Let the Credo sound again in the Roman Catholic Church

Below is a translated opinion piece in the Dutch Volkskrant that fits well with our analyses of certain situations in the Belgian Church. The reader reactions to this piece were full of clichés and came mainly from people who have nothing, or nothing more to do with the Church. They were very recognizable and as ill-considered as many of the articles that accompany the reports about the Catholic world in our Belgian media.

Opinion of Olaf van Boetzelaer (1), 27/01/2014

Only the sacred effect of Gregorian chants and the Latin mass can save the Catholic Church, writes Olaf van Boetzelaer. ‘Do not be ashamed of your own rich tradition and give the Gregorian chants a place again, so that their unique sacred effect can be felt again.’  (2)

Provide authentic religious instruction from competent religious teachers in Catholic schools.

The report “ad limina” that the Dutch bishops issued to the Pope some time ago, does not immediately exude an optimistic spirit, to say the least. No wonder. In 1961, 84 percent of Dutch Catholics went to church every Sunday, now this is only a paltry 6 percent. In Flanders, the situation is identical. How did it come to this?

Almost from the moment Pope John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council to be held – he wanted to bring the Church up to date – a stream of ‘modernist’ theological publications started. At its core, it is about a strongly ‘horizontal’ orientation towards progressive social action, with a simultaneous strong relativization of the ‘vertical’, i.e., beliefs and dogmas directed at God and the supernatural.

Outsourced religious education

The historicity of the miracles described in the Gospel, including the resurrection of Christ from the dead, was questioned, and symbolically interpreted; the Eucharistic doctrine of transubstantiation, thus the true presence of Christ in bread and wine after consecration, was obscured with the vague term “transfinalization” (3). Hell, and purgatory were also preferred not to be preached anymore. The bishops handed over their responsibility for religious education to institutes such as the KASKI in Nijmegen (4).

In my opinion, a capital strategic blunder and a downright abdication of their inevitable responsibility. New religious textbooks appeared, infused with a modernist spirit, which proved fatal to the formation of believing and well-taught Catholics. The result is that a very large proportion of the people who are ‘shaped’ by this have a practically blank knowledge of the Catholic faith and, insofar as they are confronted with authentic Catholic beliefs, react with rejection or the necessary skepticism. Is it any wonder, then, that the number of visitors to Sunday Mass has decreased dramatically? 

Another factor that has contributed to radical secularization is what you might call the liturgical shipwreck. Since the so-called ‘abolition of Latin’ and the introduction of the reformed mass text in 1966, the so-called ‘Ordo Novus’, people have stayed away en masse.

Large-scale sense of alienation

This is because in practice the priest in the liturgy of the Sunday service often did not even adhere to the authorized new Mass text, but entered texts himself that, by their vagueness, caused a great feeling of alienation and irritation among the faithful, while of course there was no recruiting effect; because the precious tradition of the Latin liturgy, especially the Gregorian chants, was thrown overboard and replaced by ‘those songs’. A Huub Oosterhuis, who mockingly referred to the Catholic Eucharistic faith as the ‘trick of tricks’, was considered a favorite maker of liturgy, to the indignation of many convinced Catholics.  In Flanders I experience in a number of churches that instead of the Creed a self-made text has been drawn up, with practically no faith-revealing content.

I would strongly recommend two things. In the first place: ensure authentic faith teaching in Catholic schools by competent religious teachers.

Unique sacral effect

And furthermore: introduce the celebration of the ‘old’ Tridentine mass, but then in addition to Latin also in Dutch (or in the national language – note from the editor). This is because, according to many, these mass texts are much richer from the point of view of  faith transmission and experience of faith than anything that has come since. In any case, use the authorized translation of the Roman missal and not your own ‘homework’.  Don’t be ashamed of your own rich tradition and give the Gregorian chants a place again, so that their unique sacred effect can be felt again.

Bishops are not just called to dialogue and build bridges, but primarily to use their authority in word and deed to ensure the purity of the faith and its transmission.

Shepherds must lead and in order to be faithful to the Lord and even be able to decide and act hard in an emergency situation like this, in the interest of the salvation of souls. After all, shepherds are shepherds and not sheep.  (The accentuation comes from the editors)

(1) Olaf van Boetzelaer  (1943 – 2018) is a Dutch lawyer and Catholic politician. He was also professor of international politics and history in Manila, Philippines for a while.

(2) This Forum does not prefer any particular form of the Mass but wishes to emphasize the great importance of compliance with the ecclesiastical liturgical precepts. Masses that do not comply with this detract from the dignity and universality of the Mass and can in many cases be regarded as ecclesiastical and spiritually invalid.

(3) Ed.: That Jesus is present in the sacrament of the Eucharist is also accepted by many Protestants. However, the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation is not about the “presence”, but about the way in which that presence takes place. This means that the bread and wine offered during the consecration “substantially,” but not “materially,” turn into the Body and Blood of Christ. The observable forms remain the same, but essentially or substantially they have been transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Some theologians have tried to make this Eucharistic mystery more comprehensible, by speaking of “transsignification” or “transfinalization” (change of purpose). But this leveling explanation was always rejected as “heretical” by the Church, through the popes involved.

In fact, this important fact of faith goes back to the words of Christ, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6: 54-55). Most of his listeners then dropped out, because these words, understood purely materially, are humanly incomprehensible. One can only understand and accept them with the eyes of a true belief in a higher and more substantial reality than those we can perceive or understand intellectually. Christ is the revelation of this.

(4)  KASKI: Research Centre for Religion and Society. It is part of the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies of the Radboud University in Nijmegen.

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