Sunday, November 8, 2015

Post-Conciliar Minimalism

As of today, I am convinced that there exists something which we can properly label "post-conciliar minimalism". The thing in and of itself is not of today and might even predate the Second Vatican Council; it is not the same as Modernism; perhaps it is no more than a consequence of certain human defects, like laziness or indolence. Fundamentally, it ends up being a kind of short changing of most everything in Catholic life after Vatican II. It is that multifarious blight on the Church which should never have happened, had what Pope St. John XXIII hoped for from the Council actually come to be. I use the term "minimalism" because the thing is static and overarching, covering phenomena or tragedies like iconoclasm, which, especially from the time of the Council itself, reared its ugly head and destroyed much without substitution or explanation:

"At the time of the first discussions about liturgical reform, Archbishop Tchidimbo returned to Conakry and ordered the destruction of the baldachin and the main altar. We were angry, incredulous at this hasty decision. Rather violently, we passed without any preparation from one liturgy to another. I can attest to the fact that the botched preparation for the liturgical reform had devastating effects on the Catholic population, particularly on the simpler people, who scarcely understood the swiftness of these changes or even the reason for them." [Sarah, Cardinal Robert; Diat, Nicolas (2015-08-31). God or Nothing (Kindle Locations 1344-1348). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.]

 Minimalism is the word, because it describes destruction as reduction, which left us with a crust of bread of a devotional life and never honestly faced the challenge of nourishing people of our time generally bent on consumption, living in a post-industrial urban setting too noisy and too demanding for past practices to face, that is, without some imagination and creative effort. Hence the more politically correct term "minimalism" for those too squeamish or scrupulous to call a half century of movers and shakers, together with both willful and unknowing accomplices, either lazy or indolent.

Everyone, or so it seems, has a pet theory to explain the general collapse of regular Sunday Mass attendance nearly everywhere in the Catholic world. Understanding the thing by means of the interpretive key of minimalism as attitude or approach, one understands readily that you can call the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the "source and summit" of Christian existence, but then you have to prepare people for it and offer opportunities after it for consequent expression. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is sadly or too often reduced to a discursive exercise which has taken the place of a whole gamut of devotions and lessons both at catechism and in the home.

Take the matter of the reduction to an absolute minimum of preparation for reception of Holy Communion: My mother's family, when she was a child, went to Mass every Sunday and prepared themselves as a family for the worthy reception of Holy Communion once a month. That preparation involved above all a monthly Saturday confession. I remember Mom making discreet and appreciative comments about how Grandma prepared her youngest daughter for this event, both for Saturday confession and for Sunday Communion. Although by the time of my childhood, yet before the Council, that type of conscious, methodical, monthly preparation for Communion seems to have been replaced by weekly Communion and for those who went to daily Mass almost always, nonetheless it was not surprising for people at Mass not to come up to the rail to receive at Communion time. At the time of my first Holy Communion the fast was from midnight and many who chose the late morning Solemn High Mass at the Cathedral on Sunday might not have fasted since midnight and hence could not receive. As reasonable as the move to the three hour fast was, it didn't take long for the push to one hour before Communion, which amounted to a de facto abolition of the fast and perhaps explains all the chewing gum stuck underneath the seats of the pews, which pious janitors and volunteers would spatula/scrape off a couple times of year during pre-holiday church cleaning: post-conciliar minimalism.

The other day the Bishops of Switzerland as a Conference published a pastoral letter teaching on the roles proper to priests, permanent deacons and lay people in pastoral service. Apart from a reminder that the preaching office in the Church is proper to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the bishops earned scorn for teaching about the fundamental differences between these three categories in the Church. To be fair, I did run across one article from the Jura region, which in the light of the new pastoral encouraged lay people to participate generously in a program of accompaniment for people who had suffered the loss of a loved one in their family. Retweeting one of the news reports on the new pastoral, I got a couple respectful comments from regular Catholics in the pew, who seemed bewildered by this reservation of the preaching office to the priest and wondering what would become of them if their last bulwark was deprived of a sermon by a lay theologian in the absence of a qualified priest... The reductionism just keeps paring away at something which has long since lost its proper framework and unfolding as the source and summit. (I am purposely avoiding the vocations crisis, which in its complexity goes far beyond the minimalist interpretation.)

Truth to be told, the solution is not as simple as restoration; Pope St. John XXIII wanted creativity and energy renewed within the Church and hence perhaps the allergic reaction of those days to the word reform. It would be enough, I think, for lots of folks to stop denying that we have a problem and to open up to the tradition not as form but rather as culture. The hope would be that we might be able to decide on a new approach to Divine Worship which might in turn inspire mothers and fathers to take time to prepare their children for Sunday Mass. The type of scorn for solid notions like "holy fear" which is so common in certain circles is no more than an indication of the indolent nature of much of what is supposed to pass for critical analysis. We need urgently to free ourselves from the shackles of the all to frequently minimalist approach to things Catholic, which deprives the faith of those supports which in times past encouraged or fostered its vitality.


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