Here‘s Tom Gallagher at NCR (where R stands for Reporter, not Register):
Catholic elementary and secondary schools are going the route of typewriters. Parishes are closing all over the place. Mass attendance is at an all time low and showing no signs of improvement. Catholics as a total number of the U.S. population is stagnant-to-declining and if we did not have non-documented folks coming into the U.S., we’d be moving towards a population of 15 million and not holding at 23 million+/-. Further, the fastest growing population for those who believe in God are those unaffiliated to a formal denomination and former Catholics represent a large portion of that number. …If we don’t identify new ways to organize ourselves, we’ll continue on the path to diminishment.
Here’s Margaret O’Brien Steinfels at Commonweal (subscription required) in their 85th anniversary issue last fall:
It’s not just that the Catholic subculture has disappeared, but the Protestant über-culture has disappeared as well. One of the reasons it was easy for Catholics to exist in America and flourish is that it was essentially a religious culture. But the mainline Protestants who formed that culture are going the way of the dodo bird. …Protestants’ capacity for self-destruction, especially the Mainline, is enormous. So the Catholic community today exists in the context of a larger culture that is also in worse shape than it was. …How to be a religion in a culture that is increasingly not religious is a very complex sociological and psychological problem.
One can only imagine what the implications of all this are for the liturgy. One response, I suppose, is to place blame (“Guitar Masses drove them away…” “The conservative crackdown under JP2 drove them away…”). And that has its place, if it is accurate diagnosis of the problem and not just an excuse to grind one’s ideological axe.
Another type of response is more personal. It is to ask ourselves, How do we remain hopeful? How do we stay faithful? and be joyful? I look for wisdom to my Protestant brothers and sisters, and also to my fellow Catholics and fellow Christians in Europe, for they were hit by these challenges before we US Catholics were. I also look to young people going into liturgical studies and liturgical ministry – how do you look forward hopefully to your work in the church?
What wisdom do you all have for me?