The Twilight Zone

It was Christmas eve. Because I had been away for a month, I wanted to check the Mass schedule at my parish, just to be sure that midnight Mass would actually be held at 12 midnight and was not rescheduled to some earlier hour. I knew I would hear a taped message. No matter. All I wanted was the Mass schedule for Christmas.

Much to my surprise, the voice I heard on the tape was that of our beloved, now-retired-for- health-reasons, former pastor.  He has been gone for more than a year, but there was his voice, regretting that no one was there to take my call. And the extensions he announced were those of people who are no longer there either. It was like a ghost rectory!

The new administrator celebrated midnight Mass. He gave a self-righteous scolding to the  occasional attenders, rehearsed the rules for communion, and never broke a smile. This was so completely opposite to the parish’s warm character and charitable spirit that one felt as though the place had been taken over by aliens.  In fact, the whole thing had a dream-quality about it. Could this really be happening? Was this the prelude to closing the parish? (My diocese is going through a process called “Making All Things New,” which is Newspeak for parish closures.)

Then, on Holy Family Sunday, I was at my father-in-law’s house, in another diocese, and looking for a church for Sunday Mass. My husband said he has driven past a lovely Catholic church in the town, and told me where it was. We looked it up in the phone book, found the name (there is only one Catholic Church in this small town) and phoned to find out the Mass schedule. The tape said Mass is at 8, 10, and 12. No problem. I drove out on Sunday morning.

It was a beautiful old stone church, well decorated with Christmas greens. I was a little puzzled however, because there seemed to be no parking lot.  And even though it was close to Mass time, nobody was going in through the front door. OK, I said to myself, there must be a parking lot in the rear and the people go in through a side door; I hope the front door is not locked! I went up to the front door, and was pleased to find it was indeed open.

But, lo and behold, the beautiful church was empty. Mary of the Immaculate Conception gazed over a sea of empty pews. There was only one man standing at the back, at the very last pew, an older man in a reverie of prayer, a rosary in one hand and a panettone in the other. I approached him. “Excuse me, sir, is there no Mass today?” “Oh!” he said to me, startled, “There hasn’t been Mass here in three years!”

It was like a dream-sequence. “But I called,” I protested, “and the tape said Mass at 8, 10, and 12!” “No, there are no Masses here. The Hispanics use this as a chapel,” he explained, “The Anglos moved out.” He gave me some directions to the place where the Anglos now worship, but I couldn’t find it.

Together, these two experiences seemed strangely connected. I thought to myself: “We are living in The Twilight Zone.

The coming of the new year makes one think of the past, as one’s life journey continues and a new year begins. One takes stock of the present, and looks to the future.

What is happening to our Church? In parts of the world, the Church is expanding. But that is not the case where I live. Many of the retreat houses and religious houses, schools, hospitals, parishes, convents, and rectories that I grew up with have closed, disappeared, or been turned into something else. The abuse crisis has taken a heavy toll. Scandals abound. The dwindling numbers of priests and religious have reduced once-thriving institutions. Today no pastors are being named in New York, I am told, because then they would have “rights.” Only administrators.

At first the loss of institutions seems OK. We can cope. Focus on the people near you, focus on something positive. A smaller church, perhaps, but in the mind’s eye it looks the same. Combine the little parishes into a mega-parish. Hey, it feels bigger — we are making progress! But really, it’s smaller.

The problem is that twilight eventually becomes nightfall. Is the loss of the institutions of the church in the Northeastern United States something we can safely ignore as we take up residence in the small pockets of life that remain?

I think we have to face it. Stop playing the tapes in our heads of  pastors who are gone, stop rehearsing the phone extension where there is now no one present to answer. Stop pretending that the sisters will come back, that the priest shortage will turn around quickly or without some sort of fundamental changes in who may be ordained.

Change has come upon us, and not the kind of change anyone wanted. This raises the question: What must we do now?

I think we do need to remember those warm pastors and the beautiful churches of yesteryear. Memory is a powerful tool for fostering future hope. Yet the loss of institutions can’t be replaced by wishful thinking or mere nostalgia. We need to start new institutions and bring fresh commitment to the nurture of those institutions we already have. The visionaries who began the parishes and schools and hospitals worked against amazing odds, and overcame them. That same fortitude and courage and commitment is required of us today.

At the very least we’ve got to update those answering machines.

What do you think is needed in order to build up healthy, growing Church institutions today? I ask this as a New Year’s question, but it is a question that can be asked at any time of the year.


  1. On Christmas Eve over 600 people crammed every square inch of our church … standing in the balcony for over an hour before the Mass.

    On New Years Day, 39 people attended the solemnity.

    What is wrong with this picture?

