Don't get me wrong. The pre-Vatican II Church had its warts and pimples just as the post-Vatican II Church has its cancers. Some of the first changes after Vatican II were nun's habits being made a bit more comfortable, but still habits. The 1965 Roman Missal was still the Tridentine Mass and the laity were called to holiness just as the clergy and religious were.
But then, the dismantling occur in the spirit of Vatican II to change the face, look and identity of Catholics and their instituions and to wipe out all the cultural aspects of Catholicism which acted as a sort of glue for truly holy Catholics and others less so.
The Mass was universal and there wasn't the tribalism we have today in its celebration and the multi-languages of people that everyone insists needs to be in their parish too. But here are some recollections of the Church of the past and her glory days all positive except the first one which misses the mark and comes from an adolescent mentality persevered in the person's present old age.
Rita Ferrone of Praytell tells of her negative experience of a nicer time in the Church which you can compare with five others who actually knew the nicer time in the Church:
I’d like to just add a note of experience that may be a bit different from others, but no less valid. When I think about the Catholic past as I experienced it in the supposed time of flourishing (when there were a lot of people populating church institutions), it wasn’t always rosy. There was a lot of emphasis on discipline but not so much on justice. People lied a lot to prop up the systems they inhabited. There was considerable tribalism among Catholics, and a good bit of ethnic clannishness that was cloaked in Catholicism but did not result in a whole lot of charity, beyond care for me and mine. There was scrupulosity, and a sense that the worst sins were sexual. I got a fine education in Catholic schools, but the number of my classmates who were there just to avoid the public schools’ problems and not for any religious loyalty, were many. Scoffers abounded within these groups. We had big institutions, but frequently the individuals moving through those institutions got an experience not of grace but of harshness. That’s why people left. I think that all this contributed to people falling away, and ultimately to the failure of the system. And this is quite apart from the scandalous sex abuse crisis which emerged to shock and drive even more people away. There were genuine, caring, faith filled people in the mix, but there was a lot of other stuff going on. My sense is that the faithful minority is still around. So I wonder if what we mourn in losing the big institutions is a cultural clout which is no longer ours to command, and yet, look around: there is probably as much grace and blessing for our time, only it is taking different forms.
The National Catholic Register has this wonderful recollection of the good old days by people who knew but they are not long for this world, so it is great to have them tell us:
5 Prominent Catholics Reflect on the Church of Their Youth
Joe Scheidler, Bishop Rene Gracida, Alice von Hildebrand, Msgr. Peter Wilkinson and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz recall their Christian upbringing
Alice von Hildebrand (born 1923), philosopher, author, speaker
[I grew up in Belgium in the 1920s and 30s, and the country] was very Catholic, and my family was very involved with the Church. My grandfather, in fact, was a very prominent Catholic in Belgium. He was the founder of a publication that Cardinal Silvio Oddi [1910-2001] once called the most Catholic newspaper in Europe.
I was blessed to go to the best Catholic schools, and was able to visit many magnificent churches in Brussels. The churches had such magnificent religious paintings; I learned much about the Faith by contemplating them.
I had access to the best Catholic textbooks as a child. I’d come home with a 450-page volume in small print and I knew the whole thing. I became a daily communicant as a teenager.
The country was as Catholic as it could be and I received a superb Catholic education.
… [Unfortunately, today] I can only tell you that Belgium has apostatized from A to Z. I haven’t been there for 20 years. It would bring me to tears. I had a niece there that was given assisted suicide and afterward given a Catholic funeral Mass. If I were to go back, I would just shed tears from morning to night.
Bishop Rene Gracida (born 1923), retired Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas
I was born in New Orleans. My mother was French American Cajun, my father Mexican. He had fled from Mexico to escape religious persecution. I grew up during the Great Depression, and my father did almost anything he could to support the family. I had one sister, born four years ahead of me.
My mother was a very devout Catholic; my father less so. I had a great uncle who was a vicar general of a diocese in Mexico, and he was very strict. Because of him, my father had an antipathy toward the Catholic clergy. He was not happy when I became a monk!
… I remember reading The Last of the Mohicans as a teenager, and developing a special interest in the Jesuit martyrs. Years later, when I entered the Benedictine monastery, I had to propose three names to my archabbot, one of which he’d pick to be my religious name for the rest of my life. The first I chose was the Jesuit martyr Rene Goupil [1608-42, a French Jesuit lay missionary martyred by Iroquois Indians]. To my great pleasure, the name was approved.
Joe Scheidler (born 1927), Chicago pro-life activist
I grew up in Hartford City, Indiana, which is near Muncie. I was one of six children. My father was a successful businessman involved in all sorts of things: making ice, bottling, ice cream, coal, operating three theaters and a farm. He came out okay from the Great Depression because he had four things people had to have: ice, coal, pop and ice cream.
We were committed Catholics. We went to Mass and said the Rosary daily. One of my uncles was a bishop and two others were priests; two of my cousins were priests as well.
I was an altar boy, and wanted to be a priest myself. I thought that was the way I could be closest to Christ, and I wanted to be as close to Christ as I could be.
I entered the seminary when I was 25, and studied for the diocesan priesthood for three years. Then I became a Benedictine monk for four years. I completed all the necessary studies and formation to become a priest, but decided it was not my calling. It was heartbreaking to leave the seminary, but believed God had other plans for me. My mother was devastated, but my father never thought I had a vocation.
I married my wife Ann in 1965, and we went on to have seven children.
Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz (born 1935), retired Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska
I grew up in a devout Catholic home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My father worked as a grocer. We attended Mass and said the Rosary daily, had regular prayers and went to Catholic schools. We had sacramentals all over our house and priests and religious regularly visited our home. An associate pastor at our local parish, St. Wenceslaus, was a family friend who went fishing in the lakes of Wisconsin with me and my father. I was ordained a priest in 1960, a year ahead of the rest of my class. My only sibling became a nun.
Msgr. Peter Wilkinson (born 1940), retired Roman Catholic priest of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and a convert who was formerly a bishop in the Continuing Anglican movement
[The Anglican Church in Victoria] was strong. That was the 1940s and 50s, and many people were active in the Anglican Church. About 75 percent of the residents were Anglican. As a teenager, I’d go to services at Christ Church Cathedral and the only seats would be in the gallery.
I attended an Anglo-Catholic parish [emphasizing Anglicans’ Roman Catholic heritage] with a beautiful traditional liturgy. It is the liturgy I came to love.
When I graduated from university, I made an arrangement with the Anglican Bishop of Victoria to go to an Anglo-Catholic seminary in England operated by the Community of the Resurrection.
It was while in London that I became interested in religious life. I read a book by an Anglican religious who was a Franciscan friar. I thought, “That’s what life is about, being a Catholic Christian.” I wanted to be a priest and religious and experience the beauty and joy of Catholicism.
… [My opinion of the Roman Catholic Church in my youth] was good. Most of the devotional books we used were based on Roman Catholic books. I didn’t understand the doctrine of papal infallibility, but once you do understand it, it’s a no brainer.
But much of what we did was the same as Roman Catholicism: Mass, praying the divine office, confession, private prayer.