Why do Catholics go elsewhere? UPDATED 4-18

We’ve seen many theories at Pray Tell for why Catholics leave their Church. 

Some claims are obviously a projection of the writers’ biases, such as: “I don’t like the vernacular liturgy/the missal of Paul VI/guitar and clown Masses, and I know this is what drove everyone away.” The response is predictable: Do you have any data? The counter-response is predictable: look at the data – Mass attendance and church membership began plunging in the 1960s, just when the new liturgy came in. And then someone asks why the numbers got worse under John Paul II, and even worse under Benedict XVI. And then we bat around the post quam ergo propter quam logical fallacy for a while.

Now we have some data.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life tells us that one out of every ten Americans is an ex-Catholic. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.

Why do they leave? According to the study, 71% of now-Protestant ex-Catholics say that their spiritual needs were not being met in Catholicism. 32% say they were dissatisfied with the atmosphere at worship services. Of those now unaffiliated with religion, 43% of the ex-Catholics say their spiritual needs were not being met, with 26% dissatisfied with the atmosphere at worship services.

How many left Catholicism because it drifted too far from traditional practices such as Latin Mass? 11% of those ex-Catholics who are now Protestant, and 8% of those ex-Catholcis who are now unaffiliated. Put another way, of the one in three cradle Catholics no longer Catholic, this is a bit less than 3 or 4 % of all the Catholics we started with. That’s not nothing, and we believe in Someone who said something about going after one sheep in a hundred. But it’s not a huge group of people. Larger by far are those who say that their spiritual needs were not met at Catholic worship, obviously for other reasons. 

Doctrinal concerns, such as teachings on birth control or homosexuality, are significant issues, but not nearly as significant as the spiritual and liturgical issues mentioned above.

Fr. Thomas Reese SJ has trenchant commentary in “The hidden exodus: Catholics becoming Protestants” in the print edition of the current issue of the National Catholic Reporter:

First, those who are leaving the [Catholic] church for Protestant churches are more interested in spiritual nourishment than doctrinal issues. Tinkering with the wording of the creed at Mass is not going to help. No one except the Vatican and the bishops care whether Jesus is “one in being” with the Father or “consubstantial” with the Father. That the hierarchy thinks this is important shows how out of it they are. 

While the hierarchy worries about literal translations of the Latin text, people are longing for liturgies that touch the heart and emotions. More creativity with the liturgy is needed, and that means more flexibility must be allowed. If you build it, they will come; if you do not, they will find it elsewhere. The changes that will go into effect this Advent will make matters worse, not better.

UPDATE: Now it’s up at the NCR site – here.

awr

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115 comments

  1. Really? No comments on this topic? I applaud the attempt to get at the reasons Catholics leave the Church. If we believe that the Church is the path to salvation, then reclaiming these lost souls should be a mission. Fr. Reese, as Fr Ruff predicts, gives reasons based on his own biases in the excerpt. It’s the old canard of pitting disparate activities against each other, rather than addressing the problem head on. The new translation was not an attempt to fulfill spiritual needs directly. Rather it is an attempt (like it or not) to recalibrate the liturgy in one particular way.

    So, here’s my opinion, for what it’s worth. Those who leave the Catholic Church for lack of spiritual fulfillment do so because they never really understood, or bought, the message of the Church. Even more likely, they never really understood what the Mass is. It is NOT a worship service in the same way that Protestants understand it, but rather a ritual that includes teaching and a representation of the holy sacrifice. It is a ritual that must be entered into with some understanding of the catechism to “get it”. If the Church decides to discard that millenial tradition for a more direct engagement such as the Protestants offer, then it would probably have to sell its soul (figuratively) and admit error for so long. Spiritual needs in our Church can be met in so many ways, but trying to seek fulfillment only in the Mass without understanding its nature is futile. In an attempt to be “more like” more popular denominations, we have cheated and greatly confused our own, I believe.

    1. I disagree that understanding must come first. Experience always comes first and then understanding. If the experience is not a positive one, why would someone want to continue to engage in it?

      A simple analogy may be food and dinner time rituals. I just ate dinner at the table with my wife and 4 month-old daughter who surely did not get the importance of eating together as a family, but she will grow into that understanding because she will experience it first. Could you imagine, given this analogy if we did not eat together until we understood first what we were doing and why we were doing it?

      I believe that the mass is also a place where experience precedes understanding – personally I have experienced the mass in very valuable ways; and I have experienced mass in not so great ways. Knowledge and catechism are not the answer here.

    2. I find it incredible that never do I read anything about the Church’s laws prohibiting remarriage after divorce. Since the Catholic divorce rate is similar to those for Protestants, 50% or so, i find it not likely that those Catholic divorcees stay single and celibate. They move to a church that will accept them in their new marriage/relationship. If they can’t get an annulment..

      But that never appears in the surveys.

  2. I recently learned of a former parishioner who left the Church for a non-denominational church. They told another former parishioner who questioned them why and their response was “well, we really weren’t good Catholics anyway.” But evidently they are nourished in one of the hip non-denominational experiences in their community but not as much in their Catholic parish.
    Catholics are all over the place in what they want and it is hard in any one parish to please all the expectations. Some hate singing at Mass and just want a Mass with no music, but we tell them the GIRM says you gotta sing! Others love the singing, the bells and smells. Others like charismatic praise music and a casual atmosphere.
    I still contend that if we truly believed in the real presence of Christ in all of His forms, community, word, presider, and Holy Eucharist then why would we leave, except maybe we don’t believe or appreciate what the Church teaches in this regard, and when the actual experiences of these faith realities fall short of what they could be in terms of how the Mass is celebrated and how those who attend treat one another before or after Mass, why not go elsewhere?
    Protestants are very good at hospitality and community. They are also very good at not having multiple services on any given Sunday. If Catholics could put their resources into one or two Masses each Sunday rather than five or six if not more, maybe the experiences would be better. Saying the black and doing the red with style and grace, good music and friendly parishioners and priests who attempt good homilies and a sense of engagement will go a long way in helping the situation, but unless people believe in the real presence of Christ, why go to Mass, wouldn’t something else or nothing at all be just as good?

  3. “Why do they leave? According to the study, 71% of now-Protestant ex-Catholics say that their spiritual needs were not being met in Catholicism. 32% say they were dissatisfied with the atmosphere at worship services. …

    How many left Catholicism because it drifted too far from traditional practices such as Latin Mass? 11% of those who are now Protestant, and 8% of those who are now unaffiliated. Put another way, of the one and three cradle Catholics no longer Catholic, this is a bit less than 3 or 4 % of all the Catholics we started with. …Larger by far are those who say that their spiritual needs were not met at Catholic worship, obviously for other reasons. ”

    I did not comment previously because there is no information as to what these people meant by their spiritual needs not being met or being dissatisfied with the worship service. Until I learn the specifics behind these generalities, I would be inclined to jump to conclusions based on my own biases which I could not prove and would likely only anger other people. I prefer that no one do such a thing.

    1. Tom … I was also a bit curious about what was meant by “Spiritual needs not being met”. A person who felt that the Mass was not “relevant” enough to modern life could give this answer. But a person who feels animosity towards the changes after vatican II (i.e “The Church is not Traditional enough”) could also feel this way. That’s a big wishy-washy category.

  4. Is this data still embargoed? It doesn’t appear to be on the Pew web site anywhere. Are we talking about the 2007 Survey? That doesn’t seem to mention the Latin Mass at all.

    Not saying anyone has broken an embargo, just confused, because no one else seems to have reported on a new Pew Religious Landscape Survey.

  5. How many left Catholicism because it drifted too far from traditional practices such as Latin Mass? 11% of those who are now Protestant, and 8% of those who are now unaffiliated. Put another way, of the one and three cradle Catholics no longer Catholic, this is a bit less than 3 or 4 % of all the Catholics we started with.

    No, it’s really from 8% to 11%, Father. This tendentiousness (and that’s a polite word for what can be done with statistics) is just pathetic. “Where we started” is not relevant, since most cradle Catholics have remained so, if only nominally. If what we are trying to get at is why people leave, it corrupts the analysis to include those who haven’t.

    Another way this poll is unhelpful is that we have no information about age categories. No one below the age of 50 has any memory of pre-Conciliar liturgy. We being asked to believe that all of those who left for reasons of tradition are aged 50 or older? Let’s get real.

    Look seriously and you will find that people leave because liturgy is banal and disordered, and because catechesis is absent, incompetent, or defective. They have no concept of Catholic identity and thus no response to the plausible offers and challenges of a pluralist and aggressively secularist world. Their Church has left them defenseless. C’est tout.

