The Lewis Crusade takes me to task for suggesting the level of catechesis among Catholics is fine. Did I write that? I don’t think I wrote that. I think an adequate level of catechesis in some areas of the faith has yet to be realized among Catholics, but my premise is that the “holes” in Catholicism predate the Second Vatican Council.
There’s a gleamy-eyed mythology being sold by theocons and traditionalists, a spun tale of an age of gold and marble in which all was quiet, orderly, faithful, and picket-fenced. Vatican II and its hijackers are merely the product of the 60’s. We have villains, like the Consilium or Richard McBrien who just plain spoiled the gilded age of Catholicism, especially American Catholicism. And we have heroes, bedecked in all sorts of ecclesiastical finery.
Maybe you have a few examples of your own, but some of the fairy tales I’ve heard include:
Adherents of Vatican II abandoned good catechesis.
Adherents of Vatican II trashed church art.
Adherents of Vatican II ignored our musical heritage.
Adherents of Vatican II despoiled faith in the Real Presence.
Adherents of Vatican II are to blame for a lack of obedience.
My take–and I defy anyone to prove otherwise–is that catechesis, art, and the culture of faith were languishing pretty much throughout the whole Catholic world by the 1950’s, and that European Catholicism was in crisis at least since the Great War, if not the mid-19th century. Popes don’t get inspired to call councils just for the kick of watching or accelerating the decay of centuries-old religious tradition. Tridentine Catholicism was in no way up to the task of evangelization in the modern world. Unless they were buying into the SCGS* notion promoted by some Catholics these days.
While pre-conciliar Catholics did have a catechism and a hand missal (they had to struggle mightily to get the latter) I don’t know that as a group they would pass the litmus test today’s conservatives set. The US was mission country for centuries, and I suppose that outside of a few enclaves, pre-conciliar Catholics had gaping holes in their catechesis, as we do today. My suggestion is that for committed Catholics, the situation has improved, and that we have a better knowledge of liturgy and Scripture. Probably a good idea of the limits of pastors and bishops, too.
I’ve discussed art and music many times before. My friend Lee practically makes my point in this post. Look at the “traditional” statues and consider their commentariat defense. He partly dismisses my complaint of painted plaster reproductions as “intellectual,” but my suggestion is that ecclesiastical art and architecture in the US never achieved a high standard, outside of a few select examples. Vatican II hasn’t installed a universal appreciation for art, let alone music. I’d chalk this up as an instance in which Vatican II has yet to achieve its potential. By the way, Lee and I both were parishioners in a place where the priest used a fifteen-inch pottery repro cross for Good Friday, and we arrived at the lyrics, “Behold, behold, the ceramic of the cross: on which is painted Jesus …”
The meme about a lack of faith in the Real Presence: this still gets a lot of airplay and blogplay, despite an argument full of holes. My hypothesis is simple enough: Faith in the Eucharist is still strong, and it was never perfect before the Council.
As for obedience, well, just consider George Weigel. Run the stupid meme up the flagpole and before you know it, the pope’s getting duped by baddies in the curia, Roman prelates are being pegged as disloyal, and everybody’s talking about the “hapless bench” of bishops.
If you want to scare your “o”rthodox youngsters with bedtime or camp stories, this mythology serves its purpose well enough. But if you’re going to discuss with adults, it’s time to bring more to the table than ogres, white knights, distressed damsels, and dragons.
And all this isn’t to say the Church doesn’t have serious problems with catechesis, art, obedience, ministry, and all the other issues. It does. But we live in a real world, not a fairy tale. We don’t need pious solutions that, in essence, toss something old out there, cross ourselves and say a rosary in hope that it will somehow reenchant Catholicism.
* Small Church, Getting Smaller