Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I had a pastor in my parish in Lincoln, Nebraska, that used to lament the fact that Catholics today don’t know their faith like they should. To help with this problem, he created a Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA) class (a class non-Catholics take to prepare to join the Catholic Church) and invited both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to attend. It was (is) a 3-4 month class that met once a week for about two hours. The word spread far and wide throughout the Lincoln Diocese and beyond and created a bit of a stir. Registrations for the class included, as requested, both Catholics and non-Catholics and the numbers soon mushroomed. He decided to videotape the lectures, and even did so outside the classroom for people who could not attend. I know because I actually did the taping for him with my personal home video camera. It was good for me, because I exposed again to what I had supposedly learned during my twelve years of Catholic school back in 1954-66.
I am now re-reading a book titled Meat and Potatoes Catholicism by Father Joseph Classen. Fr. Classen laments the same things, that Catholics today don’t know their faith like they should. He places the blame on the “new” liberal culture that invaded us back in the 60’s and 70’s and the misguided reaction to the teachings of Vatican Council II. The intent of Vatican II was to breathe new life into the Church. It occurred during the pontificates of John XXIII and Paul VI in 1958-64. I was in high school when the changes came down. The changes could be seen during the daily Masses we students attended at the beginning of each school day and included Mass in English instead of Latin, the priest-celibrant facing the people (which meant that a new altar had to be installed in all the Catholic churches worldwide), and new hymns sung in English at the beginning, during the offertory, at Communion time, and at the end. But there was so much more.
There was also a relaxation of some “rules.” For example, before Vatican II, Catholics were required, under pain of serious sin, to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays of the year. After Vatican II, this rule was modified. This abstinence was now required only during Lent. It was suggested that, on the other Fridays, a Catholic may choose to abstain, but in its place, perform some other act of penance (in remembrance of the day Christ died, which was a Friday). All that got communicated at my parish was that we could now eat meat … not the rest. I think it exemplified how Vatican II directives were often either misinterpreted or ignored. Something else that stands out for me is the fact that orders of religious sisters took this “breath of fresh air” to mean that they should allow sisters to wear lay clothes instead of the traditional “habits.” And this meant that the nuns now go to a beauty shop to have their hair styled (for example) like all lay women. What is wrong with this picture? Perhaps most serious of all is that many Catholic schools have closed, including the one I attended all those years ago. That means that generations of our children will now not know their faith like they should.
This post could get very long. Let me just say that I believe that this list of changes and misinterpretations are the cause of the myriad of problems we are seeing today. This, along with the liberalization of our culture, both in society in general and in the lives of Catholics, means that there are fewer vocations to the priesthood and religious life; that there is a sex scandal among Catholic clergy; that young Catholics leave the Church, especially when exposed to misguided professors and others at our colleges and universities; and that attendance at Mass is down worldwide. Catholic men and women don’t know their faith. I lament that fact too, just like my former pastor and like Father Classen. Serious prayer is needed today.