Tuesday, March 22, 2016


I did an internet search on sermons in the Catholic Church prior to Vatican II. I don't recall too many outstanding sermons to make a personal judgment. However, I do recall that the sermon did not necessarily reflect on the readings from the pre-Vatican II, now EF's lectionary.  I presume priests gave sermons on Church doctrine and morality with an occasional nod to the readings just read. I suspect priests who were more diligent would give a series of connected sermons on the faith and morals of the Church. Does anyone who is ancient now recall as an adult sermons in the Church prior to Vatican II and how effective these were in conveying the Deposit of Faith compared with today's homilies based upon the readings of the particular Mass?

But I got sidetracked on my internet search when I found this 2005 article from Saint Anthony's Messenger by William H. Shannon. His headline says it all: Vatican II clarified the Church's sense of itself and its place in the world. So his focus is on everything but what the Mass is actually meant to accomplish. THIS AUTHOR IN A NUTSHELL TELLS US ABOUT HOW THE POST VATICAN II CHURCH AND THE DESCRIPTION OF THE MASS BECAME SO SELF-REFERENTIAL, SOMETHING THAT POPE FRANCIS HAS DECRIED SINCE DAY ONE OF HIS PAPACY!

It gives the apologetic of why the post-Vatican II Mass is so much better than the pre-Vatican II Mass. Of course it all hinges on externals that are stripped away from the pre-Vatican II Mass. Not a word about what the Mass is: "The One Sacrifice of Christ Renewed in an "Unbloody" Way for our Salvation." No what is touted are the sociological shifts only, silly sociological shifts elevated to dogma in other words, the ecclesiology of the Church!

Here is the 2005 article with my comments in red:

Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, we live in the light of its teachings. The Council opened a new—and extremely significant—page in the Church’s long history.

Ecumenical councils are rare in the life of the Church. In the last 400 years there have been only three: Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II. This article attempts to clarify how, through Vatican II, the Church came to a deeper understanding of its own identity and its relationship to the world.

I am well aware that this article will be read by three different groups of people. First, there will be those who were adults before the Second Vatican Council and who knew a very different Church from the one they now experience. Second, there will be those who, as adults and teenagers, lived during the Council and shared in the enthusiasm that it generated, as it offered a new and exciting vision of “Church.” Finally, there exists a whole generation of Catholics for whom the Second Vatican Council is just something they have heard about and who, therefore, never experienced the excitement and euphoria it engendered in the mid-1960s. (The first and second groups are aging and mostly dead except for those who are trying to maintain their place in history along with the drug-like induced euphoria of that period with a resurgence of 1960's thinking and ideologies, almost as a fad, for their benefit and the benefit of the third group.)

Let me illustrate with a brief story. A little girl and her mother were on their way to church one Sunday. The child was planning a valentine party for some of her little friends. She asked, “Mommy, could we stop and get the candy hearts for the party?” “We’ll do that after Mass,” the mother replied. At the preface the priest said the usual prayers. When he invited people to “Lift up your hearts,” the little girl cried out, “We can’t, Father, we didn’t get them yet!”  (Here the author unwittingly tells the truth about the Mass, the complete misunderstanding that so many adults have about the Mass today and thanks to people like Mr. Shannon and the reverence that is demanded of those who participate in wonder and awe. We can excuse a little girl who is oblivious and takes things too literally, but not adults who think that this is cute. But read on:)

Active Engagement in Celebration

That story could not have happened in the all-Latin, pre-Vatican II liturgy. I tell it because it is probably true to say that what comes to mind for most people when they think of the Council is the dramatic effects it has had on what they do when they go to church on Sunday. This is especially true of Catholics who were adults before the Council and who therefore remember a Sunday Mass quite different from what they now experience.

The Mass of yesteryear took place on one side of the Communion rail, with parishioners on the other side. The removal of the Communion rail in most churches is a strong symbol that the Mass must no longer be thought of simply as something the priest does, with the laity as interested spectators. The Mass is the worship action of the whole community of God’s people. (I must say that I bought into this ideological think about altar railings and removing high altars, art, and the iconoclasm one normally thinks about which occurred as a result of what Vatican II actually taught, because Vatican II wanted the laity to be like priests at Mass. However, until we were told by those with iconoclastic desires that the altar railing was a symbol of separation of the priests who did the important stuff and laity who watched a priestly drama, most of us thought of the altar railing as a place to kneel and reverently receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We knew that the altar railing was the laity's altar since it was an extension of the altar of sacrifice. We knew we could touch it, kneel at it and pray kneeling there even after or before Mass. WE DID NOT SEE IT AS A BARRIER TO OUR PARTICIPATION IN THE MASS, NO IT WAS THE MEANS BY WHICH WE ACTIVELY RECEIVED THE BODY, BLOOD, SOUL AND DIVINITY OF CHRIST AT THE MASS IN WHICH WE WERE ENGAGED!

