The more I speak with young people who were not born until after Vatican II, the more I realize that many people have a romanticized view of the pre-Vatican II Church.
I remember well the old Church and can assure people that many of the things which create unpleasant feelings in liturgies or among Catholics had counterparts in the pre-Vat Church.
Did people complain about priests? Yes!
Did people complain about the music? Yes!
Were people critical of dry sermons, or sermons which were without scholarship? Yes!
Did people complain of sermons on raising money? Yes!
Priests were less engaged in the daily lives of their parishioner on some levels. For example, priests in certain urban or rural communities could visit the parishioners and bless houses, but in some areas, the priest shortage began before Vatican II.
Priests rarely talked about politics. If they did, it was about communism and socialism as evils in general.
Priests did not talk about sexual matters at all. Things like adultery or the growing promiscuity of the larger culture were not mentioned from the pulpit. Nor were books or movies discussed from the pulpit.
At daily Mass, most priests did not have sermons at all.
Where there were large religious orders, people saw nuns and monks more than in rural areas, or highly protestant areas. Some people today say that there daughters have never seen a nun in a habit. That is tragic.
But, there have always been areas where nuns were scarce. To romanticize that America was highly Catholic is not to look at the real history of the Church here in the States.
This country has always been Protestant first.
People also romanticize about how active the priests were in leading groups.
To be fair, there were more lay leaders in activities pre-Vatican II than now.
Men's and women's groups were found in every parish. Now, most parishes do not have Altar and Rosary Societies, or the Sodality of Mary, or the Children of Mary, or the Legion of Mary, or the Holy Name Society.
The laity were not sheep, but active members of groups, including financial groups which aided in fund raising and being accountants in churches.
Some men and women in my diocese when I was a child were Benedictine Oblates. Some were Third Order Carmelites.
It is the liberalization of some of these orders which led to the laity not pursuing membership.
In my own family, over 100 hundred years ago, the laity published and wrote for two Catholic magazines, help found a grade school, help found a large monastery, organized international Catholic charities, wrote Catholic novels, and gave generously to the building of churches.
To think that priests were the only movers and shakers in the "old" church is just not true.
The laity have become less involved in church life, rather than more so.
And to believe the priest had responsibility for every detail of parish life is just a myth.
A priest or two or even three could not do all the things people think priests did pre-Vatican II.
And, there is only one Fulton J. Sheen....
Do not romanticize the past. Do not burden your priests with unrealistic expectations. Do not think that the laity should not be very, very active in the Church.