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Roman Catholic culture before and after the Vatican II disaster
John XXIII’s church vs John Paul II’s

My own observation is that the Catholic world is really quite anonymous. No one knows who one’s pewsitters are, unless one goes out of one’s way to make oneself known. You could be an axe-murderer or (until recenty) a child molester in the pews, and no one would give a sh*t. You could be a great saint or a man of extraordinary talents, and again, no one gives a sh*t. Unless, for some reason, you are deemed a “problem,” and then you are made to feel unwelcome by the clergy.

It so happens I now appreciate the anonymity, and being left alone but many do not, and that may well be one reason why there are so many ex-Catholics seeking fellowship in Protestant churches that they cannot find in their local Catholic parish – liturgy not being of particular interest to them.


I wouldn’t like the alienation but wouldn’t mind it so much around 1962. That is, if the religion at St Gargantua’s – even if the building were new Jetsony space-age modern and not bad Gothic or pastiche baroque – were being held to a minimum of orthodoxy by the text and rubrics, the Tridentine Mass holding it all together. As somebody said of US Navy equipment, designed by geniuses to be run safely by morons. (All bets were off with the Novus Ordo. They should have just translated the services, full stop.) The people go for half an hour – to follow along in their missals and receive Communion at the early Low Mass, to pray their rosaries and/or read their novenas, to leave a candle and a dollar at their lucky saint’s feet, to pay their religious taxes/fire insurance by showing up (could be out breaking the commandments the night before but won’t miss Mass and probably would die for the faith), to keep their parents off their backs – and then go watch the game and after that go to Nonna’s for Sunday dinner. Not fake ‘parish community’ stuff: like the South Philly nonna Thomas Day met during ‘the sign of peace’ at St Rita’s on Broad Street, they don’t believe in that sh*t.


Not utopian parishes of nice upper-middle-class suburbanites like on EWTN, orthodoxy meets neoconservatism meets Protestant bonhomie. Or traddie shrines full of enthusiasts, the church as Jansenist perfectionist cult or simply dominated by the barking mad. (‘Purity cult’ is a fave putdown of Episco-liberals for Episco-conservatives as you know; while wrong much of the time they have a point here.) ‘The Catholic Church: here comes everybody.’

I’d be saying the same thing then as now only I’d have been called a liberal like I’m now called a reactionary. Some churchy liturgical-movement stuff: in the Roman Rite how about more well-done High Masses with chant, some nice Protestant hymns vetted for orthodoxy at Low Mass and sometimes having dialogue Masses (including congregationally sung High Masses) and doing at least some of it in the vernacular? (In other words Fr Hallahan could have looked over the fence at what Fr Smith probably was doing with the Episcopalians: now that’s my kind of ecumenism.)

From what I remember a quarter-century ago ‘JPII’s charismatic and personalist approach’ as filtered down to the parishes was the worst of big, anonymous, cold institutionalism, one of the few things left over from the old ways along with some tolerated residual devotional stuff, combined with born-again GOPism (using pro-life activity as a substitute for RC identity and BTW useless for stopping abortion), jostling with the old labour Democrats turned mainline-wannabe granolas running the show in a lot of places (JPII promoted Mahony, remember?), and thin-gruel, low-church liturgy. Oh, and with the really enthused JPII fans imitating Pentecostal Protestantism and into chasing apparitions like that fraud in Bosnia. Go to the guitar Mass and receive Communion from the lay flunky (lots of local folk in charge trying to soft-sell women’s ordination... anyway now only a third of American RCs know what the Eucharist really is; way to go, ‘renewal’), then go home and watch EWTN. As a friend called it, ‘imagination church, a religion only a Scientologist could love’. (Eastern Catholic church as refuge: slightly better conservative Novus Ordo with a different, better rite but with the same underlying mindset.)

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