This is one of the best (probably the best) series of lectures on Vatican II that I have come across.
Ivereigh offers some perspective on what Pope Francis is doing and why.
Yves Congar is a fascinating figure in twentieth century Catholic theology and thought. His ideas were censured and censored at one time by the Church, but then became accepted and were highly influential at Vatican II (perhaps the single most informative influence at the council).
I am inclined to think that many of the issues that some Catholics are having with the pope, namely regarding his apparently confusion-sowing manner and way of speaking, are in fact a kind of cover for deeper fears. In other words, it seems there is a protective strain within Catholicism, particularly from conservatives (but not only), that actually has problems with the three approaches to reform that Ivereigh identifies. If true, then it would follow that their frustration is actually masking a fear of reform, and the natural processes of reform as identified by Congar. (Keep in mind I say this as a recent convert from Protestantism — which may skew my perspective.)
Although I tend to identify with many aspects of conservative Catholicism (and many aspects of liberal Catholicism), I worry about a kind of Phariseeism that seems to lie just beneath much of the anti-Francis rhetoric — and I’m speaking of the even-handed stuff, not even the foaming-at-the-mouth stuff.
I too see the confusion with Pope Francis, but I can’t judge. I don’t really know what he is up to, and I believe the Church, like all of us, is always in need of reform.
Here is a great talk given by Bishop Robert Barron on the family.
I like just everything about this talk. Among many interesting and profound things he says, and he says a lot, I found one thing that really jumped out at me at 47:15. He says that if the “great figures of Vatican II” (Henri de Lubac, Romano Guardini, Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar) could see that today 75 percent of Catholics do not go to mass regularly they would view their project (Vatican II and all that it anticipated and was meant to accomplish) as a failure. Bishop Barron says Vatican II was meant to revive the Church, in essence to bring more life into the Church. He seems to be saying, however, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.
The possible implication is that if all had happened as they thought it would, then our church buildings would be bursting on Sundays, and filled with many faithful throughout the week. It would have been the Catholic Church that defined the idea of Evangelical, and taken that spirit to the world. Instead Catholics left the Church for the Evangelicalism of the Protestants, or just stopped going to Church altogether. This was happening prior to the council, but it exploded since then. The Catholic Church was run over by the steamroller of late modernity and many Catholics were happy to be run over.
I do not think Vatican II caused any of this in the way that some claim, but it played a part. Exactly how is debatable, but one thing seems certain, though the great figures of the council were noble in their desires, they thought the Church wanted one thing (get closer to God) when, in fact, it wanted something else (push God away, at least away from their sexuality, definitions of marriage, contraception, etc.). They thought Catholics in large part wanted more freedom to be fully alive in Christ, but what Catholics wanted was freedom from the strictures of the Church (from the perceived tyranny of tradition, the un-coolness of the old, from the barriers that demarcated the Catholic subculture from the popular world). In other words they thought Catholics were interested in becoming more Catholic when, in fact, they wanted to become culturally, socially, even theologically Protestant.
I would like to hear more from Bishop Barron on his thoughts about this. Was Vatican II a failure? What would the great figures of Vatican II say?
Just to be clear, Bishop Barron has a generally very positive view of Vatican II. You get a good picture of his understanding here:
…but I’m curious.
Could it be, however/also, that we have too short and too impatient a timeline for a post-council Church revival to rise and flourish? Do reformations take longer? 40 years in the desert, generations dying off? I am increasingly inclined to see the changes brought by the council may still be in their early stages — and that they are leading towards a deeper understanding and celebration of the mysteries of faith, including the depth of tradition, etc. Sometimes one has to move away for a while before returning in order to appreciate one’s homeland. If this is true, then all the troubles that have flowed from the time of Vatican II may actually be step one in the council’s success.
Not long ago I sat in a pastoral council meeting at my parish church. We were discussing the form of Mass, use of music, etc., and I heard an older gentleman, a servant of the church, exclaim that he loved the liturgical changes brought on by the spirit of Vatican II, and thought they were one of the best things that ever happened to the Church. His words gave me pause.