The priest presides at the liturgy, but it is the whole community that celebrates. It is the priest’s responsibility, as the leader of the Eucharistic community, to see to it that people understand clearly their role in liturgy. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stresses this when it tells pastors that it is their duty to “ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it” (#11).  (Here we go, the sociological aspect of the Mass is lifted to a dogma and the shift of language concerning the priest as a sacramental sign of the High Priest Jesus Christ is muted by making the sacramental sign of the human priest into a presider, a leader, a conductor, whose role it to wave his music stick at them to manipulate them into the so-called active participation so necessary for their salvation. Enrichment brought about by the Mass is like all the self-help, feel-good movements of the last half of the last century. What about the Mass showing forth the means by which we are saved from eternal damnation, regardless of the quality of our lives and how enriched we are by the product that the post-Vatican II Mass is meant to give a consumer oriented congregation for their enrichment?

Lest there be any doubt as to the full meaning of this charge given to those who preside at the liturgy, they are told, “It is very much the wish of the Church that all the faithful should be led to take that full, conscious, and active part in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy...” (#14). (Now you know why the Mass devolved in its authentic meaning when such drivel is elevated as the most important thing a priest can do at Mass! It's breathtaking to read this time capsule prior to Pope Benedict's vision of the Liturgy sidetracking so much of this, thanks be to God!)

In the 40 years since the Council, we have seen how, in varying degrees, this call to participation has been achieved. What needs to be stressed is that the differences we experience are not just changes in what we do, but changes in the way we think about ourselves and about Church. (Yes, the really important thing about the Vatican II Mass is HOW WE THINK ABOUT OURSELVES AND THE CHURCH! Breathtaking in its stupidity, no? Self-referential anyone?)

For so long a time, the word church had two meanings for most people. It was either the building where they went “to attend” Mass or the world (or universal) Church headquartered in Rome of which they were somehow members. (Yawn!)

Vatican II, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and also in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, offers a new and more fundamental meaning of “Church.” It affirms that, for the laity, the most immediately pertinent meaning of “Church” is the local community: the ordinary Tom, Dick and Mary, their friends and neighbors who gather to celebrate their parish Eucharist together. This is what the word “Church” meant originally: God’s people gathered together in one place called there by God. Both the Greek and the Latin words for “Church” mean neither a building nor an organization, but rather “a calling together” of people by God. (Here we go, this is ecclesiology elevated to dogma as the essential aspect of the pre-Vatican II Church, the horizontal, human element of people circled around the altar singing kumbaya as they hold hands. There is nothing here about the "Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross" for our salvation or our need to worthily partake in this Sacrifice. Thus we see why ideologues changed the Latin Credo, "I believe" to the English "We believe" as though the collective "we"could absolve the need to the singular "I" to believe. Being called together into the "We Are the Church" is theology by sociologists, not serious minded theologians.)

It is at the level of the local Church that we experience the reality of “Church.” It is in the local Church that the saving activities of Church take place. It is in the local Church that the Gospel is proclaimed and Baptism and Eucharist celebrated. It is in the local Church that the presence of Christ and his love are experienced, that we gather to remember his death and resurrection. (This is really what triumphalism and self-reverence as well as self-referentialism  is all about and what Pope Francis decries. The Church becomes what is adored! The Church becomes what is most important. The Church becomes the ends rather than the means. It is a dead end. No wonder only 11 percent of Catholics in Europe attend Mass and slightly more in the USA.)

I remember years ago catechizing a group of third-graders. After class, one boy asked, “Hey, Father, what time is church?” I chided him for not putting the question correctly. I told that he should ask, “What time is Mass?” Now many years later I am still searching for that lad. I have come to realize that I owe him an apology. His question was good theology.  (Here we have some hope that the author of this article can see his arrogant ways about denigrating pre-Vatican II experiences of the Mass and parish life that had 90% of Catholics actually participating in the Mass because they went to Church!)

“What time is church?” While the Church exists at all times, it achieves its highest actuality when God’s people gather, at God’s call, to celebrate in the Eucharist the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That is why the liturgy document also says: “...[T]he liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the source from which all its power flows” (#10).

This document makes it very clear that the Mass is made up of two parts (the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy), “so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship” (#56). Gone for good is the old-time division of the Mass (that some readers may remember) into three principal parts: the offertory, the consecration and the Communion. It was a division that accorded no place at all to the Scripture readings. How things have changed!(His arrogance is breathtaking! I wonder if he is still alive. How I would love to "search for this lad" and find out what he thinks about 2016 when we now have two forms of the one Latin Rite, the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form. It seems he wrote too soon to think that Gone for good doesn't speak of today's reality at all.  But neither the stereotype. Maybe we had a significant number of nominal Catholics coming to Mass in time for the Gospel, as it should of been included in his list of requirements for fulfilling one's Sunday obligation, along with the offertory, consecration and communion. Yes, many came in time for the Gospel, timing it just right and left as Communion started. But remember, we had 90% of Catholics at least participating in a nominal way. Is it better that they don't come at all now so that we only have 11% or less attending in Europe and slightly more in the USA?


