Fr. Blake on Vatican II and lay involvement

Check out this thought provoking entry over at Fr. Raymond Blake’s place.

Here is the very interseting post about lay involvement.  The question is raised: Are more people involved in Church now than
fifty years ago?

You know about Rule #4.  

This is timely.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thoughts with the Lune Valley in Brighton

I had a visit from Fr Paul Harrison
yesterday, blogging is a bit incestuous. Both of us have a bit of an
interest in history. In between having lunch and visiting the Royal
Pavillion we talked quite a lot about lay ministry, with the
overarching question of are more people involved in Church now than
fifty years ago.
Both of us have done a bit of research, mine maybe
more on the level of anecdote than Fr Paul’s, who did a MA on Preston

Brighton 50 years ago there were thriving organisations.
The Church was
made up of small groups, I am sitting in my office and around me are
old framed photographs of the various sporting groups that used to be
in the parish: the parish swimming team, boxing team, football team
etc. There were obviously plenty of things for young men. In all of
them there is a priest involved, then of course there were four priests
in the parish, what these pictures show is the Church’s involvement
with men, it took them seriously, it knew they were going to be the
future priests and fathers of families, mangers of buisnesses, trade
unionists. Then ordinations in (or at least) from this parish were a
regular thing. There are no records but I am told there was here an
extremely thriving SVP group, that used to visit the slum housing and a
Legion of Mary that used to go parish visiting, from door to door.
There was also the Catholic Evidence Guild, I am not sure if they were
actually "of the parish", or simply preached on the promenade, "in the
parish" during the summer. In the notice books there are references to
The Guild of the Blessed Sacrament, the Scouts, the Agnesians, the
Altar Guild, the Union of Catholic Mothers, The Catholic Police Guild,
the Catholic Nurses Guild etc etc.
There was great optimism, in this
parish in that period a social worker called Mary Garson together with
the parish priest set a group of women to care for those in need, from
this, she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Grace and
Compassion, a religious congregation that is thriving in India and
parts of Africa.

The Sisters of Grace and Compassion are still in
Brighton but of the other organisations none of these exist today,
except the SVP, and that seems normal for most parishes. What we have
instead are a few small "faith sharing groups" and lay involvement is
limited to the finances, Extra-Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and
readers, in the past there were none of these, there were altar servers
and a very proficient choir that sang chant. The sanctuary ministries
have replaced the apostolic ones.

has been a huge shift of lay involvement; from lay people very
obviously sanctifying the world, directly proclaiming the Word of God
and "doing" the works of mercy, to what we have now; most lay ministry
being centred on the liturgy and within the Church.
In practice there
has been a very significant change in Ecclesiology. Some people have
said we have clericalised the laity and laicised the clergy, a bit of a
harsh statement but certainly the main focus of the laity has been the
sanctuary and not the world and possibly the role of priest has changed
from being the sanctifier to being the manger.

has intervened is Vatican II, the Council’s main aim of course was to
engage with the modern world, its teaching is all about empowering
people to evangelise
and to proclaim Christ in the world. In Northern
Europe at least this has not happened, on the contrary we have shrunk
as a Church. Our diocesan seminary for example in 1962/3 doubled in
size, now the number of students would still be uncomfortable small
even in the old building.

There are obviously good sociological
reasons for the decline; women working, the television, the decline of
the family, contraception are just a few reason that are put forward.
What we in the Church so often try to avoid is to suggest that the
problem might be the Church herself. Hans Kung, in one of his early,
more orthodox works says, "The Church ceases to be the Church when it
preaches the Church", yet for 50 years it strikes me that that is
precisely what we have been doing. We have been obsessed with liturgy,
with lay-involvement in parish structures, parish councils, the role of
women within the Church, ecumenism, catechesis. All these are important
but only of people who are already "churched", and not directly
concerned with revealing the face of Christ. Fifty years ago every
fifth or sixth entry in our baptism records was a convert, nowadays it
is three, four or five a year, in many parishes none. The
Evangelisation that many believed that would follow the wonderful
documents of the Council just didn’t take place.

