Change and permanence

The Catholic Church has always seemed to me to be like the solid Rock of Gibralter — stable and permanent.

  St. Peter, the Rock, and the Roman Catholic Church share the stability of the Rock of Gibraltar

Even though we live in a world of constant change and are able to adapt ourselves to it, most of us feel more at home with the familiar, the old, the predictable. In the midst of change, we seek, at least, a certain amount of stability, permanence. Thus, yuppies who have left the farm or small town for the excitement of the big city, flock home for the holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas—to relax in an atmosphere of familiarity and stability.

We find traces of the same thing in the Catholic Church. For centuries, the Church has been a model of stability and permanence. Kings, empires, and governments come and go, but the universal Church remains, and remains the same. This is preeminently true of her doctrine, her Seven Sacraments, her basic moral teaching about the Ten Commandments. True, there have been some modifications and adaptations, but these have been in the area of the accidentals of the Church, if I might so call them, because of the gradual change in culture. The Catholic Church has always seemed to me to be like the solid Rock of Gibralter — stable and permanent. Gibralter might get rained on, it might turn hot or cold, depending on the weather, but basically it always remains the same rock—it doesn’t move out to sea. The Church is like that.

In our time, however, we have witnessed massive changes in the Catholic Church—changes that no one would have dreamed possible 50 years ago. I know that the Church has not changed substantially in any way. For example, she has not abandoned belief in the Trinity, in the divinity and humanity of Jesus united in the Person of the Word, and so forth. The problem today, however, is not the reality, but the appearance. The Catholic Church appears to have changed substantially from what she was before Vatican II.  So we have a very serious problem of perception. For many people in our mass-media society, appearance is the reality. Thus, they think the Church has changed in some basic areas—such as sexual morality or the doctrine on purgatory—whereas, in fact, she has not changed at all.

Where do these false perceptions come from?  Often, they come from superficial or false reports in the media; from false propaganda spread about by dissident Catholic intellectuals; from erroneous teaching in Catholic schools on all levels; and from biased preaching in our parishes. To counter this trend, Pope John Paul II, the Pope of Truth, told bishops and priests during his pontificate that they should preach the whole truth about God, Christ and the Church.  One of the reasons for the present abysmal religious ignorance among so many Catholics is precisely that many bishops and priests, or their surrogates, have not done that. If they had done it, the Pope would not have to correct them.

Change and permanence: there is always a certain tension between them in this life.  Immersed in change, we long for that which is lasting. Our false prophets of change will be carried away by the very change they glorify. But the one Church of Christ will remain until the end of time.  Our task as priests and preachers of Jesus Christ is, first, to live, and then to proclaim, the true and unchanging Good News of salvation.  In Jesus, there is hope of union with God and eternal life, which we celebrate especially during the Easter Season. In all things else, there is emptiness and ultimate disappointment.

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avatar About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.

Comments

  1. avatar justin says:

    Vatican II and it’s aftermath pose a serious challenge to the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. Honestly the Orthodox have better claims to stability than Roman Catholicism does, especially after Vatican II. I remain in the bosom of Holy Mother Church but only atend the TLM and go to the Orthodox Divine Liturgy when I cannot attend it. I cannot stomach the Mass of Paul VI or the piety and atmosphere that surrounds it, the savor of post Vatican II Catholicism. No one, not even the Orthodox, have such a beautiful and developed theology of the Eucharist as does traditional Catholicism. Quite honestly sometimes that is all that keeps me from heading towards Byzantium. I do not believe there is any real way you can “prove” that Rome is a rock of stability or the True Church after Vatican II; it just needs to be taken on a leap of faith. The intellectual arguments in favor of Rome ring hollow to me in the light of the post Vatican II debacle and I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m Catholic because in my heart I know it’s true deep down inside and I can’t explain it. The thing is if I had to attend the Mass of Paul VI exclusively I would probably lose my faith in the Roman Church or at least go into a crisis mode; I already nearly did on several occasions and started attending the Orthodox Church instead. The TLM in a traditional chapel with chant, serious pious sermons, stained glass and beautiful, no nonsense, in-depth prayers sustains my faith. What the Vatican II crowd fails to understand is that some of us need that connection to the past that Vatican II and atmosphere following in its wake smothered and effaced.

    • One can well understand one’s feelings when confronted by liturgies poorly and sloppily celebrated by priests who will have much to answer for because of their scandalous violation of liturgical norms deportment before the All-Holy and Majestic God. The true lover of God knows full well, however, that one does not go by feelings and liturgical aesthetics in matters of Christian doctrine and faith but rather by discerning the truth concerning the identification of the Church Christ built on the Apostles with Peter at their head. Peter as the visible head and Rock of the entire Church is missing among the Orthodox who are not the presumed changeless and undivided Church of the First Millennium. The rejection of the Petrine Primacy of he Pope and his supreme hierarchical authority was an absolute tragic change that has resulted in the loss of Catholic Unity among them. No Byzantine liturgical purity of celebration can justify the malice of schism deplored by the Fathers and Saints of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils who saw in the See of Rome the indefectible and perduring center of unity for all patriarchs and bishops. As to Liturgy, it is important to stress that the Novus Ordo with its new translation of prayers can be celebrated with great solemnity and beauty. With regard to certain romantic views of the Byzantine Liturgy, Fr. Robert Taft, S.J.,, world expert on the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, has written that one should not ignore “the very real defects of Eastern liturgy. Today it reflects some of the very abuses the Fathers railed against”.

      • Mr. Likoudis – “feelings” are appropriately addressed in your Comment. The truth entrusted to the Catholic Church demands respect, obedience, faithfulness and love. Truth is beautiful, and deserves beautiful expression and celebration. The Liturgy ought to be beautiful! We the laity can by intention and focus, participate in the full beauty of the Truth in each valid liturgy, even if the gathered congregation as a whole must suffer the “less” that is so often provided.

        Many Catholics, I have discovered, do not know how to “participate” – with full, conscious and active participation – in the flow of worship in the Holy Mass, and as a result can hardly resist the temptations to distraction, and to being a spectator in an audience, becoming as dependent on the personality of the celebrant as many Protestants become on their ministers. This is not good. It is a “feeling” that is painful in ways that the Mass ought not be painful. There are ways that the Mass should be painful! But I speak of grieving over a poverty that ought not be – a poverty in the context of the riches of the Mass. In the midst of the superabundant supernatural overflow of divine treasure, grace and feast, there is a famine. In the midst of the spiritual outpouring of living water there is thirst; there is the experience of dry desert. Members rush for the other doors before the priest can make it to his. This ought not be, and those given oversight ought to look, and oversee. Accountable are not only the priest-celebrants who fail to offer Mass as it deserves, as God deserves and as the people deserve. Where are their bishops?

  2. avatar Father Robert Markovitch, MD says:

    Justin,

    Please don’t forget about the Eastern CATHOLIC churches. They too, have the liturgy which you praise.

  3. avatar Chris Mulcahy says:

    None of our philosophizing about the nature of the Church or its teaching has much meaning separate from review of the existential characteristics of current presentations of the faith, notably at the Mass homily. I have not heard a homily explaining the nature of the Mass in years. Simple insights, like lit of the Word, then lit of the Eucharist. Both (the last) holy sacrifice of a Victim on the (stone) altar and the Last Supper, where Christ said “remember me”. The essence of a sacrament in the Church. The purpose of sacramentals. One could attend Mass in America for a hundred years and learn precious little of the basics of our faith. Instead: social justice globaloney.

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