Data est mihi…

Data est

…is the Latin chant communio for Ascension, Year A, and for Trinity, Year B. “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me…” But this post isn’t about that kind of data, it’s about the sociological kind. If you know about the grammatical dative of possession – are you still with me? – you might translate the title of this post as “Data is to me, data is mine,” loosely meaning, “I like data.”

And I do. Which is why I like CARA so much. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at George town is a great thing for anyone who cares about demographics and sociological trends in US Catholicism.

Ann Carey at Catholic World Report has this report on the CARA study on vocations to religious life. Now, Ann Carey has an axe to grind about religious life. The title of her book, Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities, pretty much tells you what she thinks of mainline religious orders. Taking that into account, she does give you the sense of the CARA study. Traditional orders are getting the most recruits these days. Young people are more drawn to traditional community life, prayer in common, and habits.

All of us in religious life, and everyone who cares about vowed religious’ historic contributions to the Church and the liturgy, have to take this data very seriously. I do, but. Religious life is about numbers, but it’s not only or mostly about numbers. It’s about witness. I’ve heard some older religious say that they’d rather go down with integrity than pretend to be more conservative to chase after the vocation market. I’m not sure whether that’s inflexible narrow-mindedness or high-minded integrity. It reminds me of Pope Benedict’s remarks (as Cardinal Ratzinger) that the Catholic Church will become smaller and purer. (And in fairness to him, he was saying that this might happen, not calling on us to make it happen.) I hope and pray that the traditional communities with lots of vocations are faithful and holy and healthy, but I don’t assume so. I think we’ve learned from Maciel and Gino Burresi to ask a few questions about things which first look successful and super-Catholic. (Please don’t miss my point: I’m not impugning anything to all traditional communities, I’m raising a legitimate question.)

Personally I’m very happy to be in a community with habit and regular community prayer plus open-minded way of doing theology and relaxed, non-uptight manner. Whether or not anyone comes after to follow is pretty much out of my hands, so I try not to worry too much about it.

Oh – while you’re at the CARA site, check out their study from last fall on attitudes toward the Latin pre-conciliar Mass. The youngest people are the least in favor of it, but those with graduate degrees are the most in favor of it.

Meanwhile, let’s pray for all our religious in every type of community – especially the younger folks.



  1. I’ve noticed something similar among our diocesan seminarians; a desire for Latin liturgy and a return to semi-monastic practices of ‘traditional’ diocesan formation.
    A possible explanation is in the world and the families these young men come from. More and more they are the children of the children of the ’60s raised at a time when social roles ranged from flexible to undefined and education practices focused more on subjective needs of students rather than objective aims of education or religious catechsis.
    Is it surprizing then that this generation seeks to create a stable environment? This is not a false nostalgia for a past they never experienced, it is a hope for a structured present and a meaningful future. Unfortunately, that is not the purpose of religious life, is it.

  2. “…it is a hope for a structured present and a meaningful future. Unfortunately, that is not the purpose of religious life, is it.”

    To strive for a structured present and a meaningful future that is Christ-centered are very good reasons for giving oneself over to religious life. What could be more altruistic and self-giving, P. Borchardt?

    1. Is religious life therapy or kenosis?
      My point is that some seminarians turn to religious life for what they will receive rather as an acceptance of a call to live in imitation of Christ

  3. Unfortunately, it seems that many seminarians (and recently-ordained priests) these days have modeled themselves on old-style autocratic pastors, and have allied themselves to a form of liturgy which is more about power than participation.

  4. This would be a conversation I would like to have with members of various congregations. I think the results might be revealing and not necessarily what everyone expects.

  5. A friend of mine–who shall remain nameless to preserve his identity–will be ordained to the diaconate in a few weeks. He has demonstrated his desire to return to the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic Church pre-Vatican II. From talking with him, the majority of his classmates are of similar mindset.

    I am a young person considering a vocation in a monastic setting (although not Roman Catholic.) I find myself enjoying the notion of communal living and the habit. I also like the idea of having open-minded theology and authority that is non-dogmatic.

  6. I’m not qualified to speak on what religious life should be or should become since I’m a secular priest. But having been a vocation director for about 13 years, I did have to counsel young men and women who were interested in the religious life. From 1985 until 1998 the time I was vocation director, the ones I counseled wanted religious life that would be different than what they experienced as dedicated, single Catholics. In other words they wanted community, an identifiable religious garb or habit and a specific mission, i.e. teaching, medical or social work. They definitely did not want to be bachelors or bachelorettes in religious life living better lives then they currently were. They said they were living religiously as it was, but wanted something more that they couldn’t do as a single person. They wanted the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to be visible and to mean something. I do think it is up to the various men and women religious orders to be what they discern they should be. If that leads to more vocations and a strong community, so be it. If it leads them to going out of business and the few who remain living comfortable lives no different from religiously motivated single and married people today, so be it.

