Can anyone make the case that had it not been for Vatican II the Church’s problems today would have yet been worse than what we have seen?
It’s hard to make an iron-clad case for “What if” scenarios. I am inclined to believe that things would have been worse. The “spirit” that led many to hijack the message of the Council was already present (i.e. it did not come from nowhere). Without the Council, it would have found other ways to manifest itself.
Personally, my life has been greatly blessed by the fruit of the Council. We have a new Catechism, which gives us all a common starting point for understanding the faith. We have lots of lay apostolates (like Catholic Answers) which have done so much in encouraging an understanding of the faith. I wouldn’t be where I am at without it.
But, as I said, it’s a what if scenario. So the best we can do is speculate.
I think that it was the interpretation of the Vatican II documents by liberal priests, bishops, and laity that led to the problems that we see today. I think, though, that the documents could have done a better job of clarifying things (i.e., EF still valid, veiling still an option for women at Mass, encourage private devotions, etc.) Once a few liberal priests, bishops, and laity made the liturgical abuses and lukewarmness mainstream, it didn’t take long for everything to go downhill.
True, we’ll never know what would have happened and things like the new Catechism and those lay apostolates are good things. I feel it wasn’t worth the liturgical abuses which have followed, however. The fact that there is a resurgence of Mass attendance among the young where the traditional Latin Mass is offered, for example, suggests the mass-exodus from the Church over the last 40 years could have been avoided. Still, we’ll never know.
This is an interesting question, and I tend to approach it from two angles:
The “least worst” approach. Take the example of Jacob and Esau in the Bible. YHWH chose Jacob, not Esau, to receive the promises and to become the ancestor of the Israelite nation. Now, considering what Israel did - rebellions, pagan worship, bad kings, civil war, child sacrifice, disregard for God’s law and social injustice - it’s easy to think “What was YHWH thinking when he chose Jacob?” The answer is not that Jacob’s descendants were all great guys - but that, compared to Esau, they were probably the lesser of two evils.
The “what if?” approach? Let’s examine some of the consequences of a non-Vatican II approach:
- a constant haemorrhage towards Protestant denominations, especially in Asian countries where the vernacular is a part of cultural identity and politics (“if we’re going to give up our ancestral gods, we might as well stick to our own language”)
- increased persecution by Communist and related elements
- a difficulty in achieving common ground with others of good will - notably Jews, the Orthodox and Protestants - to tackle the loss of religious freedom and the creeping rise of secularism
Moreover, the “Catholic governments” that were the buttress of the pre-Vatican II order - such as Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, and (if we believe Marcel Lefebvre) the Vichy French - were clearly on their way out, and the subsequent histories of those countries suggest that they didn’t do a particularly great job of “preserving the faith”.
To sum up: Vatican II is neither a sacred cow or a scapegoat. Like the alliances with temporal rulers in the Middle Ages, the later Crusades and the Inquisition, it wasn’t perfect. But it was the best God could do with our hard hearts.
I think a case can be made well to support the fact that a number of “movements” within the Church had been on a collision course since the mid-19th century… The Marian movement, the Eucharistic movement, the Liturgical movement, the Ecumenical movement, the Social Justice movement, among numerous others. I think the case can be made that it was not a case of “if”, but instead “when”.
Essentially, in my primitive understanding of Church history, I believe the conflict comes down to one of two fundamental tendencies which drive each of those movements…First is a defensive position that seeks to defend certain aspects of the Catholic religion that developed out of Trent as a reaction to the Reformation. You can see this most clearly in the Marian movement and the Eucharistic movement. The other is more proactive and driven primarily by a desire to return to certain fundamental principles of the Catholic religion that would seek to place emphasis on those elements of the Christian faith which are core to all - see the Liturgical movement, Ecumenical movement and Social Justice movement.
Unfortunately, it seems that, perhaps due to fundamental flaws in human nature, we are all too willing to demonize those beliefs which may not be foremost to one’s own beliefs despite the truth in the other. See the Marian movement in context of the Ecumenical movement or visa versa or the Eucharistic movement in light of the Liturgical movement… etc.
So, to answer the original question, yes, I think a case can be made that without VII, it would have been worse. In Vll, all of the Fathers of the Church came together, to discuss, debate and agree on how treat the diverse passions of the Church. Not all were happy with the outcomes, but if you look back on the events themselves, you will see the conflicts discussed openly on the Council floor and agreements struck in most cases unanimously. VII provided a governance model to mediate the tendencies that had been at odds with each other for at least a century leading up to the Council.
For reference, I recently read a book by Rene Laurentin called “The Question of Mary”. The book carries the Imprimatur and Nihil obstat… Laurentin is a renowned Marian scholar, theologian and Church historian. This book laid out in a very clear, understandable way how the different movement came to be and eventually collided with one another. Ratzinger’s “Mary, the Church at the Source” is another great resource.
