Some are realizing that as our world grows more secular, we might lose what he have not thought possible: the right to practice our Catholic faith. They no longer want to make apologies for their faith as it becomes more and more threatened by government, educators and the media. As noted below, Irish Catholics have been willing to pay $44 for an card that identifies them as a Roman Catholic, something that would have been assumed 20 years ago; but no longer, as fewer and fewer of them are bothering to practice their faith.
John Allen, reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, writes a weekly column on the state of the Church and noted last week that the Church released documents freeing up the use of the 1962 Latin (Tridentine) Mass and stating in no uncertain terms that only the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches possess the sacraments and Bishops with powers inherent in their apostolic succession that are required for it be considered the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
[...Snip] The logical question many reporters and ordinary Catholics alike are asking is, "Why now?" What's prompting the Vatican to re-open such sensitive questions?
My answer is that these moves cannot be seen in isolation. They are part of what I have identified as one of the ten "Mega-Trends" in Catholicism today, which is the reassertion of a strong sense of traditional Catholic identity.
In light of this week's events, it seemed a good time to share a selection from the chapter of my upcoming book, Mega-Trends in Catholicism, devoted to Catholic identity. I hope it provides some context to understand what's happening.
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Anyone who regards the statement, "I'm a card-carrying Catholic" as a mere metaphor clearly has never met Marian Mulhall.
An advertising and communications executive in Dublin, Ireland, Mulhall decided in 2005 to combine her professional skills with her commitment to the church. Her aim is to develop programs to support priests, but first she had to come up with a product that would generate revenue. Thus she began pitching what she calls the "Catholic Identity Card." For $44 individually, or $173 for a "family pack" of five, a Catholic can obtain a credit-card sized piece of plastic bearing the holder's name, a picture of Pope Benedict XVI, a holographic icon showing the hands of a priest breaking the Eucharistic host, and a phrase in bold letters stating: "I am a Catholic. In the event of an accident or emergency, please contact a priest."
Whatever its fate on the open market, the Catholic Identity Card is one of the most literal expressions of the powerful "Catholic identity" movement coursing through the global church, particularly in the affluent North. External symbols of Catholic belonging, the more distinctive the better, are in vogue. Sociologists say that groups assert their identity in this manner when they can no longer take it for granted. The Catholic identity movement is therefore an effect, of which runaway secularization in the global North, especially Europe, is the immediate cause.
Post-Vatican II, any teaching or behavior that made Catholics seem alien was frowned upon, and a good bit of it was cast aside. In 1967, for example, the bishops of England and Wales eliminated the requirement of abstaining from meat on Fridays with this explanation: "Non-Catholics know and accept that we do not eat meat on Fridays, but often they do not understand why we do not, and in consequence regard us as odd." Given the temper of the times, this was understood as an argument against the practice. Today, the winds are blowing the other way. A perception of Catholic singularity has become an argument in favor of doing things, such as wearing religious habits and saying the Mass in Latin.
New translations of the rites and rituals of the Catholic church which are closer to Roman patterns, and dusting off the pre-Vatican II Mass, illustrate the trend, along with a growing emphasis on individual confession and Eucharistic adoration. Marian devotion is also staging a strong comeback, measured in part by the success of pilgrimage sites such as Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje. In the priesthood and religious life, one finds a return to habits and Roman collars, especially among younger priests, deacons, brothers, and sisters. Debates in Catholic universities and hospitals about what makes them "Catholic," as well as efforts to tighten up on admissions and curricula in Catholic seminaries, are also part of this picture. Bishops insisting that Catholic politicians cannot defy church teaching and still wear the label "Catholic" likewise expresses the identity impulse.
To employ an inter-faith metaphor that captures the spirit of what I'm describing, Catholicism today is engaged in the same project that gripped Judaism after the destruction of the Temple and the dispersal of the Jewish people into a worldwide diaspora -- that is, "building a fence around the Law." The idea is that by making the external markers of one's religious identity clear and absolute, those who observe them will also preserve the deep spiritual values those markers are meant to embody, even when there's little support for doing so in the surrounding cultural universe.
Because of the ideological and political freight it carries, the "Catholic identity" mega-trend uniquely inspires prescriptive debate: "Is this the way we ought to go, or not?" While that's a worthwhile matter to ponder, it's not what this chapter is about, which aims instead to outline what's happening and to anticipate some of its consequences. I do so in the spirit of Nelson Mandela, who once said that debating the desirability of globalization is a bit like debating winter -- whether you like it or not, it's coming. Today's press for Catholic identity is a lot like that. National Catholic Reporter.