Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Musings on Vatican II

Well everyone knew it wouldn't be long before I tackled this subject. Indeed, how could I not? The controversies over Vatican II have been highly charged, and is generally viewed by Traditionalists in a rather negative light. I wish to break from that voice somewhat, but at the same time, those who uphold and defend Vatican II vehemently need to be put in their place. To put it bluntly, the so called "Conservative" Catholic interpretation of Vatican II does nothing but make them the useful idiot of the modernist.

If there is any phrase that people have objected to me using in the 6 years I've been writing on Catholic issues so far, it's been the phrase "useful idiot." People imply that the term means stupidity. However, this was not the context in which it was originally used. The most "useful" of idiots was an intelligent one. They were those in the West who, while not openly endorsing the Bolshevik Revolution of Russia and the horrors of Vladimir Lenin, championed many causes, but refused to acknowledge themselves as communists. What they didn't realize is that their opposition to Leninism was in name only. Their actions, their causes did nothing but strengthen the Communist position. Likewise, the "Conservative" view of Vatican II, while claiming to be opposed to the false "spirit of Vatican II" buys into many of it's premises, and ultimately furthers that "spirit."

The problem with most interpretations of Vatican II is the following. It creates not only a distinction, but an outright hostility between the Church before and after Vatican II. "Conservatives" frequently lament the fact traditionalists pick up on this reading, not realizing that by their very interpretation of the Council, traditionalists are just taking them at their word. That yes Vatican II created a new Church, and that the old customs and traditions before Vatican II had not just lost their effectiveness due to other factors, but were indeed grave blights upon the Church, that Vatican II had to do away with. At the same time, they say "people need to receive the Council." What faithful Catholic wants to receive a Council that is perceived as rebuking their fathers? Furthermore, what faithful Catholic will have confidence that their traditions and customs mandated at Vatican II will not be demonized by a later Council, if the "conservative" view of Vatican II is correct?

A classic case study of this view is the way the "conservative" view of the liturgy is done. Before the Council they reason, Catholics had just empty faith, and were nothing but like the Pharisees in Scripture, who loved their outward actions, but on the inside were not only lacking in spirituality, they were downright stupid. The Latin Mass, which Cardinal Newman said he could participate at for 24 hours a day and still be amazed, was rather a hindrance to Christian piety, and this was somehow not recognized until Vatican II.

Besides spitting on the graves of Catholics who walked before us as we proclaim "if the prophets walked in our generation we would not have killed them", this interpretation falls short for several reasons. Most importantly is when they are forced to defend the liturgical changes. Whatever reason one wants to put to it, following the liturgical reform, what occurred was not a deepening of faith in the liturgy, but an almost abandonment of it by far too many Catholics. Indeed, it is today the case could be made people just sit in the pews, not taking the importance of the liturgy to heart, simply going through motions. When faced with such empirical evidence that is impossible to deny, the "conservative" states "Well we don't need to change the liturgy, but rather change the way people view it with better catechists." They do not realize it, but they have just sawed off the branch they were standing on. For they looked down upon those outward signs that Catholics frequently showed before the Council, and said they had to be changed. They believed that the way to get people away from just following rubrics to participating with their heart was more emphasis on rubrics.

I believe they miss the point of what Vatican II had in mind. Rather than frowning on such external actions and piety, the Council wished to reinforce them. Due to the works of St. Pius X at the turn of the century, a renewed interest had sparked in getting more out of the liturgy. While incremental grounds had been made since the last major reform at the Council of Trent, St. Pius X made this crusade (and the crusade against modernism) his own. It was not that everyone was completely ignorant of the liturgy, but rather that the Christian faithful yearned to continually elevate their knowledge and love of the liturgy. To place those external actions in the context of a more dedicated Christian life, which every Christian can always improve.

Vatican II's goal was not "here's what we can change" but rather how can we help the Christian faithful come to a deeper appreciation of the liturgy. For those external acts of piety, how can we get the Christian to understand those acts deeper? Even such simple acts as genuflection have profound significance, and they can be probed deeper and deeper. This deeper knowledge and love will most certainly lead to deeper reverence. Deeper knowledge and love of the liturgy would lead to the diminishing of undesirable practices. For those that persisted, the Bishops were to act strongly in safeguarding the liturgy, and any time they were to act it is for this purpose. This is a view that rejects Vatican II as a "ground zero", but rather as a call to continually enhance and develop the Christian life. Countless imprudent decisions were made on all levels of authority for neglecting this outlook, and rather choosing the change for changes sake outlook. (Indeed, the de facto suppression of the Latin Mass, the original draconian restrictions placed upon it, and the outright hostility towards people who desired this liturgical celebration only compounded the problem.)

So yes, my "conservative friend", the problem with Vatican II is that the teachings of the council are not received by the faithful. However, you are a primary reason they are not, and if the crisis in the Church is ever to abide, your view of things must be cosigned to the dustbin of history.

God Bless,
Kevin M. Tierney