40 years after Vatican II, how do average Catholics compare with those of the 40 years prior to Vatican II?


Consider some of the changes post-Vatican II:

Judging by the numbers of high school diplomas and college degrees granted, the average Catholic is ostensibly more educated.

Liturgies and prayers are and have been virtually 100% in the vernacular – the language of the people.

There are more opportunities for lay involvement. More opportunities for “full, conscious, and active involvement,” as it were. Many of the functions previously fulfilled by priests and nuns are now done by the laity.

So, 40 years after Vatican II, how do average Catholics compare with those of the 40 years prior to Vatican II?

Are we more knowledgeable about the teachings of the Faith? Why or why not?

Are we more prayerful outside of liturgies and more reverent during them? Why or why not?

Are we more evangelistic and distinct, or have we become indifferent and unrecognizable from the larger society? Why or why not?


They would average 80 years older.


Or they may have just turned 40. :smiley:


Or they may have died 40 years ago. But enough of that.

Your question asks how Catholics in 1927 compare with Catholics today. Yes, there are certainly differences, but I am not convinced Vatican II is that major of a difference compared to other events in this past near-century. Catholics (and everyone else) in 1927 had not yet lived through the great depression, WWII or the Cold War. Television, computers, and other forms of electronic communications more advanced than radio and simple telephony did not yet exist other than experimentally. The Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and the killing fields had not yet happened. Space travel, nuclear power and cloning were still science fiction.

Had Vatican II not unfolded as it did, I am sure these and many other developments would have influenced the development of the Church, probably in much the same direction as it has.


There are a number of different possible answers to these questions depending on perspective.
Many pre-Vatican II American Catholics were cathecized using the Baltimore Cathechism which I learned last year was never approved by the Vatican. It was written to help American Catholics hold to their Catholic identity in a violently unCatholic environment. Catholics were taught a simplistic question answer format when confronted concerning their faith. Devotions were a regular part of the American Catholics life, particulary the daily rosary and novenas.
I do remember being told however not to improvise my own prayer and to only use formulated prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary. It was one of many things that I did not understand. Didn’t somebody originally write those prayers? Today I feel more comfortable spontaneously praying whatever is on my heart.
Scripture has always been a part of the Mass. Many are/were more knowledgable about the Bible than they may realize whether or not they read the words or merely listen to the priest at Mass. On the other hand we are much more distracted daily by secularism and it takes effort to find time for prayer. Our knowledge of the teachings of our Faith are more easily available with the publication of the first official Cathesism in over 400 years. This allows us to better know our faith if (and that is the issue) we are willing to make the effort. Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God. Those who want to learn more about about their faith are reading the Bible more.
Cursillo (short course in Christianity) was started around WWII in Spain because many Catholics did not know what the Church taught. Such lay movements aid in our spiritual development. What I now know about my faith is more than the externals taught during my early years of cathecism which focused more on such externals as the chalice always being lined with gold and the various garments worn by the priest at Mass than the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.


Yes, there are certanly many other external factors, as you mention.

Vatican II is particularly noteworthy, however, because it is an internal factor, it is specific to the faith, and it is certainly the inflection point within history around which the “before” and “after” can be legitimately compared.


All good points, but I have to comment on the Baltimore Catechism. The Vatican didn’t approve it because the Vatican didn’t need to approve it since the American bishops always meant it to be provincial. I think you know this but I wasn’t sure from your wording. (It’s not as if the Vatican disapproved it.)

Regarding the simplistic Q&A format, please also remember that it was primarily aimed at children and semi-literate people who may or may not have spoken English as their first language. It was like a “multiplication table” of the faith…one of the basics to be learned as a child.

Of course, this begs the question: are children of the Baltimore Catechism era more knowledgeable and reverent than their current counterparts?


Although this thread will undoubtedly generate many interesting observations, it may be well for us to acknowledge early on that:

  • most of us have only “impressions” of the forty years before the council, and that many of those were formed by reading commentaries intended to facilitate change;

  • it is as difficult to list the characteristics of “average” Catholics in 1927 as it would be to list the attributes of today’s “average” Catholic;

  • our observations are likely to be influenced by the perspective of the current time, just as they would if we were asked to discuss whether pre-Civil War Americans were more patriotic than their modern-day descendants; and

  • many of the characteristics that might be discussed (such as a willingness to challenge authority and the use of public protest as an expression of dissent) are to be found in the society at large, making it difficult to attribute them exclusively to the fact of the Council and the implementation of its decrees.

Of course, the most important question for each of us is “What do I do with this understanding once I have it?”

Peace to all.


I am 72 and can’t really go back that far. The Great Depression and WWII happened in those years, Communism was not yet seen as a major threat to the West. A whole new generation or two had to go to war to find out that people of other Faiths and ethnic backgrounds were not so different from themselves. I think for the most part the old saw about pay, pray, and obey was a truism. My mom and the older folks I knew were happy to be Catholics, but kept to themselves pretty much and with few notable exceptions left evangelism to the clergy.