While we will never know for sure, I believe that Christ has always kept his promise to protect the Church from errors in Faith and Morals.
Regarding the “liturgical abuses,” I strongly feel that they would still be there or perhaps even worse. The dioesean priests who perform the EF beautifully today also preform the OF beautifully. But the priests who are poor on liturgy today in the OF would still be poor in the Latin Mass. Liturgical abuse was happening before the council; it didn’t start post VII. The only reason why we have little to no abuse in the EF today is because the only priests doing it have a love of liturgy.
As far as mass attendance and mass-exodus, that is primarily a result of poor Catachsis in a world of TV and mass media. Devout Catholics didn’t stop attending mass because of VII. My grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t stop going to mass. My father was born in 1951 and my mother in 1953. Their catachsis was terrible. Those who studied the Baltimore Catachism learned the “rules” but often were not evangelized. Also, by the 1960s, Catholics in America were moving out of the Italian, Irish, Polish, and other Catholic ghettos. We no longer had family members from the strong Catholic countries migrating to the US to help us maintain our European customs (not just Catholic but customs from our nationalities). We started to assimilate with our Protestant brothers here in America, which then started to happen in Europe too. Not to mention the sexual revolution and idolization of “youth rebellion.”
The 1960s also brought the first Catholic President, who perhaps did more damage to Catholic in America than anything else.
I love the both the OF and EF, but I also strongly feel that Catachisis would be worse today if we didn’t have VII. I even believe that the number of nuns would have still dropped, even without VII.
In regards to why we have a number of young Catholics embracing the EF and the Church today; because we are starting recognize the damage that the sexual revolution has brought. Casual sex, acceptance of birth control, living in sin, no fault divorce, mainstreaming of pornography, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc. Plus materialism, greed, lust, envy, etc. Young people are starting to see this and are embracing traditional Catholic values and life. But all the things I listed above would have happened with or without VII.
Im 36 and when I was growing up, kids mad fun of me because my mother was bilingual. So much that I refused to learn anything by English so I wouldn’t be made fun of. No one in my elementary school attended my parish (and I only knew one other Catholic in school); I can only imagine how much less I would have learned about the Church because it wasn’t in English.
In closing, I believe that VII put us in a better position to deal with the slaughtering we were to receive either way.
It is very clear that Vatican II did not cause the problems we have today. It is also very clear that groups of individuals inside and outside the Church would have caused the problems we have today even if Vatican II never happened. Why was Vatican II called?
Without Vatican II, the Church could easily be even less relevant for many people than it is today. No one can say for sure (unless we discover that parallel universe where VII never occurred - could be an interesting science fiction story), but the major problems that the Church faces today, like low Mass attendance and moral ambivalence, are a result of the very societal and cultural changes (like the sexual revolution, and now the digital age) which Vatican II sought to address. Had the Church remained static while the world was changing, we would most likely have an even smaller, less active and vibrant Church than we do today.
Speculation leads to speculation leads to speculation.
Truth: Christ is the head of his Church. The Church will accomplish his purpose according to his will, despite any anxiety or confusion we may have.
I agree that speculation is somewhat fruitless. Yet there does seem to be division and disagreement over the change.
I attended my first Latin Mass(since I was younger) recently. I continue to prefer the ordinary form in English because I can participate more and there is a sense of joining in community to offer this sacrifice to the Father, and to include ourselves as a part of that. I find the OF at our parish very reverent. I also found the Latin Mass reverent. I really had to remind myself that I was going to attend Mass and not as an exercise in curiosity. With that reflected upon, I could really be “at Mass”. I found some differences in the Mass and the one I attended until I was in my twenties. It seems to me that the priest used to turn around more, and that we used to have more responses, but maybe that is just faulty memory.
I am glad the EF is attracting younger people. It is good they have a choice. Still, they have a long road ahead. Who knows if this will continue to draw them, but even if not, they are more likely to stay involved with Holy Mother Church for having come to love the Mass.
I would disagree that it was interpretation of the documents; it was more a response that they went out to reinvent the Church without even reading the documents.
As to the EF; there has been enough discussion that the OF does not appear to align well with the actual documents that there was no reason to presume that any comment about the EF was necessary. Veiling was not treated by Vatican 2; it was treated by the change in Canon law decades later by eliminating the requirement. And nothing in eliminating a requirement indicated that it was not optional; it became what it started as, which was cultural and the culture had the influence of suppressing it.
As to private devotions, there was ample reason for them not being treated; the Church wanted the focus to be on the Mass. The over-reaction to private devotions was just that. They still are private, not suppressed. The luke warmness was already present in the laity. That shows with the gradual reduction in the number of people attending Mass regularly, which started in the 1950’s, before John 23 was made Pope.
I don’t recall anyone ever conducting a poll of those young attending the EF which shows they were not attending Mass before that. It is far more likely they were attending the OF until the EF was made available.
