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Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!

By Hugh McNichol

In a interview last year, Cardinal Avery Dulles alluded to what he considered the greatest difficulty the Catholic Church will face in the 21st century…that is the growing trend towards the lack of Catholic identity within our own Catholic Church. Perhaps the reason for this malaise is the fact that over the past four decades Catholic popular trends moved towards making all of our external signs and symbols…quite frankly generically Catholic neutral.

What I mean by this is that in the 1960’s and the 1970’s there was a large movement to replace traditional Catholic modes of worship and celebration with somewhat “ecumenical” expressions of universal faith and global brotherhood, as opposed to Catholic Sacraments of richly imbued moments of theological signs and symbols of the Catholic Church’s anciently rooted ceremonies. It seemed that no matter where one went to Mass, there was an attempt to subtly “neutralize” Catholic ritual and traditions in not only the Sacraments, but also in Catholic art and architecture as well. The result was often a bland cornucopia of ritual symbolism that often one had a hard time comprehending the sacredness of the actions, let alone the Catholicity of the celebration.

Perhaps, the worst fear of the Catholic Church had been realized, even after great strides to avoid it…Modernism in its most revolutionary sense invaded and permeated our Catholic Sacraments and Liturgies. The modernization of the Roman Church as foreseen by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council was compromised with institutional and sacramental barbarism that equaled the “sacking” of Rome centuries before.

Catholic institutional strength and universal conformity since the Council of Trent was compromised and all of the forces of the liberal left took equal opportunities to dismantle the visible manifestations of Catholic traditional signs and symbols, actions and responses that made our faith uniquely independent from the generic celebrations of other faiths and denominations.The fascination with liturgical space and its “renewal” according to the norms of the Second Vatican Council was instant…within a few years after the Council; parishes replaced their Altars, removed their Communion rails, silenced great organs and replaced them with strumming guitars and tambourines.

Gregorian chant was replaced with refrains from Peter, Paul and Mary’s latest hits, the priest celebrant became the “presider,” and the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass became commonly referred to as a “communal meal!” No wonder the threat of losing our Catholic identity is so large a problem in the 21st century, we spent over 40 years dismantling our historically rooted notion of Church, only to replace it with Modernist examples of generic art and architecture that reflected the generic chaos of the contemporized period and neglected to appreciate the transcendent nature of all of our Catholic signs and symbols.

The growing awakening and awareness of our Catholic history and ritual traditions is in this authors mind a great rebirth of the Catholic Church’s awareness of its need to uniquely herald the Gospel message through our sacred and transcendent signs and symbols, our eschatological mission to sanctify a temporal world that deeply needs and desires the inclusion of sacred rituals into global daily life. The modern Catholic in my estimation needs to boldly proclaim in sacramental words and ritual actions the presence of Jesus Christ in the world…and be visibly identified through our visibly Catholic sacraments and actions. One of the greatest dilemmas for the modern world is the conflict that is rising between Catholics and Moslems.

This conflict is nothing new, but rather the resurgence of Islamic desire for theological dominance in the Western world. The Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from 711-1492, the rise of the Spanish Inquisition and the spread of European colonialism all stem from the perpetual struggle that exists between the theological nuances of East versus West. Islamic radicalism that threatens to engulf Europe, the Middle East and even the Western hemisphere now more than ever requires a strong Catholic restoration of its sacramental identity and social purposes.

Our Catholic Church is awakening from a slumber imposed by Modernism in the 20th century, and the need for Catholic resurgence of identity is perhaps the best cure for our global Catholic Church in the 21st century. The need to restore Catholic identity goes far beyond just the institutional signs and symbols of our ancient faith, there is a need for a rekindling of internal evangelization within Catholicism that hopefully will result in not only a global evangelization of the non-Catholic world, but will provide an apologetical platform from which Catholic sacramental, social and ethical moral teachings will prevail in an increasing world of secularism and cultural homogeneity.

Benedict XVI it seems understands the need for internal evangelization within the Catholic Church. His outreaching messages to youth in the Church make it plainly clear that the future of theological conversion within Catholicism is rooted deeply in a historically rooted appreciation of the radical call that the Gospel message and Catholic sacraments signify for the global development of the Western world.

I agree whole heartedly with the diagnosis that the constant threat of losing our Catholic identity is perhaps the greatest difficulty that the Church of the 21st century will encounter. Thankfully, the direction we are taking as an institution now permits Catholics worldwide to experience Catholicism for not only it’s historically significant contributions to the life and education of the world in the past, but the continuing contemporary message of Catholic moral, social and ethical teachings that will guide an ever needing society towards strong Catholic principles of moral certitude in a world that increasingly needs a strong Catholic expression of identity in an increasingly nihilistic world and society.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. He writes daily at & “Nothing Left Unsaid!” is his daily column @ Comments are always welcome @


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Catholic Identity

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1 - 6 of 6 Comments

  1. Alberto
    5 years ago


    I am 20 years old. I started going to Mass about two years ago, thanks to a youth group, and I now go to Mass every Sunday, pray everyday and am doing my best to live a good life and appreciate God's blessings. I have really learned a lot from getting closer to God.

    I want to say that I think a lot of the things in this article are focusing on the outside of the cup. What is most important is the inside of the cup and that is the Holy Spirit.

    God works in many ways and indeed God would still work even if we had Mass outside.

    I write with genuine care and God bless you guys.

  2. Orestes
    6 years ago

    I have stopped worrying about going to Catholic mass, because quite frankly, it's no longer Catholic. I'm attending the Latin Mass and have even gone to a Coptic Orthodox mass. If I wanted to go to a rock concert I would go to Catholic mass. If I want to experience God, the Catholic Church is no longer the place to be.

  3. ASD
    6 years ago

    Lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. More loosely, the way we celebrate Mass has an enormous effect on how we understand ourselves as Catholics.

    For scores of generations the center of Catholic religious practice was the sacrificial altar shrouded in mystery. That was replaced, with unbelievable abruptness, by a committee creation motivated by ecumenism, i.e, designed to look respectable to Protestants.

    What is one to do? Become a catechism teacher & help kids learn the value of their inheritance. Exercise your right to receive communion on the tongue from a Priest. Learn the traditional Mass. See, e.g.,

  4. Mary
    7 years ago

    This didn't just happen all by itself overnight. One of our problems is the weak leadership exerted by... the bishops and NCCB in the era of the 1970's and 1980's who were so b-u-s-y with proclamations about the evils of nuclear war they couldn't be bothered doing their real job: shepherding the faithful. They abandoned us to pursue their diocesan politics. Thank God we have some bishops truly worth their salt... But I fear it will continue to get worse before it gets better. The problem: cost for traditional architecture, music, etc., and lack of church staff...

  5. Melissa
    7 years ago

    Hugh and James,

    I invite you to check the Catholic Hispanics in the USA were Catholicism so far from neutral...I don't think that replacing altars and calling the Eucharist a communal meal would've been welcomed, we are too traditional for that. Maybe the organ music was changed for something more modern or folkloric but that's as far as it goes. :-)

  6. Joseph
    7 years ago

    I agree that the Catholic identity has been made generic. I'm a practicing Catholic and former seminarian, and I struggle with my Catholic identity. I'm pleased there is an alleged re-awakening of Catholic identity. Resurrecting the Latin Mass is one thing, whether it will be a triumphant reemergence will depend upon if the touchstones and theology are incorporated and validated successfully into the 21st century. What efforts are there in this area? What is needed to do so? This is something altogether different.

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