Why Families Need Traditional Parishes

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Life Site News recently published a thoughtful opinion piece, What I’m Never Going to Tell You About Homeschooling,by Elizabeth Foss. I recommend this article to all homeschool families or those who may be considering it for their children.

In short the author reminds people that, while homeschooling may give families a “better shot” of raising holy children who will grow up to be faithful adults, it is by no means a guarantee. No matter what curriculum or preparations that parents employ, there will always be children who make bad choices and fall away from the faith. We must not be prideful or naive in our human efforts, and must continue to strive in personal holiness while praying for our children. I will add that we also must not underestimate the depravity and allure of the world, or overestimate our ability to maintain virtue and holiness through reason alone. While Ms. Foss focuses on our roles as parents, I wish to expand the topic to discuss the roles played by our Catholic parishes in the formation of our children.

The Catholic Church has always recognized that parents are the primary catechists of their children; however, few would dispute that the parish church is of vital importance. The parish is an important refuge for families where they can not only receive the sacraments, but also find fellowship with other families, learn more about their faith, and share in the devotional life of the Church which in turn serves as a means to pass along the faith to younger generations.

Isolation from the world is not the goal; rather the parish provides a shelter where young Catholics can be trained to defend their faith before going out into the world. Similar to what we ask of St. Michael, the parish provides “protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil, who prowls about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

As an analogy, consider the modern military base. A military that allowed enemy soldiers onto the base, or one that attempted to train their newest recruits in the thick of a battle, might not yield the best training outcome. Instead new recruits are trained on military bases surrounded by tall fences and armed patrols in order to provide them with shelter. They receive combat training from battle hardened experts who teach them how to recognize and defeat the enemy. The soldiers are molded into cohesive units where bonds are formed and accountability to one another is instilled.

This too is how we need to transmit the faith to our children. Our children need a sheltered environment in which they can practice virtue and learn how to exercise their free will in a way that is most pleasing to God. They need a shelter in which bad decisions are met by a peer group of faithful Catholics who will hold them accountable in a loving way – not a secular peer group that will often celebrate their bad decisions. Only in our sick modern culture is providing shelter for a child considered a pejorative.

With this in mind, it is important for us to make an honest assessment of the state of the Church in the context of the vocations shortage and consider what type of formation and sacramental life we can expect from our parishes.

In one seemingly typical American diocese who publishes statistics, the ratio of active Catholics to priests is about 3,700 to 1. We can presume that this ratio will continue to get worse as the baby boomer generation of clergy continues to retire and pass away each year. With few exceptions globally, the pace of retirements and deaths of priests are severely outpacing ordinations with no relief  in sight. The ecclesial crisis in Europe is even more grim. It would be naïve to think that the crisis will not become this severe here in the United States.  

Consider what parish life is like now and try to imagine what it will be like with a ratio of 5,000 Catholics to 1 priest or even 10,000 to 1. Ratios such as these may very well occur in our lifetimes. Imagine how difficult will it be to receive the Sacraments? Will there be a priest available to administer last rites when the time comes for you or a member of your family? Will spiritual direction even exist anymore or will it be a distant memory? How long will it take to schedule a baptism or to schedule an appointment on Father’s calendar?  

We must concede that we are now living in a post-Christian country. When the moral foundations of the world are crumbling, at the same time as the sacramental life of the Church is in decline, what are parents supposed to do? How are we to give our children the formation they will need to stand any sort of fighting chance in the world? While Ms. Foss paints a grim picture, there is good reason to believe that it may actually get a whole lot worse. She enjoins us to pray and continue striving for our children, but I feel  there is more that can be done.

Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, provides us an  alternative form of parish for which these dangerous trends  do not apply: parishes devoted solely to the Extraordinary Form or Traditional Latin Mass as it is also known. Setting aside all discussions about the liturgy itself, there is a compelling case for Catholic families, even those who might not prefer the Traditional Latin Mass, to start attending for the sake of their children.  

First consider that these parishes have been provided to the faithful by the Church herself and they exist in almost every metro area in the country (my diocese excluded –harrumph!) with more locations being added every year. The parishes I am referring to are in full communion with the Catholic Church, which has also decreed that the Traditional Latin Mass, “remains sacred and great … and it cannot be considered harmful.”

