We are still there bringing the great myths alive and applying them to ordinary people’s lives in our week by week, day by day routine.
What do I mean by this? When you explore the great myths of humanity the same themes come up again and again: the dying savior, death and resurrection, victory over hell and the underworld, virgins and gods, sacrifice and blood and death and birth and life. These themes arise in virtually all ancient religions and cultures in one way or another. Then in the Hebrew religion they all start to come alive within human history. Throughout the Old Testament the great myths become real until at last the greatest myth comes true in the incarnation of the Son of God. I have several chapters on this theme in my book about to come out in February–The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty
What happens is that all the great themes of human mystery and meaning come alive in the Old Testament stories and then are fulfilled in the incarnation, passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.
This then, is where the myth is for the masses. Within the practice of the Catholic faith these ancient and profound themes are brought to life and applied to ordinary people by ordinary people. When we say the rosary millions of very ordinary people, through the mechanics of meditation, integrate their minds and souls with the events of Christ’s mysteries. Through the practice of confession Christ’s forgiveness is brought into the present moment and applied by an ordinary priest to the ordinary shortcomings of everyday sort of folk. Through the mystery of marriage the great mysteries of love, sacrifice, sex, birth and life are made real and lived out on a mystical level by ordinary people. So with all the sacraments: a boy is made into a mystical and eternal priest, a child is baptized into the eternal mysteries of light over dark, birth over death, resurrection and new life. Through confirmation a child receives the fullness of that same Spirit by whom all things are created. Through holy anointing the mysteries of death and sickness are encountered and overcome.
In a word, this is the practical application of the ancient mysteries. It is myth for the masses. Joseph Campbell and the psychologists, the theoreticians and intellectuals have no way of doing this. They have no ritual, no mechanism, not practical means of application, no access to the ordinary peasants and aristocrats who need redemption.
Neither have the Protestants anything like it. Neither have any of the other religions apart from (in a truncated way) Hindusim. All the other ancient religions have died out. Only in Catholicism is there still a priest, still a sacrifice, still atonement and reparation for sins. Only in Catholicism are there prayers offered for the dead, a squadron of saints, a phalanx of angels and a fearsome cohort of demons. The modern Catholic faith may be watered down.
With her scandals and sad modernism, with her rock music masses and lazy, ignorant, heretical people she may be a sad vestige of her former self–she may have become in many places a pale image of the church triumphant, but there is life in the old girl yet, and like some stubborn old crone clinging to her rosary beads, statues and scapulas, with knees worn out from kneeling–there’s faith and grit and spiritual power in her that even the gates of hell cannot prevail against.