In an essay entitled, “The Case for the Latin Mass,” Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand explains that, “Those who rhapsodize on the new liturgy make much of the point that over the years the Mass had lost its communal character and had become an occasion for individualistic worship. The new vernacular Mass, they insist, restores the sense of community by replacing private devotions with community participation. Yet they forget that there are different levels and kinds of communion with other persons. The level and nature of a community experience is determined by the theme of the communion, the name or cause in which men are gathered. The higher the good which the theme represents, and which binds men together, the more sublime and deeper is the communion. The ethos and nature of a community experience in the case of a great national emergency is obviously radically different from the community experience of a cocktail party. And of course the most striking differences in communities will be found between the community whose theme is supernatural and the one whose theme is merely natural. The actualization of the souls of men who are truly touched by Christ is the basis of a unique community, a sacred communion, one whose quality is incomparably more sublime than that of any natural community. The authentic we-communion of the faithful, which the liturgy of Holy Thursday expresses so well in the words congregavit nos in unum Christi amor, is possible only as a fruit of the I-Thou communion with Christ Himself. Only a direct relation to the God-man can actualize this sacred union among the faithful. The communion of Christ has nothing of the self-assertion found in natural communities. It breathes of the Redemption. It liberates men from all self-centeredness. Yet such a communion emphatically does not depersonalize the individual. Far from dissolving the person into the cosmic, pantheistic swoon so often commended to us these days, it actualizes the person’s true self in a unique way. In the community of Christ the conflict between person and community that is present in all natural communities cannot exist.
So this sacred community experience is really at war with the depersonalizing ‘we-experience’ found in mass assemblies and popular gatherings which tend to absorb and evaporate the individual. This communion in Christ that was so fully alive in the early Christian centuries, that all the saints entered into, that found a matchless expression in the liturgy now under attack - this communion has never regarded the individual person as a mere segment of the community, or as an instrument to serve it. In this connection it is worth noting that totalitarian ideology is not alone in sacrificing the individual to the collective; some of Teilhard de Chardin’s cosmic ideas, for instance, imply the same collectivistic sacrifice. Teilhard subordinates the individual and his sanctification to the supposed development of humanity. At a time when this perverse theory of community is embraced even by many Catholics, there are plainly urgent reasons for vigorously insisting on the sacred character of the true communion in Christ.
I submit that the new liturgy must be judged by this test: Does it contribute to the authentic sacred community? Granted that it strives for a community character; but is this the character desired? Is it a communion grounded in recollection, contemplation and reverence? Which of the two - the new Mass, or the Latin Mass with the Gregorian chant - evokes these attitudes of soul more effectively, and thus permits the deeper and true communion? Is it not plain that frequently the community character of the new Mass purely profane, that, as with other social gatherings, its blend of casual relaxation and bustling activity precludes a reverent, contemplative confrontation with Christ and with the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist?...our epoch is pervaded by a spirit of irreverence. It is seen in a distorted notion of freedom that demands rights while refusing obligations, that exalts self-indulgence, that counsels ‘let yourself go.’ The habitare secum of St. Gregory’s Dialogues - the dwelling in the presence of God - which presupposes reverence, is considered today to be unnatural, pompous, or servile.
But is not the new liturgy a compromise with this modern spirit? Whence comes the disparagement of kneeling? Why should the Eucharist be received standing? Is not kneeling, in our culture, the classic expression of adoring reverence? The argument that at a meal we should stand rather than kneel is hardly convincing. For one thing, this is not the natural posture for eating: we sit, and in Christ’s time some reclined. But more important, it is a specifically irreverent conception of the Eucharist to stress its character as a meal at the cost of its unique character as a holy mystery. Stressing the meal at the expense of the sacrament surely betrays a tendency to obscure the sacredness of the sacrifice. This tendency is apparently traceable to the unfortunate belief that religious life will become more vivid, more existential, if it is immersed in our everyday life. But this is to run the danger of absorbing the religious in the mundane, of effacing the difference between the supernatural and the natural. I fear that it represents an unconscious intrusion of the naturalistic spirit, of the spirit more fully expressed in Teilhard de Chardin’s immanentism....