  7. Becoming a specialist in the Tridentine rites is a bit like becoming a harpsichordist. It’s a worthy and fine pursuit, but out in the world there isn’t much call for harpsichord music. Maybe a decent city could support one or two harpsichordists, but not two dozen of them. If one wants an audience, I hope he also learned to play the piano.

    1. That seems to me a rather insensitive analogy.

      This sort of comment is becoming more and more common on this blog – or maybe I’m just reading more of the comments. Why is there such hostility (passive or not) towards the Extraordinary Form? I suppose my energy is better spent elsewhere.

      1. You are reading hostility into my comment where there is none. I do say the pre-conciliar Mass is a “worthy and fine pursuit” — I have attended several EF Masses and received great spiritual benefit from the experience. I am glad to see four parishes in my region offering the EF Mass every Sunday.

        My point is that the celebration of the EF is a statistical minority and I believe it will remain that way. Some seminaries are ordaining classes of young men where fully half of them prefer the EF even to the dislike of the OF. One young man recently commented that he hoped to never celebrate the OF if he can avoid it.

        While we can talk of two forms of one rite, I fear that in practice we are setting up a church inside of a church where a portion of its participants believe they have the ‘true worship’ while the others remain unenlightened. This is not true of all EF proponents, but I have seen it in several cases.

        I see no evidence that half of the people of God are or will be calling for the EF. I hope that overzealous young priests don’t set out to convert people away from the OF toward the EF, as is occasionally recommended on the EF-focused blogs.

    2. Becoming familiar with the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite – just as the Ordinary Form – is essential to the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church. And let’s be clear, these are two expression of one Roman Rite: saying “Tridentine rites” is a confusing misnomer. They are not at odds with one another, but in fact coexist and cooperate.

      The harpsichordist-pianist analogy is breathtaking – and not in a good way. It is a casual dismissal of a Mass that has sustained and nourished the Church for centuries. It implicitly introduces a binary of conflict between the OF and the EF. It renders the ‘harpsichord’ EF elitist and the ‘piano’ OF populist. It is a political rather than liturgical statement. It condescends to the EF, assigns it a niche role, and in short marginalizes it from the life of the Church.

      The sooner we stop being political and embrace the Roman Rite in its completeness is the day when any doubt of our Catholic unity is expelled from the Church. Jesus Christ gave us the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life and action – let us turn to Him and adore.

      1. I have to say that I thought the harpsichord analogy was brilliant. The reactions to it predictably smack of a sense of denial.

        Timothy, the reality is that the Extra-ordinary Form is marginal to the life of the Church, given the tiny proportion of the total membership of the Church who cling to it. Benedict XVI himself described them as a “small group”. It’s why the Extra-ordinary Form is precisely that — extra-ordinary, or ab-normal, if you prefer it, even if its continued use has now been legtimised as an act of charity.

        I don’t detect any real growth in the numbers of those who wish to espouse it. What I do detect is a mounting crescendo from those who wish that others would espouse it. It sounds as if this very vocal minority is becoming increasingly desperate, and I don’t think it aids their cause.

        For better or worse, the Extraordinary Form is statistically marginal to the life of the Church as a whole, just as the Ambrosian Rite is, for example. The difference is that you don’t find the Milanese trying to get others to convert to their rite or tell other people what they should be doing. They’re quite happy just quietly getting on with their form of worship, while everyone else gets on with theirs.

    3. To continue the music analogy in post # 8 which somehow got put here:

      If a parish is fortunate to have a good harpsichordist, they should find a place for her in the liturgy, not every Sunday or even every month. I suspect a creative harpsichordist and a creative liturgist could find some place in the liturgical year that would work for everyone. We would add one more instrument to the symphony of praise that culminates the Psalter

      On the other hand we have many pianists as accompanists and music directors, and often get a liturgy that is dominated and overrun by their interests! We need to trim that back some, and find room for other talents and interests.

      1. I don’t think the analogy holds in the direction you’ve taken it. You’re likening the Extraordinary Form of the Mass – which is a complete liturgy unto itself – with a single eccentric (let’s call it that) instrument at the service of music at the service of the liturgy.