Pope in his "The Spirit of the Liturgy" sees the sign of the Church
looking inwards at its celebration of the Liturgy as signifying and
possibly even causing this sense of introversion. The priest facing the
people creates a smug little huddle that looks in on itself. If the
image people are presented with day after day, Sunday after Sunday is
the priest looking at the people over the altar and most especially
prays to God whilst directing his gaze at the congregation, one might
be led to suspect that God is to found there rather than elsewhere,
beyond and above the immediate community.

am sure that is one factor, another, which was certainly signified by
the change in the Liturgy, is the change in catechesis. In the past, it
wasn’t so much the Church that catechised, or even the school, but the
family. Fr Paul told me about some Traveller families he had prepared
for First Holy Communion, and how well they knew the old catechism.
Mother or Grand-Mother had simply passed on the faith they themselves
had been given, but most families have lost confidence in simply doing
that. The liturgy changed and catechetical emphasis changed, and
parents , I think, lost confidence in passing on their faith. In the
non-literate, self reliant culture of Traveller families that didn’t
happen so much. When I was first ordained, the question, "Do we still
believe in ….?"
, was applied to the Real Presence, Purgatory, Hell,
Eternal Life, Papal Infallibility, the Catholic Church, Confession, the
Divinity of Christ, the Virginity of Mary, well practically every
aspect of Catholic life.

of the things the Pope has been urging us all to do, is the rediscover
the riches of the Vatican Council, get to the texts rather than its
accursed "Spirit".
I am convinced that one off the purposes of the
recent Motu Proprio, was just the reconcilliation of the Lefebvrists
but the reconcilliation of today’s church with its past,
reconcilliation with our history and most especially with our theology,
look again at Archbishop Ranjith’s reported recent comment.

(added later)
most important thing for lay people is to live out their baptism,
loving God and their neighbour. Pre-Concilliar theology would lay great
stress on the obligation to "save one’s soul", by receiving the
sacraments worthily, and therefore acting as a leaven within society.

If you were married then the obligation was extended to ensuring the
salvation of one’s children, hence all that pre-concilliar school
building and education.
Any collection of pre-Concilliar parish
sermons certainly do not speak a great deal about sex, as I was told in
the seminary, society was too delicate, Fr Paul sad the closest to it
was "keeping bad company". Being honest, doing a fair days work for a
fair days pay seems to be much more to the point, coming to the aid of
one’s neighbour seems to be very prevalent, which might account for the
high number of Catholic doctors and nurses and the other Catholic
The motif of the Second Vatican Council was the
Church’s engagement with modern world, it wasn’t something new,
certainly in England and presumably elsewhere it was of tremendous
importance in the pre-Concilliar Church. What is pretty obvious is that
it did not come to birth in the Council Hall but was already up and
running, since the Council it seems to have fallen flat on its face.

our diocese there was a plan to build a Church every mile in the city,
and in the countryside a Church every five miles, now the future is
bleak and we are closing or amalgamating Churches wherever we can.
problem is not just a lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious
life but a lack of vocations to teaching and even marriage.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. My ambition has been realised, to be quoted on WDTPRS. Many thanks.

  2. Brian2 says:

    I remember, when I was a kid and not enjoying a minute of my parish youth group my parents waxing nostaligic about their youth as B-I-C’s (Bronx Irish Catholic) where the parish was a center of life and people identified themselves by parish rather than neighborhood. (They still donate to their old parishes via the internet!) To be sure part of that was due to the unique nature of city life, but the bigger part were the clubs, devotional societies and so forth. Then in the 70’s the devotions were discouraged and the clubs faded away. Now everybody is running around the altar on Sunday, and nobody bothers to come by the rest of the week despite the lamentable habit in some diocese of changing the names from ‘St. X Roman Catholic Church to “Catholic community.”

    O tempora, O mores

  3. Mark says:

    …and then we scoff at the Protestant megachurches. Aren’t they just recreating the old Catholic parish model?

  4. MikeL says:

    Brian2 –

    What was your parents’ parish in the Bronx? I heard similar stories from my mother and her
    family – they belonged to St Jerome’s on Alexander Ave (“the 5th Avenue of the Irish,” or so I was told)

  5. danphunter1 says:

    But even some of the documents themselves of the Second Vatican Council are ambiguous and can be read in opposing, and conflicting ways.
    Example: All other things being equal, pride of place should be given to Gregorian Chant”
    What does “All other things being equal” mean?
    Yes, pride of place must be given to Gregorian Chant, but “liturgists” are going to read the part that says,”All other things being equal” folk music must be equal, bongo drum mass’s must be equal.
    Liturgical dance must have equal time?
    The langusge of the documents lacks precision, or maybe they are precise in their ambiguity.
    God bless you.

