Rorate Caeli

Op-Ed: All Genuine Roads must lead to the Tradition of the Church

 Fr. Richard Cipolla

The New York Times had a lengthy article recently on the “People of Praise”, that immediate post-Vatican II phenomenon that involved mainly lay Catholics, like the parents of Amy Coney Barrett, the nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States, and her family, but which also included priests who became the clerical leaders of this movement (Mrs. Barrett's father was eventually ordained a deacon). This movement was part of what became known as the “charismatic renewal” of the Catholic Church.  It was a reaction to both the “pay, pray and obey” mentality of the 1950s, a time when the Mass had become so objectified that it was difficult for the laity to understand the mysterium tremendum that Catholic Tradition insisted was at the heart of the worship of the Catholic Church in the Mass.  

In the terrible confusion and void that marked the immediate post-Vatican II period in the Church, it is understandable that families who not only still believed in Christ and the Catholic faith sought out kindred spirits and formed deep bonds of faith within families and small groups.  The excesses of these groups, which sometimes contravened the very Catholicity of the Church, should not make us forget their goal of preserving at a familial level a faith that was at once objective and yet subjective, open to personal manifestations of the Spirit to lead them into goodness and truth. And theirs was not only a reaction to the confusion after the Second Vatican Council but also a recognition that the Catholic faith in the United States was being crushed under the American steamroller of individualism and conformism.


The 1950s and even into the 1960s was still the era of social Catholicism, where when one asked “where do you live?" the answer would  be not a street address but “St. Brendan’s parish”. That is gone.  Catholic ethnic enclaves in cities have largely disappeared, except for the Hispanic population.  The closing of so many inner city parishes in the recent past—a phenomenon that shows no sign of ending—is exacerbating the loss of the parish identity for the Catholic individual and family. The suburbs have become home to a homogeneous Catholicism that blends in quite easily with the remnants of American Protestantism. The liturgical protestantization of the Catholic Church in the United States is probably the main factor in the precipitous decline in Mass attendance these past fifty years. 


 The lack of a truly pastoral response of the Catholic bishops to their flock in this time of crisis and their flacid response to curtailments on Sunday worship by local governments is strong evidence of the deep weakness of the Catholic church in the United States. Contemporary Catholics, because of their lack of comprehension of the Catholic faith and their non-understanding of what the Mass is, are not capable of obeying the Third Commandment to worship God as a family or as individuals in times when attendance at Sunday Mass is either not possible or difficult.

The thought of the father and mother of a family leading a simple worship service on Sunday in their home in a time when attendance at Sunday Mass is problematical because of a pandemic crisis would be incomprehensible to the great majority of Catholics.  They have no understanding that the lifting of the Precept of the Church to attend Mass on Sunday because of the pandemic crisis does not mean that they do not have to worship God on Sunday in some way, and that way cannot or should not be looking at a "streamed Mass on a TV screen in their jammies. Nor is it acceptable to not do anything at all to worship God on Sunday and treat Sunday as just a day of leisure.

There is little doubt that many Catholics will not return to Sunday Mass when the pandemic has ended.  When the switch is turned back on to “have to” by the bishops, many will draw the conclusion that Mass attendance is not something of obligation if it can be turned on and off according to the bishops’ determination.


Some  of my own friends in the period immediately after the Second Vatican Council embraced some form of the charismatic movement—which often had a positive effect on their faith— but then moved on to an appreciation of the Tradition of the Church and to ultimately embrace the worship of God in the Traditional Mass.  

The Catholic Tradition cannot be bound by family or friends. It cannot be bound by mutual and yet subjective feelings.  It can only be bound by and lived within that Catholic Tradition whose heart is the person of Jesus Christ and whose visible manifestation is in the worship of the Church in Spirit and Truth, in that Mass that is the literal embodiment of the worship of God at whose heart is the offering of the Sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the bond of love of the Holy Spirit.