By Michael Davies
(Taken from the Appendix of the Liturgical Time Bombs)
Both the Holy See and national hierarchies deny emphatically that a disastrous liturgical revolution has taken place in the Catholic Church, especially in the liturgy, since the Second Vatican Council, and they insist that the Catholic faithful are the fortunate beneficiaries of a fruitful renewal. This official viewpoint was expressed by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus of December 4, 1988, commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The Pope explained, quoting the Constitution itself, that the objectives of the reform were "To impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions that are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of humanity into the household of the Church." (Par. 1). The Pope continued, "The vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedience and indeed joyful fervor. For this we should give thanks to God for that movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church which the liturgical renewal represents . . . ." (Par. 12).
In his sermon for Pentecost 2001, Pope John Paul II rendered homage to John XXIII on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of his death: 1
The Second Vatican Council, announced, convoked, and opened by Pope John XXIII, was conscious of this vocation of the Church. One can well say that the Holy Spirit was the protagonist of the Council from the moment the Pope convoked it, declaring that he had welcomed as coming from above an interior voice that imposed itself upon his spirit. This "gentle breeze" became a "violent wind" and the conciliar event took the form of a new Pentecost. "It is, indeed, in the doctrine and spirit of Pentecost," affirmed Pope John, "that the great event which is an ecumenical council draws its substance and its life." (Discorsi, p. 398). 2
On March 5, 2000, The Catholic Times (London) reported the Pope as stating that the little seed planted by Pope John XXIII has become "a tree which has spread its majestic and mighty branches over the vineyard of the Lord." He added that "It has given us many fruits in these 35 years of life, and it will give us many more in the years to come."
With all the respect that is due to the Holy Father, the fact that there has been no renewal cannot be changed simply because he would like a renewal to have taken place. 3 If the fruits of the Vatican II liturgical reform are to be compared to a tree, Matthew Chapter 7, verses 16-19, comes to mind immediately: A fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos-----"By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit."
In his Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia of April 17, 2003, Pope John Paul II once more insisted that the Vatican II liturgical reform has been followed by a renewal rather than a revolution, by good fruits rather than bad fruits:
The Magisterium's commitment to proclaiming the Eucharistic mystery has been matched by interior growth , within the Christian community. Certainly the liturgical reform inaugurated by the Council has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active and fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar on the part of the faithful. In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness. The devout participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a grace from the Lord which yearly brings joy to those who take part in it. Other positive signs of Eucharistic faith and love might also be mentioned. (Emphasis added).
Once again, with all due respect to the Holy Father, one must insist that if there has indeed been an "interior growth within the Christian community," it is certainly not reflected in the catastrophic collapse of Catholic life in First World countries, which is documented beyond any possible doubt in the statistics which follow. While the inauguration of perpetual adoration in some parishes and chapels in recent years is an admirable development, one must look at the overall state of the Church: in fact, as Germain Grisez and Russel Shaw made clear above, belief in the Real Presence in the United States "has not simply grown dim, but, seemingly, been extinguished." In the September 3, 1999 edition of the British Catholic Herald, it was reported that shortly before his death Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster had lamented the fact that Catholics in England had lost devotion to the Eucharist, which lies at the heart of the Catholic Faith. He blamed the lack of Eucharistic devotion on "the way children are taught the faith by adults." This is an astonishing claim in view of the fact that, like his fellow bishops, he had imposed textbooks in which the traditional teaching was ignored.
Then, in what seems to be a volte face, the Holy Father admits that, in some places at least, Eucharistic discipline and even faith are suffering very serious problems, and he provides a list of the liturgical deviations and abuses concerning which traditional Catholics have been protesting since the first changes were imposed upon the faithful. These abuses take place, the Holy Father tells us, alongside the lights to which he has referred, but he nowhere tells us where these lights are shining:
Unfortunately, alongside these lights, there are also shadows. In some places the practice of Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned. In various parts of the Church, abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament. At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet. Furthermore, the necessity of the ministerial priesthood, grounded in apostolic succession, is at times obscured, and the sacramental nature of the Eucharist is reduced to its mere effectiveness as a form of proclamation. This has led here and there to ecumenical initiatives which, albeit well-intentioned, indulge in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith. How can we not express profound grief at all this? The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation. It is my hope that the present Encyclical Letter will effectively help to banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice, so that the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery. (Emphasis added.)
