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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.]

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