal order, set in motion a rejection of previous injustices.

        Even so, I do wonder if the “making just” of the Church as an institution must have required the significant reworking of the actions and gestures of the older liturgy. The unjust texts of the older liturgy have been replaced with more theological suitable prayers and readings in the reformed liturgy. Is an Ordinary Form Mass celebrated in a “tridentinized” style merely anachronistic rather than unjust? Aren’t the Tridentine gestures resignified when performed alongside new textual meanings?

        This question is difficult to solve and perhaps unsolvable. All liturgy is at some point an anachronism. There is no point where any liturgy is synchronous with the needs and aspirations of an individual or assembly. You are quite right that liturgies can reach a point where their suitability becomes harder to justify. We diverge, however, when determining the amount of vestigial (or traditional) gestures that should remain after a significant ideological or political reorientation of Catholic worship.

  23. Bass in her own words:
    “Americans are searching for ……not caught up in political intrigue, rigid rules and prohibitions, institutional maintenance, unresponsive authorities, and inflexible dogma but instead offer pathways of life-giving spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justice in the world……not rejecting faith – …., however, rejecting self-serving religious institutions.”

    IMHO from the cheap seats, Americans sound like they are looking for the biblical Jesus.

  24. Reply to Brendan McInerny March 14, 3:09

    A lot to think about there, I know I don’t understand all that you’ve said. One use of ritual is to evoke an emotional response. This can certainly be misused, but unless we make that emotional connection, i fear we are on the way to the agnosticism Scott Pluff describes.

    We often hear of those who only show up for Christmas and Easter, but there are also large crowds for Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. Some joke that people show up because something is being given away, but I think people feel a deep connection to those days because of the ritual. Again, the ritual of blessing throats in honor of St. Blaise can be a pain in the neck for clerics, but very meaningful for those worried about ill health.

    New rituals are developing which I am certain are condemned in many quarters. However, it was very important to my daughter that she had her baptismal candle in hand to light a unity candle with her husband at her wedding. Given the current predilection Americans have for burning candles I wonder if anyone could find room for blessing candles on Candlemas day to be taken home and used to bless the home.

  25. I disagree with your characterization of those who take consolation in the old liturgy as “pretending.” I doubt you’ll ever meet individuals more acutely aware of the decline of Christendom than those who attend the Tridentine Mass exclusively like, well, myself. I was born long after Vatican II and I have no illusions about my fellow Generation X or Millennial Catholics; they would find most of the old liturgy to be profoundly alien and would react to it with befuddlement or even hostility. Nonetheless, I retain my belief – perhaps a fool’s hope – that a return to the old liturgy is desirable and inevitable.

    I emphasize that I’m only speaking for myself, but I’ve always found the notion that religion and its public worship must be “up to date” to be muddleheaded. What IS Christianity – is it simply living like I’ve always lived with Jesus thrown into the mix as a cosmic nice guy? I appreciate the old liturgy precisely because it doesn’t try to accommodate itself to me; it forces me to conform myself to it. It’s a challenge. It provides a challenging praxis. Leaving aside the merits of the new vs. the old Mass, I think that’s what young people hunger for: something which emphasizes transcendence, something outside of ourselves that they must strive for. I never got that sense in the Novus Ordo Masses I attended.

    My brief, unhappy sojourn in upper middle class suburban parishes left me with the impression that the liturgy is a skeleton upon which the pastor and his liturgy committee impose their personal preferences. I confess that I originally began attending the Tridentine Mass purely out of my rejection of the Novus Ordo, but I have since come to love it on its own terms: for its prayers, its praxis, its view of itself and ourselves in relation to God. If Catholicism – if religion – must always be five minutes behind the times, huffing ad puffing to catch up, then why bother with it?