Those who idolize our epoch, who thrill at what is modern simply because it is modern, who believe that in our day man has finally ‘come of age,’ lack pietas. The pride of these ‘temporal nationalists’ is not only irreverent, it is incompatible with real faith. A Catholic should regard his liturgy with pietas. He should revere, and therefore fear to abandon the prayers and postures and music that have been approved by so many saints throughout the Christian era and delivered to us a precious heritage..”
An article written by Marcellino D’Ambrosio for the Catholic News Service and carried on the front page of The Catholic Free Press and entitled “A ‘student’ of Vatican II,” displays such an irreverence for the Mass which made saints like Padre Pio and the Cure of Ars. In his article, Mr. D’Ambrosio repeats the tired mantra: “Before the council, laity were passive spectators in the liturgy, often praying devotional prayers while they were ‘hearing’ Mass since the readings were in Latin...The goal of the council was to promote the conscious, active participation of the laity in the liturgy, but also to restore a much broader and richer participation of the laity in the apostolic life of the church as reflected in the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles.”
Such an attitude betrays a hateful irreverence toward the Mass which made such great saints as Padre Pio and the holy Cure of Ars, Saint Jean Vianney. In “Salt of the Earth,” then Cardinal Ratzinger and now Pope Benedict XVI declared that, “A community is calling its very being into question when it suddenly declares that what until now was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent.”
How much more so when that same liturgy is disparaged?
Mr. D’Ambrosio’s article is an exercise in chronolatry and nothing more. Let’s examine the fruits of this attempt to “promote the conscious, active participation of the laity in the liturgy” while restoring a “much broader and richer participation of the laity in the apostolic life of the Church.” Patrick Buchanan writes, “The 1950s were America’s Catholic moment. The moral authority of the Pope and America’s bishops was never higher. Long lines formed outside confessionals on Saturdays. It was standing room only at Sunday Mass [the same Mass now disparaged by the progressives today]. Fr. Patrick Peyton’s Rosary Crusade (‘The family that prays together stays together’) drew huge crowds. The most visible prelate was Msgr. Fulton J. Sheen, whose television ratings bested those of Milton Berle. ‘He’s got better writers than I do,’ quipped Berle. Notre Dame’s legendary gridiron teams had millions of ‘subway alumni.’ Four out of five Catholics cast their votes in 1960 for John F. Kennedy, who became our first Catholic president...Half a century on [since Vatican II], the disaster is manifest. The robust and confident Church of 1958 no longer exists. Catholic colleges and universities remain Catholic in name only. Parochial schools are closing as rapidly as they opened in the 1950s. The number of nuns, priests, and seminarians have fallen dramatically. Mass attendance is a third of what it was [broader participation?]. From the former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to vice president Joe Biden, Catholic politicians openly support abortion on demand...
Four decades after Vatican II, a quarter century into the pontificate of John Paul II, Kenneth C. Jones of St. Louis pulled together a slim volume of statistics demonstrating that the fears traditionalists who warned that the council was courting catastrophe had been justified. And they exposed as naive those who insisted that the council would revitalize the faith, reconcile Catholicism with modernity, and make the Church more appealing to our secular world. Here are Jones statistics on the decline and fall:
Clergy. While the number of priests in the United States more than doubled to 58,000 between 1930 and 1965, between 1965 and 2002 that number fell to 45,000 and is on course to sink to 31,000 in 2020, when more than half of all Catholic priests will be over the age of seventy.
Ordinations. In 1965, 1,575 priests were ordained. In 2002, the figure was 450.
Parishes. In 1965, only 1 percent of parishes were without a priest. In 2002, 15 percent, or 3,000 parishes, were without priests.
