Rambling on a Clerical Generation Gap

“I’m a Vatican II priest,” a clerical colleague recently exclaimed. One assumes he was referring to his modern, progressive, up-to-date and correct way of believing and acting (depending on whom you ask). However all of us are Vatican II clergy and people if we subscribe to the Catholic Church in union with the Pope and bishops. We are also I-V Lateran Councils, Council of Constance, Council of Trent, Vatican I and all recognized councils of the Church. One council does not necessarily invalidate the decisions of all previous ecumenical meetings of the bishops in union with the Holy Father. Certainly changes are made in practice, doctrine develops in history and dogmas are further expounded, but in the main the faith of the Church is reiterated and further clarified in councils. The Holy See, with or without councils, have changed ritual practice back and forth through the centuries; probably not as much as a “Vatican II priest” could do in one year during the 1970s, but close.

To be fair, it was a time of “ad experimentum” to use the Latin phrase, or the era of experimentation. This try out period of the Novus Ordo or New Mass was not necessarily according to the scientific method, nor should have it been, but its essential chaos was not intended by St. John XXIII or Pope Paul VI. Bottles of popular wines and bags of store bought bread replaced chalices of sacramental wine and ciboria of hosts; the good Father would sport a homemade vestment, if he wore one at all. Even the honorific “Father” went by the wayside for some of the ordained, preferring a diminutive contraction of their baptismal name: Benny for Fr. Bernard, Billy for Fr. William, Auggie Doggie for Fr. Augustine Dogmaticist, etc. Many priests became so relaxed with the liturgy that they left it for the domestic servitude of putative matrimony. As with all temporary insanity and experimentation, it finally gave way to a liturgical life of normality and predictable ritual, mostly.

Vatican II did leave a generation of priests and, dare we say, some bishops, who considered experimentation the norm and the red words in the Missal antiquated suggestions. Not to paint with an overly broad brush, but some of this generation criticized their predecessors who were having difficulty with the vernacular and facing a congregation who, heretofore, had always had their back, so to speak. Unfortunately, the generation of Vatican II often ignored their predecessors, or worse, accused them of not following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The old priests love of Latin and disdain for progressive theologians and moralists did not endear them to the new priests of St. John XXIII. These new priests find themselves now the old priests, and dismissed in a fit of historical irony by a succeeding generation of the ordained. It is a wonder to behold.

A new generation of priests has arisen, not defined by mortal age but by the year of their ordination, usually within the past 20 years. These ordinands, for the most part, don’t view Latin as an anachronism or celebrating the Eucharist according to Hoyle (Cardinal Hoyle was a purported cleric who dominated the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in a previous age; but that is the topic for another rambling) as boring at best, or a “breaking of the Fundamental Option” at worst. In fact, this new generation views the rituals of the Church as sacred trusts to be passed on whole and entire without addition or correction. The insertion into one of the Eucharistic Prayers a change, clarification, amendment or gloss would cause no comment for many of the Vatican II epoch of clergy. The reaction of newer priests range from annoyed to scandalized depending on the mutation perpetrated. This new age of cleric look upon the Vatican II cleric as the Vatican II cleric viewed their pre-Vatican II predecessors, with sadness that they cannot change and are trapped in a mindset that puts them out of touch with the contemporary Church.

This most recent generation follows, with varying degrees of success, the rubrics of the Mass. The Vatican II group often saw (and see) rubrics as leftovers from a Church long past. Some of them criticize the younger brethren for not being “free” or “spontaneous” with the Liturgy. However, you learn to your dismay never to cross a Vatican II priest who is freely and spontaneously ignoring or inventing rubrics; some practice a rigorist, righteous, wrathful, anti-rubric rubricism. The younger generation, who also can be quite rigorist and righteous, base their rubricism on the actual regulations for the Mass; the preceding generation relies more on liturgy magazines, liturgy committees, good ideas and the “moving of the Spirit.” Again, this paints with a rather unfairly broad brush; but if the bristles fit…

In the end, it is respect between the generations that makes peace and gives glory to God. “…from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.” (Ps 79:13)

Fr. Richard

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