    1. I was born long after Vatican II and I have no illusions about my fellow Generation X or Millennial Catholics; they would find most of the old liturgy to be profoundly alien and would react to it with befuddlement or even hostility. Nonetheless, I retain my belief – perhaps a fool’s hope – that a return to the old liturgy is desirable and inevitable.
      —————————————
      I keep hearing this from traddies and the lace dress loving young foagies who act as though they’re the only Catholics who’ve discovered the Tridentine Mass, and have bought a one-way ticket to the Council of Trent in Pope Benedict’s space ship. You people must be living in a cave sealed off around 1970. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      The TLM liturgies I’ve attended in the greater New York area, for example, are well attended and they have people of every age group and background imaginable. From their teens to their 70s–my age group.

    2. What IS Christianity – is it simply living like I’ve always lived with Jesus thrown into the mix as a cosmic nice guy?

      I’ve often seen the implication (if not outright statement) from traditionalists that somehow those who favor the vernacular Mass are ducking the challenges of living the Faith and have reduced it to a sentimental mish-mash owing more to Oprah than anything else.

      So – much as I hate to get personal – aside from learning some ecclesiastical Latin, just how has your devotion to the Latin Mass changed the way you live?

      1. An excellent question. First, I’ve never thought that the vernacular Mass necessarily equals a sentimental Oprah inspired mish-mash. I’ve attended Novus Ordo liturgies which were celebrated more or less in line with what the Church envisions: chanted entrance and communion antiphons instead of the four hymn sandwich, the Ordinary parts of the Mass in Latin, almost everyone receiving on the tongue, short periods of silence aimed toward recollection, etc. They were all beautiful, uplifting experiences. Unfortunately, these kinds of Masses are rare. As I said before, much seems to depend on the personal preferences of the pastor and the liturgy committee. Even with all of that said, I would rather attend a Tridentine Mass celebrated entirely in the vernacular than a Pauline Mass celebrated entirely in Latin.

        I would say that the old Mass has made me more conscious of the notion of sacrifice. It emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the liturgy much more than the new Mass. One concrete example of how it’s changed my lifestyle is that I go to confession much more often than I did when attending only the Novus Ordo. It seems ironic, but I’m much more attentive and I participate more actively (if only in an interior sense) at the Tridentine Mass than I ever did at the Novus Ordo. The Tridentine Mass was the product of an organic evolution over time. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the notion that we had to throw it all out after the Council, as if the Holy Spirit and all the saints, doctors, and confessors had gotten it wrong for a thousand years.

  26. Some say that liturgy develops and flourishes in the nurturing greenhouse environment of a society almost entirely Christian, with a Christian state and Christian political leadership. Shared convictions in all aspects of life, by most all the populace, forge the connection between liturgy and spirituality, between liturgy and daily life.

    That was my experience, growing up in Germany with a Lutheran mother and Catholic father. The culture supported the faith and both traditions were thriving. I’ve been back to Europe and seen first-hand how the “good life” has become the religion of the people.

    It’s interesting to me that Catholics in the U.S. identify more with American Evangelicals and their “decision theology” than Confessional Lutherans who, with Catholics confess that “You did not choose me but I chose you.” God is always the prime mover.

    I am Catholic today but having married into a Catholic family I have seen first hand how poor catechesis has been since Vatican II. It is really sad.

    1. What do you see as poor in post Vatican II catechesis?
      How good do you think catechesis was for either Lutherans or Catholics in Germeny before WWII?

      1. So success with four or five people means good catechesis? By that standard we could probably say catechesis today is good.

        What do you think was good about the catechesis then? I am only asking these questions to find out what makes catechesis good, both for my own interests but also as a response to this topic.
        Is catechesis good
        if it imparts knowledge of the institution and its history?
        if it builds hearts that are willing to die for the faith?
        if the catechized allow people like Mussolini and Franco to take power and ally with Hitler?

        I have my own ideas about catechesis, which differ considerably from Ms Adryan’s. I would like to understand her perspctive. A lot of people share it.

      2. Jim

        If you look at who voted for Hitler, you will find that he got the very lowest levels of support in areas with a Catholic population.

        If we follow your line of reasoning, we should, following Rwanda and the Jugoslav wars, be chucking the catechesis and liturgy of the post-Concilliar era on the pyre as well.

