Forty years ago next month, I made my Confirmation. Tomorrow, my son will be confirmed. His upcoming Confirmation has drawn me to recall my own all those years ago, and in doing so, I realize that I don’t need just my faded memories to recall the Church then since the Church today has brought those years to life once again. The Church has “progressed” all the way back to 1975 since the election of Jorge Bergoglio. Soon, felt banners will not just be a bad memory but will be hanging again in the sanctuaries.
I was eleven when I was confirmed, sponsored by my devout grandmother. A student in Catholic school, I was developing a real devotion to the Church and Faith. I was an altar boy who took the role seriously, and even thought of my role as training to be a priest. I learned not only my duties but also those of the priests. I served two Masses every week in addition to a funeral at least twice a month. That year, I was chosen to be a lector and did that occasionally.
In 1975, we received Holy Communion while kneeling at the altar rail, with a paten held under our chin as the priest placed the Host on our tongue. As an altar boy, it was my job to go with the priest along the altar rail to hold the paten under the Communicant’s chin while he intoned the words “the Body of Christ”, heard the “Amen” and placed the Host on the tongue. I watched countless times the face of each person as they received the Eucharist, and some were truly inspiring as their love and devotion was readily apparent. To me, this was always a serious matter, learned not only from my family and my teachers, but from the priests and my fellow Catholics.
Then suddenly two years later, we received new instructions for receiving Holy Communion. No longer were we to kneel, but rather we would stand before the priest, our left hand in the palm of our right, the priest would place the Host in the palm and then we were to give ourselves Holy Communion. Patens were out.
Did we care? I don’t remember any discussion of this novelty among my classmates, although we must have since this was a complete break with what we had been doing for at least five years. I do recall that this just seemed wrong. The priest washed his hands before the consecration, and I had helped with that at the altar, yet now we were to take that same consecrated Host into our own unwashed hands. Being an altar boy I knew firsthand the reverence for the Eucharist and actively participated in not only my own but witnessed and shared in a way in that of others. Now, that was just gone. I don’t remember ever being told that we could continue to receive on the tongue. That wasn’t an option anymore. The new way was it.
Those were trying days for a budding Catholic adolescent. So much was changing in the practice of the Faith and in the general feeling of the Church. That I recall very well, and it saddened me then and still does today. The music went from hymns to folk songs. The choir was no longer prominent, but rather the folk bands gathered in the sanctuary. Confession changed from a solemn occasion to a chat, and even got a new name, now known as “reconciliation.” To me, it felt like the vitality was sucked out of the Church, replaced by a forced fakeness, and was another infiltration of the plasticized world that overcame our society in general everywhere. This all happened within a couple of years and by 1978 the changes were implemented. Like so much of secular society, the Church went from practicing and holding onto long-held traditions to fads, except in the Church the fads were forced on us as something that would become the new traditions. We would henceforth be shaking those tambourines as part of the accompaniment of the “songs”.
Part of my daily school uniform was the required black shoes, and my shoes had always been black leather, which had to be broken in every year and polished every other week. Around the time of my Confirmation, my mother bought me new shoes. They looked like the other new black leather shoes, all shiny and new. But they were made of vinyl, plastic, and they squeaked loudly with every step I took. I wore them for a couple of weeks, hating them more and more each day. Not only did the squeak drive me crazy and embarrassed me, but the shoes never broke in as the leather ones had, never developed the small folds from the bend of my feet as I walked, softening and molding to my foot and growing more comfortable as they broke in. And they didn’t need to be shined, but just wiped off. I suppose that was a selling point, but it was just wrong. As part of my uniform for years, the shoes became a familiar part of my life, and the time spent shining them was an exercise of caring and a source of satisfaction for a job well done, the fruit of my labor that I could enjoy for a week or so until needed again. I missed shining my shoes, and the ritual and its effects.
Finally, I told my mother that I could not and would not wear those horrible “pleather” shoes anymore, and I needed real shoes, not fake ones. I swore then that I would never again ever wear plastic shoes.
That was a marker of the 1970s, as plastic replaced so many natural materials in all areas of life, imposters of the real genuine things, disguised and purveyed as the genuine articles, unconvincingly. Even our Little League baseball uniforms went from wool and cotton to “double-knit” polyester, another plastic. No boy I played with liked the new plastic uniforms and we often pined for the old style ones made from natural fibers. Yet, we had no recourse, and we had to accept this new normality, that what was once real was gone, replaced by fake imitations, and we could do nothing about it, as so much of our Church life was too.
What was good and natural and appropriate in the Church was replaced by what seemed to me and others as fake imposters, and was an extension of what we experienced everywhere else in our lives every day. Like the plastic uniforms and faux wood grain furniture, we also believed that we could do nothing about it and would just have to be content with the cheap imitations, and that no one could fix it and bring back the real and authentic things we actually wanted. Too young to understand market forces, we didn’t understand that producers would respond if no one bought the cheap imitations.
In the world, we saw a decade later that the market did respond. When consumers rejected much of the plasticized imposters, producers responded by offering the real articles again in many areas. “Double-knit” polyester clothes were out and cotton and wool were back. Faux wood grain plastic furniture were replaced by real wood. Cheap plastic mechanical devices were replaced by those made of metal again. We still have a lot of that plastic stuff around. But we’re not being forced to wear it or eat on it, feigning belief that this is a good thing when we saw it wasn’t.
The Church seemed to be responding to the “market” for souls after a few decades of the forced, cheap imitations and brought back some of the real articles. However, the Church kept insisting that wearing polyester and pleather shoes were not just fads but traditions worthy of passing on, even though Catholics abandoned the Church and Faith in droves. Even though the cheap imitations and contrived innovations were obviously rejected by the “market”, the Church still wanted to insist that these novelties were what the “market” wanted. Then, some seemed to realize the fads were just that, and mistaken fads, and some of the genuine articles were reintroduced. When I came back, I found this was so in some places and it seemed that this was going to continue more and more, to my great relief and happiness.
Then, like the sudden onset of an ice age, we got Pope Francis. It’s like the Church “progressed” all the way forward to 1975 again. Once again, the cheap imitation plastic articles are brought back and touted as more necessary and better than the genuine natural ones, or the genuine natural ones just thrown aside to be replaced by nothing, deemed unnecessary, or despised as harmful, what was always good and beautiful now to be denigrated, besmirched and despised, the goodness and beauty denied as the understanding of primitive minds or old fools.
Replacing that we get fake or at least doubtful saints canonized without the time-honored requisite number of confirmed miracles, martyrs declared not for dying in defense of the Faith but for their leftist politics, fake mercy triteness that denies justice, global warming hucksterism disguised as morality, fake platitudes to Jesus that deny His salvation offered by His sacrifice, the fake relevance of the Church that denies Her necessity for the salvation of individuals and the world, contrived Masses that make a mockery of what used to be the highest form of worship and praise we could give to God, counterfeit theology that declares ongoing mortal sin a good while denying the need for repentance and just judgment, leftism and socialism declared as Christianity and Church teaching, homosexual bishops and priests confirmed, emplaced and protected while orthodox ones are attacked, deposed, undermined and left unprotected and undefended when assaulted for speaking the Truth to the world, papal delusions and heresies trotted out as statements of the Faith, and on and on.
The Church today and Pope Francis are so “progressive” and so relevant, like polyester leisure suits, shag carpets, double-knits clothing and tambourines in the sanctuary.
What’s the best bet for the future?