Monday, April 13, 2015


One of the most appreciated passages I have for Pope Francis' bulla on mercy released this past Saturday, April 11th centers on the Second Vatican Council and its proper implementation. My comments follow what the pope wrote:

4. I have chosen the date of 8 December because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church. In fact, I will open the Holy Door on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive. With the Council, the Church entered a new phase of her history. The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. The walls which too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way. It was a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning. It was a fresh undertaking for all Christians to bear witness to their faith with greater enthusiasm and conviction. The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.

We recall the poignant words of Saint John XXIII when, opening the Council, he indicated the path to follow: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity … The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.”[2] Blessed Paul VI spoke in a similar vein at the closing of the Council: “We prefer to point out how charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council … the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council … a wave of affection and admiration flowed from the Council over the modern world of humanity. 

Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love. Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful predictions, messages of trust issued from the Council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honoured, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed … Another point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need.”[3]

With these sentiments of gratitude for everything the Church has received, and with a sense of responsibility for the task that lies ahead, we shall cross the threshold of the Holy Door fully confident that the strength of the Risen Lord, who constantly supports us on our pilgrim way, will sustain us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides the steps of believers in cooperating with the work of salvation wrought by Christ, lead the way and support the People of God so that they may contemplate the face of mercy.

My Comments: I am a cusp Catholic. I was brought up in the pre-Vatican II way of things, positive and negative until about 1967 when I was 14. My father was thoroughly pre-Vatican II prior to Vatican II and struggled with the lack of clarity in the Church after Vatican II and the disintegration of religious life and the priesthood after Vatican II with rebellion and priests and nuns leaving to get married. However he liked the vernacular Mass and some of the simplication that occurred to it.

What was difficult about pre-Vatican II Catholicism was how quickly Catholics disowned one another if Catholic friends or family members wandered too far from the Church's truth. A child getting married outside the Church would end in a life long estrangement from his or her parents and sibblings. One can only imagine if that child was homosexual. Hell fire and damnation was all too prevalent in Sunday homilies or sermons. Mercy was not well preached and even in the Sacrament of Penance, many Catholics were castigated rather than treated for their sins which they were humbling trying to confess and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

And there was a lack of humility from the institutional Church concerning the goodness of those who are not Catholic and the possibility of them being saved in God's divine Mystery. There was an undue fear of the world that most Catholics lived in daily.

Perhaps the worse part of the pre-Vatican II Church was paternalism . Many, many more Catholics went to Catholic school and sometimes throughout college prior to Vatican II. When priests and religious were prominent, lay Catholics even as adults, were treated as children. Treating adults as children is not good and is a sign of clericalism. We see this mentality even today amongst academics who think they know it all and look down their noses at the "lay" people to whom they relate. Pope Francis does not seem to like academics too much and I suspect it is for the same reasons I don't, their clericalism, religious or secular! Paternalism is a part of this too!

If only the negative, clerical and rigid aspect of the Church and some of her members had been addressed and only modest external changes in the post-Vatican II era, I think the Church would have been in a better and stronger place today!

This is what could have happened embracing all that Pope Francis highlights above:

1. Keep the Liturgy as it was with only the minor adaptations that Vatican II foresaw, some vernacular, some simplification. The 1965 transitional missal had/ has promise in this regard. I continue to insist that the revised lectionary is what Vatican II wanted. It isn't perfect, but could easily be perfected by including the old missal's lectionary for Sundays as a 4th Year! This would save the Graduals and Tracts of this lectionary as well as Sequences. Simply allowing for the pre-Vatican II GIRM and rubrics for the Ordinary Form Missal, to include the PATFOTA, Offertory and post-Communion rituals would go a long way and with little effort.

2. Religious Life needed some updating. The religious themselves were kept as children and had silly, small minded rules that had become archaic. A more humane community life and a modified habit that maintained a true veil would have gone a long way in keeping religious life strong. Respect for the Magisterium and the revealed truths of the Church would have too, also!

