Liturgy, Abuse and Humanae Vitae: Some Connections?

This year and next see some significant ecclesiastical half-centuries racked up. This year it is the encyclical Humanae Vitae‘s (HV) turn, and next year it is the turn of the Novus Ordo Missae (NOM)—the new Mass. There has been and will be much written on these milestone anniversaries, by many more qualified that this writer to comment. Rather than publish a parallel, and probably quite similar, commentary to theirs, it is intended here to offer a few contextual notes you might keep in mind as you read them. We need now to interrogate more searchingly and more insistently both what you read and hear, and our own current situation.

50-odd years on HV and NOM offer a study in both contrasts and congruities. What HV predicted of a contraceptive culture has been comprehensively fulfilled; the promised fruitfulness of liturgical reform has not. The sad accuracy of the one and the equally sad failure of the other share a common cause (among others): the turn to self as the standard of judgment and the focus of attention.

That both HV and NOM came from the same pope, Bl Paul VI, is surely sobering. Popes are infallible in ex cathedra dogmatic judgment, but not in personal judgment, and Bl Paul VI is the example par excellence. Paul VI soundly, if controversially, ignored the advice of the commission on birth control; but he lamentably listened all too willingly to Annibale Bugnini, outed now as a manipulative scoundrel of diabolical ability.

In HV Paul VI prophetically foresaw the disastrous effects on church and society of the contraceptive mentality, with its sexual objectification of others as tools for the gratification of self, and the objectification of the human person itself, no longer a gift from God but either an accessory or an impediment to a misguided quest for self-fulfillment. It was a small but logical and indeed inexorable step from a contraceptive mentality to an abortion mentality, to designer babies, to population decline. The popular refusal to serve the perennial truth affirmed in HV exacerbated a crisis of authority in the Church that paralleled that in secular society, and by which the culture of the Church was overwhelmingly infected. The individual self became its own locus of authority and its own standard of judgment. Truth became a dead letter; now every individual has his or her own truth. No shock then, really, that individuals now can decide their “gender” irrespective of their biological inheritance; and if biology gets too much in the way, they can now just change it. It’s all about “me”, after all. This is the “progress” of our more “enlightened” age. In this the vast majority of those who still identify as Catholics acquiesce.

In NOM Paul VI ceased to be prophetic leader and became pathetically led. Probably against both his better judgment and the inner voice of a well-formed conscience Paul VI hitched his wagon to the reform train. Perhaps distracted by justifiably fond memories of the principles of the classic liturgical movement he failed to notice how it had been commandeered by the forces of a far more radical, more secular reform that had little to do with the true liturgical movement. Fruitful participation at Mass had become active participation, the gratification of the congregation was now the proper object of liturgical attention, not the duty to worship God in spirit and in truth. The original goal of promoting conscious awareness of the mysteries celebrated and addressed in liturgical worship had been supplanted by the new mission to promote a demystified cult of activity and verbosity. Tradition ceased to be the paradigm of worship; now it was the “me” of self, though cunningly camouflaged in the “us” of the increasingly self-worshipping community. Whatever got in the way of the new liturgical principles and priorities was discarded with increasing impunity. When authority all too infrequently tried to restrain the dogs of liturgical war now let loose, it was ignored. More often authority acquiesced in the new enlightened spirit of novelty, ensuring that authority came to be heard only when it agreed with the loud and militant minority among those they should have been leading. The shepherds also too often put self first, again camouflaged as the will of the community.

So when we read about the sins of Cardinal McCarrick, try to read his actions, and those of other clerical and episcopal abusers, in the same context we are now understanding HV and NOM. All evidence the triumph of self as the standard of judgement and the subject of gratification; truly, we might call it self-service. It is a tragedy, and even the right-thinking and right-intentioned find themselves trapped in the web of this modern, yet ancient, spirit.

I will not serve, said Satan. I came to serve not to be served, said the Lord. I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth if you would serve me, said Satan. The one who leaves father, mother, property and lands for my sake will be repaid a hundredfold in this life and receive eternal life in the next, said the Lord.

Who would truly be my disciple must deny himself, take up the Cross and follow me, says the Lord. This must be the paradigm and principle of all liturgy and morality if ever we are to regain ecclesiastical and social health. Both the shepherds and the flock have the opportunity to promote this renewal. Yet, let it be understood our Lord makes it clear that from those to whom much has been given, much will be demanded; and regarding those who lead the little ones astray, the Lord says it would be better for them that they had a millstone around their necks and be cast into the seas than to fall into the hands of the Lord at judgment.

May we have ears hear what the Lord has always said, and continues to say. And may be give us courage not only to hear his word, but to do it.