Seminarians. Between 1965 and 2002, the number of seminarians fell from 49,000 to 4,700, a decline of more than 90 percent. Two-thirds of the 600 seminaries operating at the end of Vatican II have closed.
Nuns. In 1965, there were 180,000 Catholic nuns. By 2002, that number was down to 75,000 and their average age was 68. By 2009, their numbers had fallen to 60,000, a loss of two-thirds in four and a half decades.
Teaching Nuns. In 1965, there were 104,000 teaching nuns. Today, there are 8,200.
Jesuits. In 1965, 3,559 young men were studying to become Jesuit priests. In 2,000, the figure was 389.
Christian Brothers. The situation here is even more dire. Their ranks have shrunk by two-thirds, while the number of seminarians has fallen by 99 percent. In 1965, there were 912 seminarians in the Christian Brothers. In 2,000, there were seven.
Religious Orders. The number of young men studying to become Franciscan and Redemptorist priests fell from 3,379 in 1965 to 84 in 2000. For many religious orders in America the end is in sight.
Diocesan High Schools. Almost half of these high schools operating in the United States in 1965 had closed by 2002, and student enrollment had fallen from 700,000 to 386,000.
Parochial Schools. In 1965, there were 4.5 million children in parish grammar schools. By 2000, the number had plunged to 1.9 million. In the first decade of this century, the number dropped again, to 1.5 million, a loss of two-thirds of Catholic parochial school enrollment since Vatican II - in a country whose population grew in that period by over 100 million.
In 2007, after interviewing 35,000 people for its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, the Pew Forum confirmed what Jones had reported. Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church in America had undergone a decline to rival what happened in some northern European countries during the Reformation. By 2007:
One in three Catholics reared in the faith had left the Church.
One in ten American adults was a fallen-away Catholic.
Catholics remained 24 percent of the U.S. population only because of immigration. Forty-six percent of all immigrants are Catholics. As Irish, German, Italian, and Polish Catholics leave the Church or die, the pews fill up with Mexicans, Central Americans, Filipinos, and Vietnamese. Were it not for immigrants, Catholics would have fallen from a fourth of the population to 18.4 percent, or less than one fifth...
Catholic losses have been ‘staggering,’ writes Fr. Joseph Sirba, ‘if one excludes immigrants and converts from the calculations, the Catholic Church has lost to other religions or to no religion at all 35.4 percent - or more than one-third - of the 64,131,750 of its native-born members....
The Catholics who remain in the Church are not nearly as firm in the faith or devout as their parents were. The institutional shrinkage mirrors a spreading disbelief in doctrines that define the faith....Where a 1958 Gallup poll revealed that three of every four Catholics attended Mass on Sundays, a recent study by the University of Notre Dame found that one in four Catholics attend Sunday Mass today.”
Is this the “broader and richer participation of the laity in the apostolic life of the Church” which Mr. D’Ambrosio refers to? If so, he can keep it.
Buchanan continues: “Only 10 percent of lay teachers accept church teaching on contraception. Fifty-three percent of lay teachers believe a woman can have an abortion and remain a good Catholic, even though participation in an abortion means automatic excommunication. Sixty-five percent of lay teachers believe Catholics may divorce and remarry. Seventy-seven percent believe one can be a good Catholic without going to Sunday Mass. Millions of Catholic children are being taught their faith by heretics.....According to one New York Times poll, 70 percent of all Catholics 18-44 believed the Eucharist is but a ‘symbolic reminder’ of Jesus, and nearly two-thirds of all Catholics agreed. Through the papacy of Pius XII, Catholicism remained the Church of the deeply traditionalist Council of Trent...refusing to modify its teachings to accommodate the age. After Vatican II, the Church came out to meet the world. The statistics give us the results of the encounter.” (Suicide of a Superpower, pp. 88-94).
The Mass which is popularly known as the Tridentine Mass informed the spiritual lives of so many saints. Even while accepting its validity, can we honestly say the same about the new Mass?