3. Much of the simplifying of religious life and the priesthood to include how bishops function has led to the loss of confidence and respect for the clergy and religious. This is accelerated by the abuse scandal and how bishops dealt with it and actually in a pre-Vatican II sort of way, long after Vatican II. The clergy, especially bishops, felt no accountability to the laity or civil law!  They perceive themselves above it. This is clericalism to be sure!

4. A pre-Vatican II approach to sexuality needed to be addressed and a more cogent apologetic for the Church's traditional understanding of sexuality and chastity needed to be articulated and not in a paternalistic, authoritarian way.  Sex, contraception, abortion, technology for dealing with infertility and the like have to be explained to adult Catholics in a way that makes sense and doesn't make them feel like children. The influence of pornography today and how it is influencing the young, old and everyone in between needs to be addressed in a more cogent way too. Pope St. John Paul II's theology of the body is but one advance and holds promise if promoted more widely. Same sex marriage and gay rights poses a tremendous challenge to the Church today. As well classifying sex as mortal sin without nuance truly pushes young people away from the Church. If masturbation will send you to hell, then why not go whole hog? God's mercy for our sexual peccadilloes, small and big, needs to be better explicated, especially in Confession and spiritual counseling. Sex touches us at our core and if we turn people off to the truth in this regard, we could well lose them throughout their lives and offer no restraints or cautions whatsoever. A positive understanding sexuality, even in marriage, what is good and what isn't needs a better articulation that appeals to the sensibilities of young and old alike without compromising the truth.

We don't live with "if onlys" though. We have to live with what was and is. But reform of the reform within continuity with the pre-Vatican II Church, which will eventually become what is most appreciated and celebrated of Pope Benedict's papacy will help us in our recovery and moving forward.

We can't go backwards, but we can learn from past-mistakes in the post-Vatican II era and reform and move forward in high gear!


Supertradmum said...

I am a pre-Vat II kid older than you by a few years, being born in 1949. I honestly did not hear a lot about hell growing up in sermons at all. Maybe it was the area in which I lived. Also, there was not condemnation of homosexuals, as by the mid-seventies, some of my best friends were involved in rehab and rescue up in Minneapolis-all humane and kind, as well as firm.

Perhaps I was just fortunate, as I was taught to read the Bible both at home and in school. I had Holy Cross nuns from Notre Dame (who were fantastic, orthodox and smart as heck, plus all having degrees before being put into the classroom.

I only had one bad confession experience in all my years, and knew many good nuns and priests.

As to being kept at children, no--my experience, esp. in Catholic high school was that we were told we were the Catholic leaders of tomorrow, and had leadership training--a thing now gone, as everyone has to be "equal".

I cannot say anything about sex ed. as it came from the moms and dads in those days.

Well, I still love the Latin Mass and endure protestantize Catholic NOs where I now live.

Yes, the good old days were not perfect at all, but people felt great security, imho, concerning the Church. I have written about sentimentality concerning the pre-Vat II days, but some things, like the Catholic culture in which I grew up, and the strong sense of Catholic identity as countercultural are gone, gone, gone.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Agreed! Too much of Catholic culture and identity organically developed was uselessly destroyed overnight and by the instigation of the pope, bishops priests and religious over night and for something that wasn't beytter but detrimental in a catastrophic way!

WSquared said...

Sex, contraception, abortion, technology for dealing with infertility and the like have to be explained to adult Catholics in a way that makes sense and doesn't make them feel like children.

