At Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Louie Verrecchio posted a provocative piece about Ralph Martin’s recent article about the Church’s institutional collapse since Vatican II.
Here is a taste, and you can read the rest there. There is some food for thought here.
Dr. Ralph Martin’s recent article in the theological journal Nova et Vetera, The Post-Christendom Sacramental Crisis: The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas, has garnered considerable attention for its relatively sober assessment of the current condition of the Catholic Church.
“There is something like an institutional collapse going on, evidenced by the vast numbers of schools closing, parishes merging, clustering and closing and the multiple assignments that many young priests now are asked to manage. Besides the institutional collapse, there is evidence of a widespread repudiation of the teaching of Christ and the Church by vast numbers of Catholics,” Martin observed. [The natural law truth about marriage and the Church’s careful, accurate teaching about marriage is a case in point.]
The article, especially noteworthy for having been published in a journal that Archbishop Chaput called “an outstanding resource for the renewal of theology in line with the New Evangelization,” certainly deserves kudos. That said, the main reason it has been so well received among traditionalists is simply because Martin states what so many other “new evangelists” are determined to deny; namely, that the visible structures of the Catholic Church are rapidly deteriorating before our very eyes.
Martin makes a number of important observations, but even as he holds a veritable x-ray up to the light, revealing a nasty ecclesial tumor; ultimately, he leaves the disease undiagnosed.
The article begins with a thesis:
This article argues that, given the collapse of a societal consensus that is supportive of the Judaeo-Christian [sic] moral tradition, the Church is facing a sacramental crisis. [Therefore also liturgical.] The crisis consists in fewer and fewer baptized Catholics participating in the post-baptismal sacraments and fewer and fewer of the Catholics who do participate in further sacraments effectively realizing the fruits of these sacraments. [If they don’t go to confession, how could they? If they don’t participation in worship pleasing to God, how could they?] Part of the solution to this crisis is to consider carefully the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas on how to identify (and remove) obstacles to sacramental fruitfulness.
Martin goes on to cite statistics from an unnamed Midwestern diocese that reveal a problem that is far more fundamentally important: In just a ten year period (2000 to 2010), Catholic baptisms and marriages are down nearly 50%.
So, while it is certainly true that “fewer baptized Catholics” are living a fully Catholic life, and addressing the matter of sacramental fruitfulness is a noble idea, we would do well to concern ourselves first and foremost with the underlying causes that have led to this time when so few are even approaching the sacraments in the first place.
Yes, the two problems of lower numbers and a lack of sacramental fruitfulness are interrelated, but while some may be tempted to get caught up in a chicken-and-egg debate, Martin comes frustratingly close to putting his finger on the actual disease that lies at the heart of the matter:
With the intellectual currents of the Enlightenment, the subsequent anti-religion rebellion of the French Revolution, and the profound intellectual rejection of the Christian worldview symbolized by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, forces were unleashed in Western culture that eventually led to not only a repudiation of the church-state relationships that had evolved over many centuries but a repudiation of religion itself as a legitimate shaper of culture.
What Martin leaves unaddressed is the degree to which these “intellectual currents” were unleashed, not only in Western culture at the hands of determined secularists, but in the very heart of Catholicism via the Second Vatican Council at the hands of determined churchmen.
Archliberal Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens hailed the Council, and with no little accuracy, as “1789 in the Church” for a reason:
I will repeat what I have assert many times here.
No true and lasting renewal of the Church can take place until we revitalize our sacred liturgical worship of God. The virtue of religion requires this first and foremost. No other initiative we take in any sphere of the Church’s life will undergo a sound and lasting renewal without also a revitalization of our worship of God.
Reason #4 for Summorum Pontificum.