Everyone has within his mind an intellectual framework—rather like the walls of a house. This foundational structure provides coherence and meaning to the ideas that bounce around in his head. Without it, nothing makes sense. But within its light, experiences, beliefs, and feelings can be evaluated and judged. Thoughts can be put in order. Most people don’t notice they’re doing this, of course. It’s part of them. It’s who they are, how they think. It just is. When the structure is sound, a person can find peace of soul, even in the midst of sorrow and loss. But when the framework is not sound, when the beams are crooked, and the roof leaks, the person flounders. There is no internal logic or stability; all sorts of emotional disorders follow.
It need not be that way, not for us. Outside of the Sacraments, one of the most beautiful things the Church always gave her children was the systematic teaching of the Articles of Faith. Whether it was the inspired Creeds or the simple questions and answers of a penny catechism, the Truth was laid out in perfect harmony. Simple enough or a child to learn and deep enough for the most erudite theologian, the Faith was the foundation of true science and art.
People could know who they were and where they were heading. Nobody need thrash around trying to figure out why he’d been born. All he had to do was give intellectual assent to the teaching of the Catholic Church—through whom God speaks to every people, in every age. He could have answers before he knew how to form the questions. There was something on which to build a life. Once seen in the light of Faith, everything—birth, death, suffering, joy and love—could be understood.
A person could stupidly reject it, of course, but at least there was something there to reject. And then the poor soul could rush around trying to figure out what life was all about. I fear that is exactly what is going on now—and has been since Pope John XXIII refused to reveal the Third Secret of Fatima. To me looking back, that day in 1960 marked the start of the devolution. Our Lady was ignored; a new spirit was unleashed. Toxic smoke blew from the Seven Hills; and one beautiful thing after another began to crumble or be destroyed.
Who can feel secure now?
People don’t know their Faith, and they don’t know why they don’t know. Without even realizing it, they’ve been handed a new identity, born of the Enlightenment, in which “modern scholarship” has the primacy. Godless philosophical systems gained the ascendency in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and despite the valiant efforts of Pope Leo XIII and Pope St. Pius X, these systems pushed aside clarity of thought. You can see their work played out in the rewriting of the Sacred Scriptures. And you can see it in the shallowness of modern catechetics. The snakes have been slithering through the Garden of Faith.
There is a new attitude, more or less conscious, regarding our religion. For the “mature Catholic,” only those things which can be understood, demonstrated, or proven can be believed. The once-Catholic foolishly tells himself he is “searching for the truth.” But by those very words, he denies that Truth has been revealed, and we are obliged to believe it.
His focus in on this world, on relationships and self-awareness. He is the locus of his belief, the arbiter of reality, the only real thing he knows. He has vague ideas about anything relating to Catholic belief or worship. He’s not sure Jesus is God. Perhaps, he reasons, at some point He became God, just as all the cosmos is becoming divinized. He cannot accept anything that seems impossible—things like Our Lady actually coming to earth and actually appearing in the flesh at Lourdes, Fatima, and Quito. Those things aren’t actually real. He can’t accept them, but he won’t reject them—he is Catholic after all. But he won’t think about them, and he won’t suffer anyone else to, either. Besides, God doesn’t really care what we think.
How does he know? Well, the modern theologians tell him so.
The religion has been stripped by those entrusted to preserve it. Perhaps if you are under fifty, you won’t even realize what happened. But in the early post-Vatican II years, the dismantling was deliberate, overt, and unstoppable. And now we are suffering the consequences. Two generations have passed. People old enough to be grandparents weren’t taught the catechism. The people in charge wanted the religion changed. Why? I think it is because they no longer believed. They had lost all sense of the supernatural.
Come back with me now to the seventies. I have three stories to tell.
My son was preparing to make his First Holy Communion. My husband and I had volunteered to teach catechism—at least we still called it that. But there was no catechism. There was no doctrine. Experience superseded dogma. Those in charge of teaching the children had changed course. They replaced a didactic approach with We Celebrate the Eucharist.
This was the “gold book” of Christiane Brusselmans, Ph.D., a Belgian student of the radical Dominican, Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx O.P. Not only he, but many of the “great figures in theology and the liturgical movement in France were her teachers: Jean Danielou for patristic studies, Dom Bernard Botte for liturgy, Yves Congar for theology of the laity and Louis Bouyer for Protestant theology.” This woman who would shape religious education for decades was an innovator par excellence.
We protested at a teachers’ meeting, telling the priest in charge and the other teachers there was little substance in the book. The teaching wasn’t clear. The Mass was presented as a meal. There was no mention of sacrifice, no teaching that when one receives Communion, he receives the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was a seriously defective text.
We were silenced, told “it’s all in there.”
But it wasn’t. Even the title was problematic. The children were to receive Holy Communion, not celebrate the Eucharist. The word celebrate has a different meaning in a liturgical context. It doesn’t mean marking an occasion with festivities, like a birthday party, or even Christmas. It means to perform a sacrament or solemn ceremony with appropriate rites. In other words, for Catholics, it means to offer the Mass. And that is the role of the priest, not the children.
Thus, with a single title, in the years when a child is most receptive to receiving the faith whole and entire, he is misled. The distinction between priest and people is dissolved. Everybody joins in. The whole community performs the sacred action.
And solvent is poured over the Faith.
That year was filled with one attack on the Faith after another, as if there were an archer from Hell shooting arrows in an open field. The directive from Rome requiring First Confession before First Communion was rejected. (I had to attend an archdiocesan meeting, filled with mockers and dissenters, who laid out the way to ignore Rome.) We weren’t allowed to mention sin. It was divisive. We weren’t allowed to distribute the Miraculous Medals we had donated. The children practiced receiving Communion with unconsecrated hosts and grape juice. Just a happy little snack.