    …. scratch, scratch …

  2. Certainly some good business practices are needed. Simply being courteous and kind and keeping people posted, not only parishioners but also visitors would be essential. Walmart and other businesses know how to keep customers and we know what shuts down a business. I don’t like the business model completely, but “programed” kindness, if it is present, keeps customers coming back and new ones coming. I don’t like referring to the Church solely an institution as Walmart is and our Patrons as customers, but there is an element involved that good business practices could help parish staffs. But we are all the Church,none of us customers, but we are not all the “institutional” aspects, usually parish staffs under a pastor are. Pope Francis seems to know how to show the way in this regard and one hopes his administration acumen will be a model for dioceses and parishes.
    But apart from the horrible decline in Church practice in the last 50 years and certainly on-going and never ending reporting of new and old scandals has a part to play, in the northeast I suspect there are other problems too. We southerners think northerners, especially in the northeast are arrogant and unfriendly, downright cold, although I don’t find this in Manhattan when I visit, but I’m not sure of the Church scene there. And if Catholics go to Mass for any other reason than the salvation of their souls, grace for strength to live their Catholic faith at home, work, politics and anywhere else and for solace when needed, why go to Mass? One can find community and friendship and good organization (ecclesiology in the secular sense) in many other places which do it a lot better or in no place if one is into finding mysticism and good feelings in nature or elsewhere. Bottom line for me is I don’t want to go to Hell; I believe in God and I believe what the Church teaches. I need the Word of God and the Sacraments, no matter how poorly this or that parish celebrates it. I won’t take my business elsewhere because of these beliefs. If those beliefs don’t exist in a person, why go to Church?

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #2:
      Agreeing with the other Barry above (comment #12), I think your account of “why go to Mass,” while true as far as it goes, does not go nearly far enough and offers an incomplete picture. It’s inadequacy should be clear especially in this time of a pope who has reminded us so beautifully and repeatedly that “at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others,” that “the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God” (Evangelii Gaudium n. 177, 180) And, of course, what is true of the Gospel is also true of the Mass.

      1. @Barry Hudock – comment #14:
        I’m not an either/or person, but a both/and, as is the Church. Even if one’s motives are personal (and it is for a great many people) one’s participation in the Church, the Mass in particular, is with others and the goal of the Church is eschatological and being united to the Communion of Saint, now and in eternity.

  3. There is something sad yet beautiful about the CEO (Christmas-Easter Only) Catholics– sad, that they are not regulars. Beautiful, that, for whatever reason, they have come once again to hear the Story. Their spiritual longing might be more genuine and stronger than our own. It gives us ‘regulars’ the graced opportunity to welcome them as beloved family members and together listen to that Story and allow it touch our hearts and change our minds. I’ve met some wonderfully Christian people who are CEO but for whom “church” has not made much of an impression, and I think that is our fault not their’s. The CEOs aren’t looking for a religion of habit or guilt or mere social or familial conformity; They want something “meaty”, substantial, “down to your guts” faith. In fact, some may wonder if such a things actually exists. Well, we ‘regulars’ can show them it does. No scolding (however discreet), no belittling, no guilt trips. Just pure and simple welcome and embrace, as if they are always there. Facilitate an experience of grace for them. Let your eyes wide, your smile brighten when you encounter them. They are well aware of their weaknesses and sins (perhaps better than we are of our own). Maybe they are looking for some parish that shares Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge” sentiment, not in the sense of denying or ignoring moral or spiritual values but in the spirit that recognizes them as a brother/sister, always welcome home, always welcome at the table. Maybe if they can experience such “down in the gut” faith, they may come to realise they have, indeed, been missing something and would not dream of ‘leaving home’ ever again.
    But all that takes effort. Everything from a prompt, live answer on the phone, to a friendly greeting at the door, to a liturgy celebrated with reverence, joy and love. We ‘regulars’ need to look more animated than the figures in our creches. We need not act the the Frozen People of God. Why should the CEOs go looking for the Living One among the dead.

  4. In terms of the major ministries the Church did so well in previous eras, such as schools, hospitals, caring for the poor, etc, these were usually accomplished by religious orders and independent of parishes and diocesan structures. That was their gift or charism. With the decline and fall of these orders, I don’t see parishes easily picking up and opening large institutions to care for people on the same magnitude and laity are not equipped to do it often. But in some places laity are doing it on a smaller basis and usually by forming “boards of trustees” and the like, especially for Catholic education but also outreach to the poor and homeless. I know that in my Macon community if not for the single-handed efforts of a Daughter of Charity that has led to a cooperative effort with dePaul USA and interfaith interests in Macon, that a day shelter for homeless that is also a triage center for other services would never have happened in the last three years. Sister Elizabeth who was named our local newspaper’s “person of the year” got parishes involved and other churches in town as well as the synagogue and temple and the Unitarians and Muslims, but she did it apart from being under the umbrella of any one parish or the diocese but certainly collaborated with many people and institutions. I think this outreach will continue even after she is gone and although it isn’t specifically Catholic it is identified with the Catholic Church because of Sister Elizabeth and being its full time director. I’m not sure a lay Catholic could bring the same charism to this or the same Catholic identity in an interfaith endeavor as a sister can.