    1. Robert, I don’t understand your point. What I wrote is what the survey found, but maybe my wording was unclear. I’ve changed it in the post to this:
      “11% of those ex-Catholics who are now Protestant, and 8% of those ex-Catholcis who are now unaffiliated.”
      I don’t think anything is “from 8% to 11%,” but maybe I’m missing your meaning.

      No one, neither Reese nor I, said anything about who is above or below 50, so no one asked you to believe anything about that. Where does your point about “getting real” refer to? I don’t see a connection to what’s written, so maybe I’m missing something.

      Note that most are becoming evangelicals, not unaffiliated. So “secularism” isn’t primarily what’s going on.

      As to catechesis, anyone could appeal to that. One could say, for example, that the catechesis hasn’t taught them how great the reformed liturgy is, includingwhat the point of our simplified liturgies is. You, from the other direction, say the catechesis has failed to give them your understanding of Catholicism.

      I think it’s best to stick with the data. People tell us that their finding spiritual nourishment with Evangelicals or mainline Protestants that they don’t find with us. Maybe it would help to pound your understanding of religion and religious identity into them. But I think it’s more complicated than that – and the realistic solutions are different than you envision them.

      awr

      1. No one, neither Reese nor I, said anything about who is above or below 50, so no one asked you to believe anything about that.

        One statistical problem is that anyone who left because of the end of the Latin Mass in parishes will now be 40 years older than they were when the change happened (and many of them will have died in the meantime), so a survery of current unafilliated and protestant respondents will undercount the number who left the Church for that reason, because many of them are dead.

      2. Note that most are becoming evangelicals, not unaffiliated. So “secularism” isn’t primarily what’s going on.

        That’s not true according to the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey:

        Current Religion of Those
        Raised Catholic
        %
        Still Catholic 68
        Now Protestant 15
        –Evangelical Prot. churches 9
        –Mainline Prot. churches 5
        –Hist. black Prot. churches 1
        Now unaffiliated 14
        Now other faith 3
        100

        So of those who were raised Catholic, 9% are now Evangelicals, while 14% are now unafilliated.

      3. Father Ruff, you minimize those who leave because their experience of the Catholic Church is insufficiently traditional.

        You defined the category yourself – ex-Catholics now Protestant or unaffiliated. The useful analysis would have been to consider what’s caused this category to walk. Instead, you switch gears, making reference to the universe of all who are or ever were Catholic. This is like General Motors pondering why people are leaving them for other auto makers or who no longer drive, by consoling themselves that most of their customers are still repeat buyers. I can imagine the VP of Marketing losing his cool at this point: “Ruff, I asked you to find out why we’re losing a third of our market share, and you change the subject to happy talk about people who’re still buying from us! What are you trying to pull?”

        it’s not a huge group of people.

        There are about 68 million American Catholics. If a third of them leave, that’s over 22 million. The 8-11% of those who’ve left because of neglect of tradition is over 2 million souls, Father – about the size of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Just where does “huge” begin for you?

        “secularism” isn’t primarily what’s going on.

        Secularism inculcates a privatized, consumerist approach to faith that encourages indifferentism.

        One could say, for example, that the catechesis hasn’t taught them how great the reformed liturgy is

        One could say their local parish hasn’t taught them that – nor shown them.

        You…say the catechesis has failed to give them your understanding of Catholicism.

        The average American Catholic cannot tell you what he believes, nor why. You need to get out more.

        Maybe it would help to pound your understanding of religion and religious identity into them.

        I am a catechist, and I don’t pound, OK? As for “my” understanding: 1. It isn’t about me; and 2. It couldn’t be any worse than this catastrophe.

  6. Just because they didn’t leave because they felt they didn’t have access to lack of access to the pre-conciliar forms of liturgy, doesn’t mean they didn’t leave /because/ of the lack of access to pre-conciliar forms of liturgy, and hence felt unfulfilled and didn’t like the atmosphere at the services, etc. In other words, due to their age and the de facto suppression of pre-conciliar forms of liturgy, it may just be that they didn’t know what they were missing. So I find the poll quite unhelpful if you’re going to approach this from a liturgical standpoint. You’d have to ask them whether they thought it was too reverent or too irreverent, and all other sorts of specific questions to get to the bottom of it. If two people dislike the atmosphere of a particular Mass, it may be that one wanted to sing On Eagle’s Wings and the other was upset at that the schola wasn’t wearing proper dress for choir. Kinda like those polls that ask whether someone feels like the Country is moving in the right or the wrong direction. They never ask them which direction they feel the country is moving, and which direction they think it ought to move. So people just inject their own meaning into the poll results and both political parties use them to their own advantage.

    1. I have a number of friends who are former Catholics. They give every reason under the sun for their departure. Liturgy is not among them, traditional or otherwise, because they seem to have rejected Catholic eucharistic teachings anyway. They’re my age and slightly young: 70 or thereabouts.

      “Humane Vitae” issues figure prominently in their decision and what they perceive as the irrelevance of the Church and hierarchy as necessary for their salvation. Attitudes now having been further enhanced by the sexual abuse scandals, the growing rightward leaning of the U.S. hierarchy, and the Church’s unwillingness to admit women to the priesthood, gay bashing, etc.

      These people are mostly inactive, but a few have embraced the Society of Friends, attend the Unitarian meeting house, and a couple are regular members of their local Anglican church. A few members of my own family in Canada have left the Ukrainian Catholic Church and now attend the Anglican Church of Canada, or United Church of Canada. I think it is fair to say, none could be called “evangelical”. A few who were going to be ordained to the priesthood left in the early 70s over the issue of celibacy and “Humane Vitae”. I’m struck by the fact that a loss of a sense of mystery, the smells and bells, etc. doesn’t appear to figure very prominently as reasons for leaving. What does stand out is that at one time they were fairly strong, practicing Catholics who underwent a spiritual crisis and a metamorphosis. Not one of them could have been called a casual or indifferent Catholic in their youth, not one. They all came from pretty strong Catholic backgrounds.
      Question is, does the Pew Center pick up on people like these? Does the Church, when compiling it’s figures showing 68, 000,000 members, or are they stuck somewhere in the corset ads in the back?

    1. I had the same question. I suspect the answer would then become “Oh, we favor a better translation (such as 1988) because it will improve people’s spiritual nourishment.
      awr

  7. I am one who “left”. After my parish was closed with minimal communication or apparent concern, I found myself angry and distrusting of the local church hierarchy to a degree that it interfered with my ability to get much out the church that I loved. As an active parishioner and participant in the liturgy, it was clear that I did not matter as much as making the numbers work. When I attended an ELCA Lutheran Church, I was struck both by how similar the liturgy is, but by how welcoming and involved the congregation is. One glaring (in my opinion) difference is that all are invited to communion. When I go to Catholic churches I am struck by the visible disclaimers of who should/should not receive communion. If this is truly the bread of life, why withhold it? Is there any scriptural foundation for this, or is this another man made rule that keeps control in the hands of a hierarchy. Forgiveness can only come via a priest? I am not at all concerned with changes in phrasing as I was raised with the Latin Mass and transitioned to the vernacular without harm. I believe people are leaving the Roman Catholic Church because the the church is too focused on rules and practices that are inconsistent with Jesus message. I hope to return to regular attendance in the Roman Catholic church but I don’t see it as welcoming or desirous of my (and others) return. The concern over the new translations is the least of the issues that lead to people going elsewhere.

    1. Hmm. Looks like I forgot to make my comments a direct reply to you.

      At any rate, I hope that the background might help make the Catholic positions a little more understandable for you.

    2. Thanks Dave for your post.

      In your post I read what I have also experienced and feel. I’m looking for a eucharistic community, but one that is less triumphalistic one that is less certain.

      Look at Joshua Michael’s post about “Valid orders” or those “unworthy” to receive the eucharist, as if catholics by virtue of being catholics are ipso facto “worthy”

      With what has come to light about abuse in the church, one would expect the church hierachs to have become more humble, less proscriptive. But they seem to have no shame, they carry on preaching to the world about sexual morality and how to live a moral life.

      The church for the next 50 years should in their shame remain silent

      1. I may be over-generalizing, but in decades and centuries past, many Catholics (most of them lay, I would presume) did not feel worthy to receive Holy Communion with regularity. Nowadays there tends to be the impression that presence at Mass qualifies one to receive the Eucharist.

        The church for the next 50 years should in their shame remain silent

        By “the church”, do you mean the hierarchs, or something else? And about what, in particular, should they be silent? And what particularly would their silence accomplish? Wouldn’t it be better for those who are guilty to reform their lives and be a (vocal) witness?

      2. Jeffrey the bishops and priests should provide the sacraments and preach on the gospel for the day and then maintain a dignified silence.