        I do not think the two are comparable, at least not in the way you’ve put it

      2. Yes, I agree the analogy limps. I was simply trying to turn the original analogy’s argument around.

        Perhaps comparing the organ to the EF might extend the analogy better for you, being an instrument that has a long and close association with the Roman rite and praised by church documents that gets left out today. But I don’t know how many organists there are. Obviously more than harpsichordists.

        I could have extended the analogy to a whole symphony, but that would have gone on many posts and really have gotten me into trouble with the Editors (see #30).

        Where we might disagree is that I want a symphony of more than two sharply contrasting instruments like the piano (e.g. OF) and organ (EF) that are not usually played at the same time. I want a lot of intermediate steps. More Gregorian chant sometimes in English, sometimes in Latin, etc. EF is easier done with English not Latin lessons. Takes a long time to learn enough Latin for them in comparison to the Ordinary of the Mass.

        We should avoid the problems of what we sociologists call ideal types (see post #29). They not only cause endless arguments, and sometime real conflict, they often retard rather than facilitate progress, e.g. cathedral vs. monastic offices..

      3. The way I conceptualize the spectrum is that the EF on the one end has the advantage of stability and predictability, and the OF on the other end has the advantage of flexibility. However, I would not necessarily call one end more solemn than the other.

        To use the musical analogy again, think of the EF as an organ that supports a choral performance. It is always going to provide some level of solemnity to the occasion but that level might vary considerably. Think of the OF as the all the other instruments separately or in combination that might support a choral performance. You get a lot of variation, maybe some not so good. Maybe most OF Masses are like a choral performance accompanied by a piano. In some ways it is like an organ, but I’d much rather have an organ than a piano (but other people may not). But a choral performance accompanied by a lot of instruments might be a lot better than one accompanied by just an organ. Well I think I have just about exhausted this musical analogy, but it has been fun.

        I think people who want more EF should be spending time advocating more of some of the elements of EF stability in the OF, and that OF people should be looking for more stability using some things found in the OF, but other things as well. Predictability is very important to liturgy. Liturgy is ritual; people have a right not to be surprised or confused.

  8. May I presume to offer a few observations.
    When looking at growth or decline in vocations we need to look at the fact that there are many different forms of the consecrated life-monastic, mendicant, apostolic religious, missionary societies etc. I belong to a missionary congregation, whose work takes us to many different countries and cultures. Our lifestyle is naturally influenced by the nature of the work we do. Of the 121 Finally Professed working here in Japan many of those who work in parishes live on their own. We have two large communities, one with 24 members, another, when adding in those in formation, numbers over forty, however work commitments, such as I have teaching at high school mean I am out of the house from early morning and don’t always make it back even for the evening meal. A very untraditional lifestyle for a religious according to some.
    By the way, if you care to examine worldwide statistics, our unconvential lifestyle has seen our membership increase virtually all through the post Vat II period. Every year over a hundred young men make Final Profession as SVD. The sources of our vocations has shifted, with the vast majority of our vocations coming from Asia and Africa, but maybe that is a sign from the Holy Spirit that we are needed here.
    My pupils are calling me.

  9. Looking at the numbers, a number of dioceses that have transitioned from a very liberal bishop to a conservative or moderate seems to see increases in seminarians. What does this mean? Numbers can be manipulated to say almost anything. In those cases, a common denominator seems to be a bishop that considers fostering priestly vocations as a high priority. I would also venture to guess that some very qualified young men were turned down or discouraged from pursuing the priesthood because this did not fit in with the former bishop or rector’s “vision or model” of the priesthood.

    1. Are there numbers to actually look at? Mahony and Trautmann are two bishop who do well with vocations compared to dioceses of similar sizes. And often bishops of smaller sees do relatively better than archbishops.

      It is a question of a bishop taking this ministry seriously and personally. And yes, we probably should be seeing young men turned down–choosier bishops and more careful discernment has eliminated much of the immaturity in American priests.

  10. Paul, first off, thank you for your comment. Let me be clear: the only thing I’m seeking to deny is any division of the Roman Rite. This Rite is and has been clarified by the Holy Father as unified and possessive of two expressions – the EF and OF.

    I assist at both forms of the Mass, and ‘cling’ to neither. Or, if we are using this verb with a positive connotation, I ‘cling’ to both forms in an ongoing attempt to sanctify my life as well as the life of the Church. The celebration of the EF is an act of charity, to be sure, and redresses the sin against charity that was its marginalization after 1969. It is impossible to honestly look at the state of the liturgy – EF and OF – without recognizing that we are where we are by historical actions. If the EF was marginalized in any way, it was not mere happenstance.