These deplorable abuses did not exist before the Vatican II liturgical reform, and it can hardly be denied that they are indeed the true fruits of the reform. We must indeed pray that this encyclical, which contains much admirable Eucharistic teaching, will help "to banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice," but alas, these have now become so ingrained in parish life that, short of a miracle, they will not be eradicated. The well-entrenched liturgical bureaucracy throughout the First World completely ignores admonitions from Rome which conflict with their agenda. They treat the Vatican and the Pope himself with what can be described accurately as amused contempt. In November 1997 the Vatican published a document entitled Instruction on Certain Questions concerning the Collaboration of the Lay Faithful in the Ministry of Priests. It was intended to curb such abuses as the infestation of Catholic sanctuaries by a plague of unnecessary extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Catholic World Report of February 1998 carried a scathing editorial entitled "One More Document," with the sub-title "If Church discipline is never enforced, how much do formal statements matter?" The editorial commented on the response to the Instruction:
As we survey the Catholic scene we see no change whatsoever. In the parishes where those abuses occurred last year, they are still occurring today . . . These and other liturgical abuses have been condemned again. The condemnations have no practical effect . . . In an ordinary household when children misbehave, does the father issue a statement of policy-----and then when they ignore his words, another new statement in response to each repeated transgression . . . There is a time for action.
As was shown above, the action that follows defiance of a command from Rome to correct an abuse tends to be to legalize the abuse; the abject surrender on the question of altar girls is an evident example. The fact that some practices which began as abuses have now become the norm was admitted by the Congregation for Divine Worship in its journal Notitiae as long ago as 1992. In an editorial entitled "The Credibility of the Liturgical Reform" (Credibilità della Riforma Liturgica), which went virtually unreported, it admitted that "the credibility of the liturgical reform is being put in jeopardy after thirty years of non-homogeneous application" (la credibilità della riforma liturgica venga posta in pericolo . . . ) and that:
The malformations born in the first years of the application still endure, and gradually, as new generations follow one another, could almost become the rule (esse potrebbero diventare quasi una regola). Thus, the letter and the spirit of the liturgical reform remain in some cases in the shadows,
and customs are created which certainly originated after the liturgical reform, but not in its genuine sense, and with consequences more negative for liturgical formation than those customs connected to praxes before Vatican II. 4
Highly significant is the admission by the Congregation that these abuses did not exist before the Council.
Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, stated bluntly in January 2000: "The dechristianization of Europe is a reality." 5 This is hardly an ' indication of "interior growth within the Christian community." Cardinal Daneels of Brussels, Belgium, stated in an interview with the London Catholic Times on May 12, 2000 that the Church in Europe is facing extinction. He lamented the vocations crisis in the West and remarked that "Without priests the sacramental life of the Church will disappear. We will become a Protestant Church without sacraments. We will be another type of Church, not Catholic." 6 During the Synod of European Bishops in October 1999, Archbishop Fernando Sebastian Aguilar of Pamplona gave the following gloomy but realistic assessment of Spanish Catholicism:
For 40 or 50 years, Spanish society has moved far away from the Church and the explicit acknowledgment of the treasures of the Kingdom of God. Cultural and spiritual secularization has affected many members of the Church. The result of this has been the weakening of the faith and Divine revelation, the theoretical and practical questioning of Christian moral teaching, the massive abandonment of attending Sunday Mass, the non-acceptance of the Magisterium of the Church in those points that do not coincide with the trends of the dominant culture. The cultural convictions on which social life is based are undermined and are more atheistic than Christian.
The situation in Spain is paralleled throughout Europe and the entire First World, not least in English-speaking countries. This is particularly true where the teaching given in Catholic educational institutions at every level is concerned. The catechetical bureaucracies set up by the hierarchies threw out the traditional catechism and replaced it with an endless series of new texts. Having taught in a Catholic school throughout the thirty years following the Council, I can testify that these texts soon reached the point where they could hardly be termed even vestigially Catholic. New methods of teaching the Catholic religion were replaced by a requirement to teach a new religion that was not Catholic. Parents, priests and teachers who protested were treated as Neanderthals. Countless protests were made to Rome, but they were ignored. Vatican policy has been to uphold the authority of the diocesan bishop, even if he is using that authority to destroy the Faith. In 1977 a very good friend of mine, the late Canon George Telford, resigned from his position as Vice Chairman of the department of Catechetics for England and Wales because, he assured me, there was not even one bishop in the country who was even interested in ensuring that children in Catholic schools were taught the Catholic Faith. In his letter of resignation he stated bluntly: "Modern catechetics is theologically corrupt and spiritually bankrupt. Its structures and innovations are irrelevant and unmeaningful for the Catholic Faith, and can achieve nothing but its gradual dilution." 7
The Australian Catholic monthly, AD 2000, in its January 2003 issue, reported a speech made by Professor Denis McLaughlin of the Australian Catholic University (ACU) to the national conference of Australian secondary school principals in October 2002. His audience would certainly not have been pleased with what he had to say. His speech reported the findings of a survey that he had conducted into the beliefs, values and practices of Catholic student teachers. The survey found that most student teachers did not accept the Church's teaching in such areas as the Eucharist, abortion, contraception and women's ordination, and there were no significant differences between the views of first year and final year students. This kind of thinking, according to Professor McLaughlin, is also to be found among practicing Catholic school teachers, indicating that the downward spiral of belief and practice in the general Catholic population shows no sign of leveling out:
The cult of individualism and subjectivism, so prevalent in modern Western culture, has also had its impact on religious education. This has led to the present widespread ignorance of the basics of the Faith and their intellectual and historical underpinnings, making an already difficult situation for any religious faith commitment close to impossible. It is no wonder so many Catholics have made their peace with secularism and materialism under a thin veneer of cultural Catholicity. Their views on "gay" rights, divorce, abortion or women priests are indistinguishable from those of the rest of the population.