  6. Sid Cundiff says:

    For what it’s worth: Not only Church organizations are suffering the lack of members. So are secular fraternal organizations. Even the Rotary Club consists today of graybeards. It seems that younger folk just would rather exercise at the local commercial gym. This tendency to increased isolation – to no other loci of social relations save work, marriage, assorted amusements (enjoyed privately), and Mass – is disturbing. What do y’all think the causes are? Someone wants everything just his way, without give and take? The lack of the skill in promoting frictionless, if not gracious social exchange? The effects of Original Sin so deep as to isolate?

    And in the 18th Century, so says Richard Sennett, total strangers could approach each other and talk without apology or embarrassment.

    Dale Carnegie America had its limitations. Is Morton Downey, Jr. America an improvement?

  7. TJM says:

    I think the most important point made by Father Blake was
    that following the Council there was a total and complete
    breakdown in teaching the Faith. We switched to love, love, love.
    I guess we didn’t “love” before the Council. And if the raison
    d’etre of the Church is love, then, let me point out that
    atheists love, Protestants love, Jews love, Muslims love, etc.
    I may be naive but I thought Christ left us the Church so the
    Church would provide us through the sacraments with the help we need to gain heaven. Tom


  8. EDG says:

    This was an excellent article and I think all of Fr. Blake’s points were right on the mark. There is a curious sense of inversion or introversion in the modern Catholic parish, and I think it is a direct result of the horizontal character of post Vatican II worship (not to mention theology).

  9. leo says:

    the heads of re in most catholic schools today are themselves products of the weak teaching of the faith they are not following the spirit of vatican ii they seriously would think that singing here i am lord is traditional they have never heard of the catechism except to be told it was bad , my boys are all taught the penny catechism in lessons and they love it of course it has to be done with some thought but the answers are simply Thomistic teaching in its simplest form my favourite question is the pope infallible ? answer yes the pope is infallible also why did christ found the church? to govern to teach to sanctify , one that i was taught by my grandmother is who is my neighbour? my neighbour is all mankind without exception or degree

  10. Tommaso says:

    St. Frances of Rome (the Bronx)

  11. jpg says:

    The sad side effect of the council was to obliterate Catholic culture and identity.
    Yet one does need to see if this same spirit of the times has likewise afflicted othe ecclesial communities or the orthodox. I have read that some Protestant sects are having similar vocational difficulties. The exception being some pentecostal sects which have seen growth with a simplistic Theology coupled with an emphasis on personal experience of the Lord. It also does not help that with some it seems one can draw bambi and become a minister (remember the old matchcovers).
    I would be curious to hear other peoples experiences. I would find it hard to believe that the Catholic Church was the only Church not affected by the sixties.

  12. |Gerrard says:

    The same thing happening to Protestants or the Rotary? Yes it has because we have embraced their values, Fr Blake is right about introversion, we have forgotten Christ founded His Church to go out to proclaim Him!
    I’m sure secularism would affect the Church any way but ditching so much, creating so much uncertainty and confusion, means we have been affected much more than we should have been.

  13. craig says:

    I am still digesting this article, I am a bit taken with it. My parish recently gained the attention of a few folks that have just transformed it in ways I would not have guessed happening for years to come.
    One of the couples are cradle Catholics, that fell away from the Church back in the mid 60’s in their first marriages, then came back with a vengeance a couple years ago. The other couple are recent converts, the husband being a retired Methodist minister. These 4 individuals, together have started to bring back the parish of thier childhoods. A guild, funeral dinners, ice cream socials, trips, gift shop and so much more ahead. Right now they focus on the parish members, building up the body from within so that the soldiers can head off to war.
    Times are a’changin

  14. Joe says:

    Thanks to and blessings upon Fr. Blake for penning this, and Fr. Z. for bringing it to our attention.



  15. My parish has all of these things. The Knights of Columbus raise and give away hundreds of thousands of dollars to mental illness organizations, Catholic schools and do public works. The Catholic daughters are alive and well, performing works of mercy in the community. We have a funeral committee, who assists the families of the dead. An alter guild which cleans the church building. A prison ministry committee.
    The problem is that in a parish of 1200 families perhaps two to three hundred are involved in all of these things, many times the same families in multiple activities.
    I believe there are many reasons for this. In mixed marriages, even if the children are being raise Catholic the church is not the center of family life. For many people there is no real family life. Both mom and dad work and by the time dinner is served, at 7:00 pm or later there is little time for weekday activities. We have no parochial school, though there is a regional Catholic elementary and high school. Most of our parish children do not go to them. That means that many are involved in public school activities, and parents spend evenings shuttling them around.
    Most of the parish groups are older people, retired, with grown children. This means that many of these groups meet during the time working people are out making a living. This even bleeds into liturgy. Mass is celebrated daily at 8:00 am, when most working people are already on the job. And sure enough daily Mass is full of only retired folks. Not like when my father was a young. Then a working man could go to Mass at 6 am, before he had to report to work, and many did. I know because as a child I often went to Mass before school and would see them.