        No proclamations of what constitutes sin or what is moral or immoral, no definitions or denunciations or excommunication, nothing, just silence

        each Friday perhaps they should consider holding penitential services in which they, the hierarchs, wash the feet of the poorest of the poor such is their moral failure

      3. Elias:

        “Look at Joshua Michael’s post about “Valid orders” or those “unworthy” to receive the eucharist, as if catholics by virtue of being catholics are ipso facto “worthy””

        This is in fact the opposite of what I intended to convey. The point I was making is that there are good reasons to have rules and guidelines in place. One of those rules is that Catholics who are conscious of having committed a grave sin are not to receive the Eucharist. This probably disqualifies a rather large number of Catholics. And at a typical Sunday Mass, I have seen 1/4 of the congregation remain seated rather than receive.

    3. Nothing has made question why I remain a Catholic as much as the closing of my parish and the way the closing was handled!

      1. I still remember when a local parish was closed (merged with a church about 8 blocks away) – the parishioners decorated the stairs of the old building with flowers for months, and then decorated them again with garlands for Christmas (which still seem to show up on the unused building every year, about ten years later). This seemed to be the better handled of the two parish closings in town – the other was a smaller parish with no debt being closed and sold off to pay the debt of a larger nearby parish – or so I’ve been told by virtually everyone who went there and now refuses to attend the parish they were merged with.

        I imagine some of those people left the Church. Parish closings might be necessary, but I don’t think the higher-ups truly realize how important churches become in the lives of their parishioners. The Catholic Church unfortunately has a reputation for being money-grubbing and power-hungry, and closing churches left and right tends to reinforce that for many people far more than the cappa magnas and lace people here like to complain about do.

    4. Only comments with a full name will be approved.

      Elias Nasser :

      Jeffrey the bishops and priests should provide the sacraments and preach on the gospel for the day and then maintain a dignified silence.
      No proclamations of what constitutes sin or what is moral or immoral, no definitions or denunciations or excommunication, nothing, just silence
      each Friday perhaps they should consider holding penitential services in which they, the hierarchs, wash the feet of the poorest of the poor such is their moral failure

  8. “If this is truly the bread of life, why withhold it? Is there any scriptural foundation for this, or is this another man made rule that keeps control in the hands of a hierarchy.”

    There is certainly scriptural justification which can be offered. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul warns that those who participate in the Eucharist “unworthily” are liable to judgment. He offers “discerning the body” as one of the criteria for worthy reception. While they may not be perfect, Catholic rules regarding reception are intended to help people receive in a worthy manner.

    It is also worth noting that members of many Churches with valid Orders (Eastern Orthodox, etc.) are allowed to receive the Eucharist in a Catholic Mass. This isn’t the case for Protestants, at least in part because much of Protestantism is opposed to the points of Catholic faith regarding the Sacrament. Though even for Protestants the Church makes exceptions in grave circumstances.

    “Forgiveness can only come via a priest?”

    That isn’t actually what the Church says. You might want to consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the subject.

    1. Did you know that some people can even foretell the past? For example, see the following handiwork of the Marauding Deacon of Vengeance:

      1. “NAME ONE PERSONAL ATTACK IN MY POSTS.”

        Chris Grady, “What if We Just Said Pray?”
        on March 26, 2011 – 2:04 pm

      2. You have an admirably long editing window. With your editing skills you should think about a position with Vox Clara.

  9. I am surprised we didn’t see more answers like ” I left because they would allow me my divorce” or “I left because I write my own music and Father **** wouldn’t let me use it , but Pastor Bob does!” or ” Father ***** told me I couldn’t recieve the bread thingy as long as I was cohabiting with my boyfriend Ronny”

    Shocker…

  10. #2 by Fr. Allan J. McDonald on April 13, 2011 – 12:33 pm
    “Catholics are all over the place in what they want and it is hard in any one parish to please all the expectations. Some … Others love … Others like …”

    How can you be so understanding in these words and still propose your one size fits all, old style, solution?

    AJM “I still contend that if we truly believed in the real presence of Christ in all of His forms, community, word, presider, and Holy Eucharist then why would we leave”

    Are you contending that liturgy is entirely a matter of belief and long-suffering?

    AJM “Protestants are very good at hospitality and community. They are also very good at not having multiple services on any given Sunday. If Catholics could put their resources into one or two Masses each Sunday rather than five or six if not more, maybe the experiences would be better.”

    These comments fail to take into account the different ways other denominations are organized and ruled vs. RCs.

    Other churches have to be welcoming because membership is not legislated by geography. They don’t have multiple services because they have smaller congregations. They have smaller congregations because members are not required to attend under threat of hell. They tend to have a higher percentage of active parishioners per service.

    AJM “… but unless people believe in the real presence of Christ, why go to Mass, … ?”

    If all that matters is the real presence, why go to Mass? The Mass is a communal experience. If all one wants is the personal experience of me and Jesus, then a silent Eucharistic Holy Hour is the devotion for you, but it is not liturgy.

  11. For what it is worth, I think that the diocese/parish/clerical-career-structure exacerbates many liturgy problems. If RCs were not assigned to parishes by geography then pastors could focus on something other than the lowest common denominator and moving relatively passive crowds in and out [turnover, in the restaurant business].

    If the people of parishes had more ownership and more say in the selection, evaluation, removal, and replacement of their priests and over the direction which they wanted liturgy to tend in their parish, there might be greater effort to do a few services well in that manner. There might be a better match and fewer ragged jumps in style for each pastor regardless of whether the parish tended to the wondrous or the communal.

    If worship communities were separated from schools and sports associations and any other competitive structures, then they might put more effort into their worship and pastors might have more time for sermon prep and vocal training instead of maintenance and personnel.

    If the real estate belonged to the congregation, so would the fund raising and the operations. Fiscal realities would weigh more heavily on parish continuity or closure.

    If priests did not depend for their incomes and fiscal security on the diocesan bishop and clerical network, then they might focus more on doing presiding and preaching better as volunteers with income and home away from the institutional church. [cf “worker priests”]

    The entire concept of a professional, life-long, income related clergy is in conflict with seeking out those with the appropriate spiritual gifts and personal talents.

    The entire concept of geographical dioceses and parishes with permanently attached clergy is in conflict with modern mobility and instant communications in the rest of our lives.

    None of this relates to doctrine. It is all about discipline.

    None of this is about Tradition. it is about habits.

  12. A Parish I go to used to be quite happy and vibrant until it got into a fund-raising. That split the parish into two. This was 16 years ago or so. It is going through another fund-raising and, once again, the parish is split into two, each half behind a different priest, with the bishop more like a financier than a religious… So many folks are moving to the Episcopalian parish, the Anglican parish…

    1. Claire;

      I was hesitant to bring this up, but the BFA, CFA or whatever it’s called now has got to go…really, it is becoming THE thing that parishes “have to do” … no sooner does the campaign end (in December) then the next year’s campaign begins in February with an even GREATER amount owed… does this even show up on the “survey”?

      1. Is the BFA or CFA what is called here the Bishop’s Appeal; an annual assessment against each parish levied by the Bishop and spent at his direction? Here, if the individual members of the parish don’t pony up, the funds are taken directly from the parish. The method for determining what each parish owes is a mystery. Truth to tell, it’s also a mystery where the money goes. Bishops across the country donated funds to fight against a referendum in Maine to approve same-sex marriage. How much of that money was assessed against the parishes? How many people donated thinking their money would keep local Catholic schools open?

  13. Maybe a better analytical questions would be to ask how many left because of the continual change in the Church. Not just from Latin to vernacular but all the sacraments, wording, ritual, traditions. That might include a larger percentage. There is alot to be said for stability. And if there is continual decline under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI would anyone dare pose the question if there could be any link to the fact they continued to offer only the Pauline Missal? How is the lens of continuity applied when there are 2 forms of the Latin Rite and only 1 has been celebrated by our Holy Fathers? Tradition itself here is downplayed and its’ support often invites comment to justify Traditional positions while often progressive support positions go unabated. But then again every blog has its’ agenda. Worthwhile to see both sides.

  14. How may one obtain a copy and paste of Fr Reese’s NCR exodus piece? Important for our evangelization team.

    Thank you

  15. In stumbling on this article Im a bit of a stranger in a strange land. I’m and Episcopal priest in an area near Boston that has some of the highest concentrations of Roman Catholics in the US. Each year parents with young children join my parish after a period of non-attendance at their RC parish because of the direct impact of the sex abuse scandal and the lack of comprehension of this crisis by the RC leadership. Note that none of the reasoons cited in this article, nor any comments, touch on this matter. This is incomprehensible to me.

