Who can deny that Catholics in the latter part of the twentieth century are
confused? A glance at what has happened in the Church over the past twenty years
is enough to convince anyone that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Only a
short time ago the path was clearly marked: either one followed it or one did not.
One had the Faith–or perhaps had lost it–or had never had it. But he who had
it–who had entered the Church through baptism, who had renewed his baptismal
promises around the age of twelve and had received the Holy Ghost on the day of
his confirmation–such a person knew what he had to believe and what he had to do.
Many today no longer know. They hear all sorts of astonishing statements in the
churches, they read things contrary to what was always taught, and doubt has crept
into their minds.
On June 30, 1968, at the close of the Year of Faith, His Holiness Pope Paul VI
made a profession of the Catholic Faith, in the presence of all the bishops in
Rome and hundreds of thousands of the faithful. In his introductory remarks, he
put us on guard against attacks on Catholic doctrine which, he said, “give rise,
as we regretfully see today, to trouble and confusion in many faithful souls.”
The same words crop up in an allocution of His Holiness Pope John Paul II on
February 6, 1981: “Christians today, in large part, feel lost, perplexed,
confused, and even deceived.” The Holy Father summarized the underlying causes of
the trouble as follows:
“We see spread abroad ideas contrary to the truth which God has revealed
and which the Church has always taught. Real heresies have appeared in
dogma and moral theology, stirring doubt, confusion, rebellion. Even the
liturgy has been harmed. Christians have been plunged into an intellectual
and moral illuminism, a sociological Christianity, without clear dogma or
This confusion is seen everywhere–in conversations, in books, in newspapers, in
radio and television broadcasts, in the behavior of Catholics, which shows up as a
sharp decline in the practice of the faith as statistics reveal, a dissatisfaction
with the Mass and the sacraments, a general relaxation of morals.
We naturally ask, therefore, what brought on this state of things? For every
effect there is a cause. Has faith been weakened by a disappearance of generosity
of soul, by a taste for enjoyment, an attraction to the pleasures of life and the
manifold distractions which the modern world offers? These cannot be the real
reasons, because they have always been with us in one way or another. The rapid
decline in religious practice comes rather from the new spirit which has been
introduced into the Church and which has cast suspicion over all past teachings
and life of the Church. All this was based on the unchangeable faith of the
Church, handed down by catechisms which were recognized by all bishops.
The faith was based on certitudes. The certitudes have been overturned and
confusion has resulted. Let us take one example: the Church taught–and the
faithful believed–that the Catholic religion was the one true religion. It was,
in fact, established by God Himself, while other religions are the work of men.
Consequently, the Christian must avoid all contact with false religions and,
furthermore, do all he can to bring adherents of false religions to the religion
Is this still true? Indeed it is! Truth cannot change–else it never was the
truth. No new fact, no theological or scientific discovery–if there can be such a
thing as a theological discovery–can ever make the Catholic religion any less the
only means of salvation.
But now we have the Pope himself attending religious ceremonies in false
religions, praying and preaching in the churches of heretical sects. Television
conveys to the whole world pictures of these astonishing events. The faithful no
Martin Luther–and I shall return to him later in these pages–cut entire nations
off from the Church, pitched Europe into a spiritual and political turmoil which
destroyed the Catholic hierarchy over wide areas, invented a false doctrine of
salvation and a false doctrine of the sacraments. His revolt against the Church
became the model for all revolutionaries after him who would throw Europe and the
whole world into disorder. It is impossible to make Luther, as they want to do now
after five hundred years, into a prophet or doctor of the Church, since he is not
If I read La Documentation Catholique or the diocesan papers, I find there, from
the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commission, officially recognized by the Vatican,
statements like this: “Among the ideas of the Second Vatican Council, we can see
gathered together much of what Luther asked for, such as the following:
description of the Church as ‘the people of God’ (a main idea of the new Canon
Law–democratic, no longer hierarchic, idea); accent on the priesthood of all
baptized; the right of the individual to freedom of religion. Other demands of
Luther in his time can be considered as being met in the theology and practice of
the Church today: use of the common language in the liturgy, possibility of
Communion under two species, a renewal of the theology and celebration of the
Quite a statement! Meeting the demands of Luther, who declared himself the
resolute and mortal enemy of the Mass and of the pope! To gather together things
requested by a blasphemer who said: “I declare that all brothels, murders, thefts,
adulteries, are less evil than this abominable Mass!” From such an extravagant
summary, we can draw only one conclusion: either we must condemn the Second
Vatican Council which authorized it, or we must condemn the Council of Trent and
all the popes who, since the sixteenth century, have declared Protestantism
heretical and schismatic.
