Wednesday, April 27, 2016


The old adage that liberal progressives hurled at the pre-Vatican II mentality concerning the laity is that we institutional types, meaning the hierarchy and lowerarchy just wanted the laity to pay, pray and obey.

But were the laity more of what Pope Francis seems to want in pre-Vatican II times, compared to today.

Today, we say someone is an active Catholic if they sing in the choir, distribute Holy Communion, read, usher, serve the altar. If one is a committee member or elected official on one of the myriads of committees that have developed post-Vatican II one is truly an active Catholic.

If one works for the Church as a DRE, Music Director, Pastoral Assistant and the other administrative needs we have, that makes them a super-Catholic.

Don't get me wrong. I love all our volunteers and paid personnel. But even with the many who are involved in the institutional aspects of the Church, they still constitute a minority compared to the number of Catholics who simply come to Mass, go to Confession, rear their children in the faith and try to live their Catholic lives at home, work and the public square. They may be unknown personally by the priests and parish staff and those others super involved, but still making a tremendous difference in the world precisely because of their Catholic Faith.

Prior to Vatican II we had strong families often extended families living under one roof. The children knew what it meant to be a Catholic and were taught to swim against the tide and be proud of their difference. I was taught by my very pre-Vatican II father not to wear my Catholicism on my sleeve but to live my Catholicism in a secular way--by trying to be a good person. Don't show off, be humble and live justly. And in fact many converts to the Catholic Faith were inspired by the good example of Catholics who were humble, went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, observed the fast and abstinence days and most powerfully, went to Confession frequently. But they never discussed their faith unless asked and didn't evangelize by proselytizing. My pre-Vatican II father had been taught very well in pre-Vatican II times that proselytizing isn't what Catholics do!

Their involvement in the parish was for sacramental reasons and to help tto educate their children in the Catholic Faith. Catholics schools were used not just for a good, rounded liberal arts education but more importantly for the religious values instilled in their children. That, not the liberal arts education, was more important--the salvation of souls.

But there were Church societies and organizations run by the laity that made a difference in the world. I think of the Legion of Mary and Catholic Action to name just two.

The Catholic Action Society as Wikipedia describes it (Pre-Vatican II):

Catholic Action was the name of many groups of lay Catholics who were attempting to encourage a Catholic influence on society.

They were especially active in the nineteenth century in historically Catholic countries that fell under anti-clerical regimes such as Spain, Italy, Bavaria, France, and Belgium. Adolf Hitler attacked one of the heads of a Catholic Action group in Nazi Germany during the Night of the Long Knives. Catholic Action is not a political party, although in many times and places this distinction became blurred. 

Since World War II the concept has often been eclipsed by Christian Democrat parties that were organised to combat Communist parties and promote Catholic social justice principles in places such as Italy and West Germany.[1]

Catholic Action generally included various subgroups for youth, women, workers, etc. In the postwar period, the various national Catholic Action organizations for workers formed the World Movement of Christian Workers which remains highly active today as a voice within the Church and in society for working class Catholics.

I have to admit that I am not always sure what Pope Francis means when I listen to him or read him. It is not clear. But I think what His Holiness says in this Bulletino from the Vatican describes the work of Catholics prior to the Second Vatican Council as the ideal and seems like what the pre-Vatican II Catholic action did. Tell me what your take is on the Holy Father's words below:

The Spirit is not the 'property' of the ecclesial hierarchy, writes the Pope in his letter to president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, 26.04.2016

Vatican City, 26 April 2016 – On Friday 4 March the Holy Father granted an audience to the participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (CAL), who met in the Vatican to examine the theme of the "indispensable commitment of the lay faithful in the public life of Latin American countries". On this occasion the Pope made some extemporaneous remarks. On 19 March, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., as president of the CAL, received a text in which the Holy Father continued his reflections on the theme addressed in the plenary assembly, extensive extracts of which are published below.

"To evoke the Holy faithful People of God is to evoke the objective we are invited to look towards and reflect upon. … A father cannot conceive of himself without his children. … A pastor cannot conceive of himself without a flock, whom he is called upon to serve. The pastor is the pastor of a people, and the people need him within. … Looking at the Holy faithful People of God and being aware we are an integral part of it positions us in life, and as a result the themes we we consider, in a different way. … Looking at the People of God is remembering that we all enter the Church as laypeople. The first sacrament, that which seals for ever our identity, and of which we must always be proud, is baptism. … No-one is baptised a priest nor a bishop. We have been baptised as laypeople and it is an indelible sign that no-one can ever cancel. It is good for us to remember that the Church is not an √©lite of priests, consecrated people and bishops, but that we all form the Holy faithful People of God. Forgetting this leads to various risks and deformations in our experience, both personal and in the community, of the ministry the Church has entrusted to us. … The Holy faithful People of God is anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, at the moment of reflecting, thinking, evaluating and discerning, we must be very attentive to this anointment".