The height of nonsense was reached when the children participated in boiling pasta for a common meal. I’m not kidding. As part of their religious education, each child was given one spaghetti noodle to drop into the pot of boiling water. Showing what? I’m not sure. Community, I guess, or more, alarmingly—to demonstrate the Eastern idea that all are one—a theme that ran like an undercurrent throughout the year.
We did the best we could, filling in the gaps, but—except for our son who learned his catechism and went to confession (alone) before his First Communion—it was a losing battle. We left after the second year. The worst of it is that millions of children year after year, never saw a catechism book or learned the answers to the most essential questions of the Faith. And those children are now nearly fifty years old. How, then, can they hold what they never had? Is it any wonder each generation knows even less?
The second story took place at the same church, the same year. We were all “novus ordo” then. There was no Tridentine Mass. As far as we knew, it was gone forever. We had never heard of Archbishop Lefebvre or his brand-new society in Econe. Our church was conservative—no clowns or dancing girls. Although it had the mandatory table, it did have confessionals and communion rails.
But renewal was in the works.
The church had a wonderful library. I used to go to daily Mass and then make a trip to the library. The books were treasures. Books of the saints, theology, church history, tales of converts—a banquet for the mind. I’d take a book, read it, and bring it back, week after week. But then one day, to my horror, I walked into a room of empty shelves. Standing by them was the Director of Religious Education.
“Where are the books?” I asked.
She gave me the disdainful look of the renewed Catholic. “They’re gone,” she said.
“Gone?” I stammered.
“They were all pre-Vatican II. They had to go.”
And that was the end of the library. I imagine they replenished the shelves with the new theology, new psychology, and who know what else?
We found another church.
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Years later, the same sort of thing happened. There was still no approved Tridentine Mass in Detroit, but we had the Latin Mass, done so beautifully that few knew it was the Novus Ordo. Like the suburban church, it had a wonderful library. As I had done before, I went to daily Mass and often went to check out a book before I went home.
One day the phone rang. “Susan!” It was the Sicilian custodian. “You gotta get down here right now! They’re throwing away the books!”
“Who is?” I asked.
He told me the women’s names.
There was a party planned. The parish hall had to be cleaned. “They said the books are dust collectors.”
“Where’s Father?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Gone somewhere. Just get down here.”
I got to the church before the books went into the incinerator. Their work finished, the women had left. The books were piled in boxes and bags in the furnace room. Hundreds of them. For the next several hours, the custodian and I put them back.
The pastor left them in place on the shelves, thank God.
It's groovy...but is it Catholic?
Those are my three vignettes. These are perilous times, and souls are in danger. We must remedy that. Instead of tut-tutting over the mess we’re in, we must safeguard our Catholic framework. If it’s broken or was never there, it must be rebuilt. It’s not that hard, and it’s something everybody can do for himself—no matter what weirdness is going on around him.
Think about it. Make sure your faith hasn’t been distorted or minimized. Test yourself and determine if your knowledge is strong and your understanding true. As one who taught in parochial schools many years ago, I know the importance of periodic tests of old material. It is a good way to make sure nothing has been forgotten.
Take this quiz and see if you can say unequivocally that:
- God created everything from nothing.
- Adam and Eve are (not were) real people.
- Original sin is real. It is inherited. Because of it, there is a defect in human nature. It taints our souls and mars their beauty. It bars us from Heaven. This stain of death cannot be removed by human cleansing—not by education or being nice or living a good life. Only baptism can remove it from our souls. Thus, baptism is necessary for salvation.
- The Catholic Church is the One True Church. All other religions are false, each falling somewhere on a continuum of error.
- The Sacraments were given to us by Christ Himself to save us. No human being made them up; no human being can change them.
- The Sacrifice of the Mass is a True Sacrifice. It is the offering of a Victim to God in reparation for sin. The Mass is the death of Christ mystically, miraculously, brought forward in time in an unbloody re-presentation of Calvary before our eyes. It is the Mystery of Faith.
- The priest offers the Sacrifice. He alone has been given a power beyond our understanding. He alone calls down Jesus to the altar. When the priest murmurs the mystic words, Our Lord comes to save us. Lay people are not a necessary part of this Sacred Action.
- Heaven is real. It is a Kingdom, a place--palpable, visible beyond the veil, tangible. Our Lord and Our Lady reign there physically in their glorified bodies. Hell, Purgatory, and Limbo are also real. People go there.
- The devil is not a myth or a metaphor. Lucifer and his army of fallen angels are real, and they hate you.
- You will be judged when you die. At that moment, the time of Mercy is over. It is the Time of Judgment. Jesus Christ, King of Heaven and Earth, will pronounce the sentence. Heaven? Purgatory? Hell? You don’t get to decide where you go. The Lord sends you. You will have no choice in the matter.
- Christ will return to Earth on the Last Day. You will see Him coming in the clouds of Heaven. It will be the General Judgment. Every soul who has ever lived will be there. Every last person will know who is beloved of God and who is damned by their own fault.
- At that time, your body will rise from the grave and be reunited with your soul. Everybody will see what you look like—whether you are beautiful beyond words or hideous and deformed. You will go then to your appointed place. To be loved or hated forever.
So that’s the little test for today. Tell me. How did you do? Are you still Catholic? Or have you been bitten by the snake?
 Brusselmans, Christiane, Ph.D., and Haggerty, Brian, We Celebrate the Eucharist. Silver Burdett Company, Morristown, NJ.
 Dooley, Catherine and Golino, Lisa, Christine Brusselmans, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.