A Jesuit theologian opines about the 60′s and Pope Benedict

An alert reader caught this and passed it along.  I am, as you can guess, unlikely to read The Huffington Post, on my own.

The last response amused me.

My emphases and comments.

How The ’60s Transformed The Catholic Church Forever: An Interview With Rev. Mark Massa

By Daniel Burke

Religion News Service

(RNS) For generations, thousands of Catholics — from archbishops to people in the pews — saw the Catholic Church as eternal, timeless, and unmoved by the tides of history. [Well... from the onset that isn't true.  Of course the Church moved in the tides of history.  And the Church shaped the tides of history as well.  I think we have to reject this premise, at least as stated.]

But the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s unleashed a sea of changes — none more significant than the recognition that Catholicism has, and continues to be, shaped by historical events, [See above.] argues the Rev. Mark Massa in a new book.

Massa’s intellectual history, “The American Catholic Revolution: How the ’60s Changed the Church Forever,” describes how celebrating the Mass in English, butting heads with the pope on birth control, and priests protesting the Vietnam War opened new possibilities — and controversies — in the church.

Massa, [SJ] dean of Boston College‘s School of Theology and Ministry, spoke about his book; some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why should American Catholics care what happened in the 1960s?

A: Starting with Vatican II, Catholics became aware that the church, its worship, and its beliefs change — that the church develops over history. The current battles between the left and the right are really between those who want to press a historical awareness of change and those who want to view the church as timeless. [See above.]

Q: Why did the “Catholic Revolution,” as you call it, begin in 1964?

A: The new Mass (which was introduced in America that year) made real, or concrete, the changes that Vatican II made in ways that theology, or other declarations from the council could not. [On the face of it, this doesn't take into account the poor implementation, and the spirit of discontinuity at work at the time.]

Q: Why is change — not sex [That's right, reporter, go for the groin.] — the church’s dirty little secret?

A: A great majority of Catholics (once) thought of the church as outside of time altogether [There it is again.  I wonder if this is true.  I suspect it isn't.] — that what they did on Sunday is what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and early Christians did in the catacombs. Vatican II attacked this notion of the church as providing a timeless set of answers to life’s questions about meaning. [Really?]

Q: And that became a personal crisis for Catholics in the 1960s?

A: Catholics, like all believers, want security. [I think, if they have a strong identity, they want salvation and a path amid the vicissitudes of this world.  That doesn't mean that Catholics are blinkered about history.] The world seems, and can be, a very scary place; and they want their religion to provide them with some form of certainty, security, and peace of mind. But faith is a stance in history; [?] it doesn’t preserve us from messiness, or from change, including to religious institutions.

Q: How much was the “Catholic Revolution” affected by the cultural tumult of the’60s?

A: There was always an international dimension that made the Catholic ’60s different from the general culture, because of this long devotion to Rome and the primacy of the pope. My sense is that most of the important stuff wasn’t a reaction to events and ideas outside the church but to things happening inside the church itself. [Hmmm... ]

Q: Pope Benedict XVI has been among those arguing that Vatican II was not a disruption in the church’s usual course of business, right?

A: I think, basically, Benedict is a classicist and he thinks that human essence and things like that stay the same. [Doesn't that sound rather like the stance of a classic Modernist?  Modernists see man as evolving past the limitations of the past, regardless of how they may provide models and inspiration.  Ultimately, the past must be rejected.]

Q: So, is he trying to put the “change” genie back in the bottle, or does he deny there is any genie to bottle up?

A: I think he knows the genie exists. He’s very smart, a world-class theologian — he knows the stakes. I think he see that the changes made by Vatican II led to fewer priests and fewer (members of religious orders) and so something went really wrong. [So, Benedict's project is based on, what, practical or utilitarian grounds, rather than on what is ... I don't know... right or wrong?]

Q: As a Jesuit, are you worried about publicly disagreeing with the pope?

A: No. [Said the member of the Society of Jesus.] I’m a historian. I’m only laying out the past. The argument stands or falls according to whether it makes the most sense of the most data from the past. I’m not making moral judgments.

[Here it comes...] Q: How does Benedict’s recent reform of the Mass in English and support for the Latin Mass fit into your theory?

A: It’s partly personal preference. He’s Austrian, [Noooo.....] and likes looking back to the past. [This is an old liberal canard.  They sneer and mutter "nostalgia".] He likes the smells and bells. I do, too. I suspect there’s more to it than that, but I don’t know. [Indeed.]

