It was April 23, 1985. After 99 years of producing America’s number one soda Coca Cola did the unthinkable. They replaced the beloved Coke that everyone had always known with “New” Coke. Millions were spent in advertising. Celebrities were recruited as spokespeople. The publicity was there. The support for the roll out was well coordinated. There was only one problem. As reported over at NBCNews.com:
But public reaction was overwhelmingly negative; some people likened the change in Coke to trampling the American flag.
Soon people were hoarding cases of the old stuff. In June 1985, Newsweek reported that savvy black marketeers sold old Coke for $30 a case. A Hollywood producer, giving an old vintage its proper respect, reportedly rented a wine cellar to hold 100 cases of the old Coke.
On July 11, 1985 (after only 79 days and millions of dollars in advertising) New Coke was pulled off the store shelves forever.
So what went wrong?
There are two significant lessons that can be learned from the entire New Coke debacle. First, despite all the extensive taste testing and marketing research the executives at Coca Cola failed to grasp a very simple fact: no one asked for Coke to change the flavor of its soda. Second, no matter how well something is packaged and promoted in the end the quality of the product is what counts.
So what does any of this have to do with the Catholic Church and the New Evangelization?
First, a definition. What is the New Evangelization? Veteran Catholic reporter and NCR columnist John L. Allen, Jr. defines it as such:
“(T)he New Evangelization aims to reach out to alienated Catholics who in many cases have become secularized. Europe and North America are a special preoccupation, because that’s where a disproportionate share of these “distant Christians” are found.
Now, let’s translate all that into language that non-theologians can understand.
In a nutshell, the “New Evangelization” is about salesmanship. The idea is to move the Catholic product in the crowded lifestyle marketplace of the post-modern world.”
These days everyone is seeking to package a “Catholic product” in a manner that will engage Catholics and keep them from abandoning the faith of their fathers. Of course, there is nothing new to what we are hearing. This has been the battle cry of progressives for over a generation. It is believed, for some reason, that the Catholic faith in its fullest and most authentic presentation is apparently not convincing enough to evangelize the world.
First and foremost, the belief in repackaging our faith has been most visibly seen in the Mass. In far to many parishes we have seen, in the words of our Pope emeritus, a “fabricated liturgy”. Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland believes that the liturgy is a necessity for successful evangelization:
I am solidly convinced that an authentic and faithful renewal and reform of the sacred liturgy is not only part of the New Evangelization—it is essential to its fruitfulness…
If we do not get the sacred liturgy right, I fear that we will just be spinning our wheels rather than getting the New Evangelization going in the right direction. If we are transformed by the sacred liturgy, then we…can help transform the culture.
In a recent interview, Cardinal Raymond Burke (who as the Prefect for the Apostolic Signatura is the highest ranking American bishop in the Roman Curia) was asked about the importance of the liturgy in today’s Church as well as its role in evangelization. Cardinal Burke said that the liturgy was “fundamental” to both.
What is ultimately the lesson we should learn from the entire New Coke episode of 1985? As a Church we do not need to spend time worrying about what creative ways we can “engage” Catholics. If they are leaving the Church it is not because of poor advertising.
Evangelical praise and worship songs, free give aways of the latest Matthew Kelly self-help book, Masses aimed at every demographic beginning with our Teens, ecumenical Bible studies mid-week and in the pew surveys of the faithful are not what we need for the New Evangelization. How about simply giving the “consumer” a “product” superior to everyone elses: the fullness of the Truth.
The Holy Mass
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, echoing the sentiments of Lumen Gentium, tells us that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”. (CCC 1324) Not to be profane, but THAT is our product! We have the Holy Mass.
John Allen said that the New Evangelization is about “salesmanship”. Let’s learn from Coca Cola. No matter how creative and innovative your marketing campaign may be, no matter how good your salesmanship may be, you will lose “market share” if your product is inferior. While all validly offered Masses are licit, not all are beautiful or reverent.
What is our role in the New Evangelization? To keep it from becoming the New Coke. Clergy and laity alike must work together to ensure that our liturgy is offered in a manner consistent with our heritage and worthy of our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Please let me know your thoughts about this post and about the New Evangelization.