    1. Fr. Grant Barber :

      …because of the direct impact of the sex abuse scandal and the lack of comprehension of this crisis by the RC leadership…

      I’m amazed too that the survey is silent on this. What does this mean?

  16. The Latin liturgy as spiritually nourishing?? When? Where? Large urban parishes with good organists? And good choirs that could do justice to the chant? With priests who knew how to celebrate with decorum and dignity? You mean, the same large parishes that still have good organists, good choirs capable of providing good choral music and support for assembling singing, and priests who now celebrate in the vernacular, according to the Missal of Paul VI with decorum and dignity??
    Even in the mythical “good ol’ days,” mass in most parishes was mechanical and pedantic. There is nothing automatically reverent and transcendent about mass being muttered badly in a language few understood, and hardly anyone could hear. You can’t just push a “Latin” button and get spiritually nourishing celebrations of the mass. Since there are so few of us left (relatively speaking) who actually attended mass in Latin regularly, maybe the people who are longing for what they never had should take our word for it: it wasn’t what you are idealizing.
    What WAS nourishing, I grant you, was the opportunity for silence and deeply involving personal prayer. Perhaps that is what is missing; I’ve come to believe that Catholics participated in the mass devotionally, and joined in devotions (in the vernacular) with full, conscious, and active participation.

    1. it wasn’t what you are idealizing

      But maybe, for some priests and laypeople, now the celebration and praying of the older form of Mass is spiritually nourishing. This is one part of the argument I don’t see presented (or acknowledged) very much, that the people who are attracted to the older form of the Mass are aware of the defects in its celebration decades ago and want to overcome them: they want the Mass to be celebrated better, and it is.

      1. Ditto – it gets tiring to hear about how crummy the Latin Mass was in the 1950’s as an excuse to discourage it today. I don’t live in the past, nor do I idealize the past, but I do attend Latin Masses regularly and find them spiritually nourishing. Most Latin Masses today are honest attempts at good liturgy by those who celebrate them rather than nostalgic recreations of 1960.

  17. As I remember it, the only spiritually nourishing thing about Mass was the reception of Holy Communion followed by thanksgiving. The real spiritual life of the parish lay in Benediction, novenas, missions, the rosary.

    1. With the renewal of the Mass and the desire to make the Mass the “source and summit” of our Catholic life, it was thought that once the Mass was in the vernacular there was no need for “Benediction,novenas, missions and the rosary.” These all collapsed in the 1960’s and 70’s. It was also lamented in many quarters that the spirituality of the home collapsed too. Sacramentals in the home were removed, family prayer disappeared, as well as personal, private prayer and devotions.
      For many people though, the lack of traditional devotions was replaced by prayer groups of the charismatic style with a very free and easy way of praying. In fact many pre-Vatican II Catholics who moved away from the traditional devotions embraced the charismatic forms.
      Today there is a recovery of many of these traditional devotions, both private and communal. Many parishes have small faith groups that meet regularly, pray and discuss their faith. All of these in turn lead back to the Mass.
      If a parish doesn’t provide more than just the Mass for developing one’s spiritual life or encourages a private piety apart from Sunday Mass, then people will look elsewhere if they have a hunger for spirituality for the rest of the week. And if the Mass isn’t satisfying even to the point of receiving Holy Communion and the thanksgiving afterward, then what?

      1. “It was also lamented in many quarters that the spirituality of the home collapsed too. Sacramentals in the home were removed, family prayer disappeared, as well as personal, private prayer and devotions.”

        This is a comment worthy of greater study. If the family based rituals were so valued, why did families abandon them. My own house and my daughter’s house feature many sacramentals, but I don’t see even a single picture of the Virgin or Christ Child in other Catholic homes these days. Is it possible that these were less an expression of faith and more an identification with an immigrant culture? I do see a lot of generic angels and vaguely religious sentimental sayings.

        I would note that among our sacramentals are icons of Romero, the Jesuit Martyrs, Pope John XXIII and Mother Jones.

  18. I’m one of those that “left” too, three years after joining as an adult. I think the description “their spiritual needs were not being met… and … they were dissatisfied with the atmosphere at worship services” fits me. No one at church ever really talked about Jesus/God, but only about people, about who was there, what they were wearing, how often they came, how close they sat to the front. The leaders of my RCIA group disliked the priest, even going to another parish for confession. I stopped going but a few years later I learned about the Spiritual Exercises and then made a retreat – all that I had missed at church, even stuff I hadn’t known I was missing, I then seemed to find, including a prayer life.

  19. In looking at the statistics, remember that these are about people who have identified themselves as former Catholics.

    Only about a quarter of the people who still identify themselves as Catholics go to church weekly.

    Another quarter of the people go to church monthly but not weekly.

    Finally about half of those who identify themselves as Catholics go to church less than monthly.

    In other words about half of Catholics don’t really have to change much to label themselves as former Catholics.

    Another quarter of Catholics are on their way to joining the majority of Catholics who are attending church less than monthly.

    Recognize that attendance rates are pretty stable for each birth cohort of Catholics. That means most of the people who are attending weekly are in the older generations, Vatican II as well as pre-Vatican. As older generations die, more and more the people coming to Mass will be those who attend monthly, or just at Christmas and Easter.

    Another way to look at it, is from the perspective Catholics who are not in the pews. Looking around them, they see that to be Catholic means you attend only at Christmas and Easter, because that is what the majority of Catholics now do. Increasing they see the people who attend weekly are the old folks.

    Because of the cohort effects, the former Catholics and the attendance issues will just continue to get worse for at least a decade or two, e.g. more and more church closings as not only priests but congregations die off.

    We need to face these problems and talk about the solutions. But recognize that the problem will get worse, even much worse.

    1. It is my understanding that there is a tendency for each person to vary Mass attendance depending on age . The college student who skipped Mass returns when he has children, and becomes more devout in retirement. Thus the older people you see now may themselves have once been Christmas and Easter Catholics.

      Another factor to remember is that the native born American population is aging. Years ago we had many young people and a few elders. Now we are likely to have just as many or more people over 65 as under 18. It’s not that our 18 year olds aren’t at Mass, it’s also that there just aren’t as many 18 year olds as there used to be. The population in the pews reflects the population as a whole.

      1. Brigid,

        Yes there is a tendency for people to begin a certain level of attendance in their 20’s , increase that when they marry and have children, and then increase it when they become elderly. As American Grace points out different cohorts begin at different places. In the fifties they began much higher than in the sixties.

        HOWEVER, I’ve looked at the GSS 1972-2010 data, and this pattern applies to Protestants but not Catholics. Catholics cohorts stay the same over time, but each starts lower and stays there. That is important because it enables us to predict that Mass attendance rates will continue to decline unless future cohorts start higher. However each new cohort has started out lower than the previous one. We are now down to about 20% weekly attendance in our youngest cohort, so that is where things are heading even though we have a few pre-Vatican II era cohort people who are still at over 50%. and some Vatican II era people who are close to 40%. Yes when us greying Vatican II people are gone, so will be Mass attendance.

        CARA is analyzing the GSS data; so I will be interested if they pick this up, too. If they don’t, then I will send in a post on the topic. Gotta let the people who get paid to do this have the first chance at the GSS data. It is online for anyone who wants to analyze it.

  20. “My spiritual needs weren’t being met” kinda smacks of the “parish as spiritual service station” model. It’s the familiar “I don’t get anything out of Mass” complaint. My hunch is that if more folks understood that the parish and the liturgy are not about ME, then fewer would leave. As Bob Taft said somewhere, “the liturgy is not my autobiography.”

    1. “My spiritual needs weren’t being met” may also be a polite way to say that the liturgy and preaching did not reflect my understanding of what Christianity is all about. For example, I am rather flabbergasted at the snide superiority and outright hatred expressed at certain other blogs, not to mention near heresy parading as orthodoxy. When I read of the bishop of Nebraska, I wonder if I would be able to attend Mass at any parish in the state.

      1. There are three dioceses in Nebraska. I am sure you can find an orthodox parish there.

      2. My mistake – i am referring to the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.

        I suspect in any case, if I lived there, it wouldn’t be a matter of leaving but of being excommunicated!

      3. Brigid – you would be surprised at how different the diocese of Grand Isle is from the other two.

        It is almost like a missionary diocese (given its geographic location; farmlands, distances, etc.) and because of that the folks in the diocese have their own unique approach to liturgy, community life, etc. It is, fortunately, nothing like Lincoln. Remember – he retires next year and am guessing that Rome will accept that retirement forthwith.