And the implication that the change to the OF from the EF in the 60’s being responsible for the drop in Mass attendance doesn’t explain why Mass attendance was already dropping off before Vatican 2; nor does it explain why the mainline Protestant churches have experienced a fall off in attendance very similar to the Catholic Church. Both the loss of the EF and the documents of Vatican 2 are blamed for the fall off, except that neither of these explain the similar drop off within protestant mainline churches, and the growth of the fundamental/evangelical - both of which claim growth from both Catholics and mainline protestants.
Had Vatican 2 not occurred when it did, the likelihood is that it would have occurred subsequently. What is often overlooked is the history of what was going on both within the Church and between the Church and society in the last 150 year prior (or you could make that 200 years if you wish).
The Church had gone through major changes, from one which exercised a fair amount of influence in secular society - often in what were deemed “Catholic” countries, or “Catholic” governments - to one that was losing influence at a greater and greater pace… The influence of the Church had been diminishing at a rapid rate, due in no small part to the influences started with the French Revolution, but assisted by the virulent secularism that was growing by leaps and bounds in Europe, assisted in no small amount by very influential European philosophers - part of which could be traced back as far as Descartes. Which of course could take one back a little over 300 years.
In any event, the Church’s main reaction was reactionary; they drew more and more inward, had less and less influence on the non-Church world.
There were two general camps, if you will, just prior to Vatican 2 starting (not that they were new - they weren’t); there were progressives and reactionaries. The reactionaries wanted to stop Vatican 2 - John was supposed to be an old, “temporary” Pope, and they tried to untrack the Council before it ever started; failing that, they put forth an agenda, which was voted down in the first round.
Coupled with this is the fact that liturgical work had started well before Vatican 2 was called, by at least 30 years if not more. And there were theologians, prior to Vatican 2, who felt that neo scholasticism was so narrow in addressing theological issues and sought to move out of a Thomistic approach, or to seriously modify it - some were silenced, and later rehabilitated; it can be said that they did too well; there has been a vacuum since them in many ways.
The point being, the ferment in the Church was well under way well before Vatican 2 started, and there is no reason to think that it would not eventually have been called, if not when John 23 did. And while we might not have ended up with the OF as we know it, there is little or no reason to presume that there would not have been some major liturgical changes eventually. People who want to resoundingly criticize Bugnini know little or nothing of the liturgical movement.
Then there is the fact that Vatican 1 was cut short by circumstances and never really finished. The short of it was that all the pieces were in place; had it not occurred, the pieces would not have simply “gone away”.
I don’t see the point of this.
There are so very many variables surrounding Vatican II that I cannot see how an accurate assessment can be done in this setting. Perhaps in an academic setting where all of the world history, sociology, politics, and religion (not just Catholicism) can be added to the mix, a speculative exercise like this might have some little value and be kind of entertaining.
But generally speaking, speculation over the past and “what if-ing” for no purpose other than conversation can lead to dissatisfaction. If the dissatisfaction is allowed to ruminate, it can lead to bitterness, anger, and eventually despair and rebellion.
I think we need to give the Holy Spirit His due honor. The Vatican II Council didn’t somehow get hijacked away from Him and leave Him confused and frustrated and powerless. The Holy Spirit was and is very much in control. If we don’t believe that, then we will have a hard time believing anything that Holy Mother Church tells us that goes against our personal preferences.
We need to trust and obey.
Well put. I think you are spot on that we really need to trust the Holy Spirit. Jesus meant it when He said the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church and that He was leaving the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. Dissatisfaction can very easily undermine that trust.
It can’t be proven any more than I can prove that it wouldn’t be as bad had not Vatican II happened.
Two things are certain: God knows, and we will (hopefully) find out one day. But by then, it won’t matter.
Very true, Joe. Dissatisfaction and discontent, and the huge question mark in your mind that is put there by not a few of the sowers of dissatisfaction and discontent.
Questions like this come down to speculations and assumptions…and we all know what happens when you assume.
My two cents…
Vatican II did of course not err. But it is a product of its times, and certain passages wear with the of years (surely no one would deny this of, say, the council of Vienna). We can explain how they do not contradict previous infallible teaching, but I do not believe it necessary to always continue emphasizing the particular insights Vatican II gave. 500 years from now it will just be another council, and the deposit of faith will not have changed fundamentally one bit. I am a great lover of Pope Benedict’s hermeneutic of continuity, which, I hope, will lead more to study and embrace the councils before Vatican II.
A related point: Sacrosanctum Concilium called for reform to the liturgy. Reforms were enacted by the Consilium beyond what it called for. Now we are 50 years later and the Church is not in the same position as it was before, so that conciliar mandate, as far as I am concerned, no longer applies to us now. If anything, we need to work on recovering and restoring all that was thrown out in the destructive “Spirit of the Council”. That which was sacred to us before cannot now be lain aside, but must be held on to and preserved for future generations. Who else is going to do it?