A serious problem is developing in American Catholicism — namely, the decline in regular weekend attendance at worship services in a church.
With this decline inevitably comes a diminished sense of personal Catholic identity, and then, obviously, a slackened sense of commitment to Catholic beliefs and moral principles.
Contributing to this decline is the “shopping around” for parishes, greatly enabled by the easy mobility in our society, but also by the subjective view of the Mass that many Catholics have assumed. Added to the mix is the effect of fewer parochial schools, anchors that kept families close to their parish.
People choose their parishes no longer according to the neighborhood in which they live, but because they like, or dislike, the pastor, or the music, or the décor of the church, or the friendliness of the people, or the schedule of the liturgy. There may be an argument with the pastor, or the parish secretary, or the religious education director, or whomever.
This “shopping around” often is the first step toward dropping the habit of regular weekend attendance at Mass. Priests are transferred. Music directors come and go. The church may be redecorated.
With no alternative parish that meets all the personal requisites, many people simply stop going or go rarely. Then their ties to the Church weaken.
None of this likely will change for the better any time soon. The Catholic situation increasingly will be affected as churches are closed, and as Masses are celebrated less frequently because of the lack of priests. With fewer options to find preferred homilies or music or décor, Catholics accustomed to picking and choosing their place of worship will have fewer choices. Travelling longer distances to attend Mass will aggravate the problem. Under these conditions, will people be less likely to go far or to make concessions?
Not only is attendance regularly and weekly at Mass a concern, but very many Catholics — traditionalists as much as liberals — choose a “cafeteria model” for the Church and for their own views about religion and religious principles. They accept this, but they reject that.
This “cafeteria model” understandably corresponds with an attitude literally overtaking popular religious opinion in this country, absolutely within the mainline Protestant congregations, but also in the Catholic Church.
It is the attitude that religion is personal, subjective and individual. It has not hit the Catholic Church as strongly as Protestants — yet. However, this mindset definitely is affecting the Catholic Church in this country. The signs are not good.
On top of all this the general popular inclination that ignores, and indeed belittles, religion, and the popular media that, at best, never gives religion nor certainly Catholicism the slightest benefit, will have much negative impact.
I am reminded of an elderly Irish-American woman who attended Mass every day in her old parish church. As she aged and was widowed, she had to move far across town to be near her daughter. No longer able to drive, she insisted that her daughter had to pick her up every morning, rain or shine, and, of course, every Sunday, to take her to Mass in a new parish. The new church was different in almost every respect from the church in which she worshipped for a lifetime. She could not understand a word that the foreign-born pastor said. The music was — lively.
Why did she go? Her firm, short answer was, “The Mass is the Mass.”
Amen. The Mass is the Mass. Catholics must resolve that they will go to Mass and be with the Church.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor