Friday, July 13, 2012


  Recently I read two lists.  One, written by church leaders, gave reasons why absent Catholics should return to Mass.  The other was the result of a survey in which disaffected Catholics gave their reasons for no longer attending Mass.  The lists didn't match.

  The laity who regularly attend Mass also don't seem to offer much help in reconciling this disconnect.  In one diocese they offered such suggestions as, "Have greeters at the door," and, "Put crying children in the cry room."  They came closer with, "Better sermons."

   Many bishops, of course, realize that besides such old problems as remarried, divorced people and the ruling on contraception, the sex abuse tragedy has caused many Catholics to become disaffected.  These reasons are actually symptoms of the deep disconnect between the everyday life and experiences of Catholics and the official church.  

   The disconnect is centuries old, starting when the unified medieval world and church separated.  The separation then grew larger through the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the rise of the Modern World, with its democratic freedoms, its science, industry, public education, psychology and psychiatry.  There is responsibility on both sides.  On the church's part, it simply failed to keep up with the changing world. The shepherd lost track of his sheep.  Vatican II tried to "catch up," through aggiornamento, but the church's failure to implement the council, especially its failure to give the laity and the everyday world the full respect they deserve, is now showing itself very clearly.

   To me, the answer lies in reconnecting the everyday life of the laity with the life of the church.  Attending Mass will be one of the great, final outcomes of this reconnection.  

   The Mass is part of the liturgy, the "work and prayer of the people" in publicly worshiping God.  Especially in these economically difficult times, the work and prayer of the people includes our struggle to keep or get a job that provides for our family, to get a good education for our children, to keep them safe from all harm, both in the world and in the church; to somehow push our government to seriously concern itself with the common good, with a preferential option for the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast; to get all citizens to fully respect one another and truly care for one another, to provide health care for all, to relate peacefully and respectfully with other countries, etc.  Our everyday life includes celebrating births and birthdays, graduations and weddings, and all kinds of successes, and lamenting losses and deaths.  It is precisely in all these ways that we relate, or don't relate, to God on an everyday basis.  And it is all these concerns, joys and sorrows that we should bring to Mass and that should be explicitly recognized, considered, celebrated and/or lamented at the altar.  Who would miss such a Mass?  For example, how meaningful is a wedding or funeral Mass compared to a Sunday Mass?

   One obstacle to overcome is the clerical training of the priests.  They were trained in seminaries that kept them away from the everyday world--and also in many cases from any effective understanding of the Bible and of a mature spirituality for the laity.  Some manage to overcome this handicap, but for the most part their backgrounds are the basis for the complaint about bad sermons.  One result is that the people in the pews (about 30% of all Catholics) have been lulled into not expecting anything relevant at Mass, e.g., "I love Father's sermons.  He's so funny!"  And those Catholics who rightfully expected the Mass to relate to their everyday life in today's world have walked away.

   In following posts, I'll show how we can get truly and effectively involved in the Mass.


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