There is a church in the Philly suburbs that I could see from the highway every time I went by with a huge steeple, and made me curious to go down into the town and check it out. I thought, it has to be a Catholic Church, since I could also see other church buildings next to, so it must be a school and rectory and convent. Sure enough I was right, but the church was locked that Sunday afternoon, so I found out on the internet that the parish has a choir and wed. night rehearsals, so i went to observe the choir as part of an assignment for one of my classes.
The beauty of this church almost floored me! The only church in Philadelphia that I have seen that is more beautiful is the Cathedral, but this one comes pretty close! And it's huge! It has tertiarys(?), I think that is what their called. Basically 3rd level balcony seating. the choir loft is the second level. And a huge organ with four manuals! (When I go again and take pictures, I'll post them here).
I write about this though because the more I learned about this parish, the more sad the story becomes. Here's the basics: The church has been there 175 years. was rebuilt right before 1900. Was THE Catholic Church in the area. Had an elementary school, a High school for girls and a High school for boys. There's an old cemetary as well. It had a thriving convent (to teach all the kids, as usual), a three story rectory for 12 priests! And they even had a house right across the street from the church for the music director! Then Vatican II came. They were the last parish in the archdiocese to dismantle their boy's choir, the last parish to do away with the Latin Mass, and the last parish to pull it's high altar away from the wall. Thank God they never destroyed the decoration on the inside though! The organ they have is their second one. The first one was probably smaller. The one they have now though was almost destroyed. In the 70's the poor ignorant people allowed a Catholic organist to "fix" the organ. Instead, he purposefully destroyed it, and then left! Even more appalling is the fact that this man is still an organist at a church in the diocese! One of the balconies is full of old organ pipes, many of which are too damaged from the doings of this man to ever be used again! It was enough to literally turn my stomach. Present state of the parish life: There are two priests left, church can no longer afford (or unwilling to pay) a full time music director, the convent closed two years ago, and all the schools closed last year.
This story and several others like it that I have heard continues to make me ask the question: WHY??!?!? Why would God allow such a thing to happen to his people? When will the destruction be over? I am afraid to know what the state of this parish will be 20 years from now, if a mediocre Catholicism and mediocre liturgy continues to be taught and promoted. Especially in places like this! From what I hear, many of the parishioners still love tradition, and such a parish as this I do not doubt would have a strong following for a Latin mass either in the EF or the OF of the mass. It wrenches my heart to see the destruction that implementations of Vatican II have caused! I know the council documents were interpreted wrongly, but that isn't even so much my point. Places like this make me ask: why did they even think a renewal was needed on the scale that they proposed?? I'm inclined to want to agree with more traditionalist folk that the council was basically high jacked by liberal bishops in Europe, and the documents purposely written in a vague style to allow all this to happen! I could understand the desire to encourage priests to continually catechize the laity on the meaning of the mass and helping them to renew their involvement in it, especially interior participation, but so many external changes were unnecessary! Who will be responsible for all the souls lost in this time, who felt like their faith abandoned them, rather than the other way around? We have ended up with a slow death of the church, rather than a renewal! and I can't help but feel that to some degree that was the whole goal by those in charge of liturgy and doctrine.
Seeing the potent reality of such destruction in this church in Philadelphia, literally made me weep as I drove home. I want to be angry at God for allowing such a spiritual death among his people to happen, but I can't seem to be. It just makes me weep for the church and say some of the most honest prayers I have ever prayed in my life, for the renewal of the church. Instead of anger, the Lord fills me with a desire to aid/serve the church, knowing that liturgy, and so also music, renewal is so crucial to the life of the faithful. It was once the heart of their whole lives and from it grew a culture of faith that spread into the world and affected many other things during their week. They didn't just come together on Sunday for mass, but their strong belief that the mass gave witness to fueled the building of a culture of faith that gave witness to the rest of secular society.
I know I will suffer much in the normal parish setting, struggling to help revive the parish liturgy and life, but I can't ignore the call in my heart to involve myself in it. May God give me strength and never let my hope be extinguished.