Many today no longer know.
They hear all sorts of astonishing statements in the churches,
they read things contrary to what was always taught, and
doubt has crept into their minds.
On June 30, 1968, at the close
of the Year of Faith, His Holiness Pope Paul VI made a profession
of the Catholic Faith, in the presence of all the bishops
in Rome and hundreds of thousands of the faithful. In his
introductory remarks, he put us on guard against attacks
on Catholic doctrine which, he said, “give rise, as we regretfully
see today, to trouble and confusion in many faithful
The same words crop up in an
allocution of His Holiness Pope John Paul II on February
6, 1981: “Christians today, in large part, feel lost, perplexed,
confused, and even deceived.” The Holy Father summarized
the underlying causes of the trouble as follows:
|“We see spread abroad ideas contrary
to the truth which God has revealed and which the Church
has always taught. Real heresies have appeared in dogma
and moral theology, stirring doubt, confusion, rebellion.
Even the liturgy has been harmed. Christians have been
plunged into an intellectual and moral illuminism, a
sociological Christianity, without clear dogma or objective
This confusion is seen everywhere--in
conversations, in books, in newspapers, in radio and television
broadcasts, in the behavior of Catholics, which shows up
as a sharp decline in the practice of the faith as statistics
reveal, a dissatisfaction with the Mass and the sacraments,
a general relaxation of morals.
We naturally ask, therefore,
what brought on this state of things? For every effect there
is a cause. Has faith been weakened by a disappearance of
generosity of soul, by a taste for enjoyment, an attraction
to the pleasures of life and the manifold distractions which
the modern world offers? These cannot be the real reasons,
because they have always been with us in one way or another.
The rapid decline in religious practice comes rather from
the new spirit which has been introduced into the Church
and which has cast suspicion over all past teachings and
life of the Church. All this was based on the unchangeable
faith of the Church, handed down by catechisms which were
recognized by all bishops.
The faith was based on certitudes.
The certitudes have been overturned and confusion has resulted.
Let us take one example: the Church taught--and the faithful
believed--that the Catholic religion was the one true religion.
It was, in fact, established by God Himself, while other
religions are the work of men. Consequently, the Christian
must avoid all contact with false religions and, furthermore,
do all he can to bring adherents of false religions to the
religion of Christ.
Is this still true? Indeed
it is! Truth cannot change--else it never was the truth.
No new fact, no theological or scientific discovery--if
there can be such a thing as a theological discovery--can
ever make the Catholic religion any less the only means
But now we have the Pope himself
attending religious ceremonies in false religions, praying
and preaching in the churches of heretical sects. Television
conveys to the whole world pictures of these astonishing
events. The faithful no longer understand.
Martin Luther--and I shall
return to him later in these pages--cut entire nations off
from the Church, pitched Europe into a spiritual and political
turmoil which destroyed the Catholic hierarchy over wide
areas, invented a false doctrine of salvation and a false
doctrine of the sacraments. His revolt against the Church
became the model for all revolutionaries after him who would
throw Europe and the whole world into disorder. It is impossible
to make Luther, as they want to do now after five hundred
years, into a prophet or doctor of the Church, since he
is not a saint.
If I read La Documentation
or the diocesan papers, I find there, from the Joint Catholic-Lutheran
Commission, officially recognized by the Vatican, statements
|“Among the ideas of the Second Vatican
Council, we can see gathered together much of what Luther
asked for, such as the following: description of the
Church as ‘the people of God’ (a main idea of the new
Canon Law--democratic, no longer hierarchic, idea);
accent on the priesthood of all baptized; the right
of the individual to freedom of religion. Other demands
of Luther in his time can be considered as being met
in the theology and practice of the Church today: use
of the common language in the liturgy, possibility of
Communion under two species, a renewal of the theology
and celebration of the Eucharist.”
Quite a statement! Meeting
the demands of Luther, who declared himself the resolute
and mortal enemy of the Mass and of the pope! To gather
together things requested by a blasphemer who said: “I declare
that all brothels, murders, thefts, adulteries, are less
evil than this abominable Mass!” From such an extravagant
summary, we can draw only one conclusion: either we must
condemn the Second Vatican Council which authorized it,
or we must condemn the Council of Trent and all the popes
who, since the sixteenth century, have declared Protestantism
heretical and schismatic.
It is understandable that Catholics
are confused by such a turn of events. But there are so
many others! In a few years they have seen a transformation
in the heart and substance of religious practices which
adults have known from early childhood. In the churches,
the altars have been demolished or replaced by tables, which
are often portable and disappear when not in use. The tabernacle
no longer occupies the place of honor: most of the time
it is hidden, perhaps perched on a post, to one side. When
it remains in the center, the priest turns his back to
it during the Mass. Celebrant and faithful face each other
and dialogue. Anyone may touch the sacred vessels, which
are often replaced by breadbaskets, platters, ceramic bowls.
Laity, including women, distribute Communion, which is received
in the hand. The Body of Christ is treated with a lack of
reverence which casts doubt on the truth of transubstantiation.
The Sacraments are administered
in a manner which varies from place to place; I will cite
as examples the age for baptism and confirmation, variations
in the nuptial blessing, introduction of chants and readings
which have nothing to do with the liturgy--but are borrowed
from other religions or a purely secular literature, sometimes
simply to express political ideas.
Latin, the universal language
of the Church, and Gregorian Chant have generally disappeared.
All the hymns have been replaced by modern songs in which
it is not uncommon to find the same rhythms as in places
Catholics have been surprised
also by the sudden disappearance of religious garb, as if
priests and religious were ashamed of looking like what
Parents who send their children
to catechism discover that the truths of the Faith are no
longer taught, even the most basic: the Holy Trinity, the
mystery of the Incarnation, Original Sin, the Immaculate
Conception. Hence the feeling of profound disorientation:
is all of this no longer true, out-of-date, passé?
Christian virtues are no longer even mentioned. Where can
you find a catechism speaking of humility, chastity, mortification?
The Faith has become a fluid concept, charity a kind of
universal solidarity, and hope is, above all, hope for a
Novelties like these are not
the kind which, in the human situation, appear at a certain
moment in time, so that we get accustomed to them and assimilate
them after an initial period of surprise and uncertainty.
In the course of a human life, ways of doing things change.
If I were still a missionary in Africa, I would go there
by plane and no longer by boat--if, indeed, you could find
a steamship company still in operation. In this sense, we
can say that one should live in one's own time; one is really
forced to do so.
But those Catholics on whom
they tried to impose novelties in the spiritual and supernatural
order, on the same principle, realized it was not possible.
You do not change the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments
founded by Jesus Christ; you do not change the truth revealed
once and for all; you do not replace one dogma with another.
The pages which follow try to answer the questions you are
asking yourselves, you who have known another face of the
Church. I shall try also to enlighten the young people born
after the Council and to whom the Catholic community does
not offer what they have a right to expect from it. I would
like to address myself, finally, to the unconcerned and
the agnostics, whom the grace of God will touch some day
or another, but who by then may find the churches without
priests, and a teaching which does not correspond to the
needs of their souls.
Then there is a question which,
by all evidence, interests everyone, if I can judge by the
attention it gets in the general press, especially in France.
(The journalists are also showing some confusion.) A few
headlines: “Is Christianity Dying?” “Will Time Work Against
the Religion of Jesus Christ?” “Will There Still Be Priests
in the Year 2000?” These questions I hope also to answer,
not with any new theory of my own, but relying on unbroken
Catholic Tradition--unbroken, yet so neglected in recent
years that to many readers it will seem no doubt like something
Documentation Catholique, July 3, 1983, No. 1085, pp.