The Catholic Church saw great changes after the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, or Vatican II in the 1960s. It ushered in more involvement from lay people and services no longer said in Latin but in local languages. Now, Catholic leaders are prescribing new rules that have some Catholics questioning the future of the Church. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.
Setting rules in the Catholic Church is as old as its 2,000-year-old history. But policies leaders are making today are pointing to the past, says John Allen, a senior writer with the National Catholic Reporter.
“The most important mega-trend at the policy setting level of the Catholic church these days, both in the United States and also in Rome, is the desire to restore a strong sense of Catholic identity and therefore a return to a traditional from of speech and gestures in the liturgy,” Allen says.
Last April, Louisville’s archbishop, Joseph Kurtz, sent a seven-page letter to parishes in the archdiocese, instructing them to make changes in church services. The letter detailed when parishioners should kneel and stand and directed that containers for wine and water be gilded or made of precious metal.
The move was in line with the Vatican’s decision in 2000 to standardize the Catholic Mass worldwide. Kurtz says it emphasized attributes of the mass from bygone years that some Catholics missed.
“Often I hear people say there’s not the sense of mystery and the sense of the sacred that I felt when I was a child,” Kurtz says.
Jay Dolan is a history professor from Notre Dame University who has written extensively about the Catholic Church. He says the Church has become increasingly conservative.
“I think it really has a lot to do with the Pope, John Paul II,” Dolan says. “He put in a lot of people in the hierarchy who are a lot like him and they had to take an oath about birth control and homosexuality and celibacy and so on or so forth or they could never be ordained a bishop.”
Catholic leaders say the changes to the Mass help congregations focus on piety. But these directives pose dilemmas for some congregations that grew after Vatican II. They now have to order expensive kneelers and even rethink how they worship.
For some of the faithful, the directives signal an unwelcomed return to the past. That includes Jim Butler of St. Williams. Now 79, Butler joined the parish 40 years ago.
“When we first started we had really good community and the liturgy was all new,” Butler says. “So, we drew people from the all over the county for the new church.”
The church sits in an industrial part of West Louisville and focuses on social justice. During the 1970s, members protested the Vietnam War and nuclear arms. In the 1980s, the church sheltered and protected refugees fleeing war in Central America from immigration and law enforcement agencies. It established programs to help the poor in surrounding neighborhoods.
At Sunday Mass, there is a modern and close-knit atmosphere. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” sings a choir member and the rest of the group joins in.
Nearly 300 people encircle the alter, where the priest blesses wine and bread for communion. And church members chime in with their prayers during parts of the Mass. Those customs vary widely from how Catholics worshiped more than 40 years ago.
Anne Walters is one of the leaders of this parish she defines as “post-Vatican II.”
“For me it means a parish with strong involvement of all parishioners, collaborative ministry,” Walters says. “Here we work very hard to hear the voices of everybody who’s a parishioner.”
Some parishioners think that the archbishop’s directives disregard those values. They see them as a way for the hierarchy assert its power in ways that could threaten this Universal Church that continues to lose practitioners in an increasingly secular world.
Despite some grumblings, journalist John Allen and Archbishop Kurtz are optimistic. Kurtz says he believes all congregations are cooperating to establish these changes throughout the archdiocese over the next few years.
But Notre Dame’s Jay Dolan thinks it’s all in vain for what he sees as an increasingly irrelevant Church.
“Most of us think, we’re Catholic and it’s in our blood and we’re going to remain Catholic come hell or high water,” Dolan says. “But I think that’s my generation, and I don’t’ think that’s for the younger people.”
Especially for younger generations that have no memory of Catholicism before Vatican II.