Materialism, Truth and the Catholic Mystery

Recently here, I reported how moved I once was by the words of Latin Mass priest in Ireland who regretted a contemporary tendency in the Church to de-emphasise the need for the Sacrament of Confession.

His point was that people who availed themselves less often of this Sacrament, availed themselves less of the “Sanctifying Grace” which it offered.

Again, what I admired was that this was a case where the supernatural reality of the Sacraments was taken absolutely seriously. And it seems to me that this is among the greatest strengths of the Traditional Catholic movement – to make no compromise with the modern materialism prevalent everywhere.

The modern materialism everywhere …

Here I do not simply mean commercial materialism, with which we are all familiar. No by materialism, I mean all the manifold tendencies by which we fail to account for the supernatural in life, and which encourage a tendency to reduce our experience to matter alone.

Now clearly these manifold trends have been increasing everywhere in Western civilisation in the last centuries. But until the 1960’s, one notable field of exception was the Catholic Church. Yet after a so-called “Spirit of Vatican II” took hold, this was no longer so clearly and unambiguously the case.

While travelling in France, how I remember coming across so much literature, which seemed marked indeed by a modern materialistic tendency in the Church. For example, I recall reading a brief description of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

To the best of my recollection, it said words to the effect that it was through this Sacrament that one became “a full member of the Christian Community”. And nothing more.

It was a disturbing description indeed. For such words could be used for entrance to any institution, like joining a club. “Confirmation … by which one becomes a confirmed member of the Washington D.C. Institute of Political and Business Management …”

Inasmuch as there was not any mention at all of the dimension of the supernatural, these simple words seem to me symptomatic of so much of the crisis in the Catholic Church today.

That is to say, so very, very often, the modern Church cannot seem to clearly proclaim a task central to its work. That is to say, its task of bringing healing, supernatural Grace into the world.

This then is one example of what I mean by the manifold tendencies of materialism: The inability to proclaim any dimension beyond that of the material world.

It is this materialism which causes such deep thirst in so many people, with the result that many a modern soul thirsting for the Grace of God turns not to the Church, but to the New Age movement, where it must be said, there is not the slightest embarrassment about speaking of supernatural dimensions …

And in my experience, it is so frequently the traditional Catholic movement where one finds the most courage to speak unambiguously and clearly about the Catholic Mystery.

Now, recently in this weblog, I have also been speaking of the cultural blindness to the Sacraments fostered in the Anglophone countries of Protestant heritage.

I believe this to be true. But it is not the whole picture. Yes Protestant churches eliminated the Sacraments and the Sacraments often became forgotten and invisible in Protestant culture.

But it must be said, that in the wake of a Protestantised Catholic Church of the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II” that now the Catholic Church herself so frequently joins in the work of burying and forgetting the Sacraments.

This work can take many forms. It can take the form of de-emphasising the need for Confession, as mentioned above. Or it can take the form of describing a Sacrament, as if it were no more than entrance to a club.

And most tellingly, it can take the form of many modern celebrations of the Novus Ordo Mass, the post-Vatican II Mass, where Latin was eliminated and countless other changes were made.

So often it is the case in celebrations of the new Mass, where if one did not know otherwise, one would have little outer indication at all that one had to come to Church to participate in an outpouring of supernatural Grace. Inwardly the Sacrament remains present I believe, but outwardly there is little acknowledgment.

No, what one finds in many of these modern Masses is something akin to many Protestant services today, where it as though people have come to the Church to be entertained.

Entertained … hence so often the need for the priest to act as comedian, cracking jokes. Or for the music to join the rhythms of a contemporary, compulsive sing-along quality.

Now I speak only of a general tendency here. For one can find the Novus Ordo celebrated in a CONSISTENT fashion.

Consistent … that is to say where outwardly and inwardly there is no disjuncture, where the visible way the Mass is celebrated is consistent with the invisible raison d’etre of the Mass, that is to say, participation in the Catholic Mystery.

Yes let us thank God that there are countless Novus Ordo priests who still reverently focus on the Mystery. Still, in the wisdom of the original form of the Mass, the priest had his back turned to the faithful. Among other things, this no doubt encouraged the priest to pray, pray without distraction, as he faced the tabernacle, the receptacle of Christ.

Now facing the people, the temptation to become an entertainer seems all too common, and for this, among many other reasons, the style of celebrating the new Mass can become inconsistent with the very purpose of the Mass …

Recently the Holy Father has released his masterful social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Charity in Truth. There he returns again and again to the idea that without truth, charity can loses its way and degrade into sentiment. Thus he posits the the moral obligation of telling the truth.

Referring to the words of the Johannine Christ that “the truth will set you free”, the Holy Father goes on to observe that “to defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity” …

It seems to me that in an age of continued descent into materialism, in an age where so many take refuge in New Age mysteries, that we as Catholics have a particular obligation to start telling the truth about the Sacraments …

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