Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What abuses existed before Vatican II?

I promised a friend that I would write on my experiences (as a callow youth) in the years preceding the Second Vatican Council.

One question that she posed was: "There must have been abuses because the changes were accepted so quickly and readily" (my paraphrasing of her comments).

Well, I am sure there were abuses but whatever they were they were not recognised as such.

By and large, the Church in Westminster Diocese (which was the only region within my knowledge at that age) was boringly the same as it had been for many years. For centuries, in fact.

Mass was in Latin, not a Novus Ordo in sight.

We had processions back then. Many processions especially in May and June
Parishioners knew little of divorce and even less about cohabiting before marriage.

Admittedly, there were a few illegitimate children (morality tends not to fluctuate too much over the centuries).

Homosexuality was barely visible, not just in Catholic circles but in society generally.

Priests were not known as anything other than models of spiritual probity (although one or two rather nasty occurrences took place in the late 60s, especially in Chertsey, Surrey, a diversion beyond the boundaries of Westminster).
And every parish had nuns
(who looked and acted like nuns)

There was a sort of rather fierce disciplinarianism about many of the older priests and that was not altogether welcome or a good thing.

Discipline is one thing, control is another.

But, above all else, we had obedience within the ranks of the laity.

A level of compliance that would not be recognisable today.

We lived and breathed fealty to our Parish Priest, our Bishop and the Holy Father and the rupture of that loyalty may, I believe, may be the key to why the Catholic Faith changed more or less overnight from being an assured place of redemption to an uncertain retreat of those who believed in the concept of revolution.

The loyalty ruptured because of the changes that were taking place in society.

"Change is good" became a sort of silent mantra.

I recall the laity being called to a conference in Liverpool, possibly in 1962 or 1963.

There they were invited to "speak out" and give form to the concerns that they had regarding the Catholic Church.

This was heady stuff. No one had ever asked the opinion of the laity before.

In fact, the laity had never had a voice as such before. Now, suddenly, the chance arose to "out" your Parish Priest for being stern and strict.

But remember, we were still in the post war era. All of society was on the move challenging the code of conduct that existed.

The sixties was a period when the boundaries of decency were being dismantled daily.

'Lady Chatterley's Lover' was featured in the high courts and won the case against charges of obscenity in favour of freedom of speech.

Homosexuality, a criminal offence in 1960, was declared legitimate in the Sexual Offences Act of 1967.

London Theatres began to feature plays and musicals where nudity and promiscuity took centre stage, literally. A move that would have subjected them to prosecution only a few years earlier.

And the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other rock groups suddenly made anti establishment views fashionable.

Change was in the air and it infected most people.

The Catholic laity was not immune, they found their collective voice and began to think liberally (aided, by some of the clergy).

Requiem Masses began to be "joyful" occasions where the life of the deceased was celebrated and all thought of praying for the immortal soul forgotten.

My own parents, staunch Anglo Irish Catholics fell hook, line and sinker for all that was taking place.

Why?  I cannot fathom a certain answer to that one.

They certainly did not subscribe to the popular calls for change and I can only put their ready acceptance of all that the Church threw at them down to blind obedience.

In the Reformation era, Catholics in England and Wales switched their allegiance from Christ and Rome to heresy and Canterbury within a remarkably short period of time.

And, in a similar time frame in the 1960s and 70s, Catholics moved from the doctrinal certainty of the Faith to a mishmash of liturgy and an uncertain concept of Christ's truth.

I recall attending Mass while on honeymoon in Dulverton in 1972 only to hear the 'Latin' Mass sung in English in a direct translation from the pre 1962 missal.

The singing was most definitely not plainchant but Gelineau psalm style.

Back home a few weeks later and the congregation at Mass began to vote with their feet and walk out after Holy Communion. Priests would stand in the porch in an attempt to stem the exodus.

Despite the fever of change, Mass in the vernacular did not appear to be meeting with approval.

I remember one Canon exhorting his flock by saying: "It's still the same Mass, you know".

But, of course, it wasn't the same Mass and many left the Faith. Laity, priests and nuns just got up and walked away, released by a breaking of the covenant of perceived and actual truth.

Were people unhappy with Latin? I don't think so. And, certainly the modern myth that Latin was unpopular because it was "gabbled" is just that, a myth.
Priests then spoke Latin fluently; it was their second tongue and, of course, it flowed and was more voluble as a result.

I believe that the only two factors influencing the faithful were the element of obedience and that of being caught up with the desire to 'change and modernise'.

Remember, this was the era of house renovation and DIY when people of impeccable taste would panel over Georgian doors with sheets of hardboard and hack off any architectural decorations of beauty that even hinted at being old or traditional.

Brass was replaced by plastic and good taste was cast to the wind.

All had to be hidden behind a façade of wood and plaster; all had to conform to modern tastes; all character and continuity with the past had to be eradicated.