It is understandable that Catholics are confused by such a turn of events. But
there are so many others! In a few years they have seen a transformation in the
heart and substance of religious practices which adults have known from early
childhood. In the churches, the altars have been demolished or replaced by
tables, which are often portable and disappear when not in use. The tabernacle no
longer occupies the place of honor: most of the time it is hidden, perhaps perched
on a post, to one side. When it remains in the center, the priest turns his back
to it during the Mass. Celebrant and faithful face each other and dialogue.
Anyone may touch the sacred vessels, which are often replaced by breadbaskets,
platters, ceramic bowls. Laity, including women, distribute Communion, which is
received in the hand. The Body of Christ is treated with a lack of reverence which
casts doubt on the truth of transubstantiation.
The Sacraments are administered in a manner which varies from place to place; I
will cite as examples the age for baptism and confirmation, variations in the
nuptial blessing, introduction of chants and readings which have nothing to do
with the liturgy–but are borrowed from other religions or a purely secular
literature, sometimes simply to express political ideas.
Latin, the universal language of the Church, and Gregorian Chant have generally
disappeared. All the hymns have been replaced by modern songs in which it is not
uncommon to find the same rhythms as in places of entertainment.
Catholics have been surprised also by the sudden disappearance of religious garb,
as if priests and religious were ashamed of looking like what they are.
Parents who send their children to catechism discover that the truths of the Faith
are no longer taught, even the most basic: the Holy Trinity, the mystery of the
Incarnation, Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception. Hence the feeling of
profound disorientation: is all of this no longer true, out-of-date, passé?
Christian virtues are no longer even mentioned. Where can you find a catechism
speaking of humility, chastity, mortification? The Faith has become a fluid
concept, charity a kind of universal solidarity, and hope is, above all, hope for
a better world.
Novelties like these are not the kind which, in the human situation, appear at a
certain moment in time, so that we get accustomed to them and assimilate them
after an initial period of surprise and uncertainty. In the course of a human
life, ways of doing things change. If I were still a missionary in Africa, I
would go there by plane and no longer by boat–if, indeed, you could find a
steamship company still in operation. In this sense, we can say that one should
live in one’s own time; one is really forced to do so.
But those Catholics on whom they tried to impose novelties in the spiritual and
supernatural order, on the same principle, realized it was not possible. You do
not change the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments founded by Jesus Christ;
you do not change the truth revealed once and for all; you do not replace one
dogma with another. The pages which follow try to answer the questions you are
asking yourselves, you who have known another face of the Church. I shall try also
to enlighten the young people born after the Council and to whom the Catholic
community does not offer what they have a right to expect from it. I would like to
address myself, finally, to the unconcerned and the agnostics, whom the grace of
God will touch some day or another, but who by then may find the churches without
priests, and a teaching which does not correspond to the needs of their souls.
Then there is a question which, by all evidence, interests everyone, if I can
judge by the attention it gets in the general press, especially in France. (The
journalists are also showing some confusion.) A few headlines: “Is Christianity
Dying?” “Will Time Work Against the Religion of Jesus Christ?” “Will There Still
Be Priests in the Year 2000?” These questions I hope also to answer, not with any
new theory of my own, but relying on unbroken Catholic Tradition–unbroken, yet so
neglected in recent years that to many readers it will seem no doubt like
something entirely new.