In a way I am comforted by the fact that Fr. Massa, SJ, doesn’t seem to know much about liturgy, or about the Holy Father’s liturgical writing.  There is an old adage that a man can’t be simultaneously a good liturgist an a good Jesuit.

Most people can, however, correctly place the Holy Father’s birthplace in GERMANY, in Bavaria.

Austria… Germany… what-e verrrrrr.  Close enough for HuffPo readers.

Fr. Massa’s little Anschluss did bring a chuckle.

UPDATE: A commentator remind me of this, so here it is again.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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35 Responses to A Jesuit theologian opines about the 60′s and Pope Benedict

  1. Rachel says:

    Boy, he sounds condescending, and flat-out wrong when he tries to guess the motivations of those who think most changes after VII were bad.

    It reminds me of an article I just read about the growth in traditional women’s orders. The reporter asked a Catholic college professor why young women prefer orders with habits, and she replied, “I think that’s what they see in their parishes,” which of course is just what we don’t see, unless we’re lucky. She seemed to be implying that young women are picking habited orders because they just haven’t been exposed to the options.

    This is a good warning to me to be careful about assigning motives to those with whom I disagree.

  2. UncleBlobb says:

    Grrrrr…….. I’m praying for this priest. I’d better stop posting now.

  3. HighMass says:

    Same old, Same old from the liberals………unfortunatly some think the church wasn’t alive or we all lived in the dark ages and according to them our form of worship was from the dark ages, until the “spirit of Vatican II” and V II came along, funny sure isn’t how I remember it.

  4. Bryan Boyle says:

    Yawn.

    Not surprising, though. I forget..is Boston College a Catholic university? I mean, it is a Jesuit college…but is it Catholic?

    It’s really sad that an academic actually feels competent to pass judgment or have insight into one of the greatest minds in the Church today, who just happens, mind you, to be the Vicar of Christ.

    I met more than a few Jebbies during my studies in theology and philosophy at Fordham. He’s entirely in the mold of Murray, Donceel, Rahner (early), and the rest who drank deeply from the whole Council ‘Spirit’, and are tenuously holding on to the hand rail on the fantail of the ship as it slips beneath the water…

    I’ll add him to the list of those who should be remembered in prayers…
    (Full disclosure: 1979 graduate of Fordham University…a locus of dissent in the 70s…)

  5. ejcmartin says:

    “There is an old adage that a man can’t be simultaneously a good liturgist an a good Jesuit.” Believe it or not our local EF priest is a Jesuit. I can’t comment on his liturgical prowess but I am thankful for him nonetheless.

  6. Random Friar says:

    *Scratches head*

    What does being an “Austrian” have anything to do with looking back to the past?

  7. Prof. Basto says:

    “that what they did on Sunday is what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and early Christians did in the catacombs”

    That’s right. And it is called the Eucharist. It does not change.

    Starting with Vatican II, Catholics became aware that the church (…)and its beliefs change .

    ANATHEMA! No Father, the Church’s beliefs don’t change. Her beliefs are her “deposit of Faith”, her Magisterium, and what is once held by the beliefs of the Church, by the Faith of the Church, by her Magisterium, CANNOT EVER CHANGE.

    For generations, thousands of Catholics — from archbishops to people in the pews — saw the Catholic Church as eternal…

    And it is! It will last forever in the Church triumphant, forever worshipping the living triune God!

    And her Faith is not moved “by the tides of history”. The stlye of the liturgy, the disciplinary norms, etc, may change according to the times and those elements do change, but not the deposit of Faith.

    If the Catholic Faith were a human construct, subject to change according to the trends of the times, then it would be a false religion, and not the expression of the way dictated by God for our salvation!

    Christ is the Master of His Church, and her teaching is the teaching of Christ, handed down by the Apostles.

    If the Catholic Church were not the voice of Christ on Earth, but a voice preaching a changeable human construct, preaching a changeable teaching, a teaching that changes according to the trends of history, then I would not be a member of such Church.

    I am a member of Christ’s fold, and what matters is Christ’s will and Christ’s teaching, as proclaimed by the unchangeable magisterium, and not human trends.

  8. Fred says:

    In Fr. Massa’s defense, one should add that Pope Benedict was born a scant 10 miles from the Austrian border, and that Bavaria and Austria, being Catholic and neighbors had culturally and politically been much closer to each other than Bavaria had been with the many Protestant areas of Germany.

    It may be a mistake, but a mistake in which a fair deal of truth lies.

