Monday, July 20, 2015

Save the Liturgy, Save the Large Family

The theme for Natural Family Planning Week 2015 is July 19-25, 2015 is “NFP Awareness Week”. Although the USCCB intends this to be a week of promotion of NFP, this post presents the other side of the issue, and makes a point concerning the importance of the liturgy as it influences how we choose to live our lives.

An NFP-teaching couple once made the following comment:

My husband and I are NFP teachers, and we do the "sex talk" at the marriage prep our cluster hosts every spring. We work hard to put forth the essence of the Church's teaching in the 45 minutes given to us. We also think carefully about how we present ourselves verbally and physically in an attempt to make Catholic Large Family life attractive. (we have 7 children so far).

This is what it looks like in the trenches (at least in the Northeast). One or 2 couples out of 30 in these prep classes have an understanding of Church teaching. Most are openly living together and contracepting. Even those who go to Mass every weekend are often introduced to the reasons behind the teaching against contraception for the first time at our session!...

It is a fact that most couples – even Catholics – live together and/or are having sex before marriage, and often they are using contraception. Bishops, priests, and the laity are all quite aware of this.

And why are people living this way?  Consider this possibility:

Historically, right around the time of Humanae Vitae and Roe v. Wade, Catholics had also been introduced to the Novus Ordo, and they were being shown that it was acceptable to tamper with the liturgy, to make it “more relevant”, to not follow the rubrics. What would this tell them about the Church? It would suggest that if we may interpret the “source and summit” the way we want to, then surely we may interpret other Church teaching that way, too. And it would suggest that surely we should be living contemporary lives; maybe the Church is just behind the times on this contraception thing. We’ve got to help her along and make the change ourselves so that the Church will be more relevant to others.

Now, if we are free to re-write liturgical rules for the Mass, why should we not be free to form our consciences according to moral relativism? And this is what happened.

Dissident theologians and priests, aided and abetted by silent bishops (and some vocal ones, as well), led the faithful astray by blatantly asserting that disobedience was the order of the day when it came to Humanae Vitae’s affirmation of the Church’s ban on contraception.

The changes in the Mass took away some of the mystery that had been there previously, including the mystery of the Eucharist. Belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has declined precipitously since Vatican II. Reverence at the typical Novus Ordo Mass has declined compared to what it was (and still is) in the extraordinary form. The number of religious vocations has declined. The number of children born to Catholic families has declined. It seems unlikely that all these things are unrelated.

The liturgy has suffered in its redefinition and revision; and our faith has suffered because of that: lex orandi, lex credendi.

The innovations and modifications that resulted in a weakening of the sense of reverence that was previously shown for the Eucharist include:
  • receiving Holy Communion in the hand instead of on the tongue (which diminishes the sense of the Real Presence of Christ);
  • allowing lay “ministers” to handle the Eucharist (creating a false sense of our “equality” with priests and therefore with Jesus);
  • renovations that lower the sanctuary to the level of the people;
  • removing “barriers” (like communion rails) between the people and the sanctuary;
  • having the priest face the people as if he is a talk-show host; de-emphasizing the altar as a place of sacrifice and over-emphasizing the concept of Mass as a shared meal;
  • introducing popular music as a replacement for Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.

Likewise, our sense of the mystery, beauty, and inherent dignity of life – from conception to natural end, and even of life that has not yet been conceived – has been compromised by the innovations, modifications, and revelations of science. While scientific advances themselves have the potential to increase our sense of reverence for life, they can also be used for evil: the capability of creating a new human being outside the womb; the advances in fertility treatment that result in “extra” babies being aborted; the use of human embryos to harvest stem cells for research. All of these things give us the sense that we mere creatures have become Creators, able to “create” (and destroy) life at our own whim; able to regulate the health and genetic soundness of that life; and able to “create” or “not create” that life as we see fit – as if life is just another commodity or resource we must learn to exploit to our advantage.

To recap: After Vatican II, the liturgy changed…dramatically: Less reverence…less respect…fewer “absolutes”. After Vatican II, Humanae Vitae confirmed the Church’s perennial teaching against contraception, but dissident theologians and clergy encouraged dissent and rebellion against that teaching: Less reverence for life…less respect for large families…fewer “absolutes”.

People saw that the Church could change the liturgy; why couldn’t the Church change the teaching on contraception? And why didn’t She?! If the stodgy old men in Rome won’t make the Church more “contemporary”, the faithful must do it themselves…right?!

So the Catholic faithful were taught to follow their consciences with regard to birth control, and many of them chose illicit contraception. Family size decreased. The vocations “crisis” ensued. Etc.

Interestingly, if you find a group of people who attend the EF Mass regularly, you will often find large families. While correlation does not imply causation, it’s worth a try: if we return to the reverence and mystery and awe of the EF Mass, perhaps we can recover the sense of reverence and mystery and awe of life that leads couples to embrace the concept of not limiting the number of children they will accept from God.

Save the liturgy, save the large family.

But instead, for now, NFP has been called in to save the day. The commenter mentioned above added:

But in defense of NFP teachers, we need to meet people where they are before we hit them with the deeper issues behind Catholic teaching. “Hmmm, NFP might work for us...” is a more possible step than “I need to get off contraception and be open to life!” Though I have seen this happen too, happily!

There is some truth to this statement, too: Our bishops and priests have neglected to talk about the evil of contraception for over 40 years now. To counteract contraceptive use, the USCCB calls for NFP programs in every diocese; NFP teachers have to deal with the contraceptive mentality of today’s culture, which has infected an overwhelming proportion of Catholics.

And why does the USCCB call for NFP programs? It’s not because NFP is a good thing. It’s because unrestrained use of NFP is a lesser sin than the use of illicit contraception. The teaching of NFP is promoted because “if we don’t teach them NFP, they’ll use contraception.”

That may well be true. The illicit use of NFP is to be preferred over the use of illicit contraception (it is permitted to choose a lesser evil over a greater evil)…but only if there is no other option.

There is another option in this case, though: Teach the evil of contraception. Teach the need for “serious reasons” to avoid procreation. Teach the sanctity and value of life – the blessings and joys – and yes, the sacrifices – of large families.

Teach the Truth.

And follow the thread back to the source: restore to the liturgy the dignity, reverence, and devotion that is proper to the worship of God – who is, after all, the Author of Life.


  1. The bottom line is, the bishops frankly care more about appearing popular than about upholding God's timeless teachings. The sin of vanity is our biggest obstacle to building the Body of Christ. Imagine what the Church can accomplish if this one son was rooted out.

  2. "SIN" rooted out . . . stupid "smart" phones.