I know. It’s ridiculous. Young people hear their elders speak like this and kindly smile. Why not humor them at this point? If anything, it’s hilarious to hear them talk like this, despite it being so sad. See, that’s the problem with an ideology. It can’t be falsified. If you start with the assumption that nothing can falsify your argument, then all data that would reasonably show the argument to be wrong must be reinterpreted to make everything fit, even if this means accepting outrageous conclusions. And ‘outrageous’ is the only word that properly describes the reasons for why the church is being gutted, according to this aging crowd.
Keep in mind: reasonable and unbiased onlookers, even those (or especially those) who aren’t Catholic, would look at the present church—with its shuttered parishes and schools, its empty convents, its sparsely populated seminaries, and its abysmally educated and waning Catholic populace—and conclude that the Church took a wrong turn, ‘strategy’ wise, some time ago. After all: the sheer amount of empty (and beautiful) Catholic architecture dotting the western landscape gives evidence of a time when the Church was a much larger, and a much more thriving institution than it is presently. Clearly, some poor decisions were made somewhere along the line.
That’d be a reasonable conclusion to make. Indeed, it would be the simplest, the most elegant, and the most rational to boot. Go figure, that’s also the correct conclusion. But the Retirement Community has a funny way of spurning Ockham’s Razor. It’s endearing to watch these aged Vatican II enthusiasts explain, with such breathtaking irrationality and blindness, why the Church fell off a cliff. Given how they must reinterpret the data in light of their unfalsifiable starting point—that Vatican II was the Bee’s Knees—their explanations always sound nothing short of silly.
Usually, excuses for the Church’s decline involve talk of undefeatable cultural forces, and other gates of hell. And sometimes, they involve constructing an image of the Church that has been yet in the throes of conservative despotism this whole time, even despite the tidal wave of Vatican II! You’ll even hear that the real reason for the cataclysmic collapse of the Church was the never-ending ‘reactionary’ pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI!, two popes who ‘derailed’ the relaxed and groovy campaign of Paul VI, and stymied the Church’s path to awesomeness, relevance, and vibrancy.
Yes, John Paul II, that stalwart throwback, that retro-loving dogmatist. Yes, John Paul II, the man who hated crowds, loathed ecumenism, winced at lay-leadership, and derided novelty. The man who insisted on ceremony, good liturgy, formality, and tradition, and who was forever spurning dialogue, the hip and the cool, and the need for change. The man who wouldn’t be seen without having donned decadent papal regalia, the man who never turned down a ride in the sedia gestatoria. That Pope John Paul.
If only U2’s Bono could have met with him, perhaps then the Church would have been seen as being more ‘relevant’ by a confused Catholic populace needing direction, and the convents would have stayed full. Perhaps if he would have started some sort of large gathering for young people, where the New Mass, containing an already sanitized set of prayers, was celebrated in the style of a rock concert, without any liturgical decorum…well, if he would have done something like this, then he might have appealed to the forward-thinking seeker, and the seminaries would have stayed full. Perhaps if he would have made it difficult for Latin-loving fuddy-duddies to celebrate the Old Mass, by giving total power to progressive and despotic bishops who hated the Old Mass and the old ways with a cold, hard passion, the confused parishioner would have understood the Church to be a forward-thinking institution that spurned its own stuffy tradition, and perhaps then the parishes would have stayed full. Yes, if only our popes were more progressive, more open, more groovy, we would not be in our current predicament.
Perhaps if they traveled more!
Anyway, it’s even more endearing to hear these delusional senior citizens speak of the solution to our current woes: more Vatican II! The main problem, it seemed, was that we just didn’t get enough stripping, enough sanitizing, enough destruction, enough iconoclasm, enough lay leadership, enough collegiality, enough liturgical novelty, enough moral downgrading, enough ambiguity. What we need is more of this stuff.
Yes, sad. And hilarious.
What’s more interesting for my present purposes is the corollary shock that this aging crowd displays when they are shown what the young folks are getting behind today. For what do these old folks see? A gaggle of young and faithful Catholics turning to tradition, the Old Mass, and the old ways. They see a troupe of annoyed young people who see the Novus Ordo as lame and sanitized, and who are utterly turned off by the narcissism of the Age of Aquarius. They see traditionalist communities pining for more space, they see large construction projects to accommodate the rising numbers of traditionalist seminary students, and they see a general antipathy towards Vatican II. This state of affairs simply does not compute for our ailing Old Timers. Suffice it to say, it goes against their most deeply held convictions concerning the future of the church. It’s one thing for some of their own, aged kind to pine for ‘nostalgia’. It’s another thing altogether that the young people are into that stuff too. It simply makes no sense...
