In my article I Long For Christian Unity, I aired my grievances with the doctrinal disunity among Christian denominations. My experiences with chronic, inconsistent biblical exegesis among Protestants are among the biggest contributors to my eventual return to Catholicism. But in spite of boasting about enjoying unity for nearly two millennia, the Catholic Church suffers much internal dysfunction.
And now that I’m back in communion with the Church that claims to be founded by Christ Himself, it pains me to say it wasn’t long before the honeymoon was over.
The majority of the feuding seems to centre around what happened after the Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II). Prior to the 1960’s, the liturgy of the Mass was recited entirely in Ecclesiastical Latin. The outcome of Vatican II birthed a new liturgical format called Novus Ordo, a format that would be done in the language of the local parishoners.
When the Tridentine Mass suddenly dissolved, many people were understandably upset. Some were furious to the point of blatant resistance, such as famed Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien. He was apparently so adamantly opposed to the English liturgy that he would boldly say the responses in Latin, much to the embarrassment of his grandchildren.
Most Catholics who knew Latin came from a background of higher education, though I personally believe the Gospel ought to be shared in a language that people can understand. Phillip’s discourse with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 comes to mind. Though the thought of attending a Mass in a different language adds an exciting level of heavenly mystery.
Traditionalism versus Modernism
Over the past century, the Catholic Church has been boiled down to two partisan groups: traditionalists and modernists. And within both groups lies varying degrees of traditionalism and modernism. To put it facetiously, the extremes can be put on a scale from ‘All are welcome’ to ‘Everyone is an apostate except me!‘
But humor aside, I can deeply sympathize with those who call themselves ‘traditionalists.’ I returned to Catholicism out of a personal conviction to seek more reverent, Christ-centered worship — a conviction that couldn’t be satisfied within the realm of American Protestantism. The realization that the Catholic Mass of my childhood had been subject to sabotage truly saddens me. Such groups like the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and Fraternities Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri (FSSP) came into fruition to preserve the Mass in its extraordinary form.
Some dissenting Catholics have gone as far as to say the liturgical corruption is due to a corrupt papacy. Sedevacantists believe there hasn’t been a valid pope since Pius XII – the very pope who actually initiated Vatican II! Even nowadays, the ever-growing cynicism and hyper-outrage towards Pope Francis seems to give sympathy to schismatic groups such as these. The divide among Catholics could not be more evident than how they treat the Vicar of Christ.
It seems a gross misinterpretation of what Vatican II tried to accomplish enabled many traditional elements to be shoved aside. In many modern parishes, the tabernacle no longer resides behind the altar. The communion rails are nonexistent. The Eucharist is rarely received directly in the mouth, but rather in the hand which increases the chances of desecration. Instruments such as guitars and tambourines suddenly snuck in to make Mass more attractive — undoubtedly an influence of the hippy era of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Clearly, it wasn’t just an issue of the use of language, but of the form.
As far as modernism within the Catholic Church is concerned, there are some progressive aspects I can appreciate. For parishoners with severe intellectual disabilities, being able to sit through any type of church service can be extremely challenging. If the music plays off-key, it could trigger someone with high-sensory autism who happens to have perfect pitch. In order to accommodate, some parishes have adjusted their musical style and quality. Sometimes burning incense can be unbearable for those who suffer respiratory issues, so hypoallergenic incense was put into use. Even wooden pews can make it difficult for those suffering with spinal problems, so stacking chairs with cushions were implemented.
This isn’t to say traditionalists are insensitive towards people with disabilities. But if the rigid stereotypes are true, a modern, Novus Ordo parish seems more likely to show such compassionate accommodation for people who endure these sufferings.
How Do We Lose The Labels?
There’s no easy way to navigate between two partisan views. Traditionalists are rightfully justified in recognizing when the Mass is being treated irreverently or veering away from orthodoxy. Modernist thought can be credited for developing an understanding of unique situations that make it next to impossible for certain people to fully follow the rules.
Like partisanship in politics, it’s easy to toss labels at people whom we disagree with. Though it won’t be resolved by hugging around a campfire while singing kumbaya. In reality, there shouldn’t be the two camps because prior to Vatican II there was only tradition. I believe the only way to address the partisan divide head-on is to push for liturgical reform in pursuit of truth. The way we as Catholics treat our liturgy and our sensitivity towards fellow suffering parishoners needs a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, I have a prediction the chasm will be beyond repair before the next Vatican council is initiated. It’ll be a travesty akin to what shook the Church to its core during the Protestant Reformation.
Christ needs to remain in the center of our liturgy and our worship, and that is non-negotiable. If we place an overemphasis on being all-inclusive and tolerant, at what point does that enable tolerance for irreverence towards God or a rejection of truth? Simultaneously, an absence of grace will only prove the Protestants are right about us being whitewashed tombs.
As far as internal unity is concerned, my hope and prayer is that we as Catholics don’t lose sight of the truth of Christ due to tribal loyalty nor a desire to change what is already eternal.
“I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:10 RSV