His hermeneutic is one of rupture. But worse it is one of self referential, kumbaya sociology with the priest being a conductor or a band of people who come together for enrichment. This is post-Vatican II drivel and it is to be blamed in a huge way for the loss of Catholics who no longer go to Church because they don't find it ENRICHING!!!! They find other ways to be enriched!


Catechist Kev said...

Msgr. William Shannon was a priest in the diocese of Rochester, N.Y. He died in April of 2012.

His theology on the Holy Eucharist and "church" was more than a tad... interesting (as can be seen in many of his contributions to St. Anthony Messenger Press's "Catholic Update[s]" formerly published by the Franciscans in the Cincinnati area - now being published by Ligouri Press).

Msgr. Collins was praised by former Rochester bishop Matthew H. Clark and Father Charles E. Curran.

Fr. Curran said this of Msgr. Shannon:

'Father Curran described Msgr. Shannon as an adamant reformer in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. "His commitment to the Biblical and liturgical renewals made him an enthusiastic supporter of the Vatican II reforms in the church. The triumphalism and clericalism of the pre-Vatican church was not for him," Father Curran said.'

See more on Msgr. Shannon here:

Catechist Kev

FJH3 said...

Father, a quick Google search reveals that Msgr Shannon died in 2012. It will probably not surprise you to learn he was a priest of Rochester, NY !! He was a Merton scholar, and a liturgical consultant for the diocese.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Thanks for clarifying his identity. From the article there is no way to know if he was a priest or not, something I would think, given what you write, he would have preferred. But all of this tells you about this brief blip in Catholic History and the self-referential mentality that Shannon espoused that has caused such great damage to the Church and her sacraments and liturgies!

TJM said...

If the bishops were like senior management of a company and delivered a product that was as big a bomb as Vatican II, they'd be on the street looking for honest work.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The bomb wasn't VII but how it was implemented post VII combined with elevating pastoral theology in response to 1960's issues to timeless dogma. Elevating ecclesiology in a self referential way and thus denigrating the Church's high Christology is a heresy.

Anonymous said...

It is worth taking in Rorate Caeli blog where you may read the SSPX take of a number of topics , especially on the liturgy.

TJM said...

Fr. McDonald,

Implicit in my statement was how the Council was implemented since I certainly do not reject the Conciliar documents as written. Vatican II as implemented was a disaster of monumental dimensions. The Church was weakened immeasurably following the Council because the Church was at war with Herself. A simple example of the fall-out should suffice. Do you believe a Catholic politician prior to the Council would have dared to be pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage? They would have been excommunicated in a new york minute and if the Democratic Party had adopted these as part of their Party's plank, Catholics would have been ordered to leave the Party or be excommunicated. The Catholic Church in the US is a shadow of its former greatness and does far less charity than it did prior to the Council. The recovery will take a long, long time. I see signs of hope with the younger clergy and laity.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

TJM - You presumption is that, after 1965, Catholic politicians would have feared excommunication, thereby making it an effective tool.

I think this presumption is incorrect and that Catholic stopped fearing excommunication long before 1965. Think of the excommunication of, say, Henry VIII (1538) and Elizabeth I (1570).

The punishments of the Church must have a medicinal as well as a punitive effect. One without the other is insufficient. If excommunication (and its potential effects in the life to come) is not going to enco0urage someone to "straighten up and fly right," why impose it?

TJM said...

Fr. Kavanaugh, my suggestion was that the Church was much more respected and powerful prior to the Council, not after. Remember Leandar Perez, the Louisianna politician who was excommunicated for tangling with the Church over desegregation of Catholic schools? Worked like a charm. But that was before Disaster Vatican II. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are hardly analogous to a typical swarmy American Catholic politician. They were the law and theoretically head of the Church in England. American Catholic politicians should be excommunicated over serious issues like abortion not only to bring them back to the Faith but to let other Catholics know how seriously the Catholic Church takes abortion. It is not like having your ears pierced. I dare say if Pius XI were alive today he would excommunicate the lot of them and threaten the Dem Party like he did the Nazis with Mit Brennader Sorge

Anonymous said...

Fr. K
The excommunication would have bolstered the morale of the average Catholic. No action only told them that what the politicians were doing was no big deal. Nearly everybody failed to do the right thing. However, the bishops and the clergy in general were most culpable because they had the prestige and respect of the pew sitters and had they acted responsibly the damage might have been much mitigated. Unfortunately, they were giddy and gleeful in their miserable freedom to do what ever and the rest is history as they say.

John Nolan said...

By the time Henry VIII was excommunicated he was a schismatic and quite likely a heretic. He had brutally suppressed Catholic resistance, judicially murdered a prince of the Church (Cardinal Fisher) and so would not have been concerned about excommunication.

Elizabeth I was brought up as a Protestant and although crowned according to Catholic rites (none others were available) quickly repudiated them, restored Cranmer's Prayer Book and declared herself Supreme Governor. It is surprising that her formal excommunication took so long.

So, Fr K, once again your analogies are inapposite. Don't you ever learn?