    Incidentally, after World War II, the allies’ first German Chancellor came from 50 miles from the French border, presumably not least because of his cultural background.

  9. Daniel Latinus says:

    Catholics, like all believers, want security. The world seems, and can be, a very scary place; and they want their religion to provide them with some form of certainty, security, and peace of mind. But faith is a stance in history; [?] it doesn’t preserve us from messiness, or from change, including to religious institutions.

    The world doesn’t “seem to be a very scary place” – it IS a very scary place.

    Why shouldn’t people want certainty, security, and peace of mind? (Is not wanting these things an healthy thing?) Maybe we can never really have these things this side of eternity, but I can’t understand why anybody would want their opposites if reasonable levels of certainty, security, and peace of mind can be attained. Why would one choose to live in fear if one can avoid it.

    Tell me, has anyone figured out if ’60s era clerics who say this kind of thing ever had to endure real uncertainty, insecurity, and anxiety?

  10. tioedong says:

    oh, he still defends those who forced America to abandon VietNam, which resulted in ten million dead Cambodians, the ethnic cleansing of Chinese from that land, a war with China, and of course tens of million boat people, tens of thousands who died or were killed by pirates fleeing the tyranny.

    But the irony is that now, it is Vietnamese priests who seem to be at the forefront of pushing orthodoxy in many diocese in the US…ironic, isn’t it?

  11. Mark Pavlak says:

    I think you’re right, Father. Modernists believe that ultimately the past must be rejected, which is a very dangerous approach because our past creates our present. Now that I’ve begun teaching Church History, I’ve realized the great gift that history is.
    With regards to the word “modernist,” I’m reminded of a funny clip from “Yes, Prime Minster.” It was this same clip that you posted here on the blog some time ago that made me fall in love with the show. I’ve since seen every episode…

    One of the best shows ever made, folks. Enjoy!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBtDIVfhh8k

  12. mike cliffson says:

    Upmarket Dan Brown, mostly. The placenames exist, so it must be true.

    Sadly, there’s SOME truth in it, if USA experience be similar to Uk etc in EUrope:
    for a lot of people I knew “The Changes (’64+)” in HOW the truth was expressed meant: truth is relative:Therefore anything goes: Therefore I can go (away from the church, haywire, or both). There was the loss of a catholic culture which was not the faith, but had helped one live the faith and be mindful say, to go to confession very regularly. We still fall for the equivalence shill game one forbidden tree is the same as no fruit for unconfessable reasons. Well, Ido.

    Holier men than I , discerning thinker swho pray and have more charism, have wirtten enough about how the devil and sin and modernism all fit in. HuffPo wouldn’t interview them , would it?

  13. smgstevo says:

    Ole benny digs smells and bells man, i b hip wit dat too. Like wow, man like like how can he find that groovy, we just had vatican II.

  14. Clinton says:

    Fr. Massa claims to be a historian. (“I’m only laying out the past. The argument stands or
    falls according to whether it makes the most sense of the most data from the past.”) Somehow,
    to Fr. Massa the works and ideas of a man who participated in Vatican II, was a widely-respected
    academic, headed the CDF for almost 20 crucial years and is now Pope do not count as data?

    Our Pope is acknowledged even by his enemies to be a theologian of towering intellect. Yet
    Fr. Massa, it seems, can’t be bothered to truly engage with the arguments and observations
    of the Holy Father. “I’m a historian” he says, even as he admits that he is laughably ignorant
    of the Pope’s reasoning. “He likes the smells and bells. I do too. I suspect there’s more to it
    than that, but I don’t know.” Try finding out, Fr. Massa.

  15. joecct77 says:

    You know, if they left the Mass as it was in 1965(64?), some may have grumbled, but it WAS close to the 1962 Mass.

    1969 ushered in the discontinuity. Plus those AWFUL songs.

  16. The Astronomer says:

    Wow..this Fr. Massa, SJ just drips with the self-important “I-have-all-the-answers” liberal hubris I had to put up with in my days at Catholic U back in the early 80s. It was only by an act of grace that my Faith was not destroyed there……

    May Our Lord grant his Holiness BXVI MANY more years in the vineyard.

  17. jm says:

    Interesting how no one notes this guy is DEAN of BC’s School of Theology!

  18. danphunter1 says:

    Yes indeed Fr Zuhlsdorf,
    Father Massa has Modernist written all over him.
    Pope St Pius X would have had a field day hanging his thoughts out to dry with “Pascendi”.
    Dogma is open to change with the times, and I have several sun spots on Alpha Centuri I would like to unload, cheap.