And that really is a metaphor for the changes that swept through the Church.


  1. Thank you for that explanation as it is comething that has troubled and puzzled me. My Dad, RIP, who served Mass in the 30s and 40s explained to me that the 'Mass had changed and that was that', I did not look any further until I was 50 and by accident attended a Mass in Latin - as Fr Hugh Twaites said water compared to milk.

    In Domino,


  2. Apologists for the changes sometimes criticise the way priests said mass in the Old Days. The complaint is usually about the celerity of celebrations. My response is that, young though I am, I am absolutely sure there were imperfections; certainly, I have no difficulty imagining certain elderly priests, priests whose celebrations of the new mass are distorted to suit their own preferences, saying mass badly even in their youth.

  3. Fr Brian Houghton said that the reason so much was accepted so quickly, even by good priests, was that there was very little teaching in apologetics. They simply didn't know the reason why the changes were bad. Many instinctively felt they were, but couldn't put together a good argument..


  4. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. The discarding of the objective Mass for subjective and relative and crude performances and trite, vacuous self-celebration, was the shortcut to the widespread loss of the Faith and collapse of morality.

  5. Pre-Vatican II Catholics were intuitively orthodox and obedient. That is how we and our ancestors managed to survive the centuries of persecution.

    When the liturgical changes came they were just accepted, such was the instinctive habit of obedience we had. The Reformers in the Church exploited this to the full, and it was only later we started to think about it.

    And yes , change was in the air. I remember my older sisters (I was the youngest ) throwing out valuable items, ancient clocks that had been in the family, simply because everything had to be new and modern. It’s no surprise then that when Pope John, with appalling misjudgement and misunderstanding of the Age, called the Council that things went down the plug hole.

    On the question of abuse, I do not recall, nor did I here of, a single instance among the clergy, and we boys, believe you me were no innocents and would have known. Abuse was a predominately post-Vat II phenomenon.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. If you haven't seen it, you might be interested in "Weapons of Mass Destruction" done a few years ago on abuses and how things changed in the Church.
    There are 2 parts, the above link is for the first part.

  7. The complaint is usually about the celerity of celebrations. My response is that, young though I am, I am absolutely sure there were imperfections; certainly, I have no difficulty imagining certain elderly priests, priests whose celebrations of the new mass are distorted to suit their own preferences, saying mass badly even in their youth.

  8. Dr Joseph Shaw recently published a series of graphs based on official statistics over the last hundred years concerning the Church in England and Wales, and covering such areas as baptisms, Mass attendance, marriages, ordinations and conversions. In every case the peak occurs from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, and is followed by a precipitous fall. This suggests that the Church was, at least outwardly, in a fairly healthy state on the eve of the Council. In Holland, where the Church has all but collapsed, the contrast pre- and post-Council is even more striking.

    To blame all of this on the Council is to argue "post hoc, ergo propter hoc", although it cannot be left out of the equation. Neither can Paul VI, the pope-in-waiting who proved inadequate to the task (rather like Anthony Eden, although Eden had the option of resignation).

    However, what we call "the Sixties" is actually the decade from 1963 to 1972, which happened to coincide with my time at Grammar School and University, and which saw a revolution in social attitudes unprecedented in the 20th century. Someone transported back from 2013 to 2003 would hardly notice the difference, but 1972 was a completely different world from that of ten years previously.

    My father, who was in his forties at the time, accepted that there might have to be changes but said "they should have left the Mass alone". Many of my parents' generation felt that the baby had been thrown out with the bathwater. The first "youth Mass" I attended was in 1968 (I was 17). There were guitars, extempore prayers, no Latin, and I served alongside a girl who was so drop-dead gorgeous I was continually distracted. The young priest who "presided" was removed from the parish shortly afterwards for openly criticizing Humanae Vitae, and subsequently left to get married.

    Regarding Simon's comment above, some of the elderly priests he mentions probably felt liberated when they were freed from the necessity of celebrating in Latin and according to strict rubrics. Others, realizing that what they had painstakingly learned in the seminary was now no longer relevant, followed the example of their more recently-trained brethren who were influenced by progressive liturgists. They are now set in their ways and probably don't realize that the new generation of priests, unencumbered by the baggage (garbage?) of the 1960s and 1970s, are generally more traditional and orthodox. This isn't just wishful thinking; the now ageing liberals have noticed it and frequently deplore it.

  9. You nailed it with the obedience and respect thing. I was a teenager at the time of the change and it took me several decadecs to open my eyes and see that, indeed, not all priests and nuns were interested in following Christ . THEIR FOCUS WAS FAR MORE SELF-centered than God-centered.
    I still have major twinges of guilt when I verbalize the incredible damage these people have done to our church.

