I remember, from my earliest schooldays, attending weekday Mass at St. Cadoc’s Roman Catholic Church in Cardiff, Wales. It must have presented a pretty picture, this phalanx of chaperoned kids marching perhaps a half mile in a fair semblance of order, to the church at the top of the hill. Boys in their shorts, blazers and caps; girls in their dresses and bows — a picture from a bygone age that lives prettily in a revered corner of my memory.
These Masses — both weekdays and Sunday — were solemn and mystical affairs, of primary interest to the emerging mind for the incense, the ringing of the bells, the insistent organ music, the veiled ladies and the conviction that Jesus himself was peeking at us from the “tabernacle,” which I supposed to be the drop ceiling above the priest’s head.
Then came the Second Vatican Council, which from 1962 to 1965 re-imagined the church in the image of the 1960s.
It was, in my humble opinion, an attempt to remain relevant in the era of The Beatles, to reach a generation theologians assumed was impervious to the time-out-of-mind traditions of the church and resistant to a spiritual DNA running through 80 human generations.
Out went the organ and the veils, in came the guitars and the flip flops, soon joined by shorts and T-shirts. Before long the bell tolled for the Corpus Christi parade, when thousands of uniformed Catholic schoolchildren marched through downtown Cardiff, to be rewarded with an ice cream cone and Mass with the archbishop — who I always assumed was the pope — in the green and pleasant grounds of Cardiff Castle.
This, it was supposed, was a transition to a new and modern church, one that not only would resonate with the “Make Love” generation but might draw schismatics and backsliders back to the one true faith.
Funny what can happen on the way to the communion rail.
I keep stumbling across news articles about how a significant number of Catholic Millennials are drawn to the ancient Tridentine Mass, which was the Mass I knew as a child. This Traditional Latin Mass, despite its ancient pedigree, fell into disuse in the wake of Vatican II, only to be actively re-authorized, as an option at least, by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
I came across an article recently at the left wing huffingtonpost.com whose headline posed the bewildered question: “Why on Earth Are So Many Millennials Becoming Nuns?” It was a lengthy and surprisingly respectful piece that dealt with the resilient yearning, even in our age of skepticism, for a relationship with God. It made me wonder, with the HuffPost headline writer, “What on Earth is going on?” Perhaps there’s an emerging realization that 250,000 years of human experience, and especially those few millennia since the Greeks put on their thinking caps, might mean something; that perhaps learning did not commence upon our squawking entry to the world; that perhaps we are, as religion has always insisted, something more than molded clay.
Perhaps this headlong rush to Thomas More’s Utopia, with its chains of gold and free everything, is getting a rethink.
Would be nice.