In the 50 years between 1912 and 1962, the Catholic Population of England and Wales more than doubled in size. Attendance at Sunday Mass in 1991 was recorded as 1.3 million, a drop of 40% since 1963. (So what happened to the Holy Mass in the 60s, may we ask?) Since the 1990s, attendance at Mass has continued to decline, though the rate of fall has been slowed by the large number of immigrants from Catholic countries to the UK. Statistics for the US and other Western nations are on similar lines; all show a decline of the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass once a week (or more) in the last 50 years or so.
Defendants of the Novus Ordo Mass will argue that many other factors came into play during the ‘swinging sixties’, the era that heralded in the so-called ‘sexual revolution’ at the start of the decline. They have a point of course as this, together with a greater secularisation of life in general, started the side-lining of those who held firm Christian religious beliefs. Man became the new ‘god’ in the general mind set of modern day culture.
Yet it is also undeniable that once the Divine Liturgy was interfered with, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was replaced, from the God-centred, sublimely beautiful and reverent Tridentine Mass, where the Canon of the Mass is celebrated in Latin, to the more community-centred, versus populum Novus Ordo Mass celebrated in the vernacular, the falling away from the practice of the Faith became unstoppable. By changing the way people pray and adore God, the way they believe too had been greatly weakened in consequence.
Below is another superb post from Liturgy Guy, bringing us his usual insights into where the root of the problems lie within our lex orandi and how they can be counteracted.
Those of us who write about the Catholic Church, and the liturgy specifically, often speak of the ongoing crisis of faith which has constituted much of the post-conciliar narrative. What we have seen over the last forty years is nothing less than the widespread desacralization of the holiest act of religion known to man, the Sacrifice of the Mass. Sadly, the impact upon millions of the faithful, many of whom have simply fallen away from the one, true, Church is staggering to say the least.
It might be good at this time to recall what Fr. Robert Southard wrote in the April 1974 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review:
The Catholic Church will survive on this planet til the end of time, believing, teaching and practising essentially what Christ wills of her…But we must understand this promise correctly. The Church in this or that particular place can be destroyed. There are no limits to Christ’s promise; It applies to the Church as a whole, not to every member or parish or diocese, not even to nations as a whole.
Understanding this to be true, we can look to see what post-conciliar practices and attitudes have been introduced to the Mass contributing to a loss of the sacred. Where a sense of the sacred has been lost, a sense of the supernatural has inevitably been lost as well, leading to a widespread loss of the faith.
Five Easy Ways to Destroy the Faith (in no particular order):
1. Make the Mass about Man. Nothing erodes a sense of the sacred more than anthropocentric liturgies. Versus populum masses, the removal of altar rails, and armies of readers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion all feed into our own narcissism, our own incorrect understanding of participation within the Mass, and instill pride when humility is most needed.
2. Distribute Communion in the Hand. Bishop Athanasius Schneider has identified this as the major crisis in the Church today. The loss in reverence for the Eucharist leads to a loss in belief in Our Lord’s Real Presence. While many have offered compelling arguments in favor of the traditional practice of receiving on the tongue (including Rome itself), no one can offer a good defense of the new practice which (until the 1970’s) had completely disappeared from the Church for well over a millennium.
3. Remove Objective Beauty from Churches. The post-conciliar architectural minimalism has been nothing less than an assault against beauty. Beautiful high altars and classic statuary were discarded in the years after the Council as parishes began to look more like Quaker meeting houses instead of Catholic churches.
As the physical beauty of the Church was removed, so was her musical beauty. The recovery of sacred music, the very focus of much of the twentieth century liturgical movement (from Pope St. Pius X to Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), has been largely ignored in much of the Church. Profane instruments and even Protestant hymns and praise songs were introduced into Catholic worship, as if to add insult to injury.
4. Innovate. Constantly Innovate. Possibly nothing has been more instrumental to the loss of faith than the incessant drive to continually tamper with the liturgy. Much as we have seen in the secular realm, the spirit of innovation has been constant, leading to never-ending liturgical experimentation. A sense of obligation to hand down the tradition that they themselves had received was completely lost upon the innovators. Their hubris told them that they must always reinvent…that they could make the Mass better.
The greatest tragedy in all of this is that the most compelling arguments in favor of the Church, her antiquity, her immutability, her constancy (Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever) was undermined by all of the instability.
5. Never Reference the Supernatural. Ever. The four last things. The fate of our eternal soul. The reality of heaven. The reality of hell. The reality of Satan and of demons. The reality of purgatory. The sacraments. The wages of sin. The death to the soul caused by mortal sin. The destruction wrought by fornication, contraception, sodomy, pornography, abortion. The obligation to go to Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation. The need to repent. Sacramental confession. The need for prayer. The need for contemplative prayer. The need for silence.
The vast majority of priests and bishops today preach with little to no sense of the supernatural. (Not surprisingly, they also fail to demonstrate a sense of the sacred when offering the Mass). There is no urgency in their teaching. No bold presentation of the truth to counter the lies of the cultural revolutionaries. They are spiritual fathers who refuse to parent for fear of offending. They are spiritual doctors guilty of malpractice because they refuse to diagnose the true sickness or prescribe the necessary medicine.
Thankfully in recent years we are beginning to see more orthodox priests recovering this sense of the sacred and the supernatural. The traditional axiom lex orandi, lex credendi is understood and embraced by these holy men. Unfortunately, very few bishops (with only a few notable exceptions) have done anything to address these problems. Until this occurs, we are likely to see a continued loss of faith and with it, the loss of countless souls.