  19. Mark: YES! That Yes, Prime Minister was hilarious! And so timely!

  20. Bos Mutissimus says:

    “There is an old adage that a man can’t be simultaneously a good liturgist an a good Jesuit….”

    One noteworthy exception: Rev. Josef A. Jungmann, S. J.

    Of course, if one wants to split hairs, his “Mass of the Roman Rite” is a history, so it is not definitive proof that he was competent as a practitioner of the Liturgy. I’d still take his input over any St. Louis Jeb, though.

  21. wchoag says:

    I’m a historian

    Hey! Didn’t I read somewhere that some theologians in the Church today “..lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must in fact be changed” and that “the historian must set aside all that surpasses man in his natural condition.”

    Oh yeah those are principles proscribed by St. Pius X in “Pascendi”!

  22. Let’s put to rest the idea that this fellow is a historian.

    His “Th.D.” is from the Harvard Divinity School. That was, last time I hear not a history department. And the Th.D. is not a Ph.D. It is a div. school theology degree. Theologians are the most historically illiterate people I have met (with a few exceptions, whose knowledge is mostly in “history of ideas”).

    I had to put up with pseudo-history by pseudo-historians during my theological studies when I had to take courses from Jesuits at GTU 30 years ago. Garbage in, garbage out. I do hope that things have improved, but this example is a counter indication.

    –Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P.
    (product of the University of California, Berkeley, History Department Ph.D. program)

  23. Hans says:

    A: I think, basically, Benedict is a classicist and he thinks that human essence and things like that stay the same.

    .

    I wonder if the good father said Mass today? The first reading was from Ecclesiastes 1:2-11:

    .

    Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
    vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
    What profit has man from all the labor
    which he toils at under the sun?
    One generation passes and another comes,
    but the world forever stays.
    The sun rises and the sun goes down;
    then it presses on to the place where it rises.
    Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
    the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
    All rivers go to the sea,
    yet never does the sea become full.
    To the place where they go,
    the rivers keep on going.
    All speech is labored;
    there is nothing one can say.
    The eye is not satisfied with seeing
    nor is the ear satisfied with hearing.

    What has been, that will be;
    what has been done, that will be done.
    Nothing is new under the sun.
    Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!”
    has already existed in the ages that preceded us.
    There is no remembrance of the men of old;
    nor of those to come will there be any remembrance
    among those who come after them.

    .

    Somehow, God always seems to have the last word.

  24. pattif says:

    We used to have a Jesuit supply priest in our parish who defined a good Jesuit liturgy as “one in which no one sustains serious injury”. He also told the story of the Jesuit community in northern California who sang “Up, up and away” on the feast of the Acension.

  25. robtbrown says:

    The Jesuit’s comments on the 60′s remind me of an college friend of almost 40 years ago. Companionable, liked by all, son of a Jewish father and gentile mother, he was with us in the courses under John Senior but never became Catholic. In subsequent years I would see him every ten years or so at a gathering like a wedding. Sometime during the evening, I would find myself sitting next to him. Having drunk too much, he would turn to me with sad eyes and bourbon soaked sincerity and say, “God, the Beatles were a great band.”

  26. Henry Edwards says:

    Actually, Fr. Massa is on target with one key observation:

    “The new Mass (which was introduced in America that year) made real, or concrete, the changes that Vatican II made in ways that theology, or other declarations from the council could not.”

    This tells precisely how and how the seemingly solid edifice of Catholicism could be and was so rapidly demolished in the post-Vatican years.

    The post-Vatican II liberals were the first to realize that “Change the liturgy, change the Church “. They perceived that, in order to change the Church and its theology, no teaching, preaching, catechesis was either needed or relevant. They only had to change the Mass, and the rest would follow readily.

    Those of us who were there at parish level in the 1960′s belonged to Catholic communities in which no amount of teaching, no amount of preaching, no amount of catechesis could by itself have changed significantly what people believed..

    But when they saw the Mass suddenly changed before their very eyes, then the dike collapsed. If the immemorial Mass could be changed, just like that, then everything else about the Church, faith and morals, could be changed, and was.

  27. jorgepreble says:

    Question about the Jesuits:
    I always understood the Jesuits to be very strong and orthodox priests. Weren’t they the missionaries in Canada and throughout Latin America and much of Asia also? Their founder was a saint!
    What happened to their orthodoxy? When did the adage that Fr. Z mentioned become true? I’m assuming that at some point in history the Jesuits were good liturgists, or maybe they weren’t because they didn’t have the means since they were on the move?