7 thoughts on “Liturgy, Abuse and Humanae Vitae: Some Connections?

  1. Great article! Thank you! Have been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari and his explanation of the various types of humanism that pervade the Church today and the world makes me think that humanism in its many guises leads to the sin against the first commandment, have no other gods before you. Yet we have made ourselves into little and strange god’sthat we worship. I have seen this played out in many religious formation programmes whereby the concentration is on the individual to the exclusion of God.
    His predictions for the future should be part of ever seminary and formation programme. We are sleep walking into a very strange new world. I would urge you to read his book and listen to some of his YouTube lectures. I certainly don’t agree with everything he says but I think he is pointing toward a world that will demand a much different response from the Church. That is, if we can get over ourselves and clean up the cesspool that now threatens to overwhelm us. Hope you’re having a great holiday!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What is most troubling about Paul VI is that, while he did notably pass on the authentic moral teaching in Humanae Vitae, he and his bishops failed to pass on the liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite to the next generation as they themselves had received it. This failure to transmit the liturgical ‘traditio’, if I may put it that way, along with the specific type of spiritual experience proper to it, would seem unthinkable, yet that is exactly what happened. I can identify with a previous comment here about ‘sleepwalking into a very strange new world. Yes, indeed.


  3. Excellent Father— as a non Catholic (we still must have that conversation) but as a mom and life long high school educator HM always made so much sense especially living in this post 60’s post pill society— Pope Paul VI shows us clearly the diagnosis yet our critically ill culture continues to refuse to ignore the diagnosis let alone the cure!


  4. Spot on, Fr!

    I wonder if I could have your reaction to something touching upon all of this…

    I have a very good friend who stayed with the Church through thick and thin (well, thin and thinner would probably be more accurate!), and could never understand the exodus in response to the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in recent years. After Cardinal Arinze made his plea to return to Ad Orientem, however, and was roundly castigated in response, he left for the Russian Orthodox Church.

    How does this strike you, Fr? Personally, I understand 100% how that did it for him, but I seem to be in a minority of 1 amongst my fellow Catholics.

    God bless you and all who read/post here.



  5. I wonder what would have happened if “vernacular TLM” of 1965-69 had been given more of a chance?

    People are resistant to the old rite because they assume it means going back to Latin, which is especially difficult for non-Romance language congregations.


    1. Well, that’s one of my great what-ifs: what if the interim rites had been given a chance rather than being employed (cynically? duplicitously?) as a softening up process from the radical, non-organic rewriting that Bugnini and his crew had as their endgame? The first post-conciliar missal was unadulterated Vatican II.

      To be honest, though, I don’t think Latin was ever a real problem for the laity. It was the experts clamouring for change, not the laity. Latin was a unifying bond for a truly international, universal Church. The 1964/5 missal with its vernacular readings and Latin ordinary and proper was a noble compromise.

      The unnecessary, unwarranted, unconciliar abandonment of ad orientem was another grievous blow to our liturgy, as was (again deceitfully imposed) communion in the hand. Neither of these changes were sanctioned by the Council.

      You can see why conspiracy theories gained traction. Mind you, they were pretty much confirmed as well!


  6. I think a key problem is that there is no realistic strategy beyond mere survival among the TLM supporters. The TLM is not going to be “the” mass again, unless the non-TLM church fails so catastrophically as to leave the currently small minority of TLM supporters as the governing majority. And we are talking worldwide failure there, not just in the West… The current situation of the TLM as a place where hardcore liturgy fans and traditionalists get parked, while the rest of the church basically ignores them, is better than the outright suppression that went on before. But it offers no future, really. And the dreams about the youth going all traditional and reforming the church simply through generational change are basically delusional. This will only ever work as a variant of the catastrophic failure scenario.

    If you want something TLM-like as “normal” again, then it is not going to be through a simple return to the TLM by the church. It will have to be through a “reform of the reform” of the new mass towards the TLM. And there you have the choice of hoping for either centuries of slow development in the right direction or the same sort of top-down imposition of drastic change that removed the TLM in the first place. But there is a reason why that particular crass change was possible back then: on one hand there was massive societal upheaval providing motivation (fear of losing the masses), on the other hand the church was still obedient (sheepish?) enough to follow. Now though, nothing in the wider society would motivate the church to return to its traditions, and the church is largely disobedient and may not follow if pushed back to its roots.

    Frankly, I’m wondering if we are not simply moving to another major schism. Arian Controversy 325 AD, Great Schism 1054 AD, Reformation 1517 AD – it happens about every 500 years or so, and it seems rather overdue now.

    Liked by 1 person

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