The professor's own ACU research confirms findings from other sources, such as the Catholic Church Life Survey and Brother Marcellin Flynn:
Data obtained by ACU researchers in Sydney found that 97 per cent of young Catholics abandoned the practice of their faith within 12 months of completing high school . . . In other words, despite up to 13 years of religious education, most young Catholics reject the very foundations of the
The descriptions by Canon Telford and Professor McLaughlin of the abysmal state of religious teaching in Britain and Australia are equally applicable to the United States. The stage has been reached where, if parents wish their children to know the Faith, they must teach it to them themselves, a task which, in fact, is their primary duty. In doing so, it is imperative that they themselves be completely sure of the doctrines that they teach, and a great service for concerned parents was provided by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc. when it reissued what is probably the best compendium of the Faith on a popular level available in English: This Is The Faith by Canon Francis Ripley, who had worked very closely with Canon Telford in his unsuccessful campaign to have the Catholic Faith taught in Catholic schools. This book was widely used in inquiry classes and should be familiar to every Catholic adult. 8
Statistics relating to England and Wales and the United States are appended to demonstrate that what we are witnessing is not a new Pentecost but a disastrous and apparently terminal decline. These statistics are paralleled in every country of what is known as the First World. It is true that there has been an increase in the overall number of seminarians and ordinations since Vatican II, but this increase has taken place primarily in Third World areas, such as Africa and Asia and, when examined carefully, cannot be attributed to the influence of the Council, but to sociological factors, which will not be examined in this appendix, which is concerned only with the First World. I will give just one example derived from a visit to an Indian seminary in 1988. The seminary was completely full and could have been filled four times over; but in India, Ordination gives a man a certain social status and a guaranteed income, coming largely from abroad, which enables him to give financial support to his family. The doctrinal formation given in the seminary was of very dubious orthodoxy. I asked the rector, who wore no priestly attire, if the seminarians studied St. Thomas Aquinas, and he burst out laughing. The walls of his office were decorated with pictures of scantily clad American female country singers. I asked the reason, and the rector replied that it enabled the seminarians to relate to him.
1. It was on this occasion that the mortal
remains of the deceased Pope were exposed in St. Peter's square and, after the
ceremony, were escorted in procession before the Altar of the Confession in the
Vatican basilica to be exposed for the veneration of the faithful.
2. Documentation Catholique, July 1,2001, No. 2251.
3. A Catholic is in no way disloyal to the Church if he feels bound to disagree with the Pope on a question of fact. Many devout Catholics tend to accept every statement by a pope as if it were an infallible pronouncement. That this is not the case was made clear by Cardinal Newman in his book Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching. (London: Pickering, 1876, p. 325). Newman explains: "He speaks ex cathedra, or infallibly, when he speaks, first, as the Universal Teacher; secondly, in the name and with the authority of the Apostles; thirdly, on a point of faith or morals; fourthly, with the purpose of binding every member of the Church to accept and believe his decision. These conditions of course contract the range of his infallibility most materially. Hence Billuart speaking of the Pope says, 'Neither in conversation, nor in discussion, nor in interpreting Scripture or the Fathers, nor in consulting, nor in giving his reasons for the point which he has defined, nor in answering letters, nor in private deliberations, supposing he is setting forth his own opinion, is the Pope infallible.' "
4. Notitiae, 315, vol. 28 (1992), pp. 625-628.
5. Le Spectacle du Monde, January 2000.
6. Catholic Times, May 12, 2000.
7. Christian Order, April 1977, p. 205.
8. Fr. Francis Ripley, This Is The Faith (Rockford, IL: TAN edition, 1951/2002).