Agreed. Reducing the Church's beautiful teaching on human sexuality to some form of "God hates sluts" or "God hates fags" is actually damaging on far deeper levels to a degree that I can only begin to name. Sex outside or marriage, lust in marriage, contraception, and IVF are sinful, not because "God sez so," and doing those things will "ruin your reputation," but because they will reduce our capacity to love unconditionally and in a self-giving, self-sacrificing manner. They cut us off from God and from each other, whereby we cease to be receptive to God's love-- and in turn, will be hampered in our ability to "love one another as I have loved you." Treating one's spouse as a sex object is never going to be anything but sinful, regardless of how much a nice "church wedding" and having a wedding ring on one's finger makes it look "respectable" and oh-so suburbanly "decent." Sin only makes sense as being contrary to love (and not as some isolated, insular category in and of itself)-- love of God and love of neighbor.

One thing we never hear from the pulpit is how empowering the Church's teaching is, and that God gives us the grace to live what the world insists is "impossible." That's what connects us with the first Christians at the very beginnings of the Church, no?

It's all well and good to tell our sons and daughters that "sleeping around will ruin your reputation" and to say that "none of MY kids ever got pregnant or got someone pregnant outside of marriage," but well-meaning as that is, it's still a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Church teaching, and one that has serious consequences down the line. Children who don't know that the Church's teachings are about unconditional love and how to love unconditionally-- as God loves us-- will not be able to teach the same to their children, and will not be able to explain that teaching using reason, for not having ever known it themselves.

We can't constantly expect societal mores to do the heavy lifting for us when what is needed is reason and logic, because being vigilant when it comes to respecting the dignity of one's self and others requires no less. For one, where does reason even come from? From the same source as faith. Love is reasonable, logical, because we expect it to mean something: it's all well and good to say that "love is whatever we want it to mean" until we're on the receiving end of someone else's abuse or neglect and we know that something is wrong, but we'd have no logical recourse, because love is "whatever we want it to mean" (why, therefore, should someone else's abuse be "wrong" if they wish to call it "love"?).

What's intriguing is why people who use others as an outlet for their own sexual gratification feel that they have the right to complain when others wrong them and treat them the same way, while claiming to hold to "treat others as you wish to be treated" in other areas of life. That love actually does mean something, and that mercy is not antithetical to reason and justice is what gives any of us any right to complain at all when we are wronged. And if we are unaware of what a human being is in any holistic sense, wouldn't that rather affect how we "wish to be treated" (and therefore how we will treat others)? There's also a willingness to acknowledge when others treat us wrongly, but an almost commensurate inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that we are capable of treating others the same way-- i.e. just as badly-- and often do.

Our understanding of the Church's teaching on human sexuality is so fragmented, and it's to our detriment.

WSquared said...

As well classifying sex as mortal sin without nuance truly pushes young people away from the Church. If masturbation will send you to hell, then why not go whole hog? God's mercy for our sexual peccadilloes, small and big, needs to be better explicated, especially in Confession and spiritual counseling. Sex touches us at our core and if we turn people off to the truth in this regard, we could well lose them throughout their lives and offer no restraints or cautions whatsoever. A positive understanding sexuality, even in marriage, what is good and what isn't needs a better articulation that appeals to the sensibilities of young and old alike without compromising the truth.

Agreed again. I know what you mean, Father, but since the understanding abounds in the larger culture that we Catholics believe that "sex is a sin," if sex is a sin, then why does the Church consider children a gift? Rather, she considers the misuse and abuse of the gift of sexuality a sin, and grave matter. At the end of the day, everybody (regardless of preference of sexual habit, proclivity, and partner) have to ask themselves what sex is actually for. That there exist men and women, and not just either/or-- well, why? Is this just a random occurrence, or does that suggest an actual purpose, an ontology?

Also, people need to know that they can choose purity and become pure again, with the grace of God, and chastity is not sexual repression, but a holistic integration of one's sexuality into one's person through love-- Caritas. Just look at St. Augustine. God doesn't just take away our sins-- He gives us the grace to live in Him as a new creation. This is one of the very real reasons why nobody should treat the Sacraments as some sort of rite of passage or "ticking all the right Catholic boxes." Sure, you and your kids have "received all the Sacraments"-- but are you and they letting them change your lives? I hope I don't sound like I'm coming off too strongly when I ask what, for the love of God, do we think they're for and are supposed to do?

