Last night's talk went quite well. And the night concluded with the sharing of smokes and beer with our good Dominican Brother Gabriel Mosher (check out his website at Eighth Way.) Remember, Catholics are not puritans. From my notes:
1. Br. Mosher acknowledged that the documents of Vatican II are ambiguous in certain places. He contrasted the language employed by the Magisterium before the council and afterward. The pre-conciliar Church was a model of clarity. Pope Pius XII said in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi that the mystical Body of Christ IS the Roman Catholic Church. Lumen Gentium said the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. It took over thirty years for the Church to clarify itself and say that we're still number one. He cited the "subsists in" controversy as being responsible for the stone cold killing of the missionary spirit.
2. Br. Mosher said that there had to have been disease and rot within the Church before the council. How else can one explain the rapidity of the post-conciliar collapse? Virtually overnight, as the Church reckons time, thousands of priests and religious throughout the world abandoned their vocations. Apostasy, heresy, and rebellion was rife among those who stayed within the visible boundaries of the Church. Interestingly, he cited an author whose name I can't remember who argued that the overemphasis on the manualist tradition played a key part. I can see that. For centuries Catholics had been taught that obedience was among the greatest of virtues. When Father Flapdoodle and Sister Stretchpants came along to begin dismantling the faith of their fathers, most lay Catholics silently acquiesced. In contrast, if an Eastern Orthodox priest attempted to change his parish in such a way, his people would hurl him bodily through the nearest stained glass window.
3. Brother Mosher pointed out that it is impossible to totally escape being influenced by the culture. The early 1960's were characterized by a heady optimism. It's difficult to fully appreciate that aspect of the 60's from hindsight. Here in the United States that optimism died with John F. Kennedy. But in 1960 they really thought they could achieve utopia if they put their minds to it. The Council Fathers were not immune to that atmosphere. One of their goals was to put less emphasis on law and regulation in the life of the Church. That sounds like a good idea in theory. We're all adults here and adults can be trusted with the responsibility of voluntarily doing a Friday penance, or praying regularly, or going to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, right? In practice that didn't work out to well because...
4. The Council Fathers underestimated the effects of Original Sin. It sounds like a good idea in theory to trust adults to do a Friday penance without the need for force of law. In practice, most lay Catholics are wholly unaware that they're still supposed to perform some act of penance on every Friday of the year and not just during Lent. The devotional life of the Church collapsed utterly. Brother asked how many people had ever participated in a procession to celebrate the patron saint of their parish? Not a one. Trust me, with this group of people, if such an option were available to them, they would. Most parishes just don't do that.
5. The Council Fathers, filled with 60's optimism, thought that the time had come to make nice with the world. The so-called ghetto mentality instilled in Catholics the notion that the world is our eternal enemy and that our responsibility was to be good soldiers of Christ, sword in one hand, rosary in the other, and to kick ass and take names for the Lord (at this point I was sorely tempted to bang my fist on the table and yell out "HELL YEAH! HELL YEAH!") Vatican II had us change course. Now we were to be partners with the world and to engage in dialogue with other religions. It hasn't been working out well. What ecumaniacs forget is the final cause of all this dialogue. Remember, it's pronounced you-come-in-ism.
Overall, I mostly agreed with everything Brother said. He emphasized his belief that the Council, whatever its ambiguities or the disasters of its implementation, was a good thing. I agree that the Church is always in need of reform, properly understood. But I'm not convinced that an ecumenical council was necessary to fix whatever problems faced the Church back then. In the Q&A session I asked Brother, "You correctly noted earlier that nowhere does the Council call for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people, or communion in the hand, or replacing Gregorian chant with the collected works of Marty Haugen and David Haas. And yet all of these things have come to pass. Why do you think that is?"
His response was essentially that of Pope Benedict XVI, contrasting the true council with the council of the media. I don't dispute that the media and the secular culture often distorted the council for their own purposes. But ultimately, it was not the media that wrecked the Church: it was us. The devil's gonna devil and the world's gonna world. The Church is the way she is today because we Catholics are the way we are.