In the Western Catholic Church, for centuries, but especially since the Council of Trent (1545-1563) the Tridentine form of religious practice and devotion, controlled by the hierarchy and clergy, was used effectively to express and communicate the faith to the members of the church. Many people reached great levels of holiness in the context of this spirituality.
What we may call Tridentine Spirituality had been developing for centuries but it was set in concrete for the whole Western Catholic Church by the Council of Trent.
No longer adequate…
That Tridentine form of religion and devotion is no longer an adequate expression of faith and spirituality for the majority of Catholics in the western world of the 21st century. Consequently it is not surprising that fewer and fewer people come to a church which still offers a basically Tridentine form of religion and devotion for the expression of spirituality.
The Tridentine expression of faith and spirituality has its most obvious expression in the Tridentine Mass, in the Tridentine missal and rituals. This Tridentine form was recently reaffirmed by Pope Benedict XVI as a genuine practice for those who want to follow it.
Even though very few Catholics in Australia seek a Tridentine Mass on Sunday, the characteristics of the Tridentine approach to religion still strongly influences the way the Catholic Church offers religion to its members. Despite the changes from a Tridentine to a Vatican II form of liturgy, at the parish level in general, the church is still offering a Tridentine form of spirituality. But in Australia, a Tridentine spirituality only works or makes sense for a small number, and a diminishing number, of people. Statistics show that the majority of Catholics who once were actively involved in the church have now left. The age profile of those still regularly attending Sunday Mass indicates that the decrease will continue.
New migrant groups of Catholics have a higher rate of participation and of producing vocations to the priesthood and religious life. People in these groups are still comfortable with a Tridentine spirituality, but as they become more integrated into Australian culture they will probably find the Tridentine spirituality less supportive, and the vocations from the Tridentine spirituality remnant will find it more and more difficult to communicate with the Catholic population at large.
Vatican II spirituality…
The characteristics of a Vatican II approach to religion still have not been integrated into the regular practice of the Church in a large scale at the parish level. Some of the Vatican II characteristics that are still not being sufficiently put into practice in the expression of spirituality are these: a recognition of the importance and value of each individual's experience and search for spirituality; a readiness to promote and facilitate an honest dialogue in connection with a search for meaning in life; a freshness that is experienced as giving vision, direction and motivation to follow the example and teaching of Jesus Christ; an ability to reveal an active presence of Jesus Christ in the world, with his transforming power, inviting us to work with him for the transformation of the world into something that is coming closer to the realm of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In a recent address in Sydney, Sister Joan Chittester, with great insight, flair and energy, described how Benedictine Spirituality, as distinct from Tridentine Spirituality, has so much to offer to the church and world of today. (See: www.goodsams.org.au and www.abc.net.au/rn/spiritofthings) Saint Benedict (480-547) developed his spirituality long before Tridentine Spirituality became dominant in the Western Catholic church and consequently is free of many of the restrictions of that later spirituality.
With an organisational emphasis on small congregations as the normal way of gathering for Sunday Liturgy, the church will be able to provide the time and space for genuine interactive participation, thus giving encouragement to a Vatican II Spirituality. Obviously, this way of organising Sunday Liturgy cannot immediately be implemented in the major suburban parishes which operate with very large congregations. The situation is different in many rural areas where small congregations are already the norm. These small congregations already offer the opportunity for more effective interactive participation and the promotion of a Vatican II style of Spirituality. Good, well-informed leadership will be required for this to happen successfully.
As people who live in the company of the transformed and transforming Jesus Christ, we might ask: What is his spirituality and how is it communicated to the world? There is no simple, brief answer to this question, but the actions and words of Jesus as described in the gospels offer some hints. Jesus did not try to impose a spirituality: he reached out to people in healing action and thought-provoking conversation, meeting them on their own ground and listening to what they had to say. Dialogue was a very important part of the process.
The early church communities in their home gatherings continued to operate with this spirituality. They gathered each Sunday as small communities, celebrating the presence of Jesus, remembering his sayings and stories and working out, through their discussions, how to accept his Spirit and to apply it in mission to the world.
Small communities and the interactive involvement of all the members of the gatherings were characteristics of the early Christian movement. It was very successful.
To what extent can we learn from it? Can we re-develop some of the characteristics of the pristine Christian Spirituality? Or do we stay mainly with a Tridentine Spirituality, which, as a complete system, many Catholics are indicating has passed its use-by date for them.
Kevin Murphy, Ballarat
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2007Fr Kevin Murphy