"We cannot reflect on the theme of the laity while ignoring one of the greatest deformations that Latin America must face – clericalism. … Clericalism leads to a homogenisation of the laity; treating it as an 'emissary' limits the various initiatives and efforts and, I dare say, the boldness necessary to be able to bring the Good News of the Gospel to all areas of social and above all political activity. Clericalism, far from inspiring various contributions and proposals, gradually extinguishes the prophetic flame of which the entire Church is called to bear witness in the heart of her peoples".

"There is a very interesting phenomenon that has emerged in Latin America. … I refer to popular pastoral ministry. … Pope Paul VI uses an expression that I consider fundamental: the faith of our people, its orientations, searches, desires, yearnings, when they are heard and guided, end up showing us the genuine presence of the Spirit. We trust in our People, in its memory and sense, we trust that the Holy Spirit acts in and with it, and that this Spirit is not merely the 'property' of the ecclesial hierarchy. … I have taken this example of popular pastoral ministry as a hermeneutic key that can help us understand better the action that is generated with the Holy faithful People of God prays and acts. An action that does not remain linked to the intimate sphere of the person but, on the contrary, is transformed into culture; 'An evangelised popular culture contains values of faith and solidarity capable of encouraging the development of a more just and believing society, and possesses a particular wisdom which ought to be gratefully acknowledged'.

"So, at this point we may ask ourselves: what is the meaning of the fact that laypeople are working in public life? It means looking for a way to encourage, accompany and stimulate all attempts and efforts that today are already being made to keep hope and faith alive in a world full of contradictions, especially for the poorest, and especially with the poorest. It means, as pastors, working in the midst of our people and, with our people, supporting faith and its hope. 'We need to look at our cities' – and therefore all the spaces where our people live their lives – "with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares'. … It is never the pastor who should say to the layperson what he must do and say; he knows well, and better than we do. It is not for the pastor to establish what the faithful must say in various spheres. As pastors, joined to our people, it is good for us to ask ourselves how we are encouraging and promoting charity and fraternity, and the desire for good, for truth and for justice. How can we ensure that corruption does not take root in our hearts".

"Very often we give in to the temptation to think that the committed layperson is one who is engaged in the works of the Church and/or in issues of the parish or diocese, and we have reflected little on how to accompany a baptised person in his or her daily public life. … Without realising, we have generated a lay √©lite, believing that committed laypeople are only those who work in relation "priests' matters", and we have forgotten and neglected the believer who very often exhausts his or her hope in the daily struggle to live the faith. … It is illogical, even impossible, to think that we as pastors should have a monopoly on the solutions to the many challenges that contemporary life presents to us. On the contrary, we must stay on the side of our people, accompanying us in their searches and stimulating that imagination capable of responding to the current problems. This means discerning with our people and never for our people, or without our people. As St. Ignatius would say, according to the needs of the places, times and people. … Inculturation is a process that we pastors are required to promote, encouraging the people to live their faith where and with whom they are. Inculturation is learning to discover how a specific part of today's people, in the here and now of history, lives, celebrates and announces its own faith".

"Amid our people we are asked to safeguard two memories. The memory of Jesus Christ and the memory of our ancestors. The faith we have received is a gift that has reached us in many cases from the hands of our mothers and our grandmothers. … It is this faith that has accompanied us many times in the many vicissitudes of our journey. Losing this memory means uprooting ourselves from the place we come from and then not knowing where we are going. This is fundamental; when we uproot a layperson from his or her faith, from that of his or her origins; when we uproot the Holy faithful People of God, we uproot them from their baptismal identity and thus deprive them of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our role, our joy, the joy of the pastor, resides precisely in helping and encouraging, as many have done before us: mothers, grandmothers and fathers, the true agents of history. … The laity are part of the Holy faithful People of God, and are therefore the protagonists of the Church and the world; we are called to serve them, not to make use of them".


Mark Thomas said...

It doesn't matter what His Holiness Pope Francis believes about what it means to be a Catholic committed to the Church. The notion that the "true" active Catholic is one who works for the Church or participates in a lay ministry is embedded deeply at parishes.

I watch priests during sermons ask all the EMs, RCIA workers, parish staffers, ushers, choir members, lectors, etc., to stand, take bows, and call upon the congregation to applaud those who are "true" active Catholics.

I hear priests declare during sermons that something is wrong with Catholics who don't wish to following Mass "sign up in the back of the church" to become EMs, ushers, readers...

Several parishes in my area state on their Web sites that they have "50 lay ministries...200 EMs..." as "proof" that their parishes are "vibrant".