For the most part, these parishes are run by religious orders  such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (F.S.S.P.), among others.  These traditional orders are overflowing with vocations.  Unlike many diocesan parishes, even small parishes dedicated to the Extraordinary Form are  often  staffed by two or three priests and the larger parishes can swell to as many as three to five priests. The ratios of faithful to priest at these parishes is sometimes closer to 300 to 1, which is practically unattainable with diocesan priests. A typical diocesan parish would require 10-15 priests to get near that ratio.  

At these traditional parishes there are well-formed priests leading, or principally involved in, almost every aspect of parish life: sports, devotions, altar serving, mission trips, fellowship, spiritual direction, and catechesis. Additionally, these priests are thoroughly orthodox.  

I travel often for my job and I have visited a dozen  parishes  of this sort around the country.  Even as a visiting stranger, the people there are without exception joyful and welcoming to me. When you go to these parishes, you will also see that family life is flourishing.  

There are families who go to Mass on Sunday morning and bring picnic lunches onto the lawn while their kids play until Solemn Benediction in the late afternoon. They celebrate Feast Days with processions and have festivals with live music, potlucks, and pig roasts. These parishes are restoring Catholic traditions and devotions that had been long forgotten.  People have been inspired to dig through their attics to retrieve antique Catholic heirlooms that have been handed down by their ancestors. They come to Mass with their great-grandmother’s old hand missal that is filled with lists of her old prayer intentions. They are making a profound connection with the faith of their fathers and handing that on to their children.

Just as Ms. Foss correctly stated in reference to home-schooling, there are also no guarantees that apply to these Latin Mass parishes as well. These communities are made up of imperfect humans like any other diocesan parish. Having a parish that provides a full traditional Sacramental life to this degree will, however, provide families with an even “better shot”…and our children are going to need every shot they can get. These parishes are not made for Catholics who are stronger in their faith, but rather, they are for those who simply recognize their own human frailty and want to do something about it.  

If you have a parish dedicated to the Extraordinary Form in your diocese, I encourage you to join.  If not, and you desire this type of parish life, then I encourage you to take the necessary steps to join together with other likeminded Catholics to respectfully communicate your spiritual needs to your bishop.

[The preceding guest post was written by Chris Lauer.  Chris is one of the founders of the Charlotte Latin Mass Community and a member of the Confraternity of St. Peter. Professionally he works as a consultant in the technology field. He resides in Charlotte North Carolina with his wife Katherine and their five children.]

Posted on January 19, 2016, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Excellent article! I came back to NC from Texas this year. While in Texas, I was part of an FSSP parish and the difference is striking. It was exactly as you said. Parish breakfast after Mass, picnics at the nearby park almost every Sunday depending on weather. 100% of the families home school, babies and children everywhere. And SO welcoming!!

  2. I cannot argue with the value of a fully traditional parish (and wish I had one near me). One small quibble:

    “We can presume that this ratio will continue to get worse as the baby boomer generation of clergy continues to retire and pass away each year.”

    The flip side of this coin, however, is that the baby boomer generation of LAITY will also be leaving the scene – and that’s mostly who’s filling many Catholic parishes today. Certainly in my neck of the woods.

    So this might well mitigate a deterioration in the clergy-laity ratio – but not for a good reason.

  3. Interesting no mention is made of the Society of St. Pius X which prays for the Holy Father and local bishop in every Mass, is canonically established. is not schismatic, is not illicit, is not heretical, is not excommunicated. Its sacraments are valid, its priests are validly and licitly ordained and it has jurisdiction because of necessity as covered in canon law. It has many schools, retreat centers, and summer camps which is not so with FSSP. The SSPX continues the Tradition that was handed down and hopefully will return to the Church which is currently dominated by Modernists. St. Pius X said there are five marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Persecuted. The FSSP is not persecuted. The SSPX is persecuted.

  4. When you say the FSSP priests are orthodox, what do you mean? As Vatican II changed some of the doctrines of the Church and you say they are in full communion with the Church, isn’t this a contradiction?

    • I was unaware Vatican II changed doctrine. I didn’t think doctrine, once declared, is open to change. As I understand it, VII was a pastoral council dealing mainly with practices regarding the Church engaging the modern world and never declared doctrine ex cathedra.

      BTW, I am not affiliated with either the FSSP or the SSPX. My family and I just began to attend a small TLM diocesan Mass out in the middle of the cornfields…not very convenient but we’ll take what we can get and plan our upcoming move for retirement.

