So says The Economist, traditionally not a friend of the Roman Catholic Church, in "A traditionalist avant-garde", in this week's issue.
The return of the old rite causes quiet consternation among more modernist Catholics. Timothy Radcliffe, once head of Britain’s Dominicans, sees in it “a sort of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ nostalgia”. The traditionalist revival, he thinks, is a reaction against the “trendy liberalism” of his generation.
Some swings of pendulums may be inevitable. But for a church hierarchy in Western countries beset by scandal and decline, the rise of a traditionalist avant-garde is unsettling. Is it merely an outcrop of eccentricity, or a sign that the church took a wrong turn 50 years ago?
Walt's answer to The Economist's question is that the Church definitely took a wrong turn at Vatican II, whose anniversary is being marked this winter. More than a wrong turn. In fact the Council has led the faithful into a serious break with the Faith of our fathers, as dogmatically defined in the past.
And not only that. By rejecting or, worse, attempting to countermand that which has been established -- for instance, the Mass of All Time and the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus -- the fathers of Vatican II have arguably led those who followed them into heresy.
It's very interesting, then, that the leaders of today's modernist, mainstream Catholic Church are telling us the opposite. In the second of a series of Advent Sermons, Father Raniero Cantalamessa -- the preacher of the pontifical household -- spoke about the proper interpretation of the teachings of Vatican II. He contrasted the “hermeneutic of rupture” with the “hermeneutic of continuity”, saying that the latter is what was intended.
If we may judge intentions by actions -- deeds rather than words -- we may be forgiven for believing that the true intention was an almost complete break with tradition in the interests of being trendy, of "reforming" the Church, recasting Her practices and beliefs in a more modern, more inclusive mode. On "the day when the priests turned around", virtually everything else was turned around, upside down, and every which way but loose!
Fr. Cantalamessa, it seems, expects us to accept all this without question. He must be thinking about St. Ignatius Loyola's dictum "If the Church tells us black is white, we must believe it to be white, and truly white." That was fine until the Church told us "No, that's all changed now. Black is black, after all."
Fr. Cantalamessa says the problems in the "implementation" of Vatican II arose from the fact that the two contrary hermeneutics came face-to-face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, he says, but the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.
But, Walt asks, which is which? Let's go back to The Economist article and look at the fruits of Vatican II.
In the West -- where many hoped a contemporary message would go down best -- believers have left in droves. Sunday mass attendance in England and Wales has fallen by half from the 1.8m recorded in 1960; the average age of parishioners has risen from 37 in 1980 to 52 now.
In America attendance has declined by over a third since 1960. Less than 5% of French Catholics attend regularly, and only 15% in Italy. Yet as the mainstream wanes, traditionalists wax. [My emphasis. Walt]
Our Lord said, "By their fruits ye shall know them." Indeed.
Footnote: If the link to The Economist article doesn't work for you, please send an e-mail to Ed. and we'll try to send it to you as a .pdf file.