The pre-Vatican II Church culture, on the parish level at least, was a vibrant, robust culture that embraced its uniqueness and derived much of Her strength from the global communities who pledged the care of their souls to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It was a Church that centered itself on the priesthood, the Sacraments, the prayers of the Saints and of course, its devotion to Mary. It was a bulwark against the world, the flesh and the devil and strengthened its members with the faith, hope and charity which stitched the whole of the Church together. Its centrality to the lives of the Catholic families around the world attested to the belief that this was surely the Church that Christ had founded and thereby drew close to the never-changing constancy of its Truths which were taught or instilled amongst all of its members: Truths which had stood the test of time and would be held in perpetuity.
Like all cultures that are united in will and purpose, the Catholic Church embraced its own language, music, rites, customs and celebrations which it shared with the world; spreading its influence far and wide throughout the wider cultures of many countries and civilizations. It was a source of constancy, in a world of perpetual change, a certainty in the midst of ambiguity and doubt. It was at once, both ancient and new as it transformed and invigorated the children of the Church with the ever-new spiritual direction of Her saints and martyrs, punctuated with their numerous miracles and prophecies, and igniting the love and devotion of every Catholic. All of this filled Her ranks with those who dreamt of attaining holiness and filled them with the common desire to emulate the lives of these most extraordinary men and women. It was a safe haven from the troubles of this world and a comfort to all the broken lives and suffering souls. One might even say that it might be likened to a salvific balm or salve which contained a seemingly inexhaustible supply of paternal healing strength and maternal love. And for Her children of faith, She was a small piece of heaven living amidst the torments and temptations of a fallen world.
It was a culture that embraced a True Egalitarianism, not the egalitarianism of this world that tries to eliminate differences and uniqueness; for it made everyone equal in the thing that counts most . . . our quest for eternal happiness and holiness . . . to be counted amongst the saints of Christ’s own Church. It was a Church that was distinct among Christians, known for the penitential signs of Ash Wednesday, meatless Fridays, and days of fasting and abstinence. We had duties to perform: days of Holy Obligation, Confessions, penance for sins. And we celebrated quite openly our joy of the saints and especially our love of Mary, with festivals and feast days throughout the year. We were united by a deep love and respect for the men of God that were given us; the priests, bishops and of course, the Pope. This culture defined us more than any other characteristics that we might bare; race, language, wealth or social status.
These past 50 years has seen a loss of much that united us as a Catholic culture. We have lost or suppressed our common language, music, rites, customs and celebrations. In short, we have become more like everyone else. Our external and internal culture has been nearly extinguished and our once vibrant and robust uniqueness has been rendered rather anemic as a distinct Catholic culture. We have largely lost our confidence, our respect and our joy of being a member of this ancient faith. We have lost our identity. It might well be said that we no longer know who we are, how we should act, how we should worship or what we must believe. It is quite often a joyless faith and only temporally and humanly happy in the sense that the world envisions happiness: smiles, pats on the back, clapping for one another, giving recognition to each other and living out our own subjective faith apart, in a divine sense, from one another. The unity of the Catholic culture no longer exists. Factions have multiplied and individualism is celebrated and encouraged whilst the old is denigrated and the new is viewed as a blossoming of the faith out into the world. The embroidered richness of the ancient Church is now replaced with polyester and felt, classical art replaced with smiley faces. A rich tradition and culture, uniquely Catholic, is now superseded by the same vulgar culture that the world supplies and embraces. The marble altars have been stripped and replaced with wooden tables as we now celebrate a common meal instead of the Sacrifice of all sacrifices. It is all about community, though the community of our common culture and our heritage has been destroyed. We have been robbed and given a stone though we asked for bread; a snake though we asked for fish.
Where once we went unto the Altar of God Who gave joy to our youth we now go unto a table of men where the remnant faithful lament the loss of our Catholic identity and in some instances the faith itself. They decry a watered down, Protestantized hybrid Church that seems to have lost its memory as well as its zeal to save souls: having become light on teaching and training in the things of God and heavy on eliminating social injustice rather than the development of the virtues and righteousness. For it has become a Church long on excuses for sinful living and short on providing the means for forming souls in the pursuit of holiness. Psychology, social and political science has made theology and spiritual formation nearly obsolete.
Such is the reality that dawns on me today: that it was much easier to love God and His Church when we were consoled by a culture that prepared us for our natural end: God Himself. But when the consolations end, how much harder it is to love God and His Church when both have seemingly withdrawn their blessings. To love God for Who He is and not simply for what blessings He brings us is a maturation of love; the kind of love that God is desirous to receive from His Bride . . . a sacrificial love. Is this perhaps the point in the Passion of Christ’s Church where She cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The current crisis of faith seems to indicate that such a thought is not overly far-fetched.
If this is the time of purgation and darkness, one might expect a dark night of the Soul for the Catholic Church. Can we continue in this darkness until we once again find the Living Flame of Love lighting our way into the next world? I know the Church will succeed and I pray that I too might remain faithful in this spiritual pilgrimage even in the face of spiritual dryness. By faith we must accept, though unknown to us, that everything, which is unfolding presently, was eternally known as part of the Divine plan of Almighty God. May He forever remain Lord over our hearts and minds and bring us to Everlasting Life. We must continually remind ourselves that our prayer needs to be; not my will but may Thy Holy Will be done.