  5. Kelly:

    “To say that a sister can only achieve this or that, to say that we need a business sensibility, to suggest that the laity are not equipped to evangelize and serve is simply to prolong the idiotic clericalism that got us into this mess in the first place.”

    Well stated; to the point; thanks (in a way, your response to a certain type of *twilight zone*)

  6. @Kelly Marie Santini – comment #5:
    ” . . . we cannot simply add women and stir. That would be a big mistake.”


    Catholics are so used to communication being a vertical thing (mostly commands/bleats top-down, and gossips/complaint as the reciprocal bottom-up process – with lots of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in each direction) our genuine ability for multi-directional communication has atrophied. And we can’t simply import a Quaker consensus model of decision making like a software transplant into such a body.

    For many centuries, Catholics cared about what their pastors, bishops or popes did or said only to the extent those clerics and prelates had some say over the livings, food or shelter of those Catholics, but not much otherwise. The technological advances in communications in the 19th century (penny presses, then telegraphy and railroads) and 20th (broadcast media) made prelates more visible to the faithful on a more frequent basis, but the prelates have been kidding themselves that this has been more of a fundamental than surface change, and are now frustrated when finding out it’s not fundamentally as different from the longer arc of Catholic history as they thought.

    Catholics have, over the long term, had a gift for improvisation. Maybe we need more of that, but without turning it into something that apes what prelates do: trying to bind other Catholics into recognizing it as authoritative. If Catholics can avoid doing Vatican III in a Vatican I way, maybe we will have recovered more of our genuine culture as a church.

  7. What do you think is needed in order to build up healthy, growing Church institutions today?

    More Roaming Catholics

    When many parishes were closed in this diocese, some people from one parish described themselves as ‘roaming Catholics” because as a group they went from parish to parish seeking a new home. In a more sophisticated form, I think ‘roaming Catholics” has great promise.

    The American Grace finding that all of the benefits of regular church attendance (health, happiness, etc) occur only to those who have religious networks of family, close friends, and small groups is a game changer. If you go to church without these, you might as well not go (at least in terms of any measureable effects).

    So everyone needs to think first about their family religious network. It is not necessary that they all be Catholics. Only that they be willing to discuss religion. And willing on some occasions to celebrate their religiosity by attending church together. You may need only several family members to make a variable family religious network.

    Then everyone needs to think about their closest friends. Again it is not necessary that these all be Catholics or even Christian. The key element is a willingness to share religious experience and talk about religious topics, and at least occasionally to share worship together.

    Finally everyone needs a religious small group or two in their lives. Every Catholic needs not only the skills of faith sharing but also the ability to found small groups as needed whether they be about bible study, raising children, social justice, etc. Again it is not necessary that all the members of these groups be Catholic or even Christian. Only the willingness to share spiritual experience, engage in group prayer and an occasional worship service.

    So basically every Roaming Catholic needs to develop a religious network of from 3-5 family members, 3-5 close friends, and one or two small groups of from 5 to 10 member each. So we are talking total religious networks of from 10 to 40 members. Perhaps challenging for some introverts, but the research suggests this is worth about 100,000 a year more in salary. So it is well worth the time and effort to get at least 10 people into these networks. Actually if you get around 40 members and meet weekly for worship, you would be very much like the many small congregations that were discovered in random studies of people. Most sang hymns and had a sermon.

    The American Grace research suggests that these social networks need to be religious and that worship is essential but not sufficient by itself. So one needs to rethink worship as worship for our social networks not simply for ourselves. Think of worship occasions as an opportunity to meet with some members of our religious networks and to socialize with them in a variety of ways before or afterwards.

    Religious networks of family, close friends, and small groups have probably always been essential to religion but likely took care of themselves before the chaos of modern life. As Christians we now need to take responsibility for the creation and maintenance of these networks and not expect them to be provide by religious professionals. They have enough to do in preparing liturgies and religious education.

  8. Kelly’s post: +1.

    I was on the road earlier this week, vacationing with my family. We went to Mass on Tuesday night in a parish where I interviewed almost 14 years ago. I was curious.

