Wednesday, June 05, 2002

The second post requires a bit of an introduction. It's a strongly worded reflection on pre-Vatican clericalism. By way of introduction:

I am very familiar with the pre-Vatican II church, having spent my formative years as well as 3 years in minor seminary, and 4 years of Jesuit university prior to the advent of the Council by the blessed John XXIII.

This a man with a vibrant memory and a pertinent warning:

I don't know if you are of that generation or not, but I would like to disabuse you of the notion that clericalism is worse post-Vat II than it waspre-Vat II.

The concept of layfolk's role being to "pray, pay and obey" is not a fanciful Catholic myth. Clericalism WAS the modus operendi of Catholicism then. In the main, layfolk weren't asked nor were their ideas appreciated when it came to church governance. The aristocratic "prince of the church" mentality didn't spring up post-1965. French cuffs, watered silk, big cars and baronial rectories were the incentive for many a poor lad to seek status via the priesthood. And achieving that status resulted in an aura of sacrosanctism being vested in him, irrespective of his intellectual capabilities, moral turpitude or ability to inspire the poor sheep of his flock to holiness. The more he could rant on about the Virgin Mary, the better he was considered.

...And, yes, I do admit to plenty of post-Vat II abuses, many of which have been committed by layfolk. But they are no worse than those foisted on us by dispomaniacal clergy and overworked, underappreciated nuns. Regards, Jim McCrea

These are strong words and they contain two extremely important warnings. There is a tendency among some conservative Catholics to romantize the pre-Vatican Church. There are wonderful elements of pre-Vatican Catholicism that are worth preserving. I concentrate on some of those elements because they seem pertinent to our current troubles and I fear that they are in danger of being lost. However...

If the pre-Vatican Church were perfect for our age, there would not have been a need for the Council. There was much right and much wrong with that earlier Church. Obviously, Jim and I knew that Church differently. He was an adult in it. I was a child. His memory is older than mine. And his voice, as a part of Her 'living memory', is essential to our future.

A second danger is reflected more in the tone of the message than the content. Many Catholics, seeing the 'mess' we have become, are eager to throw away all the best fruits of the Council. That would be both foolish and 'post-Conciliar(?)'. If we romantize the pre-Vatican Church and demonize the post-Vatican Church, we will be left with the worst of both ages of the Church.

Thirty-five (forty) years after the Council, Vatican II should not be a moment in the Church that divides us. It should be a table of communion where the old and the new bring their best fruits to the service of the Church.

Jim and I may have different memories of the pre-Vatican Church, but I imagine we both share a memory of the Vatican Council as sunlight streaming through newly opened windows and the scent of Spring air amid the incense. It was a heady moment for the Church. It was necessary, bold and brilliant.

And a final remark: I hope you do find that article and publish it.

I mentioned having read an article about the level of clericalism in the post- vs the pre-Vatican Church. I will look for it, hopefully I will find it, but I have a feeling that it will be well into next week before I get a chance to post it


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