“The Church does not want to lose her clients, she wants to acquire new members. This produces a kind of secularisation which is truly deplorable”. “The world is going astray, the Church is going astray in the world, priests are stupid and mediocre, happy to be only mediocre people like the rest, to be little proletarians of the left. I heard a parish priest in one church saying: ‘Let’s all be happy together, let’s shake hands all round. . . Jesus jovially wishes you a lovely day; have a good day!’ Before long there will be a bar with bread wine for Communion; and sandwiches and Beaujolais will be handed round. It seems to me incredible stupidity, a total absence of spirit. Fraternity is neither mediocrity nor fraternisation. We need the eternal; because . . . what is religion? what is the Holy? We are left with nothing, with no stability; everything is fluid. And yet what we need is a rock”.
Eugene Jonesco, quoted from Antidotes, 1977 in Journey Towards Easter, 1986, pg.158
by Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)
I was born after most of the destruction that was wreaked on the Church in the 1960s and 1970s. I went to Catholic schools where this had already taken place and where either “modern” churches had been built or old ones had been redecorated with gaudy banners and where CD players and overhead projectors had already replaced the choirs. The confession booths had been removed, boarded up or opened out into a meeting room. The liturgy had already been simplified but the words now in the vernacular weren’t any more accessible simply because we weren’t properly taught what any of it meant. The closest thing you’d get to real Catholicism would be the old photographs of the religious orders who had founded the school and the few remaining crucifixes and statues that weren’t perceived to be in the way.
I would say it was ironic that moves to make the church more open and accessible to the modern world did the exact opposite but that wasn’t really what the vandals intended. The churches I attended were seas of grey and the same churches today are now just puddles of grey. I was sad on revisiting my first school to see how dilapidated the church had become and can only imagine how few now attended Mass and what little zeal remains to at least preserve the building.
I was not conscious of the problems when I was young and in fact, I was not even myself a Catholic until about five years ago. But I can say that I had an inkling that something was not right. Try as modernists might, you can’t ever fully escape the past and people get visions of it and “that’s how it used to be”, isn’t enough to satisfy a genuinely curious mind.
It is important to remember that appearances are just a symptom of the bigger problem which is a lack of spiritual reverence in the priesthood and the laity. It is easy for the traditionally minded to fall into thinking that simply changing the aesthetic will change people’s hearts. It certainly wouldn’t hurt but without a true spiritual conversion there will be no change. I have been Catholic long enough to personally witness the disdain that many church-going Catholics actually have for their tradition. Who are not honest enough to leave what they no longer believe and instead try to fashion it into something that suits them.
This post might seem to be a typical anti-modern rant but this is not my intention, it is just how I want to get started. What I want to consider here is the quest to reduce the formality and reverence of the Mass in order (it is claimed), to make it more palatable and bring more people in.
You see, if you assume that the only problem for moderns was the “irrelevance”, “inaccessibility” or “rigidity” of tradition, they might have an argument assuming they are consistent both inside and outside the church. The problem of course is that they aren’t consistent for the most part at all.
If we are overdoing the ceremony for God then we must also be overdoing it for ourselves too. If God doesn’t need the best that humanity can provide to worship him then surely we don’t need it for ourselves either.
If it is acceptable to go to Mass (assuming we do), in a t-shirt, shorts and thongs, surely it is acceptable for politicians be similarly attired? Shouldn’t we be able to attend court informally dressed and adopt a casual and informal demeanor with the judge too? God apparently doesn’t mind so why should politicians or judges? What makes any other public arena more formal?
I wonder how many of the Catholic women who zealously prefer the informal and irreverent Mass were happy for the same to be done at their wedding. Did they still insist that they should get a beautiful white dress to make themselves the center of attention on their wedding day? Did they insist everyone else dress formally and act formally for that? Did they have the church decorated beautifully with flowers and cleaned for their occasion? Would they have been okay with anyone taking their occasion less seriously?
What about when they graduated from High School or University? What about when they turned 21? Did everyone think that it didn’t matter so much for them and that things could just be done without much worry for the occasion? God doesn’t mind how he is worshiped, so they shouldn’t get all self-important about their special occasions if they’re being consistent.
Do these priests themselves still expect the same formality and respect that comes from their vocation despite their own lack of reverence for its purpose? God doesn’t mind so surely his highest ministers should be okay with leaving aside much of the formality and pomp and certainly the small luxuries that their position often provides.
Of course to ask these questions is to answer them. What has been the trend is quite the opposite. As our reverence for God has dropped, reverence for ourselves has steadily increased.
Despite lacking the permanence of the past, weddings are some of the most obscenely lavish events you will see in a church or anywhere else. Many people celebrate their child becoming old enough to enter a primary school as if they had just received a doctorate. The amount of celebrations thrown for things that lack any genuine achievement is astounding.
While God is apparently no longer owed the formality he once was, the elite still expect the same reverence for their offices that they no longer feel God needs. In many ways, politicians and public figures now have it nicer than ever. With more remuneration and benefits much better than what was offered in recent history. There is an ever increasing barrier drawn between the elite and the rest of the public too.
Much of this flows from a lack of reverence towards God which can be seen starkly in what was done to the church over the last fifty or so years. If our leaders don’t take God seriously, then they can’t expect anyone else too either. God deserves the best and from this all else flows. If we aren’t giving the best to God then we shouldn’t be giving ourselves anything better. People don’t think like this though and will expect to be given what they feel they are owed without paying any heed to He who is owed everything.
I imagine I would enjoy pointing some of this out to a modernist Catholic but I honestly don’t think I would get any further with them than I would with someone who had grown up completely outside the church. The lack of reverence for God doesn’t come from liturgical and aesthetic vandalism. These are simply the result of the spiritual vandalism that was already under way. People who seek what Jonesco described were already spiritually dead before there was any outward change. It is left now to people who see the error to do something about it but this must start from within.