My impression of a lot of Catholics today is they lack a coherent knowledge of the Faith and have lots of confusion. With the “ask Father syndrome” pretty well defunct they seem somewhat “rudderless;” maybe sheep without a shepherd. For the most part pre-VatII Catholics were congenial people and post-VatII still seem to have kept that quality. I don’t think that today we have that instinctive fear of non-Catholics that we used to have. Certainly todays average Catholic is much more accepting of the incorrect notion that all Faiths are equally effective paths to heaven.


I’m not sure because I was too young ans stupid to pay attention to how well others knew the faith, though in retrospect, my family actually knew the faith pretty well. Especially my sainted Grandmother.

Today? I think we are growing well and I see no reason to expect a decline in that trend. (Unless of course we take resources like these forums for granted and don’t support them financially like we need to. Hint, Hint)

Are we more prayerful outside of liturgies and more reverent during them? Why or why not?

How would we know? In my experience, I think it’s probably about the same, but that is limited.

Are we more evangelistic and distinct, or have we become indifferent and unrecognizable from the larger society? Why or why not?

Speaking for myself I am about as evangelistic as one can get short of becoming some kind of street preacher. Hey, I like to share and discuss our most holy faith!

Unrecognizable? Hardly. Not in today’s society I don’t think. For one thing, we catch too much a-C grief to hide in plain sight. (But that’s okay with me.)


Compare things 40 years before and 40 years after the First Council of Nicea–which we hold up as one of the greatest Councils. Arianism was far, far worse afterward than before. How come?

Look, things in the world influence Christians–the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak–and sadly, often times the spirit isn’t even willing. Councils are for the faithful and obedient. If you do what the Second Vatican Council commands people in your station of life to do, you’ll see what the fruits can be.

It’s our job to be evangelists, especially to our fellow Catholics. A Council can direct us how to do that, but we must answer the call and put it into action.


Literacy is not a requirement for Salvation. Faith is.

Servullus–I think you were more precise in your wording than I was. There have been many devout people throughout the history of the Church. None of us can truly say whether or not our understanding of the faith is greater or less than that of earlier generations.


I would point out that Catholics of today take a much more casual attitude toward marriage and whether or not they are in a permanent or temporary family relationship. Take a look at the statistics: In 1930, in the USA there were 9 annulments gratned by the Catholic Church in the whole USA. And they were granted for the most serious of reasons. Compare that with recent figures of more than 60,000 marriage annulments per year granted by the Roman Catholic Church in the USA. This is a rather drastic increase and it is not matched by the percentage increase in divorces in the USA or in other Churches. It is only the Roman Catholic Church which has experienced such an astronomical increase in marriage breakups. And according to Roman Catholic sources, these annulments are often granted for trivial reasons, and reasons which would not have been allowed in 1930.


Hi Lepanto,

Although, I am saddled over both 40-year periods and have known pre-Vatican II years intimately, I cannot convince myself that Catholics of yesteryear were better than Catholics of today, I am not talking about non-practicing Catholics, but the guy and gal sitting next to you in the pew,

I live in a area that was considered one of the most Catholic in the world. The Church had a hand in everything – schools, hospitals, newspapers, government, you name it. Everybody went to church.

Yet, when modern times arrived in the 60’s, when the new ideas spread by TV took hold, when government took over most of the roles of the church, religious practice collapsed like a pricked balloon. Sex became a free for all; marriage old hat. (Today 35% of couples are not married, and for the first time last year, the majority of children born that year were out of wedlock.)

So how deep was that Catholicism? Methinks it was a social Catholicism. You were Catholic to be like your friends and neighbors. You did not want to be an outcast.

Today, the tables are turned. To be a practicing Catholic is a rarity. The social pressure is the other way. (What happened here has also happened in Ireland, and, if I understand rightly, is now happening in Poland.)

So I think Catholics of today have deeper convictions and are more sincere in their beliefs. Many are also taking seriously the task of evangelization – that of “former” Catholics,



This conviction for many of us comes as a result of a personal encounter with Him in whom we proclaim to believe.
Reason can only take us so far. After that we need to respond to the gift of Faith that comes from God and is instilled in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
St. Francis said “Preach always and if necessary use words.” Most of our evangelization comes from the way we live our lives. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, there is a renewed love of the Sacraments. Since Faith feeds reason, there is also a greater understanding of what these Sacraments mean.
Although we may be better educated, we can never fully understand the mystery. In fact, sometimes intelligence can stand in the way of the simple faith that earlier genrations had. Our education, as good as it is, leads us to questions for which we have no answer. Faith allows us to embrace these questions, to accept that some things are a mystery beyond where reason will take us. It is this mystery that transforms us and attracts others to us.
For me, evangelization is more little e than big E. I like the description of evangelization as “one beggar showing the other beggars where the banquet is.”


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