      4. He should have retired last year. He’s already six months past the age and his resignation has not yet been accepted.

    2. Bob Taft’s the source of many similar quotable quotes. One legendary night he caused mayhem in a Roman restaurant (a favourite haunt of our own dear Professor Rindfleisch, among others) when, catching sight of a member of the Papal household, he boomed out across the room:”Hey when you guys wake your boss in the mornings you should knock on the door and call out ‘Hey Holy Father it’s time to get up and IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU.'”

    3. Fr. Bob Taft as you call him also said “All liturgy dances around the same pole”, that is the Paschal Mystery. This sacramental encounter is hindered or realized by the quality of liturgical celebration. The former Music in Catholic Worship said it well: Good celebrations foster faith, poor celebrations weaken faith.
      You are correct the liturgy is not about me. It is about us. As our Pope Benedict XVI has said the Church will live or die by our liturgy. Something to think about….

  21. My answer to the original question is that I wasn’t so much fed up with the Catholic Church as I was attracted to the Episcopal Church by its prayer book, liturgy, music, and the people I met when I visited Episcopal parishes to experience the liturgy. I found the Catholic faith there, in an expression that suited me and still does. I simply moved to another room in the same house. Many will disagree with this, but I believed this in 1986 and still do.

  22. This afternoon I read the Reese article in the paper edition of NCR; it is unfortunate that it is not available online.

    The article paints a good portrait that these people as Catholics were more “unsatisfied” than dissatisfied. As Protestants, they have found something. That might be worship, or community, or the Bible, or some combination.

    We know very few people change from being strong on one religion to being strong in a different religion; people with little or weak religious experience change. When these people were “unsatisfied” they probably didn’t know exactly what precisely they were looking for.

    American Protestantism as a whole is very vibrant in its diversity. There are many possibilities for an “unsatisfied” Catholic; finding something that clicks is probable even if one does not know what one wants.

    Reese makes the point that these former Catholics actually become more vibrant Christians than the average Catholic, e.g. in higher attendance rates.

    I think we should not make much of what specific things these former Catholics became. It looks very much what they would become if they randomly sampled, e.g. more Evangelicals than Mainstream, etc.

    Internally, Catholicism has just as many potentially different things to offer if we look at all the variety of saints and religious orders that we have. Unfortunately that is not how we are marketing ourselves in our world where people are looking for ways to express themselves, including religiously.

    We are providing our people with a very bland menu rather than a lot of choices within our very diverse tradition.

    Liturgically this suggests that we should not only have the EF, but the option of continuing the present missal, as well as using the 1998 one approved by the bishops, along with the New Missal. Not giving people a greater choice, especially among options that in one way or another are already approved, is just putting ourselves at a disadvantage.

    1. See my comments above about RCC structural disadvantages promoting lowest common denominator liturgies, a focus on space turnover, and changes in local worship styles as side effects of clerical culture and geographic membership and attendance to avoid sin instead of desire to pray or participate in communal prayer.

  23. The Tridentine Mass is a performance and rarely performed well. The Anglicans do a far better job. I much prefer their version of it (in England they do have Latin at times).

    The sloppy and irreverent practices so common in the old days when we all had the Mass of 1962 were common. Don’t worry, they’ll be back. Just give them time.

    I’ll take a well planned, dignified, novus ordo Mass, with a three year lectionary and communion under both forms, concelebration, celebrated with a good choir singing in the vernacular and some Latin, any day of the week. I don’t care if the EP is wholly in English, Latin, or split between the two. I’ve seen it done a number of ways, all very lovely.

    I attended a solemn Mass in novus ordo for years starting right after the Council and the parish still has it today. One of the most popular of the Sunday and feast day masses. There is no call for a Tridentine Mass from anyone, and there never has been.

    As for traddies obsessing over the clown Mass, it was always a rarity. I thought it was for children. I’ve yet to attend one. Are they still in style with the bumble bee balloons drifting up to the rafters and celebrants with hand puppets?

    Conservative Catholics need to lighten up and get a life.

    1. The Tridentine Mass is a performance and rarely performed well. … The sloppy and irreverent practices so common in the old days when we all had the Mass of 1962 were common. Don’t worry, they’ll be back. Just give them time.

      Such a sunny and lively outlook!

    2. I’ve never been to a Mass that I would consider a performance.

      Perhaps you should take your own advice and lighten up yourself.

      1. Too bad you have never been to Rome.

        All Masses are performances, some more self-consciously so than others.

        It is actually a major problem for US RCs that our priests put so little effort into the performance skills needed to be excellent presiders.

      2. I took “performance” to mean what those who seem to dislike the 1962 Mass usually mean – that it’s like a play or a movie that the congregation passively watches but isn’t part of. Something bad.

        You seem to use “performance” in a way that’s very different from how Dunstan Harding used the term. I’ve been to a number a Masses that were “performed” well by priests who really knew how to preside (these have almost always been Masses with a more traditional/high-churchy/reform-of-reform bent to some extent, though not always). Something that helped draw me back into the Church was attending Mass celebrated by a priest who had good presiding skills at what would have otherwise been a typical Novus Ordo with typical music.

      3. Too bad you have never been to Rome.

        Well I have — and the “Tridentine” masses I’ve attended there were not “performances”, at least externally. Not having the gift of reading hearts, I could not speak to the interior state of the sacred ministers and others involved. As for my own interior state, if you will permit me, I can assure you I did not perceive myself to be at a show. I wish I could say the same for other liturgies, in other places.

        All Masses are performances, some more self-consciously so than others.

        It is actually a major problem for US RCs that our priests put so little effort into the performance skills needed to be excellent presiders.

        Rather, the major problem is that our priests perceive themselves as being under the requirement to produce a performance.

  24. I have to agree with Fr. Allan that if people really built their foundations on the central belief on the real presence of Christ in all it’s forms (I would call that ‘communion’) they wouldn’t leave the Church. But what are we doing as a Church to foster that communion? Perhaps ‘communion’ is most clearly reflected for them precisely in the atmosphere and the fellowship of Protestant Churches. How can we claim to be the Body of Christ, the presence of Christ for the world, when we are so fragmented? Human beings are very good at recognizing where God is present, and where Christ is truly present. But outside the consecrated host, how is the Catholic Church reflecting that? Are we going to let the seed of Christ present in the eucharist grow in us and produce the Church? Are we going to be Christ for the world? I know more than a few alienated Catholics who have a deep reverence for the eucharist and a very low view of the love of Christ reflected in the Catholic Church. Just some things to ponder.

  25. “My spiritual needs weren’t being met” kinda smacks of the “parish as spiritual service station” model. It’s the familiar “I don’t get anything out of Mass” complaint. My hunch is that if more folks understood that the parish and the liturgy are not about ME, then fewer would leave.

    I know I slept through most of my RCIA classes, but what is the Mass for if not to meet the spiritual needs of the people attending?

    1. I’m sorry that you slept through your RCIA classes. Learning about God and the Catholic faith shouldn’t have to be boring!

      The sacred liturgy is, above all things, the worship of God. But there’s more to it than that, of course.

      Mass has four ends; the acronym “ACTS” or “PACT” has been used as a mnemonic.

      Adoration
      Contrition
      Thanksgiving
      Supplication/Petition

      Even when we don’t particularly feel contrite, the Mass calls us to contrition; even when we don’t feel like giving thanks, there is the Eucharist; even when we are struggling to adore God in the midst of natural disasters that take the lives of thousands and tens of thousands, the liturgy puts on our lips a Gloria or a Glory Be or an Alleluia; and even when we think we’re doing pretty well for ourselves, thankyouverymuch, the Prayer of the Faithful challenges us to be “poor in spirit” and to throw all our cares (and those of the whole world) upon the Lord. That’s meeting our spiritual needs, even when we don’t acknowledge we have them. (And the Mass is beneficial even for those who aren’t in attendance.)

      All these ends are directed to the glorification of God: adoration and thanksgiving immediately so, and contrition and supplication mediately, for God is glorified in His mercy and generosity. Those latter two ends are directed toward our sanctification.

      To be even more succinct (than I’m being!), the Mass and the whole liturgy of the Church is directed to the glorification of God and the sanctification of the humanity. That’s what Vatican II said several times:

      Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. (SC 7)

      From the liturgy […] the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God […] is achieved in the most efficacious possible way. (SC 10)

      The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God. (SC 59)

      There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God. (SC 61)

      The purpose of sacred music [is] the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful. (SC 112)

      1. I disagree.
        The Mass is not about the worship of God.
        We worship God at Mass, but it is much more about God giving to us the Scriptures and the Body and Blood of Jesus and the Christian community.
        The PACT are not the ends of the Mass but four modes of prayer within the Mass.
        I would be very cautious about the use of the word sanctification in view of the many people who view holiness and grace as something collected like bonus points.
        The Mass is about bringing people closer to living the way taught by Jesus, becoming more truly the royal, holy people of God, but that is not some abstract holiness. It is the holiness of living the Christian live in a world of very different goals.