  5. It’s hard to find a so-called ‘ Traditional Parish ‘ in some places. For example: The Bishop of the Milwaukee Diocese has mandated the use of the Government Curriculum called ‘Common Core’ in all the schools. We’ve had Priests in this Diocese tell grade school children ‘there is no hell’, and ‘the Bible is just a book of stories – it’s not historical’. One Parish may have a traditional – heart’d Priest, but a Progressive Administration way off the Roman Catholic rail(s). Another Parish may have a truly Catholic Administration but a far left Priest who’s more than Theologically challenged. While it’s true the kids may ( likely ) take a sabbatical from the Church after High School – upon leaving the nest, it’s also true we’re not going to help ourselves, or our kids, by placing them in a Parish that’s anything but Catholic. They’d be better off in a ‘traditional Christian school’ or in a ‘home school’, than somewhere in and during their formative years that they’re being intentionally confused about the Roman Catholic Religion.

  6. I am a TLM goer and in some cases I agree with this article, but in others I don’t. I have been to FSSP Parishes, and I can say that the number of people attending varies greatly. In some locations, there isn’t this large renaissance of people clamoring to join from throughout the Diocese. In fact, the collection at one church I visit to was so small, it is a wonder how they kept the lights on in the place. It may take several generations to build up that type of church body. While that isn’t necessarily bad, it is going to be a long road ahead.

    My other issue with FSSP Parishes is that they rob the Diocese of the ability to open up churches that have Masses in both forms. This is very important if we want to grow the TLM community in a given Diocese. When FSSP Parishes open, there is this sucking sound that occurs in the other Diocese Parishes of any members partial to the older form. What do you think the chances are that Father at “Our Lady of the Ordinary Form” is now going to learn the Extraordinary Form of the Mass? Zero if an FSSP Parish is in town. It also makes it very convenient for Father to say, ” We have a Parish here that does that form of the Mass (don’t let the door hit you on the way out- troublemaker).” Thus, I argue it deprives the ability for people who are unfamiliar with that form of the Mass from even trying it and Priests in the Diocese from learning it.

    Though you take great pains to state this not isolationism, it is at best tribalism. I was for many a years a Liberal, “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholic. Up and until about 2013, I had never heard of the FSSP, never been to a TLM (I was never invited by our TLM community or knew it even existed), sang Marty Haugen and Protestant tunes at Mass, took Communion in the hand, clapped and jammed to the choir’s “performance” at the end of Mass, and immediately started talking to my neighbor after Mass was over. I went back to sinning for the rest of the week, and then back to Mass on Sunday. After all, Confession wasn’t important. It took a lot of self-teaching, self-learning, and self-spiritual development for me to realize what was happening. It wasn’t until 2014 I attended my first TLM. Now, what would have happened if there was a TLM group in the Parish or a Pastor who was truly concerned with my development? 21 years I had been a Catholic, but so much of that time was wasted and mired in bad liturgy. How many more like me are out there? That question keeps me up at night, and it should keep TLM goers up as well. After all, isn’t one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy to Instruct the Ignorant?

    • “When FSSP Parishes open, there is this sucking sound that occurs in the other Diocese Parishes of any members partial to the older form.”

      Oh, undoubtedly. And that is the quandary we’ve had to face, especially since Summorum was promulgated, opening up the freedom (well, in theory, if not always in practice) for pastors and priests everywhere to celebrate the TLM in their parishes. It is harder to do when the most tradition-supportive laity have fled for the local FSSP or ICRSS (or whathaveyou) apostolate.

      And Tradition can only win when it’s a common part of the spiritual life of the wider Church once again – and that means regular parishes. The Ecclesia Dei societies have only so many priests; they can only grow so fast. The same is true for traditional monastic establishments. They cannot be everywhere.

      But I will say this: It’s hard for me to blame a Catholic family who decide to decamp to a full traditional parish. It’s not just about no longer having the energy to fight battles with the local parish. It’s about having access to the full package of traditional spiritual formation and parish life. You can’t really get that from a parish offering a one-off TLM once a week, no matter how successful it is. It’s a case where the interest of the traditionalist family conflicts with what might be best for the wider Church, at least in the short term. And the family has to put the interests of its children first.

  7. “Deliver Us…a religious cult vs Richmond, NH.” A group of displaced Traditional ‘feeneyite catholics’ bullying and intimidating a small town. Amazon

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