    Except that they ran out of Precious Blood when I received (the acclamation was “There’s not much left,” instead of “Blood of Christ”) it was a most moving liturgy. That the sacristan or pastor would only plan to consecreate enough wine to get to the fourth row–curious. Or maybe the people surprised them. I would guess there were well over 300 people in this parish that served an “inner ring” suburb in a large midwestern city. From outward appearances, it could be dying. But it sure wasn’t.

    People were friendly around us. It was a mix of elderly, families, Anglo, Hispanic, and even a handful of college-age or slightly older young adults.

    Three women switched off between singing, piano, and organ (though not both simultaneously). When I went over to thank them, one of them remembered interviewing me all those years ago and also complimented my daughter to the point she beamed–not an easy task with a 17-year-old.

    The music wasn’t any different than anywhere else, and the church was carpeted and padded all too well. But there was a great sense of liturgy in it all. I left uplifted.

  9. “(the acclamation was “There’s not much left,” instead of “Blood of Christ”) ”

    Almost beats the time I went to communion at a place that used pita bread and we were told “The Body of Christ, except for the onion bits.” Became an infamously legendary moment there and was not, to my knowledge, repeated.

  10. That lecture (I wouldn’t dignify it with the term homily) in Rita’s parish’s Midnight Mass was so off-based. I guess some preachers just haven’t gotten “the Francis effect” yet. How sad!

  11. Bishops, priests and sisters in the 19th century had a drive to build the Church; many of them may have been autocratic, but at least they believed in something. What do Church leaders believe in today? I honestly don’t know. They’ve tried nothing and they’re all out of ideas. Not surprisingly, not too many young men are flocking to join a dysfunctional institution whose purpose isn’t clear and whose leaders make arbitrary and bizarre decisions. Only in the Catholic Church does a bishop close a congregation with 400-500 in weekly attendance and a large bank account. Too many Catholic leaders simply aren’t interested in maintaining parishes or schools. The stats on the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod website show that even small congregations can run parochial schools. The strategy, if you can call it that, of many bishops is to merge, merge, merge until there are a handful of mega-parishes and schools. In the process huge numbers of laity drift away, something leaving the Church altogether. One of my non-Catholic relatives remarked that the bishops simply don’t care about the Church.

    1. @Sean Peters – comment #13:

      The strategy, if you can call it that, of many bishops is to merge, merge, merge until there are a handful of mega-parishes and schools. In the process huge numbers of laity drift away, something leaving the Church altogether. One of my non-Catholic relatives remarked that the bishops simply don’t care about the Church.

      Hitting the nail on the head here. There is certainly a major trend towards amalgamating parishes into “St Hub” mega-church, and it is often driven not by financial necessity but by shortage of clergy. As Sean pointed out “Only in the Catholic Church does a bishop close a congregation with 400-500 in weekly attendance and a large bank account.”

      However, it does not pertain everywhere. I have a friend who is pastor of six parishes in Washington state, and that is by no means an isolated incidence in many rural dioceses. It is clear that in such cases, the first question that has been asked is “How can we keep the flame of faith alive in these communities?” and not “How can we best deploy our manpower?” We need to make sure that we have our priorities right.

      I was part of a diocesan study which looked in depth at all this. Some surprising strategies emerged, but were not implemented because the bishop and his advisors were not brave enough to carry out what other more radical thinkers were advocating. These strategies included policies such as: when several churches have to share one pastor, the biggest problem will be to make the smaller communities feel valued. The obvious way would be for the pastor to live in one of those smaller communities, rather than the largest one — after all, the larger ones have plenty of lay people who can keep things going when the pastor is not physically present. And if you have a deacon, it might be possible for him and his family to live in one of the other rectories in the small communities. Yes, it may mean the clergy having to travel greater distances to reach the schools and hospitals, but it would pay dividends in other ways.

      Only when we start to think outside the box in this way will things begin to move.

      Once a year I have occasion to worship in one of a group of eight French parishes, three towns and five villages, served by a single priest. Several of the churches are large enough to accommodate the entire weekly Mass attendance, and so the Sunday services rotate around those churches, with occasional celebrations at the smaller ones, more than one during the weekend so that all may be accommodated. The priest is in his 40s and energetic enough (and human enough) to have become a focal point for all those communities. And the laity have risen to the challenge, organizing car-pooling so that all (including the elderly and infirm) can be driven to Mass each weekend, wherever it happens to be taking place. The benefits to the community that have accrued from significant numbers of people having to not only work together but pray together and even play together across a sizeable geographical area are large. The communities share their priest, their musicians, their ministers, their congregations — their lives.

  12. The kinds of things Rita points out have long driven me crazy, but they perhaps carry different weight in different cultures. I now live in a one-parish town (with five chapels around town) in Catalonia, where the rewarding Midnight Mass had about the same comfortably full crowd as at the Sunday noon Mass; and St. Stephen (a big day here, and a legal holiday in Catalonia since the Carolingians) and January 1 had perhaps even bigger assemblies and lively liturgies, which is certainly refreshing for an American Catholic.