        I like the order of the SC 59 quote, sanctify, build up, give worship. I think that is also the only one of the statements quoted which speaks to purpose rather than characteristics.

        Note time stamp on this vs my direct reply to Crystal.

      2. Tom, I’m a bit befuddled at your disagreement with me (and apparently with SC). The Mass is very much about the worship of God; even if we were to get nothing out of Mass — we were distracted during the readings, or we didn’t understand them, the homily was replaced by a Bishop’s Annual Appeal video, and we did not receive Holy Communion (for whatever reason) — still, vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutáre, nos tibi semper et ubíque grátias ágere, Dómine, sancte Pater, omnípotens aetérne Deus, per Christum Dóminum nostrum.

        The four “modes of prayer” as you call them, I have seen in numerous places called the four “ends” of the Mass, perhaps most notably in Mediator Dei 68-74 (specifically 71-74).

        I would not so much be cautious about using the word “sanctification” as I would be careful to explain what the word means. We are all called to holiness, to grow in holiness, that holiness without which we shall not see God. This isn’t a matter of bonus points, this is a matter of genuine life in Christ, a sharing in the holiness of God.

  26. I would like to take this unusual opportunity and agree with the following statements by Fr. McDonald.

    Fr. Allan J. McDonald :

    With the renewal of the Mass and the desire to make the Mass the “source and summit” of our Catholic life, it was thought that once the Mass was in the vernacular there was no need for “Benediction,novenas, missions and the rosary.” These all collapsed in the 1960’s and 70’s. …
    If a parish doesn’t provide more than just the Mass for developing one’s spiritual life or encourages a private piety apart from Sunday Mass, then people will look elsewhere if they have a hunger for spirituality for the rest of the week. And if the Mass isn’t satisfying even to the point of receiving Holy Communion and the thanksgiving afterward, then what?

  27. Elias Nasser :

    Jeffrey the bishops and priests should provide the sacraments and preach on the gospel for the day and then maintain a dignified silence.
    No proclamations of what constitutes sin or what is moral or immoral,

    I do not think one could actually preach on the Gospel of the day and not speak of what constitutes sin or what is moral or not.

    What I object to are the so-called homilies which are like elementary school book reports which get the required length by re-capping the story.

    I would like to hear fewer homilies on matters of church discipline and doctrine or sex and a lot more on how much effort it takes to actually follow Christ in a culture of selfishness, greed, consumerism, capitalism, celebrity, competition instead of cooperation, might makes right for the cops and the rich, et multa cetera.

    1. fewer homilies on matters of church discipline and doctrine or sex and a lot more on how much effort it takes to actually follow Christ

      These needn’t be mutually exclusive, you know.

  28. crystal watson : what is the Mass for if not to meet the spiritual needs of the people attending?

    Spiritual needs is a slippery term.
    For some, it means their human spirit which needs feeding through artistic or natural encounters.
    For some it means the need to communicate on a deep interpersonal level, spirit to spirit.
    For some it means psychological good health.
    For others it means the need to refresh and recreate.

    Others would define spiritual needs in terms of professed faith, knowing the correct dogmas.
    Some would speak in terms of personal encounters with God.
    Some want authoritative pronouncements of God’s will.

    Some of these sorts of spiritual needs are met in Christian tradition through devotional practices such as Eucharistic adoration, novenas, meditation, retreats, and sacramentals.

    The liturgy, I contend, is not meant to fill such spiritual needs.

    The liturgy is God’s gift to Christian people to strengthen them in living the way of Jesus in a world which goes in many other ways. It functions through rituals to provide a framework for sharing the written Word of God and the incarnate Word of God. It functions through communal participation to build up mutual support for Christian living. The liturgy is spiritual because humans are spiritual as well as physical and mental, and God is spiritual. In some sense the liturgy is meant to be much more practical than elevated. Mass is for nourishing minds and bodies and communities.

  29. This is the sort of conversation I most value from this blog – very good reflections by Allan, Jeffrey, and Tom on the role/purpose of the liturgy.

    I truly appreciate Jeffrey’s reminder of the 4 ends (I learned it as the 4 PARTs – petition, adoration, reparation, thanksgiving) and the importance of each one even when it’s not what I’m feeling or what I think I need. With the renewed emphasis on the Liturgy of the Word, I might even capitalize the “S” and add “scripture to the list of ends – as God’s Word is good for the instruction and conversion of our hearts, even when it makes us uncomfortable. This also offers an interesting bridge to points that others have made about the importance of good, appropriately-focused homilies.

    And thanks, Tom, for the words about liturgy as God’s gift to strengthen us. For me, this provided a connection to engaging in exercise for physical conditioning, which suggests a different perspective than simply “being fed.” Yes, food is an element of sustaining and strengthening us, both individually and as a community of faith, but we need much more than that if we are to be strengthened for our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ.

    1. Jeff R. — Ah, R=reparation is good; it encompasses and exceeds contrition, because it seeks to act upon that sorrow for sin. Very good indeed. Thank you for sharing that.

      I think of “sanctification” as pertaining to our “strengthening”.

  30. Jeffrey Pinyan :

    Tom, I’m a bit befuddled at your disagreement with me (and apparently with SC).

    Note that I mentioned distinguishing purpose from characteristics. One could say ends and means. Worship is the “A” of PACT, adoration. It is one of the kinds of prayer in the Mass [or of all prayer?]. It is a means used in the nurturing of the people of God.

    I see the purpose of the Mass as being what end God desires for us in giving us the Mass through the Church, since God does not need our worship, sacrifices, etc. The sacraments are means of grace, sanctifying and actual. That is their end, the free [grace] gift of God to God’s people.

    So, Mass includes worship, but it is about strengthening people through communal prayer. Many devotions are about worship. See my comments on “spiritual needs”.

  31. Jeffrey Pinyan :

    The four “modes of prayer” as you call them, I have seen in numerous places called the four “ends” of the Mass, perhaps most notably in Mediator Dei 68-74 (specifically 71-74).

    I would attribute such usages to a lack of theological specificity or to a confusion over ends and means or a focus on some other matter not defining these terms. After all, we are not talking about defined doctrine but a mnemonic or explication.

  32. Jeffrey Pinyan :

    I would not so much be cautious about using the word “sanctification” as I would be careful to explain what the word means.

    Because it is a word which needs explanation of its meaning, I am cautious about using it.

    I was pointing out the error many fall into by using grace or holiness as something to be collected, like points, not endorsing that usage.

    I can agree with your words about holiness, but wonder if we would end up with the same understanding of what is implied by the word.

    I think some people get hung up on the underlying meaning of holiness of God, God being entirely “other” [Hebrew root meaning] from all of creation. I fear they think that holiness means being other worldly.

    I emphasize the meaning of following the way of life, having the values of Jesus.

    To me holiness is not something which can be imagined as a substance, nature, or quality. it is a way of life. So, in my understanding, liturgy is not in any way about other-worldliness but about building character and strength to do the difficult task of living a Christian life in a world full of false goals, false idols, advertising for misdirection.

    This is why I think that much more liturgical emphasis needs to be placed on building community strength and on effective preaching about ordinary financial choices, self-interest instead of justice and charity..

    I think that if we live Christian lives then we do share in the holiness of God, but that is an effect, not an aim.

    1. I agree with you that holiness is a way of life. Christ has shown us that holiness is not about being separated or “other”, but about a life of love and mercy. Holiness is sharing in God’s divine life. Clearly, Jesus was able to share in God’s divine life while being among sinners (that is, among us), so I’m sure with God’s grace we can do the same!*

      [* That is not to say there is no place for solitude and seclusion in the Christian life (e.g. monastic enclosure).]

      So if “the sanctification of men” means our growing in holiness, or growing in a life of holiness, I don’t see that as something necessarily individual. I see it as encompassing the strengthening of the community of the faithful as a body, not just individual members of the community.

      I don’t think I understand this part of your comment: I think that much more liturgical emphasis needs to be placed … on effective preaching about ordinary financial choices, self-interest instead of justice and charity. We need more preaching on “self-interest”? Could you explain that a bit more?

      I also don’t agree with you that sharing in the holiness of God is an effect, but not an aim, of liturgy, but perhaps that’s because I don’t see a dichotomy between holiness and the “building [of] community strength.”

      1. Jeffrey, I am greatly enjoying our exchange and the challenge of spelling out and clarifying my liturgical theology.

        Let us compare Christian living to manual labor. If nutrition, sanitation, and other basic needs are provided, then a manual laborer will become muscular. The objective was to get the daily work done while remaining safe and healthy. Muscular is an accurate way to describe laborers, but they are primarily laborers rather than body builders.

