"I Am a Restorationist" (ANTHONY ESOLEN)
By One of the Finest Catholic Intellectuals Today
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A BEAUTIFUL MEDITATION from Anthony Esolen, one of the finest Catholic writers/thinkers today. This sums up exactly what happened when the church “wreckovations” took place in the 1960s and ‘70s. The final paragraph is so true.
The fruits of the “Spirit of Vatican 2” can be seen in the state of the US Catholic Church today: aging priests and nuns with rare religious and priestly vocations to replace them (except in the Traditional Latin Mass Rite parishes where they can’t build them fast enough to accommodate the many young applicants), closing down of parish churches and schools, about 20% only of nominal Catholics regularly attending Mass (in Europe, it’s closer to 10%), ignorance of basic catechism (70% in a survey said they didn’t believe the Eucharist/consecrated Host was the Body & Blood of Christ through the process of Transubstantiation), ignorance and dismissal of Humanae Vitae’s clear and vital teachings about “the regulation of birth” (i.e., purpose of sexual union, why artificial contraception and abortion are not acceptable, etc.), with consequent rampant practice by many Catholics of artificial contraception, divorced couples, teaching of errors by apostate bishops and priests, sexual “filth” and other horrors within the Church, loss of the moral leadership of the Church in society and the world, and so on and so forth.
Yet, we should not conflate the personal errors of the members of the Church (who are all sinners, religious or lay) with institutional errors, because the institutional Church teachings remain unchanged; they are lucid, based on faith and reason and Scripture, and are the most rational and coherent set of principles and values to live one’s life by (in my own view and experience).
Hello. My name is Tony. I am a restorationist.
I wasn’t always this way. I grew up in the 1960s and the 1970s, and we all took for granted everything the priests and bishops said we had to do according to the directions of the Second Vatican Council. None of us had read the documents, but we figured that our leaders had, and we obeyed. They counted on it.
When our pastor removed the marble communion rail with its mosaic inlays of Eucharistic symbols (a basket of five loaves, two fish, a bunch of grapes, the Lamb of God), we figured he knew what he was doing, and we submitted. When he whitewashed the church walls, eliminating stenciled patterns of the fleur-de-lis, so that what had been warm and shady was now bare, with no color connection between the stained-glass windows, the mural paintings of figures from the Old Testament, and the painted ceiling above, we figured he knew what he was doing, and we obeyed. When he covered the hexagonal floor tiles, white and dark green in cruciform patterns, with a bright-red carpet, we wiped our feet and obeyed.
We obeyed a lot, then. The bishop had caught the fervor of the council, and soon the diocese was peppered with billboards reading “Project: Expansion.” It was an expansive time, we thought, a time for building new diocesan high schools, new parochial schools, new parishes. And all that expansion cost money. Every family was asked to pledge what they could afford. My family pledged—I don’t know how much, but my father and mother were devout and generous and obedient Catholics, and what they pledged, they paid.
I don’t blame the bishop. How could he know that we were on the brink of a calamitous collapse? Our parish school, built by the family money of an Irish pastor a hundred years ago, is now the borough offices and lockup. There is but a single high school left for the diocese.
In another shift, all at once, we were going to be singing hymns. The strategy was to teach them to the school children, and then have them attend the 9:15 Mass, the third of five every Sunday, to sing them and thus teach them to their parents. I remember learning “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which I liked a great deal. The others? Well, most of them were dull (“This Is My Body”) or sappy (“Sing to the Mountains”), but none of us knew a thing about the long tradition of Christian hymnody.
Most of the men did not sing. We had Mass in high school on All Saints’ Day and other feasts, and then we did bring out the guitars, and pretty much everybody did sing the songs. We didn’t know anything else. Those songs would wear thin over time. As music, they were and are pretty bad, like clumsy show tunes for an off-Broadway romantic comedy. Their theology was worse and the poetry worst of all. But I obeyed.
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