    But I just checked the parish Web site, and it hasn’t been updated since 2009!

  13. I don’t know if Rita or anyone else besides Todd might appreciate what comes to my mind from this thread.
    I’m remembering a particular scene from M. Night Schamylan’s film “SIGNS” inwhich ex-priest Mel Gibson (Episcopalian) and his wayward younger brother, Joaquin Phoenix, are huddled in their basement overnight as hostile aliens are preparing to breach their security.
    When asked if he was frightened, Gibson’s character (who’s lost his faith upon his wife’s death) offers what seems like a reassuring answer: “There are two types of people; those who know there’s someone watching over us and will respond, and those who believe we’re on our own.” The brother is briefly encouraged. Then Gibson drops the bomb: “There’s no one “up there,” we’re on our own.”
    Of course, by the climactic scene, the series of random memories and events plays out in the priest’s consciousness, and between his younger brother who ends up being a “hammer of God” and the rest of humanity presumably catches up to the invaders’ Achilles heel, the priest is finally pressed to break his vow never to pray again when his son is near death from asthma and poison inflicted by a single, diabolical alien, realizes he cannot “resurrect” his son alone, and before despair cries out to God. The child gasps, the father/priest begs the son to breathe with him, in rhythm together. The time of trial is over.

    What the heck? You say, does this have to do with a waning investiture in the making and being of “church.” Well, in Peter Steinfel’s term, Catholics are “a people adrift.” If we really aren’t, then why all the kerfuffle for the last nine years over Benedict’s lack of managerial or leadership skills and the feverish, almost mob-like elation over the seemingly sure-footed presence of HHFrancis? Neither of them preside over our “bare, ruined choirs” locally. They can offer inspiration from afar that we can use as we will in our parishes. But there is a palpable sense still in the pews as whether “someone’s there?”, whether in the sanctuary, ambo, rectory, ambo, soup kitchen, youth group, choir, et al.

    We, like Gibson’s priest in that not so brilliant film, must each decide to dwell in stasis and misery, or act regardless of the large picture existential to help and intervene in each others’ lives, and make the connection about how God works in our and all worlds. YMMV.

  14. Rita, this post reminds of attending an Easter vigil in your town about 18 years ago. At that time, for reasons too long to go into here, my (two former priest friends – still former priests, sadly also former friends today) and I used to go to different parishes each Triduum. (There’s a story to write, and not a good one.) In any case, we came to your town and went to quite an amazing mass. I wonder if that was your parish. Of course, 18 years ago, lots of things were different.

    I am sorry to hear about what you encountered there. I think about where I work and the great spirit of welcome that is part of the life of the parish. It is similar where I worship, but the communication is not always the greatest, although not intentionally. The living organism of the Church (love what Kelly said) is not always as functional as we would like.

    How parishes that are open have phones and websites that are not updated, let alone ones that have closed, blows my mind. This seems so basic, yet it often does not happen. Last night I happened upon my work parish Facebook page, which I manage. I was off yesterday and my boss had my coworker update our web and FB pages to say that the three scheduled funerals for today would be on, but that all offices would be closed.

    How do we welcome people, both practically and spiritually? How do we be in Church in the Living Zone and not the Twilight Zone? It should not be so hard, but it so often is.

  15. Sometimes there isn’t one good answer as to why people don’t attend. Sometimes one shoe doesn’t fit all.
    Maybe we should on the parish level look up those who no longer attend and ask them why? Formulate a plan on the parish level and address the problems. In my neck of the woods, when I was chair of the liturgical committee I found that asking people to help with a handshake and then actually talking to them, asking them for assistance and making sure that I was accessible to them for any questions worked very well. They were more than willing to show up for training. Sometimes we had too many volunteers and the number 1 complaint was that it was too noisy in the sacristy. When people are treated respectfully they tend to want to be there and they will make sure the answering machine is up to date.

    The father knows best attitude or the preachy type or worse the political type (left and right) just drives people away.

  16. One of my concerns with extreme parish amalgamation is the possibility for milquetoast liturgy. One of the benefits of smaller, well dispersed parishes is the ability to cater to niche markets. Want to go to the EF? The Ordinariate? A very contemporary liturgy? Chances are, a diocese or a geographical region exists where every town has one or even multiple churches each with at least one priest who can accommodate a different style. This is the case here in my part of New England, although the strain cracks of a priestly shortage are beginning to show. Some of the priests who serve single-priest parishes are beginning to show mental and occupational fatigue.