        Similarly, Christians are called to work at living a life based on love rather than of competition, which is the basis of so much of current Western culture. If they work hard at being loving, they become holy. The focus, however, is on how they treat their neighbors rather than on acquiring characteristics of holiness.

        One acquires a state of spiritual muscularity as a result of doing the work of consciously and intentionally and intelligently and honestly using one’s Christianity all day, every day.

        The saints are those who set out to know the will of God and apply it in their immediate circumstances. In retrospect, we say they became holy. They might say that they were only doing what they had to do, working in the pits to bring about the kingdom.

        All of your words about holiness are true, but if we are focused on holiness-building instead of doing the work of building the kingdom [We may still be digging for the foundations, so to speak.], we main end up admiring our spiritual physiques and improving our gyms instead of digging sanitation ditches or carrying bricks.

        In the liturgy, therefor, we are feeding those working bodies with the written and incarnate Word of God. We are networking among the labor force to build morale and cooperation even though we dig and lay bricks at different places on the work site. We are not buffing up our bodies or checking our stats. This relates to the question about what I wrote about preaching, below.

  33. Thank you for that info – I hadn’t seen that before. It’s something that really deserves deep study. My gut feeling is that people are leaving because the hierarchy opened the door at Vatican II, then panicked at the changes and have been trying to put the genie back in the bottle ever since (to mix my metaphors!) That’s just my feeling, not based on any actual data. I think people came to believe in a loving God, so “fire insurance” isn’t that important any more. Catechises is important, but people do not attend Mass as an intellectual exercise. It’s not enough to say the Real Presence is there; people have to feel it. To quote Bill Murray (Scrooged), “it’s a wonderful feeling, and when you feel it once, you want to feel it every day!”

    Which brings us back to what I think liturgy is all about; who is this God we worship, and how does our worship reflect this God? Is God a remote king to be approached on bended knee, a judge who merely tolerates our presence, or our best friend or our Beloved?

  34. Jeffrey Pinyan :
    I don’t think I understand this part of your comment: I think that much more liturgical emphasis needs to be placed … on effective preaching about ordinary financial choices, self-interest instead of justice and charity. We need more preaching on “self-interest”? Could you explain that a bit more?

    Maybe you don’t understand because it is poorly written!

    I knew there was something wrong with it before I posted it, but there was so much else and so little space, I made the mistake of letting it go.

    Allow me to try again, but it will get longer.

    I think that much more emphasis in the liturgy needs to be placed on effective preaching about how Christianity is involved in ordinary financial choices. Self-interest too often is the basis for them instead of justice and charity.

    Self-interest is most blatantly exhibited today in our politics. Things which in justice should be decided for the good of the community are instead argued on the basis of individual rights to self-expression, earnings, defense, privacy. NIMBY [not in my back yard] shows up in all sorts of ways.

    It is this basis for decision making which needs to be challenged in our preaching. Preaching needs to be relevant, not to individuals but to how we spend and whether we save, how we see and react to advertising, money as a means rather than an end or a way of keeping score.

  35. Continuing:
    Jeffrey, I suspect you are nodding in agreement. What I observe is that priests speak as if this is a nice theory, but they are more fear filled than faith filled in their approach to preaching. I hear an awful lot of what I call glittering generality sermons about truth, doctrine, and the Roman Catholic way.

    If you will pardon me for speaking bluntly and subjectively, that has something to do with how I read what you have been writing about holiness. It is true, but, “So what does this have to do with the difficult job of living as a Christian instead of my sinning through road rage, racing someone for the marginally better parking space, pushing ahead instead of taking turns, how I decide whom to elect or what issue to support or oppose?”

    These decisions require Christian muscle and courage to stand with Jesus for the poor and all my neighbors instead of only looking out for number one.

  36. Part three:
    To return to the laborer analogy, most of us are underdeveloped and if we had to do hard labor, we would collapse with the spiritual equivalents of muscle fatigue and blisters. We need to work at the daily tasks which will build our endurance and tolerance and we need friends on the job who will tell us how to work efficiently, treat the sore muscles and blisters, when to switch off jobs during the day.

    It is this sort of communication which I think is what the Christian community gathered on Sunday is about – preaching in light of the real challenges to Christian living and sharing the strengths and insights of the community, finding out that the rest of the work force is on your side and are supportive of you learning and doing your job.

    This is why I come down on the side of communal rather than wondrous liturgy. I do not think that liturgy is meant to be a foretaste of heaven. I think it is meant to be a taste of our daily bread, good, practical, whole, and multi-grain, warm from the oven, following a dependable family recipe that seeks to nourish us more than to make a nice presentation. Not an experiment but carefully done.

    The Sunday liturgy is family dinner, gathered together, not wasteful or insufficient, freshly made not leftovers. Three or four times a year we clean up extra, bring out the best china and linen, dress up the table, but no family provides Thanksgiving Dinner every night.

    I’ve obviously indulged in multiple metaphors, and I hope that has not made this confusing. I am trying to express a purposeful vision of liturgy. I am convinced that most pastors and liturgy committees lack a definition of purpose and cannot distinguish the why of liturgy from the what. What and how need to be determined by the why.

    Now I need to go back to SC and mine it for quotes on the why. I think that a new sense of why is at its heart, though.

  37. Brigid Rauch :

    Which brings us back to what I think liturgy is all about; who is this God we worship, and how does our worship reflect this God? Is God a remote king to be approached on bended knee, a judge who merely tolerates our presence, or our best friend or our Beloved?

    God is our parent who does not desire our worship, but whom we worship because we need to understand and state our relationship to God.

    God is our parent who gives us, through the continuing tradition of the children of God, what we call the Mass. We have analyzed this family heirloom and agree that it is sacrament and sacrifice and a source of God’s free [graced] gifts to us.

    However, our parent is the giver of the Mass for our benefit. We are nourished by the written and incarnate word of God in a communal experience. The Mass is about nourishing the people in the assembly and nourishing the Christian community.

    Answering “Who is this God?” is part of the task of liturgy, especially of the Liturgy of the Word. We cannot know God completely, and this is one of the reasons we come together weekly and share the Scriptures.

    There are many more images of God than those you mention. We need to study all of them.

    Can anybody reading this provide a list of the images of God mentioned by Jesus?

    1. God doesn’t need our worship, but I think it is not out-of-bounds to say that He “desires” it. Jesus says that the Father is seeking people who will worship Him in Spirit and truth: “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.” (John 4:23)

      I don’t have time to give a list of the images of God mentioned by Jesus (I do have a day-job!), but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has already compiled such a list. And I’m curious why we should restrict it to those mentioned by Jesus, when there is the rest of the New Testament to look to. (I say the N.T. because it is informed by the teaching of Christ, whereas the O.T. is not.)

      1. Jeffrey, surprised to hear from you at this hour exactly because you have a day job. 😉

        I was not challenging you to come up with a list. As you said, someone must know where to find such an existing list. I was not trying to cut out the rest of the NT, just looking for the most likely available list.

      2. I didn’t mean to imply you expected me to come up with a list; I was just saying that I wasn’t going to be the one to produce it! 😉

        And since my day job requires me to be connected, almost intravenously, to the internet, I have enough computer screens to allow me to do work and read blogs almost simultaneously.

        I mean, what else am I supposed to do while code compiles and database queries run?

      3. “I say the N.T. because it is informed by the teaching of Christ, whereas the O.T. is not.”

        This is a useless dichotomy. The Jewish Bible formed Jesus’ teaching. Therein lies its value for christology.

        On the question of whether YHWH wants or desires our worship the Jewish Bible has much to contribute. In Amos if YHWH had to choose between a world of worship and no justice on the one hand, and justice and no worship on the other, it is clear what that choice would be.

        While I imagine you don’t hold that all of the words placed on the lips of Jesus by the evangelists were actually spoken by him – as the Jesus’-words-in-red school does, your postings appear to imply this.

      4. Gerard, I think you may have taken my “I say the N.T. because it is informed by the teaching of Christ, whereas the O.T. is not.” comment in the wrong context.

        I’m not sure I would say that “the Jewish Bible formed Jesus’ teaching”, because that sounds (to me) like putting the cart before the horse. The same God who taught the Israelites through men like Moses and Joshua and Nehemiah, taught the Israelites Himself in Jesus Christ. While Jesus (as a human) surely learned the Torah as a child, He taught with His own authority.

        I certainly don’t deny that the Jewish scriptures have much to contribute about whether God wants our worship. And I find the O.T. to be overflowing with foreshadowings, types, and other hidden pearls of Christological wisdom. But my remark still stands, I think, that the N.T. is informed by Christ’s teaching; the O.T. can be read in light of Christ’s teaching, but before or without Christ’s teaching, there is a veil which hinders full comprehension of it.