  10. Anon @ 17.16 - please leave your name when you comment.

  11. I remember while in university going to a Melkite Catholic parish with an eastern rite friend and being "blown away" by the venerable and ancient Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Until then, my adult experience of the Mass had been entirely Novus Ordo. I already loved the Mass and attended daily, but this first taste of Christian antiquity, and a liturgy formed and loved by saints, overwhelmed me and lifted my heart and mind to God. I couldn't get enough and contemplated changing rites. Well, I'm still Roman Rite but do wish we, in ordinary parishes, could experience a liturgy that better disposes the faithful to fruitfully assist at Mass as well as benefit from the reception of Holy Communion.

  12. I am 60 years old. Our priests and nuns were models of virtue and piety. Though the parish boasted 450 families and there was usually but one priest, he managed to go round to the shut-ins like my grandparents, hear their confessions and give them Holy Communion. We children would hide behind the legs of the adults and follow father around as he blessed our home during Epiphany. What a joy it was for all of us to have a priest in our humble home.

    The nuns were awesome. They taught us the catechism and how to make rosaries and taught the details of posture praying or when in front of the Blessed Sacrament. They would visit us as a group and one of the nuns who later became Mother Superior would roll up her sleeves and whack a baseball halfway across the old cornfield and we would laugh with glee at her holding up the skirts of her habit a few inches from the ground as she ran around our "bases" made of rocks and sticks. They never failed to travel the many miles to visit us at least once a month.

    May God bless all those wonderful priests and nuns. I owe them so much and I will never forget them!

    I want to say something else about the priests leading up to the demonic triumph of vatican 2. While priests today keep a tally on websites and in their bulletins about their "accomplishments" to date...things like new roof for the parish hall, repave parking lot, and other insignificant items of the mundane variety, holy priests of old kept a private tally of the number of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, funeral masses, etc. The only time we would know of these is when they were listed in handwriting on the backs of the holy cards if they lived long enough to celebrate milestones of their ordinations. Now THAT is a tally of accomplishments for a priest and one which God will weigh when He says Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord!

    1. Thanks Rolandina, your recollections align with my own. God bless.

  13. I'm sorry I didn't spot this when you first posted it, but I found it fascinating, thank you!

    Can I ask a few things though?

    "Back home a few weeks later and the congregation at Mass began to vote with their feet and walk out after Holy Communion."

    So people left immediately after Holy Communion because they did not like the new mass? I guess, as someone else said, it was a lack of catechesis because I think it's very wrong to leave the church without staying to thank the Lord for Communion. Having said that, my Mum (now 70), insists that everyone her age knew their catechism back to front. (So, who is right on that front? Was there good catechesis or not?) And yet...they left? How can this be?

    I know of one lady (she is actually the mother of a friend of mine who is a faithful and traditional Catholic) who stopped attending mass when the new mass came in. Again, I just don't get it. Yes, it must have been a horrible change, but to stop attending mass...how can that be justified? For me, it's not *just* about the form of the mass, it's about 'recharging my battery' and yes, keeping myself out of mortal sin. There are times when I just do not want to go to a mass because I have to go to one that I know will be painful, but I would rather go to a horrible mass then commit a mortal sin. There is no choice!

    Regarding the faithful nuns and priests who were so good at catechising and saying the mass, I kind of understand this obedience to the Church as the reason why they accepted the new mass, of course, but...where are they now? For example, those who were newly ordained at around 1972, they were perhaps 23/4 at the time (some of them), so they would be about 67-70 years old now. I don't remember meeting these orthodox priests growing up. If they were so good, why did they go so bad? My thinking is that if people are prepared well in their faith, they will not go rotten. Yet, supposedly these nuns and priests were well prepared and yet many nuns changed their habits to plain skirts and a shirt and perhaps not even a veil and priests got to the point that we're at today.

    Regarding those priests and nuns who walked away...how on earth could they justify that? I think I see that as worse than abusing the mass, because they have surely broken their vows. Again, these were supposed to be good nuns and priests?

    I think this is why I admire Bishop Mark Davies so much: because he grew up (mostly) in the post VII era and yet look how faithful he is. I have to say that I expect much more from people who grew up (reached adulthood) before VII.

    I would love to pick your brains about this, Richard :p

    1. A good observation, Rhos. Yes, the majority of Catholics were, at least, well schooled in terms of the Catechism but, the changes that came in were (I believe) viewed as a betrayal of all the sacrifices that both laity and clergy had endured within an orthodox Church.
      With the about face (literally) bitterness set in and many left in their droves.
      There is also an Animal Farm element with regard to the changes. They started gradually, accompanied by reassurances such as "the laity will never assist in handling the consecrated host". Gradually, 'Four legs good, two legs bad' became: "Changes good, tradition bad".
      Blind obedience followed.
      That's an over simplification but, in essence, accurate. Happy Christmas!