  16. Derek James says:

    The same thing happening to Protestants or the Rotary? Yes, it has because we have embraced their horizantal values, Fr Blake is right about introversion, we have forgotten Christ founded His Church to go out to proclaim Him!
    We embraced it when it was going out of fashion.
    I’m sure secularism would affect the Church any way, but ditching so much, creating so much uncertainty and confusion, it means we have been affected much more than we should have been.

  17. michigancatholic says:

    He’s absolutely right. If a person doesn’t want to be an Extraordinary minister and isn’t in the clique, then there are no activities for them–none. The Church is locked up all week. What very few things might be going on are only attended by retired people who are free during the day and the occasional married woman, sometimes with a child or two. There is usually nothing at all for people who work 9-5. Many working laypeople (which is most of them) take the clue that church is only for Sundays.

    A person who works during the day can go more than a year looking simply for someone to say the rosary with. Seriously.

  18. chris K says:

    TJM: “We switched to love, love, love.”

    Human nature being what it is, I think the philosophy of the day became since “love covers a multitude of sins” let’s justify a lot more sins with lots more love!!

    It may be that it’s common, as before, that the same people always seem to be the ones involved mostly in the service committees or groups, but something that HAS changed is the great number of parishioners who always participated in the large devotional activities. There were always huge crowds for May processions, diocesan wide Corpus Christi processions, Living rosaries, as well as the longer Christmas or Lenten devotions. People do seem to sense the main purpose of a temple of God and because that purpose has been largely disposed of, so has the interest for the Church’s other outside interests. And that’s simply because those things can also be performed anywhere – as social workers within own families or neighborhoods. And why Mother Theresa never wanted her order to be seen as just social workers.

  19. Marie says:

    It is not only two-income families who have to pass on the many worthwhile parish activities offered on weekday evenings. We are blessed to attend a parish in northern Virginia with a vibrant adult education program — there seem to be lectures nearly every week. Several years ago, the parish sponsored Latin classes in anticipation of the pastor’s introduction of a Latin Novus Ordo Mass. More recently, there have been seminars on the TLM. Next month there will be a weekend Gregorian chant workshop. My husband works long hours to enable me to be a stay at home mom. Dinner is at 7 because he doesn’t get home until then. Our kids are not overly booked with sports and other commitments, but between the commute to their excellent Catholic school, homework, sports practices, music lessons, etc. it is very difficult to slip out on a weeknight and leave them unsupervised. Most of those who do attend these parish programs are either childless young adults or retired people.
    We do have both a 6:30 and 9 am daily Mass, and there are plenty of working-age adults at the early Mass.

  20. Paul Murnane says:

    Excellent and timely entry by Fr. Blake. Jeff Mirus at Catholic Culture also tackled this topic recently. You can find his analysis here

    While I don’t think we’ll ever recapture the past, I am optimistic that things are changing. May God bless the Holy Father!

  21. michigancatholic says:

    I believe the primary reasons people get into \”lay ministry\” are these:

    a) They want more out of their spiritual life and intuit by the landscape that the only way to get closer to the church is to get \”involved.\” Usually the only way for them to get involved is to become a \”lay liturgical minister\” of some sort on Sundays, because there\’s not much else going on. (I think this accounts for a lot of it.) People around here will ask if you are \”active in your parish\” when what they really mean is \”are you a lay liturgical minister on Sunday.\” There is nothing else going on so that is the only thing that comes up on peoples\’ radar….

    b) Every parish, every diocese has a certain number of underqualified people who are trying to get a parish/diocesan job. Why this is I have no clue, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that people generally believe a) it would be easy, b) there is not much one has to know, and c) it looks glamorous to some people.

    On the other hand, getting real participants to prayer groups, choirs and book studies and getting volunteers to do non-liturgical activities which turn out to be work can be quite difficult.

  22. I’m just old enough to remember life before the Council. It seems to me that lay people are just as involved in parish life as they ever were. But there is more emphasis on being SEEN as involved, generally in and around the sanctuary. At the parish where I grew up, the website has described the Holy Name Society as a “throwback” to the old days. Can you imagine still being an active member of that group and being described that way publicly by your own pastor? But that seems to be the attitude. And it seems to be perfectly alright with enough people, especially those in “the clique.” And if there’s an “in crowd” when it comes to volunteer work, something is very, very wrong.