      3. Glad to hear that about Catholic support for Hitler. Why do you think that was? Did catechesis play a role in that? Should it?

        if support for an unjust war is not a good metric for judging catechesis, what is? Knowledge of accidentals like history or art? “Poor catechesis” is a major complaint, but is there any agreement about what is good or bad in catechesis? Restructuring of institutions seems like it would be dependent on how the faith is shared, so these seem like pertinent question to me.

        I do not think Croatia and Rwanda are as representative of post VII catechesis as Italy and Spain were of pre war catechesis, but It does look like something went wrong there. I would probably look at Argentina and Chile too, as places where our faith seems to have supported tyrants.

      4. Jim

        You’ve mentioned Spain, without mentioning the fact that the most ardent Catholics were the Basques who fought Franqist Fascism to the very last. Many other Catholics fought with the Carlists against the Communists; the war in Spain was anything but a binary confrontation between bad Fascists and good Republicans.

        The genocide in Rwanda was a genocide committed in a majority Catholic country, often by Catholics against Catholics. No traditional Masses are said there, the nation’s Catholicism is that of Paul VI and the Council. If I were to adopt your argument, I might say that a catechesis that emphasised the action of the assembly helped to facilitate the mobilisation of the population to genocide.

        You’ve asked me what I consider that good catechesis is. My answer would be that good catechesis would begin by ensuring that neophytes understand the message of Our Lord, understand his promises to the Church and can see how the Church has, however imperfectly, carried out its side of the bargain. I would also say that good catechesis should give a catechumen access to the culture of the Church – to be able to recite basic prayers in English and Latin, to know how to receive Our Lord at Holy Communion, to have a glimpse of the rich culture of devotion (and to understand that devotions are only voluntary expressions of the Faith).

        If you are spending time discussing “social justice” (a very loaded phrase), you are wasting the catechumens’ time: you’re giving them what they could get at a civics lecture, not what most of them will be looking for in the Church.

      5. I defined social justice in an earlier note below:
        I was raised with if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing, so I have no problem with the notion that social justice is central to the faith. That assumes social justice is an act of love and respect for the poor, and not something done to try and fulfill a law.

        If I talked about memorizing prayers in other languages, I would be wasting the time of the candidates I have known. They aare interested in knowing Christ and living as one of his followers, not becoming scholars. They want to know how to pray, how to speak to God and hear God speak to them. That includes praying in the liturgy, and occasionally referring to some devotions, but those things are by no means the heart of developing a relationship with God. They want to know God as love, not as the scribes know God.

      6. They’re catechumens, Jim, they’ve already received the grace to love God; you role as a catechist is to help them to express and live that love. While love of neighbour and the poor is part of that, it’s not something that you can teach.

        All of the great saints whose lives we remember because of their service to others began with one starting point: their lives with Our Lord as expressed in the prayer an devotion of the Church. ; if you’re not giving catechumens access to that then you are giving them stones when they came to you for bread.

      7. It was said this way in the article that prompted this thread:

        Americans are searching for churches – and temples, synagogues, and mosques –that are not caught up in political intrigue, rigid rules and prohibitions, institutional maintenance, unresponsive authorities, and inflexible dogma but instead offer pathways of life-giving spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justice in the world.

        Few people think learning prayers in English and Latin is about “spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justicein the world.” If you can teach them so that it is that, I wholly support you.

        Most people’s reaction to Latin, at least initially, is that it is about rigid, inflexible, unresponsive authorities preoccupied with institutional maintenance. If they come seeking life, I would not teach them in a dead language.

      8. Jim,

        I think you’re turning my proposal that people should be able to access a couple of basic prayers in the language of the Church into a commandment that they take a graduate course in the language.

        I’ve always found that being able to recite the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria in Latin gave me a common language with non-English speakers and allowed us to participate in prayer together. I’d characterise a desire to pray only in English as inflexible and exclusive.

        And you seem to be missing a basic point: prayer is, of itself, a language oriented at propelling us into union with God and can sustain us in times of spiritual dryness.

        It is through and in prayer that we form our personal relationship with God and it is that connection that opens us to the grace to discern vocation and do justice.

