“Stuck in the past” is a description that is never used as a complement. It shouldn’t be. Romanticism is not a good thing. At the same time, deriding the past and those who lived in it as obsolete and woefully unenlightened is also wrong and arrogant. The depiction of everything that came before the present era as dark and bleak is a hallmark of progressivism. It allows for a certain historical narcissism, in which denizens of the present age envision themselves as saviors of an off-course humanity.
In the Church, describing a particular way of thinking or doing things as “pre-conciliar” is hardly ever used as a complement. The Second Vatican Council (we are to believe) made a decisive pivot away from the black-and-white mindset of the Council of Trent, with its focus on “rigid” rubrics and rules. Of course, many who say such things have never read a single document of the Second Vatican Council. This tendency has resulted in the “virtual council” or “council of the media” about which Benedict XVI spoke during the final days of his pontificate. Patently false assertions of what the Second Vatican Council set out to accomplish have overtaken the actual directives of the Council itself.
How should Catholics view the past? In his excellent book, The Mass: A Historical Commentary, Dom Bede Lebbe, O.S.B. gives us a balanced answer. Written in 1947, it provides Catholics in 2016 with much-needed wisdom and perspective.
Utterly alien then to us must be this modern craze of forgetting the past. Man is seeking by a new legislation, a novel architecture, a modern art, to break completely with old ways of doing and thinking. He must have, as a recent poet says, a virgin world, with naught to remember and everything to promise, a world unencumbered by the gods or the dead. Our way is a different one. God, of course, we do not forget; but neither do we forget our dead, in whom we see, as it were, our roots, the source of our strength. The Catholic belongs to no age, or rather he belongs to all, and draws on the vigor of the timeless Communion of Saints. . . . Our dead are the Saints, whose memory lives brightly in the Liturgy; our dead again are all those Christian generations who have prayed like us, and still join in the prayer of the Church, whether in Heaven or in Purgatory; our dead too are all our dear ones whose names we bring to God so often in the Memento of the Mass. . . . Our memory of them is a grateful one, for they have toiled for us, and prepared for us the world we live in. But how much more grateful are we to Our Lord, Who has been so lavish with His benefits, Who gives Himself to us each day to bathe us in the fullness of His own Life.