By: Msgr. Charles Pope (Archdiocese of Washington)
We tend to think of evangelization as focused on individuals. But cultures need evangelizing too, perhaps even more so, due to the influence of culture on so many. In her strongest periods the Church has been instrumental in forming the culture and ethos around her. In her weaker periods the Church begins to parrot and reflect culture which, without her leadership, is too easily ephemeral, disedifying, and at worst, debased.
It is hard to contend that we are in a period in which the Church has a key influence on culture. It is rather more the case that popular culture has far too greatly influenced us. Few Catholics get most of their information or influence from God, the Scriptures, or Church teaching. Most are far more aware of and inclined to listen to secular leaders, pop musicians, entertainers, sports figures, and the general cultural din. And this is where they develop even their most critical insights about God, family, sexuality, and many significant moral questions.
Liturgically, too, there are many problems associated with the triumph and primacy of modern and popular culture. Most of our modern trends in liturgy reflect the preferences of our culture, rather than the ability to challenge and influence people. And thus liturgy must be convenient, fast, entertaining, youthful, “relevant,” accessible, completely understandable even by the smallest child, warm, comfortable, respecting of diversity, friendly, etc. To be sure, most of these are not bad qualities. But the emphasis on them to the exclusion of balancing principles (such as mystery and tradition), and the often shallow understanding of those balancing principles, shows that popular culture rather than the Church is really in the driver’s seat.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know where exactly to draw the line. When exactly is a song too secular or in bad taste? When does something go from being understandable to being “dumbed down”? When does emphasizing a warm and welcoming environment become too anthropocentric and unprayerful? When does respecting diversity become a Balkanization and “stove-piping” of communities? When does “youthful, vibrant, and relevant” do harm to what is ancient, enduring, and time-tested?
Somewhere in all this concern for evangelizing the culture, as opposed to being dominated by it, is the quiet and stable presence of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, often called the Usus Antiquior (the older use or form), that was in use, largely intact, from antiquity until 1970.