    Creating a hub church runs the risk of liturgy which satisfies fewer people than the liturgical marketplace model. Again, I’m aware that multiple factors contribute to parish closings, one of which (but not the only possibility) is lack of clergy. Still, the risk of homogenization is alienation, and I do hope that bishops and their chanceries take into account the cultural and affective sensibilities of parishioners if this is possible.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #21:
      A lot of my colleagues in music and liturgy have worked against the balkanization of liturgy we experienced in the 70’s. Am I being naive to think that good sacred music, well executed is enough? The only catering to style I could envision is a Sunday liturgy geared to attracting and keeping seekers, turning them into believers and then disciples.

      I’m not saying that a patchwork of styles isn’t the best way to go, but for me to make that paradign shift, I’d have to see some serious evidence that approach works. And works better than a fusion of styles into a new (and maybe better) American expression of sacred art.

      If we’re talking about a homogenization of mediocrity, then count me out. But I don’t see providing an Ordinariate and the 1962 Missal as being something other than hypocrisy, especially given the rigidity of how MR3 was imposed.

      And with all seriousness, I don’t see the current climate at all helpful for the discernment needed on this. Too many Catholics have too many sacred cows (and maybe golden calves) they protect.

  17. Dear Rita, blessings to you and yours at Christmastide and Epiphany! Thank you for your thoughtful post. I have also been thinking about this for little more than a decade. Two schools where I have taught are now defunct, along with several parishes a few miles south of you in our archdiocese.

    To my thinking, with each closing there is a diminishment of Christian witness at the insititutional and public levels. I guess we can only work with what we have. More focus must be on the pastoral in these remaining parishes. Leadership in these places cannot be haughty nor alienating, for that will only continue the drainage. Rather, authentic and pastoral leadership needs to create a facilitating environment to free up the gifts that are present at these parishes. In a word, everyone must realize they have a stake in the mission and enterprize we call Church ( Romans 10:11-15).

    The only caveat is not to place our faith in institutions, for they will come and go in one form or another. Faith must ever be on the One who sends.

    1. @Bryon Gordon – comment #22:
      Thank you Bryon. Yes, we have seen much in our lifetime, haven’t we. Thanks for the wise concern “not to place our faith in institutions, for they will come and go in one form or another. Faith must ever be on the One who sends.” Amen to that.

      There have been lots of thoughtful comments on this thread. I am grateful for all of them.

  18. Todd Flowerday : @Jordan Zarembo – comment #21: . . . I don’t see providing an Ordinariate and the 1962 Missal as being something other than hypocrisy, especially given the rigidity of how MR3 was imposed.

    It was only hypocritical if the only rationale offered was deference to local attachment to a particular use. But that wasn’t the only, let alone chief, rationale. The Church does have some history of deference to *really old* attachments, so distinguishing between attachments to a missal of 40 years usage versus other liturgical uses with centuries of usage behind them is not hypocritical. It might not be fully persuasive in the implementing, of course, but hypocrisy is a missed target. Besides, we progressives do the Body of Christ no favors if we add another cycle in the regression of nursed resentments. Letting go is not silence or dishonest: it’s an honest confrontation with the human tendency to rationalize unhelpful habits in the name of good causes.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #24:
      Maybe. But you’ll have to make a much stronger case to convince me.

      Personally, I feel no resentment toward embittered Anglicans or traditionalists. For many people I know, I can appreciate the difficulty of their spiritual struggle to find meaningful worship. But having found a modern Roman Rite more than spiritually fruitful, I don’t comprehend the specifics of what they seek. I’m not an Anglican or a traditionalist.

      I am also not a woman religious on the 21st century end of nearly a millennium of struggle against bishops and priests who do not “get” the call to apostolic ministry outside of a convent. Some talk about Trent or Henry VIII, but I would say the beguines, among others, have a few centuries on both–as long as we’re on the meme of “really old.” And let’s not get into technicalities of who prayed with authentic rites and who didn’t. We all know women were snuffed out often enough for any sort of vector toward independence.

      That said, I’m not about to go on a crusade for yet another spinoff Roman Rite with a sacramental system free of the whims and ignorance of men in Holy Orders. However, I do not think those who promote the Ordinariate or the 1962 Missal are completely free of the taint of hypocrisy or narcissism in many cases–though admittedly not all. Women have struggled to find a fruitful Catholic spiritual life under much harsher treatment than either traditionalists or Anglicans. The refusal to acknowledge this is at worst, willful grave sin. And at best, just being seriously ignorant.

      Who deserves special treatment? And why? Most of the pastoral reasons I see might well apply to women religious. On that score, my posture is more one of advocacy annoying to those with a foot in orthodoxy, not self-enrichment so much.