It all ultimately comes back to the Eucharist, the Word Made Flesh: no matter who we are, what sins we've committed, what temptations we face, whether we have SSA or not, Christ in the Eucharist, and His Cross and Resurrection, means that all of us can have the ultimate in love, and have it right now-- if we are willing to receive it and cooperate with it. And we start small-- it doesn't come all at once. And because the Extraordinary Form's focus on Christ and the Eucharist is so much more clear, using the EF as a bridge, not a wedge, will be important, I think.

WSquared said...

Post-Vatican II Catholic here.

Given the experience of the "Catholicism" of my youth, I can indeed attest that it existed in a pretty strange moment directly after the Council: a moment that combined doctrinal and dogmatic laxness with strict moralism. "Pray, pay, and obey" plus "kumbayaa" was and is a lethal combination, because it combines the two ways that C.S. Lewis identified as the ways in which we do the Devil's work: leaning too strict or too lax. Right there, I think we can see that this dumbing-down of the faith actually undercuts and deprives us of any real, substantive sense of a tender, loving, merciful God Who is also tough enough to become sin and descend into Hell for us in order to save us.

Yet, I was fortunate, too: I had some stellar nuns and priests in my life. Still do. I also had some good professors and colleagues at the non-Catholic universities I attended, a couple of whom were indeed Catholic and taught Western Civ well, and others who were at least respectful of religion in general and Catholicism in particular. In those circumstances, I at least had some sense, however vague, that whatever I didn't know or ignorantly "disagreed with" where Church teaching was concerned, the Catholic Church and her intellectual tradition had still produced some of the finest minds in the world (how could "banners 'n' balloons" produce the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas? There had to be something more). The serious study of history with any degree of rigor will also make one think twice about subscribing to any sort of chronological snobbery qua historical supercessionism.

The issue was where and how to join the dots, which also begs the issue of filling in the gaps, too. I didn't acquire that ability until very, very recently.

Andrew said...

As someone born in the early 80's and struggling to understand how we got to the point we are at now I've found this post very interesting.

The area I have moved to now while slowly recovering has been largely void of traditional liturgy for a while, and I have the impression that even the mention of Latin or other things would cause panic and rebellion. Traditional liturgy and reverence at Mass seems to have been lumped in with the other problems you mentioned, and that is why I am struggling to understand how we got to that point and what is so terrible about what I would call beauty mystery reverence and awe at Mass in place of the rather bland the community seems to be the most important thing style of liturgy we have that the older generations seem to find so meaningful.

I feel like the few young people that still go to Mass are often offered little of substance and even the miraculous love of the God made incarnate presenting himself out of love for us at Mass in the Eucharist is trivialized to a community experience with little focus on worshiping God with all of our strength, or seeking his hidden but beautiful face with which we can carry with us back in the secular world.

In other words it is just so hard to worship, and the best we offer our young people for substance is a praise and worship experience which I won’t totally discount or knock, but seems so limited compared to some of the deep mysterious worship of our ancestry, at least that is how it feels to me.

One question I did have I am interested in if you have time is I wondered if you could elaborate more on the small minded archaic rules the religious had that needed updating.

As a younger person I think I have had much less experience with religious, but the ones I have had have been very traditional and that is sort of all I know, so I don’t know what one would consider to be traditional in the good sense in line with the organic development of religious life over our history versus archaic rules and how they were treated as children in a bad way versus say someone like St. Therese who got her PHD in precisely being a child?

How are say the Missionaries of Charity or the traditional Benedictines at Clear Creak or Silverstream or Barroux which attract young vocations and which to me seem very traditional and in line with our history different from or the same as the orders you speak of needing updates at the time of Vatican 2? That is perhaps a lot and rather broad but I would be quite curious to hear some answers if you have any!

Jdj said...