    And it’s a big reason I don’t get involved much in parish life.

  23. Francis Brennan says:

    Fr. Z.,

    I read Fr. Ray Blake\’s article on his website before seeing it on yours and I found it very thought-provoking.

    There is one aspect of all the pre-Conciliar lay activity — Catholic clubs, fraternities and associations — that tends to get overlooked: we were in a real ghetto back then. This clubbing-together was as much a function of external hostility as it was motivated by a more lively faith.

    The militant anti-Catholic hostility manifested by secular humanists today is a kind of re-emergence of the active and vituperative Protestant anti-Catholicism that was common until the 1960s. Think of all the uproar in the US when John F. Kennedy was running for President. Millions of Americans seriously thought that this man was an agent of the anti-Christ in Rome!

    My father (a lawyer) went into partnership with a group of Catholics 40 years ago partly because you had to be a freemason to make partner in most City of London law firms back then. Most clients of his firm were Catholics too: outside hostility made Catholics prefer to do business with other Catholics. My parents were very much of the \”buy Catholic\” mindset — our family doctor was a Catholic, as was our dentist, our insurance broker, the owner of the garage we used…

    It\’s ironic that during the 1970-1990 period, when anti-Catholic suspicion went into abeyance and the Second Vatican Council had supposedly equipped us to put aside the ghetto mentality and take the gospel to the wider world, our catechesis and liturgy collapsed, and we assimilated into secular society without making any difference to it.

    I wonder if the emergence of militant secularism in the Western World will encourage the revival of a healthy and resilient Catholic solidarity, which could be a more robust and saleable version of our faith than the weak and watery substitute we have at present.

  24. Great article overall.

    Once again we see that Vatican II was not actually carried out in terms of the mission of the laity is to go out preach to the world. Bishops and priests are to teach the laity the faith and feed them the Spiritual Food of the Sacraments so that the laity can then go out and convert the world. Yet, actually this has been flipped around. All too often the laity is overly involved in the liturgy and the priests and bishops are overly involved in “pastoral” things and social justice themselves.

    Certainly there are many causes to the modern problems, but I think many are rooted in the problems of the current form of the Mass.

  25. John says:

    Matthew ARNOLD WROTE IN :

    “Obermann Once more”

    “‘Your creeds are dead, your rites are dead,
    Your social order too!
    Where tarries he, the Power who said:
    See, I make all things new?'”

    Faith is the source, the wellspring of rites and culture. Hence we have the Novus Ordo. The old rite will work for those who have the faith. Catholic culture will be strong once more when our faith is strong, when the New Springtime of JP II comes.

  26. benedictus says:

    Marie’s point above is very good. Today kids are very busy with a variety of activities. It seems that before the council kids were still involved in extra curricular activities, but they were all sponsored by their parish, including sports. Now all that is run by their school, so there is no time to go to the parish. That is the problem I had at one parish in trying to organize parish activities. Parents had to run their kids here and there, evenings and weekends. There simply was no time for parish life. So how did we go from parish life being the source of extra curricular activities, to a the school being the source of all the activities?

  27. Brian2 says:

    Mike L: My mother’s was St. Helena’s; my father’s was Incarnation (in Washington Heights, rather than the Bronx though) I was baptized at Visitation (near Manhatten College and Gaelic Park). Shortly there after we moved out of the city, eventually landing in Texas.

    As an adult I was living in the Bronx and stopped by a bar near Visitation. I commented to a friend that I was baptized there. The bartender over heard and gave us a free round (right after a previous buy-back, for those in the know) since we were ‘baptism buddies’ being that he was baptized at Visitation too.

  28. Maureen says:

    Most folks born after the invention of the television are not very sociable, by olden days’ standards. After working all day, you don’t really want to face other people; you just want sit down in front of the TV and eat dinner, and then go to bed. That’s pretty much what I did for years, and it often has a lot of appeal to me.

    I am in choir and the choraleers that go around at the holidays to nursing homes. Believe me, this wipes me out. I can only imagine how tired I’d be if it was a class or discussion group after work.

    On Saturday, I am in an rp gaming club, which I’m usually pretty tired during, and on Sunday, I come home after Mass and usually sleep at least three-four hours away. But, to be honest, if I didn’t do any activities I’d still be tired and dragging. My parents are a lot more energetic than I am, and I’m not even forty.

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