        If you think I’m just talking about rote-learning a few phrases, then your point has some validity, but I’m talking about giving people the tools to access “spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justice in the world.”

      9. How does one learn a prayer in another language except by rote memorization?

        Access to “spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justice in the world” is all I care about, which is why I resist some of the ways you describe catechesis. I certainly think learning prayers is an important part of learning to pray; I spend all of Lent teaching the Our Father. I spend so much time on it so people will have a shared understanding, not shared words.

      10. Jim, you’ve shot your own fox here: the only way that one ever learns any prayer-formula is by rote-learning; or are you claiming to have been born reciting the Pater Noster? And you seem to be ignoring the fact that your catechumens may not have been habituated to the prayers through having been raised in a Catholic household.

        I am, of course, talking about method.

      11. by rote, from memory, without thought of the meaning; in a mechanical way: to learn a language by rote.

        I do not know what you are talking about. Rote certainly does not describe the way I teach the Our Father. If anything, I insist too much on meaning, too little on the mindless repetition of rote.

        Failing to understand your first remark, I won’t even try to understand your belittling remarks that follow.

      12. So you are saying that your catechumens leave your classes with a thorough grounding in the meaning of the Pater Noster, but do not know how to say it?

        I am sorry that you find my remarks “belittling”; that wasn’t my intention and I am struggling to see any condescension in what I have written.

  27. What I see as poor in post Vatican II catechesis is the pervading Pelagianism in the American church where what we do is more important than what we believe. Because my childhood formation was in the Lutheran tradition Scripture played a very important part in my catechesis and that is something that even Vatican II Catholics are still struggling to embrace although I realize that will take time.

    Both my Lutheran and Catholic family members were well instructed in their respective traditions and the life of the Church was very important to both. Lutherans in particular stress Christian education very strongly although that has also been lacking in the American Lutheran experience in the past 40 years or so.

    My Catholic relatives are far from well informed about Catholic history, symbolism and what the authentic essence of Catholicism is. I still remember the magnificent ceiling fresco in my husband’s childhood parish, the Agnus Dei surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists. He didn’t have a clue what they were. That may seem unimportant but it is part of a much wider problem.

    The Gospel of “nice” has hamstrung too many Catholics who haven’t even been given the basics of their faith in the years since the Council. We have got to do much better in this culture which has divorced being “spiritual” from having a living faith rooted in Word, Sacrament and a sense of the numinous, of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves when we are at liturgy. A better balance between immanence and transcendence.

    1. Thank you for your response.
      Catechizing in the RCIA I try to alert people to much of the symbolism in our parish church. Generally the sponsors are the ones who are most appreciative. Unfortunately there is not enough of the symbolism, eg the evangelical animals from Ezekiel’s vision are in 4 small stained glass windows that few ever see.

      I don’t really see modern catechesis as pelagian, though I am not surprised to hear the charge from someone with such strong Lutheran influences. What do you think of the joint declaration on justification? It expresses the dynamic I try to teach: When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit.

    2. re: Chris Adryan on March 20, 2012 – 7:15 am

      Chris Adryan: What I see as poor in post Vatican II catechesis is the pervading Pelagianism in the American church where what we do is more important than what we believe.

      I suspect that the “pervading Pelagianism” in Catholic homiletics and preaching stems from inadequate training and not an intended praise of works-righteousness. The best preachers I have known, both Catholic and in liturgical Protestant traditions, possess not only exegetical insight but also a breadth of theological knowledge. Indeed, some of these clergy hold advanced degrees in theology or cognate fields. Also, I have found that good preachers continuously read scripture, theology, and commentary throughout their ministry. Homiletics and preaching are not merely rhetorical skill.