I have become increasingly interested in the very solemn-style, traditional Mass which many see as harkening back to a pre-council time. Consequently I tend to dislike what I perceive as the terrible music and bad art so common (I assume, from what I hear and read) in contemporary worship services today — all brought on by Vatican II according to popular legend. But then I had to step back a bit and think about it. Am I right in my opinions? Perhaps yes, but perhaps no.
I’m not a folk-Mass or guitar-Mass kind of guy, but I think I would have embraced the changes the Church experienced in the 1960’s if I had been a young man then. I too would have thought those changes represented a great change to a more authentic and grounded expression of faith. However, I think I would have eventually changed and embraced a more traditional style as I got older. I say this because, as a Protestant, I went through a similar experience in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I grew up in a rather conservative, staid kind of Baptist church, but I began to embrace Christian rock, and enjoyed how the youth groups changed with the times, and then “big” church changed to a more rock-n-roll ethos as well. I don’t like rock-n-roll church either, but I did years ago.
I don’t believe this question of what kind of music is appropriate at Mass is a question of taste, though taste plays a part. It’s deeper than mere taste, for it has to do with the fact of the Real Presence and human nature. How one feels at Mass is not as important as what Mass is; in other words, it’s an ontological question, not an emotional one. Folk and rock are great genres of music, but they are arguably inappropriate for the Mass because of the Real Presence and human nature, and the very purpose of the Mass itself. So why would such changes been made if all this is so obvious?
I don’t think it was that obvious, at least to a certain generation at a certain time and place.
Of the many shifts of the 1960’s, one was towards a kind of youth leadership. That is, youth began proclaiming its divergence from older generations, and grabbed the reigns of its own destiny. This shift was, perhaps, nothing terribly new, but interestingly the older generations embraced the change, often declaring their own generation had lost its way and only the youth have the answers. Some telling slogans appeared in popular culture: “I hope I die before I get old” was a line from the band The Who in their anthem My Generation. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a phrase coined by Jack Weinberg in the heady days of the Free Speech Movement. This shift also precipitated a revolutionary spirit, leading to many protests and the belief that the youth could really change the world if they just let love reign. In Protestantism there was the Jesus Movement, a kind of hippie Christianity that had profound ripple effects throughout Protestantism, and also Catholicism (as many Catholics became fascinated with the more emotive forms of Protestant spirituality in light of the perceived deadness in their own). In fact, it became a sweeping movement of sorts, and many, many people were caught up in it — not unlike being caught up in the spirit.
Folk music and then rock music were powerful cultural expressions of the spirit of that age, and continue so today.
But this shift in the zeitgeist of 20th century Christianity also had humble, simple, and personable expressions. Expressions that, I believe, constituted a kind of healthy “reformation” within the Church — often drawing people into a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
There was a craving for authenticity: authenticity of living, authenticity of worship, authenticity of emotions, authenticity of self. Needless to say, old forms of worship seemed terribly stale to many — though that probably says more about that generation and their knowledge of those forms than it does about the forms themselves. Regardless, it became an easy step to ask how could one possibly have a genuine relationship with Jesus while sitting in old churches and singing old hymns. (Not a very analytical question, but a visceral one for sure.) Thus grew the folk music movement (followed by the rock movement) within Christianity, for both Protestant and Catholic. [Note: I have played guitar at numerous church and youth worship services — so I’m am also part of the so-called “problem” if there is one.] [Note: The issue much of the time is not about what instrument is being played. Guitars are not really a problem, except for their symbolism.] Of course there is a lot more to be said about this history, but my point is that if I had been a youth or young adult at that time I’m sure I would have fully embraced the so-called spirit of Vatican II, at least in terms of worship. AND… I actually love a lot of the folk-mass/folk-christian songs — having sung many from the old, brown Young Life song book back in the day — though some (like the ones in this post) seem rather sappy nowadays. And let’s admit, as well, that many old hymns are dusty, that they were contemporary once, and being old now does not mean they are good.
