Church and culture
From Opus Publicum, a Catholic blogger.
Having originated in West Michigan myself in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty, I can’t say that I ever witnessed directly the sort of ghetto Catholic existence which might have, for a time, kept alive the spirit of a European Catholic culture. The most my eyes ever caught were glimpses of what that culture looked like from my ageing relatives, their photo albums, and a handful of historical accounts captured in parish memorial books. But on the macro level there has never really been a series of American Catholic writers, artists, and intellectuals who have been able to craft something distinctively Catholic out of the largely Protestant clay they’ve been given to work with. (I can already hear people yelling out the names of Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, but at most they’re exceptions to the rule.) Of course Catholics have achieved much in the United States over the course of the last century, but it’s undeniable that many Catholics — including our priests and clergy — are assimilated Americans who just happen, in their free time, to “be Catholic.” Since the Second Vatican Council, American Catholics have gleefully banalized their liturgy, wrecked their churches, and adopted every manner of mainline low-church Protestant (if not Evangelical) “spirituality.” Is it any wonder, then, that there are more than a few Catholics who come across as hopeless romantics as they set their eyes on other lands and other times in order to find something — anything — which might nourish them holistically?There is no authentically American Catholic culture because the larger society doesn’t agree on what an authentic American is. To the extent Catholic culture in America has been “authentic,” it’s been somebody else’s culture: Irish, Italian, Polish. The Croats in Toronto still work very hard at keeping their Catholic culture Croatian, much as the Maronites and Melkites in my neck of the woods remain determinedly Levantine.
The modern American ideal condemns ethnicity, which is the core of culture. To the extent there was ever an “authentic” American religious expression, it was the old, high church Anglicans/Episcopalians. This makes sense, because for decades the dominant American ethnicity was Anglo. Since then, the levellers made sure all those snooty WASPs were thoroughly exorcised and replaced with women and their homosexual friends, and the WASPs decided to stop reproducing themselves.
Of course, Mormons and low church Protestants have long considered themselves the real titleholders for authentic Anglo-American religious expression, and that’s who’s left at this point.
I’ve watched as a Catholic parish in my neighborhood went from a typically American mix to a Latino one. What used to be a generic parish bazaar is now a Mexican cultural festival, as the “white” members decamped to other parishes.
Good, bad or indifferent, it seems like a universal tendency for people to seek nationalist expression in their religious worship.
By the way, I've been critical of the Orthodox Church's Western Rite but I'm becoming more sympathetic as America's ethno-cultural seams become increasingly strained. I'm just not sure after Henry VIII, Martin Luther, the Enlightenent, French and American revolutions, two Vatican Councils and two world wars that we're able to fumble our way back to an orthodox, Orthodox Western Rite. So, like the Russians in 860 A.D., we go to the back of the line with the Byzantine (or Slavonic?) Rite that's been handed to us and see what develops in a few centuries.