Earlier today blogger Taylor Marshall wrote about Catholic youth who are leaving the Church in droves by the time they reach their twenties. The data comes from author Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). While Dr. Marshall incorrectly states that upwards of 80% of ALL Catholics will leave the Church by the age of 23, the actual data (which comes from the Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey from 2008) is still quite sobering. What the Pew survey did reveal is that 79% of those cradle Catholics who eventually leave the Church will do so by the age 23. The same study also found that an astonishing 1 in 10 Americans are ex-Catholics, practically a denomination unto itself.
Many Catholics are fully aware of this tragic trend, if not specifically then at least intuitively. There is an ever growing industry within the Church of very clever folks, clergy and laity alike, who spend a great deal of time and energy advising us how we will stop the bleeding of this ecclesial wound and then, hopefully, reverse the tide. As I have blogged about before this polling and marketing approach is completely missing the point; as is the recent approach touted by others, such as the book Rebuilt (Ave Maria Press, 2013), which suggests that Catholic parishes incorporate the style and “substance” of popular evangelical mega churches to attract new parishioners.
Are You Ready for Some Football?
As the National Football League has just begun the 2013/14 season, I would like to employ a football analogy. Many in the Church today are like those NFL owners who observe a stadium of empty seats and lackluster fans and start devising creative ways to recapture the fan base. Is it the halftime activities? Maybe the cheerleaders? Not enough promotional give aways? All is considered except the actual product on the field. The real issue is simply this: is the team a winner? Fans turnout to support a winning team that plays real football. Winning football. Style, no matter how creative and “new”, is not going to compensate for a losing team. When a team wins games the fans ultimately turn out.
In the NFL, a winning team is one that plays fundamentally sound football: ball control and defense. Run the ball well when you need to, don’t turn the ball over, and play solid defense for four quarters. Do these basics well and your team will win a majority of the time. So, what is “fundamentally sound” Catholicism?
The Most Beautiful Thing This Side of Heaven
Reverent and sacred liturgy. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered reverently. Beauty and a sense of the transcendent and sacred within the liturgy. Offer the Mass in a manner consistent with a faith tradition which has endured for two millennium, surviving apostasy and heresies of various kinds. Offer a liturgy that shows the faithful, particularly our youth, that Jesus Christ is actually, really and truly present in the Eucharist.
If we as the Body of Christ, the People of God, treat the Blessed Sacrament like it’s just a piece of bread, then our youth will see it as just that. If we treat the Holy Mass as a rock concert featuring Protestant praise and worship music from the 1990’s, then our youth will simply go to where the “entertainment factor” is superior. It is interesting to note here that the same 2008 Pew Survey also found that, just like the overall population, 10 percent of todays Protestants are former Catholics. This shouldn’t be surprising to any of us.
Catechesis is integral as well. Catholics will leave the faith if they do not understand what they have. How many people would walk away from the Eucharist if they truly understood the Real Presence? How many would be “seeking Jesus” in other communities if they understood that He is waiting for them in the tabernacle?
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi
However, the very best catechesis is either reinforced by beautiful liturgy or contradicted by irreverence. So many of our Catholic youth have seen the sacred replaced by the profane as every effort is made to make the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass into something cozy and casual; something cool and fun. T-shirts and shorts, loud and interactive, more like an assembly or pep rally.
What our Catholic youth may not know intellectually regarding liturgical worship, they understand instinctively. If the Mass doesn’t “ring true” to them, they will fall away; and they have for several decades. If only 30 percent of those raised Catholic still practice their faith, then we have an obligation to unflinchingly tackle this problem head on!
What I write about here at Liturgy Guy is directly related to this contemporary crisis. As a father of five children who is also blessed to belong to a thriving, traditional, parish I have personally witnessed the faith “working” in peoples lives. The Mass matters. How we worship is how we believe. Lex orandi, lex credendi.