    The OF is clearly not going anywhere, and neither should it. It is a reflection of necessary liturgical reform as laid down in the Second Vatican Council. Paul VI solemnly promulgated both Sacrosanctum Concilium and the new Missal, and both have the force of law just as Trent and Pius V’s Missal have. Nonetheless, the Holy Father has continually emphasized the very real place the EF has in our liturgical life. The faithful should lay hold of both EF and OF as constitutive of sacred tradition and sacramental grace.


    1. Contd. from above:

      As we seek to rediscover and re-implement Vatican II and its subsequent Missal, the EF can prove a valuable guide to sacred tradition and liturgical praxis. After all, the OF was an organic development of the EF. As such these two Forms can engage in conversation with one another as we seek to more authentically embrace the liturgy. Such a focus on our “lex orandi, lex credendi” proclaims the unity of the Roman Rite, increases its popular visibility, underscores its importance in the economy of salvation, and reinvigorates the central place it has in the life of the Church.

      I take exception with your comparison of the EF to the Ambrosian and other local rites. The Ambrosian Rite, the Mozarabic Rite, and other ancient forms of liturgy are particular to regions or dioceses. The EF was and is a universal Form of the Roman Rite, and has been for nigh on 550 years. The scope and stature of the EF demands attention, particularly as we take a fresh look at its OF development. We cannot “get on” with our form of worship and the Kingdom of God without such a retrospective.

      1. Timothy, thank you so much for saying this:

        After all, the OF was an organic development of the EF.

        This a very rare admission, as I’m sure you are aware. Once people start to say this, dialogue becomes possible, thank God. It’s when people try to maintain that the OF was in no way connected with what went before that things become difficult. The “hermeneutic of discontinuity” argument has done more damage than almost anything else in the arena of enablng people to talk to each other.

        So, thank you once again.

        I’m sorry if you thought I was comparing the Ambrosian Rite to the EF. I was simply looking at them in terms of a statistic on how much these rites are celebrated. In fact the numbers celebrating both, as a percentage of the total celebrations across the Catholic Church, are probably broadly similar. That’s not to say that either lack value, simply that not too many people are engaged in them.

  11. Surely an increase of vocations to traditional religious orders is something to look at alongside the increase of attention to sacred tradition in general over the past several years. If these orders and the EF are not at the statistical level of the OF and more mainstream orders, it might be helpful to adopt a long-term view and watch over the course of years, even generations. Data is something that is best and most significant over time!

    I am a convert to the Faith. I was first exposed to it and nourished in it by the Benedictines at St Vincent Archabbey, and thank them everyday with my prayers. May they and may all religious foundations flourish as they discern the will of God in their lives and work in the life of the Church!

  12. I wonder about these data, in the sense that they are merely a “snapshot” of religious life right now. While many young men and women may be flocking to more “traditional” groups in the US, I would like to see longitudinal data on this population. In other words, do these individuals have the grace to stay (i.e. a real vocation) or is this merely based on emotional needs or political ideologies.

    I write this, not because I doubt that more traditional orders are relevant, but because I discerned a religious vocation for many years. I was most interested in a religious orders with habits and the trappings of tradition. However, what I ultimately discovered is that my desires were not a vocation so much as a desire to “different” and “exhalted”. I sought religious life because I was emotionally immature and wanted to be distinct from the rest of “wretched humanity”. Through God’s superabundant Grace, I realized this about myself b4 being inflicted upon some unknowing community! At any rate, many of the men with whom I discerned were very similar and they applied for entrance and were accepted. Perhaps they’ve grown-up, as I hope that I have, but I worry about these men and those to whom they minister.

  13. I am in my 30s and discerned with the Dominicans some years back. I don’t find the EF all that helpful since I understand what participation actually means–acting as a member of the Mystical Body exercising the priestly office of Jesus Christ. The Liturgical Movement had genuine insights there. The problem is that many people in the generation ahead of me have confused the Liturgical Movement with radical Lutheranism: confusing the role of ordained and laity (each has its own place which is neither clericalism of congregationalism); redefining a sacred building as a meeting house; using the lowest common denominator congregational music instead of asking people to see liturgy as spiritual asceticism as well as expression; throwing off the external signs that serve as a leaven to the world like a habit, clerics, sacrifical communal living; and yes, even occasional Latin. What I sought was an authentic exercise of religious life–and indeed found it, which is why the eastern province of the Dominicans will have over 20 novices this year, and good, balanced men. Please don’t stereotype “this generation” as ignorant throwbacks who want 50s style clerical power. If they do, they need further formation, but angry belittling left-leaning seminary professors won’t help them grow in holiness and service. It will only perpetuate the politicization of the Church. We should love on another! This means sharing generational concerns in love, not the language of the French Revolution!

