I jotted these points down sometime last year. While I am now in a different space, I have been very conscious in the last few years of needing to understand the deeper roots of the current Catholic crisis. I don’t intend to get into polemical discussions on Catholicism, and the points mentioned here are by no means exhaustive and could be further developed. But, especially in the light of some of the rather interesting discussion that has been going in response to me earlier muddled thoughts (which I’m afraid that I haven’t been keeping up with all that well – I think that this is the first time that there has been so much discussion on my blog, some of it very insightful), I offer them for what they’re worth.

In an article published in 1965, the late Augustine scholar Frits van der Meer expressed some of his concerns about what was happening on the Dutch liturgical scene. Now I have in recent years become more aware of the extreme nature of Dutch liturgical disintegration, but despite this I was shocked on reading this article to discover that it happened so early on. One moment one had uniform Tridentine Masses everywhere and only six months later priests were making up their own Eucharistic canons comprised of “part Hippolytus, part Taizé, part sucked out of their own thumbs”. Had this been happening in 1975, I could, if not exactly have understood it, then at least have half expected it, for the practices that are apparently widespread today must have started sometime and the late 1960s seem a likely time for such disintegration to begin. But I find it shocking that it could have happened so suddenly and this raises questions for me about the state of the Church before this time. If the foundations crumbled so rapidly then there must have been something seriously wrong long before this.

Van der Meer blames this disintegration on what he terms “the unconscious betrayal of the clergy” who succumbed to the tyranny of “a powerful invisible demon: the fashion of the day”. Pastors who had once faithfully followed the fashions of the First Friday or Fatima, now panicked at the thought of being zealous for something that was no longer fashionable. He may very well be right, but that simply begs the question of how such superficiality could have been so widespread among the clergy.

This brings me to the second article, an interview with Père Michel van Parys, the former abbot of Chevetogne, in which he discusses the social and ecclesial background that accompanied the liturgical renewal and that made the failure of the liturgical movement almost inevitable. He speaks about the discontinuity and break in the transmission of tradition and argues that “the tradition is disrupted when it is only learnt in an intellectual manner and no longer celebrated … if there is no repetition in the liturgy and no memory and no beauty, which are fundamental human dimensions, then the liturgy is reduced to banality. It achieves a certain success but that success does not last long.”[1]

The third was an article on spiritual paternity by Dom Silouane, a French Benedictine of the Abbey of St Wandrille.[2] In it he made the point that the patristic renewal has resulted better access to the works of the Fathers, but that this has largely remained an academic phenomenon and has not really been accompanied in a renewal in patristic spirituality.

[1] Michel van Parys. Verzegelde Bronnen Borrelen Weer. Over monastieke spiritualiteit en oecumene. Bonheiden, Abdij Bethlehem, 1996. 23-26.

[2] Buisson Ardent. Cahiers Saint-Silouane l’Athonite, 7. 101-114.