Andrew, to try to answer one of your questions (I am 68, and MUCH older than Fr. (-:) :
if you can find it, you might try watching that old movie "The Nun's Story" circa 1959. Pretty accurate pre-Vat II look below the surface of female religious at that time, although not perfect, of course, given its Hollywood origin.

George said...

"The influence of pornography today and how it is influencing the young, old and everyone in between needs to be addressed in a more cogent way too."

I agree. Whatever is out there to help with this problem needs to be made as available as possible (and resources will allow) to those with this compulsion and addiction.

" Pope St. John Paul II's theology of the body is but one advance and holds promise if promoted more widely. Same sex marriage and gay rights poses a tremendous challenge to the Church today. As well classifying sex as mortal sin without nuance truly pushes young people away from the Church."

Sex is not a mortal sin and if young people are under the impression that the Church teaches this then they are badly misinformed and poorly catechized. It is sex outside of marriage that is sinful. There can be mitigating circumstances. but all, in one way or another, need to recognize and acknowledge what God desires in this matter. It will take longer for some than others to get to that point and I would say for many young people today, not only much prayer but fasting will be necessary as well.

"If masturbation will send you to hell, then why not go whole hog?"
How much good does digging a deeper hole do if you are going to have to eventually extricate yourself from it? How much good does it do to construct more walls between you and God if they will eventually have to be torn down(if one hopes to be saved)?

Luke said...

The quote from Bl. Paul VI sounds hopelessly naive 50 years later. It is the most disturbing part of an otherwise good document from the Holy Father.

Anonymous said...

I am also a pre-Vatican II Catholic and experienced it pretty much like Supertradmum with some great nuns and priests - I only remember one or two nuns throughout all of my school life who were a bit on the cranky side. In fact the worst teacher I ever had was a lay teacher in primary school. I never heard any condemnation of homosexuals either or prostitutes. The emphasis was on living a good moral life and marriage and family values were promoted.

I loved the spirituality of the Catholic Faith, with emphasis on daily Mass and visits to the Blessed Sacrament. The spirituality is virtually gone now. We are very much like the protestant churches used to be, with emphasis on reading scripture and very little else. There is very little mention of the saints, these days either - and we're all saved. No wonder there has been so little promotion of the plenary indulgence that is given on Divine Mercy Sunday - if you don't believe in Purgatory no need for the indulgence.

It really has become a pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Church, and I know which I prefer. In taking our guide from protestantism we have largely lost the faithful and Catholics are in the main like the protestants: Sunday Catholics/Protestants.


Anonymous said...

Also, Father, I have to say that manay of the priests and the "nuns" post Vatican II have been horrendous. The priests absolutely rude and the "nuns" behaving like men - strident feminists.

I never experienced anything like that prior to Vatican II. I have been told by a priest, "We priests loathe lay people. All we want is your money". Unfortunatelyly I believe he was speaking the truth. I think that there has been so much lay involvement that the priests have largely got sick of lay people. No excuse for the "nuns" though. They have largely just been out and out feminists.

To me there seems to be a great reluctance to admit that there has been such an upheaval in the Church since Vatican II and I think many have their heads in the sand. They won't accept that things are on the verge of falling to pieces - what was warned about immediately after Vatican II went unheeded. Maybe what Vatican Radio reports coming out of Holland will finally wake some up to the reality:

“mistakes made by the local [national] Church after the [Second Vatican] Council and the actual abandonment of evangelization,” according to the report.

The head of the Catholic bishops’ conference of the Netherlands issued his Lenten message to the nation’s remaining Catholics, warning them against “bitterness” at the almost total loss of their Church. Cardinal Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, told the faithful in his message for Lent this year to prepare for the closure of about a thousand Catholic parishes, or about 2/3 of those in the country."

If the local Churches bend any further and fail to strenghten moral teachings, more and more people will leave. Many are opting for the protestant evangelicals who - on the surface at least - promote morality and the Orthodox churches are receiving Catholic converts due it seems to poor liturgy.