25 October 2006

Culture & Consequences.


Below, I excerpted a couple bits of Jody Bottum's fascinating (to me) swallow's-eye view of the decline and fall of Catholic culture in America, and the prospects and, perhaps, conflicted beginnings of a renewal of the same - a renewal for which I pray and in which, I believe, a catholic Anglicanism may play a salutary role (the point not being that the novels and music would be better - though that's important - but that we would be better-formed Christians). Certainly trying to form Anglican disciples is a hard row to hoe in the absence of any supporting culture. Anyhow, I see now that Amy Wellborn has critiqued Bottum's piece, and offers some interesting insights:

". . . We’ve discussed this frequently before, pointing out the mystery that things probably couldn’t have been so perfectly great if, in a matter of 5 years, we went from Tridentine liturgies to consecrating bread in baskets with Blowin’ in the Wind wafting around our heads. Things don’t happen that fast without some foundation, ironically, for the collapse. (I would suggest, though, if you read some honest accounts of most of the priests, and particularly diocesan priests, and many of the women religious in those decades preceding Vatican II, it will become clearer. The rules were many, with little rationales offered or built into the system. In that context, it is a little easier to see how poorly understood structures could be quickly tossed aside. Even Frank Sheed, in The Church and I fretted over the abysmal level of theological and spiritual knowledge among American religious women, for example.)

But Call to Action and other political moves aside, here’s what did it. Here’s the moment that expresses the point of departure, and a piece of the puzzle of what laid the groundwork for the present. A seemingly small thing, a minor point of Catholic identity: dispensing with the obligatory abstinence from meat on Fridays. I am actually rather surprised that Bottum doesn’t even mention this.Does it seem too trivial? It’s not, as Eamon Duffy quite eloquently writes in his book Faith of the Fathers. You can say all you want that no, it’s not that Friday penitential practices were eliminated - we’re still obligated to perform some act of penance on Fridays, and it just is left up to us to determine what that should be, and oh, no people weren’t told they were going to Hell if they ate meat on Friday, that’s just a myth, and it really wasn’t such a big deal.

Duffy’s words on abstinence are worth repeating:

In abandoning real and regular fasting and abstinence as a corporate and normative expression of our faith -- by making it optional -- the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community, the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy. ...

 

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