  28. robtbrown says:

    Jorgepreble,

    The Jesuits were never good liturgists because Jesuit life has never been liturgical. Their houses didn’t have choir office or community mass. Priests said mass and read their office privately.

    The reasons why the Society has lost its way are many.

  29. irishgirl says:

    Mark-that clip from ‘Yes, Prime Minster’ was hilarious! The Brits really know how to do comedy!

    Back to the matter at hand-typical 1960s drivel. Yawn.

    Long live our Holy Father, Benedict XVI! May God give him many more years!

    Please, St. Ignatius of Loyola-lean down from heaven and give this ‘son’ of yours a ‘Basque slap’! Preferably one on the side of his head!

  30. Dave N. says:

    Nice observation from RobtBrown that I had never thought about:

    The Jesuits were never good liturgists because Jesuit life has never been liturgical. Their houses didn’t have choir office or community mass. Priests said mass and read their office privately.

    They do have community Mass, but I agree with the rest–not a very liturgical bunch.

    “Forever” is a VERY long time.

  31. DHippolito says:

    Theologians are the most historically illiterate people I have met (with a few exceptions, whose knowledge is mostly in “history of ideas”).

    All too true, unfortunately, all too true.

    I have another idea about the impact of Vatican II. I believe it was to the Church what glasnost and perestroika were to the Soviet Union: an attempt to engage in internal reform that spun out of the authorities’ control, took on a life of its own and eventually destroyed a brittle system that rejected all attempts at accountability.

    That’s not equating Catholicism with Communism on an ideological level, nor is it saying that the Church is destroyed. But the Church is in serious trouble, spiritually (you don’t have to be a sedevancantist or a “Taliban Catholic” to see that); only the shell of unity remains.

    For centuries, Catholic authorities on all levels were so focused on power and control (remember, the Index of Forbidden Books wasn’t eliminated until 1966) that when Vatican II allowed for greater freedom, people did not know how to handle it because they weren’t trained to handle it. They lived not under divine grace but under ecclesiastical legalism. Consequently, people confused “grace” and “freedom” with license because they could not discern between those concepts. Living under ecclesiastical legalism also meant the eventual disintegration of sound catechesis for the same reasons. Rebelling against inappropriate control, all too often, meant rebelling against sound doctrine. Besides, people who rely on Church leaders telling them how to think will not have the skills to discern between truth and fallacy if those same leaders tell them something different.

  32. Vox clamantis in deserto says:

    Just a “politically incorrect” joke…heard from my confessor (who is a Capuchin). :-)

    By Jesuits, everything is changing…except for bread and wine… :-)

    Nothing against orthodox Jesuits of course, and there are still a lot of them.

  33. Bornacatholic says:

    The former Portland, Maine Priest who offered The Indult Mass, Fr. Calvin Goodwin oncet was a Jebbie.

    He got permission to quit them and throw-in with the FSSP.

    GREAT loss for the Jebbies; GREAT gain for The FSSP.

    He used to speak to and advise our Trad Study Group and we were depressed, personally and collectively, when he left but, personally and collectively, we very happy for him.

    After he left Maine, members of our group also began moving out of the Dead Diocese.

  34. Supertradmum says:

    Number one point: the priest is not a scholar. He is determined to avoid objectivity. The new breed of historians prefer psychological and anthropological understandings of history, rather than universal and unified perspectives from a Western point of view.
    Number two: he wallows in the liberal interpretation that history is always subjective, and that people’s feelings and background determine who and what they are rather than the Truth.
    Number three: he completely ignores the fact that the new Mass and the level and speed of changes made people insecure, as they did not understand what was going on, not the world. Good Catholics have always distrusted the world, as Our Lord warned us to do. Insecurity comes from sin, corruption, and disillusionment, not from statistics. Liberal priests, bishops, and cardinals made people “feel” insecure, as the message was changing daily.
    Number four: Father hides behind his call as a “historian”. Since when is history separated from a religious viewpoint?
    Number five: historians can be logical-as his original premise is weak, so are his arguments…
    Another boring Jesuit speaks. Maybe he is a friend of Father McBrien.

  35. Jayna says:

    Actually, I almost worked with him (as a doctoral student) when he was still at Fordham. A previous book of his (Anti-Catholicism in America: The Last Acceptable Prejudice) is not nearly so ideologically driven. He told me at the time that he would soon be moving to BC and to apply there instead. Now I’m rather glad I didn’t take his advice.