      I still think Anglicans and traditionalists have a heck of a lot to justify for their privileged position in the spectrum of Roman Rites. I get the sense there’s a lot of smirking, but not much sympathy for others. That would seem to be a problem for all of us. And that’s why I’m going to continue to ask annoying questions.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #27:
        “I still think Anglicans and traditionalists have a heck of a lot to justify for their privileged position in the spectrum of Roman Rites.”

        I speak more for the EF, but I feel the opposite – I think those opposed to allowing traditional worship need an almost impossible amount of evidence to justify their position.

        But getting to the whole gist of your post. I think you are comparing apples and oranges. Allowing small minorities to worship in a different way doesn’t have the same impact re-evaluating and changing the role of women in the Church does. It means the world to the small groups who get to worship according to cherished traditions, but it ultimately doesn’t affect most of the Church and those who don’t like it can ignore and refuse to implement it while complaining about the imaginary problems it causes. However, if the Catholic Church were to seriously re-evaluate how women figure into the hierarchy and governance of the Church it would offer a serious challenge to a lot of people and really shake things up. It would be a major revolution and make Vatican II look like nothing in comparison.

      2. @Jack Wayne – comment #30:
        Traditionalism is best served as a quality, as aspects suitable to a community’s temperament, as well as the architecture and art of a building. As a separate rite, no.

        My point is that if the 1962 Rite deserves, say, one white ribbon that women religious certainly deserve, say, six. They pre-date Trent. In the past forty years, they’ve contributed more to “religious virtuosity” than traditionalists, some of whom have torn at the fabric of unity, and basically thrown schism back into the face of the pope most supportive of them.

        There are also a lot more people disturbed about MR3 and would welcome MR2. And as for Anglicans, what about Hispanics and Blacks? If traditionalists get their plum, why not oodles of other special interest groups more numerous, more deserving, and who contribute more to the mission of the Gospel?

        All I’m saying is that by the traditionalist argument, we should have, say, twenty or thirty different forms and rites. And that’s just this week.

        I think there’s a lot to justify. If others don’t get their “rites,” that’s hypocrisy. Why I think the whole thing is a ding dong idea, no offense to our pope emeritus.

  19. Note to moderator: I have a comment in queue for moderation for some reason. You can delete this comment if you release that prior comment out of moderation. Thanks.

  20. As Todd has said the issue of “women” and “women religious” is more central to the Twilight Zone than accommodations to the EP and the Anglican Tradition. I would also note that issues related to Hispanic (the unnoticed majority) and Black Catholics (far larger than all the Episcopalians in the USA) are more central but have received little attention here and elsewhere.

    ”Women” and “women religious” are central issues because ultimately these issues center upon baptism and the role of baptized in Catholicism and Christianity.

    Sociologists have long understood “religious life” as a major way that Catholicism deals with “religious virtuosity” i.e. that some people that are not clergy will nevertheless have many religious talents. They have also recognized religious orders have kept Catholicism vibrant and adaptable across the centuries as new challenges arose. They perform the same function that new sects have in Protestantism.

    John O’Malley has gone further and claimed in a number of places that religious orders have been the locations of most of the innovations in ministry. This means that innovative ministry comes from baptism not holy orders. That includes the Jesuits. Ignatius starting giving the Spiritual Exercises before he was ordained. Most of the ministry of The First Jesuits (his classic study) came from the great numbers of the Jesuits who were in formation and not yet ordained as priests. They also tended to found ministries and turn them over to laity.

    The discrimination against women and women religious goes back to Church Fathers who wanted to keep the women (virgins and widows) closeted in their homes. They did not even want them to go out to church services nor provide assistance to other Christians.

    Male laity as regulated “‘religious” were given many opportunities both in celebration of the Divine Office as well as in preaching, spiritual direction, witness, and service to others. While all these were originally lay, eventually they became clerical as more and more men were ordained. More monks became ordained because bishops tried to limited their roles when they were not ordained. Bishops challenged monks because the monasteries had become more powerful than the cathedrals and the parishes.

    Women “religious” on the other hand although they were probably more numerous than the men had great difficult being recognized formally as religious and given the same privileges as lay male religious. A large part of the history of women religious is that neither bishops nor male religious wanted to deal with them unless they happened to have been given a lot of wealth. Part of the creativity of women religious throughout history has been to play off male religious, clergy, and wealthy laity against either each other in order to maintain the independence of women religious.

    The key question of the Twilight Zone is how do we affirm the religious virtuosity of all the baptized not just those who are given roles as deacons, or religious or even “lay ecclesial ministers.”

  21. Let me say first that I do not believe that the Church will go out of existence — the Lord promised that the Holy Spirit would remain with us, and that implies that the Church will continue in existence to the end.