        The reason I made the O.T. vs. N.T. comment was because (despite the occasional mother imagery, such as that found in Isaiah) there tends to be grumbling about the patriarchal tendencies in the O.T.

        I apologize for making a distinction that may not be necessary. Tom was looking for things mentioned by Jesus, and while the rest of the N.T. contains things mentioned by or alluded to by Christ, the O.T. does not, at least not from a God-in-the-flesh perspective.

        And honestly, I’m surprised I get the “Jesus-words-in-red” comment, when Tom was the one who asked for things “mentioned by Jesus”.

  38. Thanks to all for this continuing discussion. While I am not in agreement with all of the points, I am encouraged that so many individuals have given so much thought to this. From my own perspective, I truly love and enjoy the liturgy (even those with poor “performance” value). The cycle of readings is comfort I cannot claim to be disciplined enough to observe the Liturgy of the Hours on a regular basis, but knowing that scripture is there as a tool and resource is also a comfort. In looking deeper into the life of Martin Luther, I have read that he became so obsessed with confession and penitence that he despaired of salvation. Ultimately he accepted that salvation is a gift from God that we neither deserve nor can earn, although we can refuse it by our actions. Personally I don’t see the practice of my faith as a pursuit of holiness as much as an opportunity to be in the presence of the Savior. He doesn’t need me, but I need him. I think the Roman Catholic Church has aspects that communicate that they don’t need any number of the people who would love to be part of the Church, but can’t unquestioningly accept all points. It is possible, indeed likely, that I am wrong but that is my feeling. The dialog that has been ongoing here has been helpful.

  39. Jeffrey, to say what true worshipers do is not to say that worship is what God desires at Mass. Just a different viewpoint, not a matter of one of us right or wrong.

    Regarding worship, these are what I have in mind.

    Ps 40v6ff
    Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
       but you have given me an open ear.
    Burnt-offering and sin-offering
       you have not required.
    Then I said, ‘Here I am;
       in the scroll of the book it is written of me.*
    I delight to do your will, O my God;
       your law is within my heart.’

    Is 1 v 11ff

    What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
       says the Lord;
    I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams
       and the fat of fed beasts;
    I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
       or of lambs, or of goats.
    When you come to appear before me,
       who asked this from your hand?
       Trample my courts no more;
    bringing offerings is futile;
       incense is an abomination to me.
    New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
       I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
    Your new moons and your appointed festivals
       my soul hates;
    they have become a burden to me,
       I am weary of bearing them.
    When you stretch out your hands,
       I will hide my eyes from you;
    even though you make many prayers,
       I will not listen;
       your hands are full of blood.
    Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
       remove the evil of your doings
       from before my eyes;
    cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
    seek justice,
       rescue the oppressed,
    defend the orphan,
       plead for the widow.

    Amos 5 v 21 ff
    I hate, I despise your festivals,
       and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
    Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
       I will not accept them;
    and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
       I will not look upon.
    Take away from me the noise of your songs;
       I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
    But let justice roll down like waters,
       and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

    1. Some of the admonitions about worthless festivals and assemblies are directed to northern Israel (which broke the covenant when Solomon’s son became king), so they need to be read in context. (I think I’ve said that before…)

      But the general theme, of course, is contrition and true “religion” (as James would say). Worship (and the sacrifices which go with it) is useless without the proper spiritual disposition.

      At Mass (among other liturgies) we are washed and made clean and remove evil from ourselves and the sight of God. There we (should) cease to do evil and (hopefully) learn to do good.

      It also seems to me that Mass is one of the occasions where we can (but how often do we take the opportunity?) seek for justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.

      I’d also like to take this moment to say that, when I talk about Mass being primarily about worshiping God, I’m simply trying to say what Sacrosanctum Concilium says.

      “In the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.” (SC 7)

      “Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful.” (SC 33)

      Inculturation is concerned with, among other things, “elements from the traditions and culture of individual peoples might appropriately be admitted into divine worship.” (SC 40.1)

      “The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship.” (SC 56) — the reading of Scripture is not directed only to us, but it is also worship of God.

      “Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people.” (SC 113)

      Etc.

  40. The wording of liturgy and theology are important. There is a false Christianity in Catholic and non-Catholic circles..”Build it and they will come” sounds really intriuging to us baby boomers who only return to church when we’re bored with whatever spiritual pursuits our lives have championed–but it..”IT” is all too easy to transfer and to clothe in new garments–be they Catholic or other–an old heresy: Pantheism. God..the ground of all being. This ancient heresey comes to us in the guise of whatever terminology interests you. Good theologians (and the Church does actually have some) is interested in keeping the faith, the faith..and not merely “keepin the faith man”. Know your Gnosticism and put it away from you..whether it comes from new agers or from the Vatican. Remember Tertulian

  41. Not only is the article now posted on the site as linked at the top of this page now, many of the comments are very interesting.

    “I agree that the bishops don’t want to ask the questions. (And the answer to one would be to only let priests and deacons preach who are willing to undergo some rigorous re-training and peer and congregant critique. It is a learned skill, not magic, and they could learn to preach effectively if they wanted to.)
    But I would also assert that depending on totally amateur musical programs with a banal repertoire and practically no budget is killing us. Every successful parish I know spends a lot of money on music. What we need in our worship is not flexibility, but quality.”

    “We also see how some of the rich hierarchy and many priests live while asking the laity to give money. Our bishop lives in a very pricey mansion in the third poorest city in the country.

    There is still such secrecy surrounding the Vatican and in many diocese. Many diocese could be run much more cheaply. In our diocese two large churches a mile apart – both have very small congregations.

    The clergy is getting older as are many of the others of the pastoral staff. Little new blood is coming into the church and what does that tell you, a moribund institution. The evangelical or non-denominational churches have younger ministers who are married. The services are structure to be much more family-friendly.”

    “Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, once said: “A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospels call…A preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens – as when a light turned on awakens and of course annoys a sleeper – that is the preaching of Christ, calling: Wake up! Be converted! That is the Church’s authentic preaching.”

  42. Can only a Roman Catholic be Christian? The reference to 1 John 2:19 does not seem appropriate to people who maintain active Christian lives but not within the Roman Catholic Church, having left for a variety of reasons. My personal desire is to focus on salvation and reflecting the teachings of Christ in my life. Can this only be done in the Roman Catholic Church?

  43. A Challenge to former Catholics

    Show me one Catholic who knows his Faith, practices his Faith, who is loyal to the Church, and through intense study begin to realize that not the Catholic Church but his present church is the church that Jesus Christ founded?

  44. I am 62,and a former RC as well,have been attending an evangelical church for years,and raised my family in it as well.Read all your comments,and all true,love the dialogue between Tom and Jeff,beautiful things of God shared,all that can be seen in non-Catholic Christian circles as well.
    It is so hard to quickly relate why we change from one church to another.I experienced a conversion to HIM,and because of the lack of finding fellowship in the RCC at that time,I left and attended various evangelical churches.I agree with the RCs on this point however,the service and of course the Mass is about Jesus Christ,crucified,Risen.
    Since in my present church we attend faithfully every week(not perfect),but very much alive for the YOUTH,and them as a future Church,much responsibility in that realm of things.But dear Catholics,we all have Christ,the same resources,the same room for growth and building of the stature of believer in Him.
    When I read all your comments here I see your being the same as us,no different just another affiliation.I believe we are all eventually coming full circle as it were.

  45. I do not live in the state but even in Latin America the situation is similar to that reflected by the estatistics given in the articles. I recently left the catholic church and I think maybe one important reason people leave is the that autocratic system does not appeal to many young people, specially young women who feel they have conquered every sphere of secular life but still have a limited place withing mass. In evangelical churches the pastor’s wife plays a key role and in the anglican church (the one I have come to favor) women have many central roles.

    When I was catholic I often felt questions where unwelcome and there was little room to discuss doctrine in an intelligent manner (at least in the parishes and school I attended), priest where old males and it was hard for most students feel confident to ask question around them, it was easier with nuns but they where not well educated and we often felt we know more than they did about important societal issues. Whenever discussions did take place we knew that the point was to make “us” see “their” way, it was never a matter of looking for the truth, it didn’t seem to matter, it was all about what the pope had said, and quite frankly most people don’t even like the pope so why should he have a say in my life?

    A lot of people who encounter these issues do stay in the church and I think faith in Christ and specially in virgin Mary is where they find strengh to tolerate the autocracy of the system. I think most people to criticize the vatican and feel unconnected to it.

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