Monday, June 18, 2012

Save the Liturgy, Save the Large Family

This just in from the comment section of “What If I’m WrongAbout NFP?” (my emphasis

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!...
There are some good points here.

For one thing, there is the fact that most couples – even Catholics – live together and/or are having sex before marriage, and often they are using some kind of illicit contraception. Bishops, priests, and the laity are all quite aware of this, I believe.

And why are people living this way? As I have opined elsewhere[1]:

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 outrageously 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. I don’t think 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 a whole bunch 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.

Click on the NFP tab at the top of the page for a list of other NFP posts on this blog.

[1] In my article “Abortion, Contraception, and the Liturgy”, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, October, 2009.


  1. I would like to know if you think overpopulation, even just regional overpopulation, can ever be a problem. I am not trying to fight, I am seriously interested in how you reconcile this in your head.

  2. Frankly, I think overpopulation is a myth, and that there is plenty of evidence that it is. Just off the top of my head, if in the short-term there exists a situation where people are actually dying from famine, then I think that might be a time for total abstinence. And maybe people should even delay marriage in that situation.

  3. Regional overpopulation would not happen if foodstuffs weren't brought in from outside. It is a biological reality that if a woman is severely malnourished she wouldn't be physically able to get pregnant.

    I am not talking about temporary relief, I am talking about the food aid pumped into certain countries for decades.

    A far more humane solution would be to teach people how to be self-sufficient. Then the region would be populated at sustainable levels.

  4. I was thinking that about malnourished women, too. However, in the initial stages of a famine, some wouldn't have reached that level, I suppose. But anyway, you have a good point about the self-sufficiency. And of course, we could work on getting the UN to stop sending condoms.

  5. Where did the phrase "Save the Liturgy, Save the World" originate? I am seeing it frequently lately and wonder if it is a famous quote. A google search did not enlighten me.

  6. As far as I know, it's a phrase coined by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf ("Fr. Z") on his blog "What Does the Prayer Really Say".

  7. Just wondering if you have posted about the 'evil of contraception?' I was trying to locate one from you and wasn't able to.

  8. Br Juniper, it was coined by a poster in the combox at Fr Z's blog, not Fr Z himself, and was a joking reference to a catchphrase from a sci-fi TV series, "Heroes." ("Save the cheerleader, save the world.")

  9. I don't think I have any problem with most of what you write on here. You are trying to uphold the truth about Church teaching, especially the "grave, series, just" reasons that people leave out.

    It is just that you seem to be so against promoting NFP at all. To say that it is a necessary evil, or that sex might not be a gift but a duty. The promoters of NFP, including myself, are attempting to offer support to the 2% trying to live out Church teaching. NFP is very very difficult. Much more so than I think you understand. Many couples give up on it and begin contracepting.

    It seems to me that dealing through the feeling of not wanting more children (aka contra. mentality) or rejecting the ability to have more children (ABC) needs to be supported, not condemned. Why wouldn't you support that?

  10. Kate, I agree that it would be better to use NFP than, say, the pill, but it is still not something that should be actively promoted, because then people are led astray into a false sense of what the Church actually teaches.

    I think it might be permissible to teach an individual couple about NFP if they are in danger of using contraception, but the way it is presented needs to make it clear that FOR THE TIME BEING they may choose to use it to prevent the greater sin of contraception. And then the focus could be on their spiritual growth in examining WHY the Church teaches that we should be "generous" in having children, why contraception is a grave sin, and what it means to trust God (which is an area where each of us needs to grow, I am sure).

    If NFP is being used as a step away from contraception and toward truly living the Catholic vocation of marriage and family, then let's make sure people know it's just a step in the process, and the goal would be to move toward a greater abandonment to Divine Providence.

  11. But who's to say that many pregnancies are the way to live out one's vocation? We also have a duty, more so, to care for the children that have already been given to us. Each additional pregnancy brings hardships and risks.

    I think most couples are going to have to use NFP at some point, and if they feel badly using it, or guilty about using it, or don't know how to use it then their marriage is going to suffer. Women's bodies shouldn't have to handle one pregnancy after another. No one should expect that of them.

    The Church doesn't expect it of them. I think if we could get an answer from the our Heavenly Mother, she would lovingly tell them to space pregnancies when we feel that we need to. No one can say, not even the Church, that we are more blessed to have large families.

    NFP is one of the most debated teachings on the faith- Advocates need to step up and show that: A. It does work when you need it to, and B. You can have a happy and blessed marriage while doing it.

    That has been my only goal. This blog downplays that. As if to say that once a woman is married she is nothing more than a womb and pregnancy is expected of her throughout her fertile years.

  12. Pope Pius XII, in his address “The Large Family”, said to the large families gathered before him, “But you do not represent just any families at all; you are and represent large families, those most blessed by God and specially loved and prized by the Church as its most precious treasures”. He added that “through the whole course of its history, large families have often been considered as synonymous with Christian families.”

    He also talked about trusting God, and about God’s providence, saying, “But God also visits large families with His Providence, and parents, especially those who are poor, give clear testimony to this by resting all their trust in Him when human efforts are not enough...God will never refuse a means of living to those He calls into being.”
    Pius XII also talked about married couples’ “readiness to accept joyfully and gratefully these priceless gifts of God—their children — in whatever number it may please Him to send them”. He doesn’t say “whatever number God and the couple agree upon”.

    As for our Blessed Mother, I don’t think she would tell us to space births when we feel the need to do so. I think she would just tell us to say yes to God. After all, that’s what She did.

  13. I have read the documents too. I get a different picture though.

    The Pope was addressing large families. Of course he says that are blessed, but that doesn't mean that an infertile couple is not blessed. You are taking it out of context. And even if you were understanding it correctly if was not doctrine. It was encouragement for those to live generously for God.

  14. Pope Piux XI didn't say infertile couples WEREN'T blessed! But he did say that large families were "most blessed" and "precious treasures". And yes, exactly: encouragement to live generously for God!


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