    But it now seems obvious that at least in the West the Church is grievously sick. It even seems possible that it is going to die out in the West. Even in South America, the largest segment of the Church, people are leaving in droves. And though the Church is gaining in some backwards areas, the people there seem to follow the West culturally once they attain the sort of financial security that’s found in the West.

    The cold fact seems to be that the middle-aged Western ex-Catholics are beyond enticing back into the fold — they have even learned to despise the official Church and want nothing to do with it. The young don’t know what the Church is meant to be, and and most of them share their parents’ contempt of the hierarchy. The super=conservatives have made a few converts, but that movement has also started to get old, and it too is apparently starting to lose people. As I see them, historically they’re just lagging a couple of generations behind the rest of us.

    What to do? There are a few young converts. I say ask them what led them to the Church. And don’t assume we know what their assumptions and interests and longings are. We have to ask them, not tell them. Yes, some of them are super-conservatives, and we should listen to them too. But I say ask especially the non-super-conservative converts what the young crave and what will impress them as valuable. That, it seems to me is where to start. We don’t even know in the first place what would appeal to them in a ritual.

    Granted, we shouldn’t stop appealing to others. But it seems to me that the young are the key to the survival of the Church in the West at least.

    True, so far Pope Francis seems to be something of a miracle, and if he proves that he’s not just a flash in the pan, there might be some surprises…

  22. Mr. Wayne – you sound like someone making a political decision – not something that reflects the church’s actual social thought (role of women) and you continue to de-emphasize what litugy is (it is not a small group spirituality or piety).

    Yes, agree that it is apples to oranges but not the way you state – would suggest that catholics looking for a change in the way women are seen by the church surpasses the EF folks by millions (it is also about actual church/gospel values – human dignity, equality, theology – not sure what the EF is except a temporary permission based upon a group that finds it difficult to accept change; groups that appear to fit into the papal *self-referential* category.)
    Also, in your repeated comments you seem to jump back and forth – you at times want any catholic to be able to request and thus have the EF (per SP which as Rita stated well, allows for no limits, controls, etc. and puts small group concerns above pastoral decisions/needs, etc.) and then you minimize this by saying: *Allowing small minorities to worship in a different way doesn’t have the same impact* (wonder if some European or US bishops would agree with your conclusion about impact?)

    Sorry, your approach appears to be: *in terms of the EF, the ends justify the means* but when you get to a significant social justice value – well, the means may disturb some folks so let’s not try*
    Again, appears to say that church (small group) is made for liturgy; not liturgy for the church.

    Will re-post this excellent prayer on Mary, untier of knots:

    Mary, Undoer of Knots, untie the knot of “we’ve never done it before” that keeps us stunted, defensive, and joyless:

    •We’ve never prayed in that language.
    •We’ve never sung that kind of music.
    •We’ve never eaten with these people.
    •We’ve never let those people in.
    •We’ve never made these people leaders.
    •We’ve never done it that way before.
    Mary, Undoer of Knots, show us the way where we see no way out, no way in, and no way through the knots of:

    •Not here
    •Not them
    •Not in our church
    •Not in my backyard
    •Not you
    •Not me
    •Not that
    We, by our disobedience, complacency, and small-mindedness, have tied the knot of “nots” for the human race; whereas you, Mary, Undoer of Knots, by your obedience, courage, and creativity, undid it with your “yes.”

    When will this *small group* ever get to a *yes* on change, metanoia, and what the church is about.

  23. Gee Bill, you could read my post.

    I simply gave an explanation why the Church might see fit to grant permission for a small group to celebrate the old Mass, but might have a harder time with the issue of women in the Church. If you actually practiced good reading comprehension skills and stopped acting like everyone who doesn’t agree with you is your enemy then maybe you would realize that I never said I thought women were undeserving or that this state of affairs was a good thing. Could you quote back to me where I said anything like “in terms of the EF, the ends justify the means* but when you get to a significant social justice value – well, the means may disturb some folks so let’s not try?”

    I think the role of women should be reevaluated and expanded. While I might not have said that directly in my above comment, I have never said *anything* to indicate the contrary in my time at this website. I have even said in the past that I’m not opposed to women priests if the Church were to determine such a thing were possible.

    Also, you have not demonstrated that you yourself have a particularly deep understanding of what community is or what the Church is about. It isn’t lock-step uniformity in spirituality. It isn’t demonizing everyone you don’t agree with and acting all superior. It isn’t celebrating the same form of Mass. If that is what community is all about, then why bother?

    Also, you could easily apply that lovely prayer to yourself: “We’ve never had two forms of one rite,” after all.

    I don’t plan to respond to you anymore. It’ll just result in an endless cycle of you “interpreting” everything I say in the most contorted and negative light possible.

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