Consider how one (maybe you) feels after having gone to a deeply emotional and moving (perhaps even Christian) rock concert, with its powerful music and light show, and the next morning you go to church and it seems so blah. Couldn’t you argue that you were “closer to God” at the concert? At least you felt that way, right? The same feeling would have been common in the 1960’s with its folk music, which seemed so much more authentic than dusty old hymns. I understand this. Bob Dylan was a prophet. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” is a better homily than is mostly ever preached by any priest. Peter, Paul and Mary sang truth. “If I Had A Hammer” is a more viscerally powerful sermon than most any Baptist preacher can muster. A young adult looking for such a connection at church just might welcome a couple of guitars and some bongo drums in the service of a passionately sung worship ballad in four-four. I have been that young adult and, if I am honest, I still am to some degree.
Given all that, after hearing that older gentleman wax positive about those changes of yesteryear, I realized my tendency to denigrate those changes of the post-Vatican II era is not an entirely honest tendency. Nor might it be entirely empathetic or loving. I still prefer a more traditional form of Mass, and I tend to think that guitars generally have their place outside of Mass, but I cannot assume I’m really any different than anyone else. I have come to this position over time, and I’m still on my journey. I am sure my current preferences are in reaction to my own experiences over a number of years. I too am a fish in the stream of history — and it just goes to show how easily I can forget myself.
Final note: Let us not forget the Real Presence at Mass. The question of proper form and proper music at Mass flows from this profoundly radical fact. It’s not ultimately about a particular style, or particular instruments, or specific lyrics, as much as it is about appropriate reverence and worship, which includes proper action, and what it is that leads us to that. Understanding how much of contemporary music, especially folk and rock, does not fit within a Catholic liturgy may require a sensitivity and a knowledge most of us are unlikely to have; not because we can’t understand, but because our culture has trained us not to.
Here are two sections in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), a constitutional document from Vatican II. These are sections that mention beauty and the arts. I am doing so for one purpose – to encourage the reader to consider the words therein and compare them with their own experience of the liturgy in their local church. I have bolded a few of the words that jump out at me and get me thinking. It is clear to me that the Church does not prescribe any particular style of art, or demand anything with great specificity. However, I cannot help but notice somewhat of a gulf between what is called out here as important, and the general state (so I hear) of many parishes.
But let me hesitate a bit… There is nothing more natural than Beauty, but creating Beauty is difficult; much harder to do than most people realize. For a local parish to seek Beauty with passion is also to demand a great deal of work, and probably to overturn the tables a bit, even make some long-term volunteers grumpy. And few agree entirely on Beauty.
Regardless, consider these words and meditate on them. Remember Beauty is one of the three Transcendentals. Do not shy away from Beauty. Rather, run towards it and embrace it. I say this as an encouragement for all of us to care more about Beauty in our parishes, our liturgies, and our lives.
122. Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.
Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.
The Church has been particularly careful to see that sacred furnishings should worthily and beautifully serve the dignity of worship, and has admitted changes in materials, style, or ornamentation prompted by the progress of the technical arts with the passage of time.
123. The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites. Thus, in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved. The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor; thereby it is enabled to contribute its own voice to that wonderful chorus of praise in honor of the Catholic faith sung by great men in times gone by.
124. Ordinaries, by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments.
Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense.
And when churches are to be built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful.
I wonder how many parishes take all this seriously. I tend to think they (the laity, staff, priests, everyone) don’t much. And when they do, I tend to think they would like to see more Beauty, but it’s hard to make changes; people’s feeling are at stake, etc. But I also think there are two key factors as well: 1) People don’t really notice beauty or ugliness that much, and 2) People are wary of Beauty, thinking it mere prettiness and the surface of things. In other words, they don’t see that there is an issue when there is one, and if confronted with a lack of beauty, they push back in the name of “truly spirituality” and “authentic faith.” Alas, the influence of our modern culture and American puritan piety.