Go figure, it doesn’t seem to make any sense to our current pope either, given that he is a man who seemingly fulfills the hopes and dreams of those who hold to the Unfalsifiable Premise. And so we recently read of an incredulous Francis, utterly confused as to why young people might be interested in the Traditional Latin Mass. After all, the going narrative was that some fellow old timers liked the Old Mass because they were simply ‘stuck’ that way. Apparently, this was to be expected. It was no problem accommodating those stilted old fools clinging to their guns and their religion, and trapped by their own fear of change. Let them die whilst glowing in their nostalgia, God bless ‘em. They are no threat to The Project. They’re old, after all.
But young people? That simply makes no sense. Why would they possibly have interest in the Old Mass? Don’t they know how relaxed and groovy the church is now? Don’t they know how well the Church is ‘reaching’ them now? Don’t they know how well the church is evangelizing now? What gives?
Enter the explanation that keeps the unfalsifiable premise…unfalsifiable!
It’s a fad.
But of course! After all: that’s the only explanation that fits! It CAN’T be that these young people have found something that their own parents forgot, and it can’t be that there’s actually something there in the ‘old ways’ that’s worth a damn. Nah…it’s just trendy, is all. See: all young people are contrarian by nature. The incense and Latin, it’s merely the liturgical equivalent of coming home with green hair. After all: for many young people raised by Baby Boomer, happy-clappy progressives, traditionalism and ‘conservatism’ are the countercultural fashion statements. Thus, interest in the Old Mass is the Catholic equivalent of a son of hippie parents donning a navy blazer with gold buttons and joining the Union League.
Yeah, that’s it! No problem. Nothing to see here. All is well. It’s just kids being kids. Don’t worry. They’ll get over it. It’s just a fad. They’ll soon grow up, get a haircut, fall in line, and see the folly of their traditional ways. They all do.
With respect for His Holiness, and other senior citizens beholden to the Unfalsifiable Premise:
Sorry, not so much.
Perhaps we might find an explanation for the current interest in tradition among our Catholic youth that does not so fantastically belie Ockham’s Razor. I think I can give you an explanation that is much more elegant, and (thankfully for my own limited intellectual resources) much more simple.
It’s richer, it’s deeper, it’s more Catholic. Yes, young ones are contrarian by nature, but it’s premature to call their interest in tradition a fad. For more than anything, they are restless, and they have found rest in the fullness of the truth, a fullness that is only found in tradition. The youth do not just pine for novelty and autonomy and originality. They pine for completeness and authenticity, and they have found both in Tradition. As it turns out, young people are interested in being real, and they found the sanitized Novus Ordo anything but. Their nagging intuitions led them to the conclusion that something was amiss, and they discovered that—wouldn’t you know it! — it is the aging True Believer, with his irrational belief in the future of Vatican II, that is perpetuating The Fad.
These young people—their haunting suspicions were confirmed by a device that old people seem to have problems understanding: the internet. I often think that the writers of the documents of Vatican II, along with the promulgators of the New Mass, would have packed up and gone home long prior to completing their tasks, had they known that in the future, there would be a device that would allow curious seekers to easily find out the truth of the matter regarding most anything, with the few clicks of a mouse. Indeed, the internet has proven to be a particularly powerful agent in the destruction of an official post-conciliar Narrative, one that speaks not just of the continuity between the old and the new, but just as importantly, of the backward curmudgeonry of the ‘traditionalist’ view of things.
This narrative was easy to promote when curious seekers weren’t a google search away from detailed information on the changes in the Mass, when the Catechism of the Council of Trent wasn’t found complete on Google Books (go and look!), and when traditionalist intellectuals could not so easily make their presence known to the Catholic populace at large through online publications and blogs. Curious young people, already deft at using a device that old timers look at with suspicion, were able to investigate. They were able to find out what their elders had kept from them regarding what the Church used to teach, and how it used to worship. Just as importantly, they were able to easily falsify the cruel insistence of the Novus Ordo establishment, that traditionalists were antisocial misfits and lived in caves, and that their arguments were as bad as their teeth and clothes.
Not so much. As it turns out, the perpetuation of this picture of the traditionalist community was only possible when it couldn’t be verified either way. The internet has changed all of that. Sorry old folks! It appears as if you have been done in by not keeping up with the times. Go figure. Yes, it seems as if the fad is Vatican II. I don’t expect the aging baby boomers to understand this. They are old, after all.