  14. I think community is a big aspect for those joining religious, well, communities these days. There are some orders were there seems to be very little community life and these orders aren’t the ones receiving new vocations. Why would a young man or woman want to enter religious life to basically be told, “Welcome, now go out find an apartment to live in and apply for some jobs”? If there is no recognizable difference between being a religious and just being a single person working in the Church except for the occasional meeting, why bother?

  15. High tension vs. Strictness as explanations/strategies for successful religious movements: 1 of 3.

    The sociological concept of “high tension” emphasizes the strong contrast of a movement with a surrounding culture, either secular and/or religious. Catholicism is in moderate tension with secular and religious cultures because we have an abundance of “Catholic” choices, e.g. many parishes, schools and service institutions, and spiritualities.

    Strictness emphasizes certain beliefs or practices as defining markers of religious identity, e.g. Friday abstinence before Vatican II, habits for religious orders. John Allen calls the increased emphasis upon markers for Catholicism “Evangelical Catholicism.” Sectarian Catholicism is a more sociological name. Sects and heresies do grow by using a small set of beliefs and practices as markers of identity. Catholicism grows differently. We have developed a diversity of internal religious movements (e.g. religious orders) within limits(e.g. Ignatian spirituality) with their markers (e.g. Jesuit schools, retreats).

    Where have liberals failed a high internal diversity strategy? They have failed to promote the good diversity of Catholicism as a contrast to “anything goes” and “relativism.” diversity outside. While liberal parishes usually have a great diversity of ministries, the parish intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and musical diversity is usually bland. Too many one size fits all programs.

  16. Catholic Worker Movement as model of a “liberal” high tension, diversity plus little structure, movement strategy. (2 of 3)

    Sharing the life of the poor in a community, was in “high tension” with lives of the middle and upper class young Catholics who went there to live. Being poor has outside limits, but it requires flexibility. Catholic Worker houses were built on communitarian personalism. They stressed diverse personal initiative on behalf of others.

    The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins, by the Zwicks, founders of the Houston CW shows the rich banquet of intellectual and spiritual fare provided by the Catholic Worker movement, some (e.g. liturgical movement, peace and social justice) progressive, some (monastic, Jesuit, Franciscan, Little Flower) traditional. This was in sharp contrast with society (e.g. Communist movement) and parishes, colleges and the hierarchy . People could get intellectual culture and spirituality at CW they couldn’t get elsewhere, served up by lay people.

    The single most important CW structure was the Catholic Worker newspaper. At a penny, it was a pre-internet internet. It carried news and opinion, much like a blog. Like a monastic rule it articulated ideals and norms. It gave the charismatic founders’ ongoing interpretations of the movement and events. It modeled and spread the movement, educated others about it, and brought in resources of people and money. All very internet like.

  17. Advantages of High Tension Diversity and Flexibility model vs. strictness. (3 of 3)

    1. High tension (contrast, difference) with the secular world and other religions can be achieved by emphasizing the great diversity of spiritualities available as Catholic exemplars, rather than using some uninformative but highly visible practice (e.g. Friday abstinence from meat).

    2. The key spiritual question of the postindustrial world, how does one express oneself and be happy in ones own unique way, favors high tension diversity model. The industrial world questions of being religious or not, or being of one denomination or other, favored the strict markers approach.

    3. High tension is maintained even within Catholicism not only by providing many different models, but endless unique combinations of spiritualities, e.g. Jesuit, Benedictine, desert hermit, Catholic Worker and Byzantine spiritualities combined can provide a rich, challenging and creative religious life.

    4. Strictness and markers promote spiritual pride, expressing superiority to those who are different e.g. EF vs. OF; contemplative life vs. active life: community vs. solitary religious life .

    5. Strictness and markers lead to schism. Protestant sects proliferate this way. Schism within Catholicism has occurred largely along liturgical lines (Byzantine, Coptic, EF etc.). How to overcome schism dangers of liturgical diversity? Answer, more liturgical diversity (within bounds) not less.

    1. Dear Jack and all,
      This is a highly interesting post. However, we intend our 1,500 character limit to be the longest length of any individual comment. Please do not continue your comments over three commboxes. If you have a submission longer than one post, please submit it to us and we will consider publishing it as a regular post on its own.
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