Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Crisis and Catechesis

More than once I have aired the disagreement which exists between Traditionalists, or most of them, and Daphne McLeod and some of her supporters, about What Went Wrong. Mrs McLeod insists that it wasn't the liturgy which caused the crisis in the Church, lapsation and so on, but the new catechesis which was imposed on schools in the wake of the Council.

She certainly has a point about the importance of teaching the Faith. The chart to the left is just staggering; it is brand new research from here.

The Traditionalist instinct, however, that the post-Conciliar liturgy had something to do with it, has an important supporter: Pope Benedict XVI. Writing before his election, he explained:
I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived of etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter any more whether God exists and whether He speaks to us and listens to us.
 But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the Church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual substance?

Of course this is not ex cathedra, we are free to disagree. But Pope Benedict puts his finger on something important: that the liturgy has a catechetical aspect, it incarnates Christ for us.

It is interesting to ask if the statistics the LMS has produced which illustrate the crisis in the Church so vividly help answer the question. Here are a couple of indicative ones: click to enlarge.

Baptisms per 1,000 Catholic compared to live birth per 1,000 of the total population of England and Wales. This is essentially a graph comparing the birth rate of Catholics and non-Catholics. Catholics had more children than non-Catholics until the level started to plunge in 1964. It bottomed out in the late 1970s. The graph suggests that from then to the present, the Catholic birth rates is slightly ahead of the general population, consistent with what one would expect.

Catholic marriages as a percentage of all marriages. It was rising steadily from before the First World War, and peaked in 1960. It then started to plunge at a truly alarming rate - even more alarming when one considers that marriage in the general population declined steeply after 1970.

What do these show? Two things.

First, the decline started before Catholic teachers were re-programmed in how to teach the Faith. This re-programming, in which RE teachers from Catholic schools were sent on special courses, began in about 1968.

Second, the decline affected adult Catholics, from its very beginning, and not only those who were at school in the late 1960s onwards. The people getting married and having children - or not - in the course of the 1960s and early 1970s had not, mostly, heard the new catechetics when they had been at school.

It will be pointed out, of course, that the promulgation of the New Order of Mass also came after the peak in both cases: in late 1969. This is true, but the disruption to Catholic liturgical life had started long before that. Latin started to disappear in 1965. Popular devotions were under attack in the later 1950s; liturgical experiments, such as the Dialogue Mass, celebration versus populum, and vernacular readings, were rife; things were getting very touchy-feely. The famous stability of the Catholic liturgy was fraying at the edges, at the same time, and for the same reasons, as the famous stability of Catholic discipline.

And it was this fraying of discipline, on the subject of contraception, which is the key here. Adult Catholics, taught in the old way, fell for the glib nonsense of trendy theologians, who managed to create a sense that the teaching was about to change in the run-up to Humanae Vitae in 1968, and then presented that document as an intolerable imposition.

It is pointless to ask what would have happened if the liturgy or catechesis had been maintained throughout this period. The destruction of catechesis, the collapse of the liturgy, and the disappearance of moral and theological discipline all happened together because they had to. The Old Mass was too bound up with the old theology for it to be tolerated by the new, dissenting theologians. So, obviously, was the old catechesis. You can't deny personal sin and then comfortably attend, or celebrate, a Traditional Mass, with the double confiteor and everything else. You can't deny the magisterium's development of arguments against contraception and submit oneself to the development of the liturgy. If you are going to follow your inclinations on one, you are going to do it for the other - and nota bene, if those inclinations happen to include lace and birettas, that doesn't make you a traditionalist.

From a sociological, as well as a theological point of view, radical changes to the liturgy were bound to shake people up. Catholics identified with the liturgy. Again and again we hear people saying: if the liturgy can change, why not teaching? On one level this is a silly inference, but on another they had grasped something about the importance of the liturgy which the liturgists had missed. If the liturgy can be made man-centred, then the old restrictions on birth-control just don't fit in any more.

Bishop McMahon of Nottingham at the LMS Priest Training Conference

As to how to go about a restoration, we need a catechesis which gives the whole Faith to our children, and a liturgy which presents the whole Faith to everyone. Traditionalists have never questioned the need for the first of the two. We just don't want to go into battle with error with one hand tied behind our backs.


  1. I totally agree that proper catechesis is desperately needed for young people. I am a school teacher and I feel that we are failing our young people in the formation given in our schools. The problem is that many young teachers are not themselves properly formed in the Faith, therefore they cannot give good witness both in the lessons they try to teach and through the example they give. I don't know what the answer is. Maybe more parish catechesis?

  2. One pretty good answer for teachers is the Maryvale course for carechists. Check it out.

  3. I agree. That's why I am a strong proponent and advocate for programs like which are uncompromisingly traditional in their content of making children pray in Latin, teaching the Traditional Liturgy, studying the pre-Vatican II encyclicals, etc. Even the organization's teachers, web programmers, and everyone takes the Oath against modernism.

    Strong catechesis is essential.

  4. Try burning all copies of the CCC and the YouCat. They lead so many souls into error. The Catechism of St Pius X is an excellent one for every one to use in common. The Roman Catechism ought to be given the highest honors, of course.

  5. I believe that Dietricht von Hildebrand gave the best assessment of the crisis in the Church in his book Trojan Horse in the City of God, in which, he traced the crisis to the impenetration of secular values into the life of the Church. In chapter five he identified specific secular attitudes that, in his opinion, supplanted attitudes informed by the supernatural life, particularly: the confounding of holy obedience with oorporate loyalty, holy service with professional duty (including the celebration of Mass)and holy instruction with academic study. I think we can identify these traits in our opponents if we pay close attention to their arguments (I have in mind those that profess themselves orthodox but refuse to question the direction to the Church has taken in the last fifty years).

  6. Thanks, joseph. I have myself been on the Mary vale course. Sadly, many other teachers have not. Some have completed their CCRS course at Newman college, which is sadly lacking. One student I spoke to who had completed that course had never even heard of the Catechism.

  7. Matthew - thanks for the link to catechism class. com. What a fantastic website. I just checked out the sample lesson. Definitely things I would use in my class. I am from the UK and I think our schools would benefit from using a programme like this.

  8. Dear Joseph, I've republished your infographics and some of your commentary at a Russian Catholic forum, and people keep asking for the same kind of data about the Anglican Communion in E&W. Maybe, they argue, all this disaster was common for all denominations and caused by the general offensive of secularism, and not by VII and its (false) implementation: if the Anglicans, who didn't have VII, would show the same decline during the same years as Catholics, that would seemingly prove such an idea. Can you provide some insight into that? - O.-M.

  9. A comparison with the Anglicans wouldn't be very informative because they undertook many of the same kinds of changes at very much the same time. And indeed they went further in many ways. They had already allowed contraception in 1930. Official liturgical reform began in earnest from 1973 ('Series 3'). High Anglicans who used Catholic books mostly switched to the new Catholic books when they came out.

    In short: they did the same things and got the same results.

  10. Oh. Didn't know that. And what about other denominations?