U.S. Intellectual History Blog

New Book: Massa Offers A Catholic Intellectual History Of The 1960s

Continuing somewhat this week’s discussion of the intellectual history of religion in the United States, I present to you a new work by Boston College Professor of Church History—and Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry—Mark Massa titled The American Catholic Revolution: How the Sixties Changed the Church Forever.

I learned of Massa’s new work from John Fea, who also presented a relevant discussion with Massa conducted by Daniel Burke. It’s not the most comprehensive or penetrating of interviews, but I offer a few excerpts nonetheless:

– “Massa’s [book]…describes how celebrating the Mass in English, butting heads with the pope on birth control, and priests protesting the Vietnam War opened new possibilities — and controversies — in the church.”
– “Q: Why did the “Catholic Revolution,” as you call it, begin in 1964? A: The new Mass (which was introduced in America that year) made real, or concrete, the changes that Vatican II made in ways that theology, or other declarations from the council could not.”
– [Massa] “A great majority of Catholics (once) thought of the church as outside of time altogether. …Vatican II attacked this notion of the church as providing a timeless set of answers to life’s questions about meaning.”
– [Massa] “Catholics, like all believers, want security. The world seems, and can be, a very scary place; and they want…certainty, security, and peace of mind. But faith is a stance in history; it doesn’t preserve us from messiness.”
– “Q: How much was the “Catholic Revolution” affected by the cultural tumult of the’60s? A: There was always an international dimension that made the Catholic ’60s different from the general culture, because of this long devotion to Rome and the primacy of the pope. My sense is that most of the important stuff wasn’t a reaction to events and ideas outside the church but to things happening inside the church itself.”

As a practicing Catholic and intellectual historian, my personal sense is that this book will find an audience—either via discussions about reviews or through actual readings. Why? Conservative Catholic intellectuals fancy themselves keepers of the true/real/authentic/orthodox history of the Church (and hence police new histories). Liberal Catholic intellectuals either still celebrate the era of concern, or at least wonder what the fuss today is about (and hence may read the book for curiosity’s sake). My prediction, however, is that if this book gets wider attention, it’ll be because of disgruntlement by the former rather than celebration by the latter.

Unless another faithful USIH reader or contributor wants to review Massa’s new offering, I think I’ll commit myself to the task (although multiple reviews of a book never hurt—even if published by the same entity). – TL

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. I’ll probably end up using Massa’s new book in a class I teach on US Catholic History. The last time I taught that class a few of my students did some research on the pre-1960s church and the changes already afoot. A couple of these students are seminarians and had access to priests and Benedictine brothers, who told them that many changes in the hierarchy of their monastery (St. Meinrad in southern Indiana) had foreshadowed some of the new mandates handed down in Vatican II. The interesting thing about this angle is that this monastery is not quite liberal and thus had made changes out of necessity rather than doctrine.

    Moreover, such revelation made the seminarians in my class, most of whom would have self-identified as conservative, deliberate a bit more about where they might stand in matters of Catholic orthodoxy.

  2. Ray: The idea of “aggiornamento” (sp?) was in effect well before VC II, yes, in the 1950s? If so, that explains the movement in the orders. I’m sure someone in ND’s Cushwa Center will tell us soon whether Massa’s book has done a solid job on the 1960s. – TL

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