      Even so, not all deacons and priests are gifted with the ability to preach. I certainly do not imply that these clergy are unintelligent. Rather, some fall back on moral bromides which could be viewed as “pelagian” rather than succinctly express as you have written, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”

      A solution might be to revive the simplex priesthood in Roman Catholicism. Per Fr. Brian van Hove’s example, certain priests who do not display giftedness in preaching could be ordained without a license to preach (but with permission to read from a homiliary or postil). This policy might stigmatize certain priests as “less than” priests. More thorough preaching would only benefit the faithful. [1]

      [1], [2] Father Brian Van Hove’s Blog. “Simplex Priests Now! from the ‘Homiletic and Pastoral Review’, June/July 2011”. accessed 20 March 2011. https://frvanhove.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/simplex-priests-now/ citing van Hove, Brian. “Recovering Simplex Priests”. Homiletic and Pastoral Review,vol. 111,24-27

  28. Jim, the RCIA program has met with differing levels of success from parish to parish, I think. When I went through the process I was alarmed to hear one of the parish priests claim that the reason the Catholic Church doesn’t ordain women is “historical”, one of the lay team members responded to a catechumen’s question as to what language the Kyrie was originally in with “Latin” (instead of Greek) and social justice was heavily emphasized as being the core of the “Gospel”. Not quite what either my Lutheran mother or Catholic father were raised to believe.

    My cradle Catholic husband says that as long as one is a “good” person one can be assured of one’s standing with God but he couldn’t really define who get’s to define what “good” is. That’s the Pelagian influence.

    As far as the Joint Declaration goes it depends on which body of Lutherans one is dealing with. I remember back when I was a member of an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation it was thought that it was only a matter of time before Lutherans and Catholics would commune together. The Joint Declaration doesn’t resolve what are still some serious differences in how Lutherans and Catholics view grace, works, the Eucharist as sacrament and sacrifice, etc. Your definition is a very good one but it still doesn’t address the solas that most Lutherans adhere to and then there is the problem of women’s ordination among some Lutherans and the fact that they now ordain female bishops. Confessional Lutheran bodies do not accept the Joint Declaration.

    I agree with you that the Church needs to recover its beautiful symbolism, the Gospel in Art. It is true that we live in a literate society but the ecclesiastical arts are an important part of why Catholics have a wholistic approach to worship that includes the senses as well as the spirit.

    1. I was raised with if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing., so I have no problem with the notion that social justice is central to the faith. That assumes social justice is an act of love and respect for the poor, and not something done to try and fulfill a law.

      That also means I am not bothered that much by people giving out wrong information. That happens with anybody, even the best educated. I hoped you discussed the issues you think were wrong. Those are some of the most enlightening discussions in the RCIA.

      And I will admit that I do not understand why you think Pelagianism is behind your husband’s “good person.” If good means ‘does good things” then it would be Pelagian. But if good means ‘filled with the Holy Spirit,” it is decidedly unpelagian. Undefined, I do not know why you chose one meaning over the other.

  29. What I see as poor in post Vatican II catechesis is the pervading Pelagianism in the American church where what we do is more important than what we believe.

    What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’

    He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.

    The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.

    Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.

  30. And I will admit that I do not understand why you think Pelagianism is behind your husband’s “good person.” If good means ‘does good things” then it would be Pelagian. But if good means ‘filled with the Holy Spirit,” it is decidedly unpelagian. Undefined, I do not know why you chose one meaning over the other.

    I take seriously Christ’s teaching that he is the vine, we are the branches and that if we are believing Christians without him we can do nothing. God’s definition of the good is not necessarily man’s.

    I wasn’t particularly limiting my comments about Pelagianism to my husband, but to Catholicism in general. My husband, unfortunately, left the Church after Vatican II. It is his position that everything he was taught in parochial school had been upended and it is no longer the church he knew. He has subsequently adopted a very Pelagian position in that he has made himself his own arbiter of what is “good”, apart from Catholic or Christian teaching.

    As for my RCIA sojourn, yes, people can get the facts wrong, but it seems to me that those teaching should be better informed than those being taught. I will never forget my surprise during my first year as a Catholic when a fellow parishioner revealed in a conversation that she receives Communion at her friend’s Lutheran church because after all we “all believe the same things.”

    Not quite.

  31. Jim

    If you look at who voted for Hitler, you will find that he got the very lowest levels of support in areas with a Catholic population.

    True. Catholic Bavaria comes to mind.

    Jordan Zarembo, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

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