Sunday Mass attendance at the parishes is about 17 percent and falling. They haven't generated vocations in decades. But they label themselves as "vibrant" parishes as they have, for example, literally 12 to 15 EMs at each Mass.

Good luck trying to change that mentality.


Mark Thomas

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

But, but, but MT, that is my question and it is a very important one. Is Pope Francis trying to correct the course of pastoral ministry so it is no longer the laity serving in priestly type things, but a return to what in fact was mushrooming in the 1950's in movements like Catholic Action, Legion of Mary, The Blue Army, the Fatima Crusade, the Rosary Crusade.

While all these lay movements may have had priests and bishops advising them, these were basically lay movement and they had a lot of leeway in terms of how they organized what they chose to emphasize.

The common denominator, though, was the sacramental life of the parish, not necessarily doing this, that or the other or usurping the priest's role in the institutional Church. The laity were laity in other words until a post-Vatican II mentality clericalized the, and laizied the priests--this is an old problem that even JP II and Benedict tried to correct.

Servimus Unum Deum said...

Fr. AJM,
I think that part of it is his 70's groovy theology, which is correctly, if my guess is right, leaning back onto Lumen Gentium and its description of the faithful's participation in priest, prophet, and King.

However, I think part of this is him waxing off poetically the rebellious Spirit of Vatican II and his psychological demons. On The false spirit, it basically thinks all attitudes and liturgical practices pre 1970 were bad and new Protestant stuff is good. As for the Psych part, we all carry our traumas and demons into our lives and it colors our outlook and mental states. Few people come through life without being psychologically damaged to a degree by their past, and in Francis' case, I've seen sources around the web state his family were devout and strict Catholics, the kind with attitudes and mentality of the Katholic Krazies. They seemed overbearing and were "pay, pray, and obey" types that sucked the Joy of the Gospel from Jorge's life, so this is maybe his rebellion against that exemplified in his priesthood and papacy?

TJM said...


"Vibrant" must be a lib code word for failure.

rcg said...

I do like this this. MT above has a good point, but all is not lost. In fact I think the progressives have handed us the key to their undoing in this very situation: they are economically unviable. We are now in a game with a much more open playing field, freedom of movement in military terms. What is being described here is a distributed force with a single vision, no single unit is a center of gravity.

I have seen the failure of the micromanager a thousand times in other organizations, not just the Church. If there is reason for the decline of the Church paired to the destruction of the Liturgy, it is the abdication of Clerical roles to the Laity and clerical dilettantes.

Servimus Unum Deum said...

Gotta clarify one thing. There is ample
Evidence he will NOT destroy the Latin Mass. However the whole fight the clericalist attitude is a mistaken application in many cases of the empowerment of the Laity in Christ''s PPK ministry.

Anonymous said...

Large segments of Catholic lay society heard the call and took up the cause of the unborn since Row vs Wade became the law of the land. Catholics still gather in great numbers in Washington to proclaim solidarity with the unborn every January. Unfortunately, during these years the US hierarchy and lately even the Holy Father denigrates this specific type of public movement; forgetting that this initiative has a potent political aspect. (Even without proper support it made great progress over the years). Instead of standing behind the laity we got voting guidelines from our bishops that helped to confuse the hapless pew sitters and enable the Kennedy and Pelosi type politicians to posture as faithful Catholics.

This may sound simplistic to Catholics who have been captured by liberal ideology but the solution is to return to the roots, the gospel as interpreted by the apostles, the fathers and the saints. What passes for teaching in these days is much tainted by secular ideology as you Father MacDonald often rightly point out. Instead of dreaming up ways to blunt the clear teachings of the Catholic Church it would make more sense to proclaim those tenets of the faith that worked in the past. Jesus cautioned us against having itchy ears that false teachers exploit especially when inspired by the evil one.

johnnyc said...

At first I didn't quite understand the derision liberals have for faithful Catholics with the pray, pay and obey thing.....all three of which we are commanded to do in Scripture.

Jesus said.....If you love me you will obey my commandments.

But it became obvious....they don't like that obey part lol. They dissent from the teachings of Jesus and so like protestants they separate Jesus from His Church, the Catholic Church which in their misguided heads allows them to 'blame the Church'. They then can come up with their own personal Jesus that, wouldn't you know, matches up with their liberal political ideology lol.

Catechist Kev said...

Mark T says:

"They haven't generated vocations in decades. But they label themselves as "vibrant" parishes as they have, for example, literally 12 to 15 EMs at each Mass."

One of the first documents I read after returning to the Church in the 1990's was this one (which is brought up often by Fr. Z):

It is one of those that has been cast to the dead letter office of Catholic documents - especially those documents that point out the distinction between the laity and clerical state.

Catechist Kev