Thursday, April 28, 2011

Laying the Blame Where it Belongs

A Facebook friend posted this video today from on what the Pope has to say about the state of Catholic faith in the world today.  While the Pope makes some really good points about the need for re-evangelization of our own people, the RCTV commentator chooses to interpret the fault as lying with bishops and priests who allow abuses in the Novus Ordo liturgy... a typical attack stance among those who see the Latin Mass as the cure for everything that ails the Church.  Take a look. The Pope's comments, sifted out from his Holy Week homilies, are worth hearing:


Now, taking the Pope's comments at face value, we hear that his fear is that many Catholics are lukewarm in their faith and either unable to discern evil when they encounter it, or simply able to dismiss evil.  That sounds like the malaise of a post-modern, self-centered, consumeristic culture, not just a failure to celebrate the Mass well. Certainly good celebration of the liturgy is a factor that helps transform people and the Eucharist of itself has the power to convert. But, if Catholic adults are poorly catechized and do not participate in opportunities to be formed in faith other than the Mass, the majority are not going to experience conversion through the Mass alone.

A chicken and egg issue, you say?  Sort of.  Does deep conversion happen because you celebrate Mass well, or do you celebrate Mass well because you are deeply converted? Both. (Lex orandi, lex credendi and all that!)  But just as necessary is good faith formation and re-evangelization of people who already think they are Catholic, but who in reality never learned what faith has to do with real life. We need to reach them with a sense that Catholic faith is not just a one hour on Sunday factor in their lives, but an entire lifestyle.

One answer is not simply eliminating "liturgical abuse", in the sense that it is usually thought of. Better, more inspired liturgical celebrations that lead people to a sense of the sacred is certainly called for.  If "lukewarm" liturgy is an abuse, however, it is not just endemic to the Novus Ordo.   Better liturgical formation of both clergy and of the laity is one possible and needed solution. The General Directory for Catechesis listed liturgical catechesis as one of the "doctrinal lacunae" in the content of catechesis.  If people do not truly understand the Mass in all its depth, how can they be open to conversion by celebrating it? The current implementation period for the new Roman Missal is certainly a ready-made opportunity to renew our understanding of the Mass and its potential.

However, even beyond renovating our celebrations, we need to focus attention on providing good overall catechesis and opportunities for conversion of Catholic adults.  Too many remain in a child-like understanding of faith because they have had little or no formation since they were children. Jonathan Sullivan of the Diocese of Springfield, IL explores that dynamic very well in this recent post on where adults really are in their faith development.  Another underpinning for the converted life is good experiences of scripture study and prayer (thanks to Marc Cardonella.)  

If parish communities were to provide good adult faith formation that speaks to where people actually are, leading them to a lived understanding of what Catholics believe (Creed) good liturgical understanding  (Sacraments), a knowledge of how Catholics should make decisions and treat others (Life in Christ), deep experiences of prayer methods and practices  (Prayer), underpinned by experiences that enable them to develop appreciation and love of Scripture, it could change Catholic adults into functioning passionate disciples of Jesus Christ....  Well, doesn't that sound familiar?  This is, of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, supported by Bible study - the basic content of all catechesis.  Adults with a full understanding of how the content of faith relates to their lived experiences turn around and celebrate that well by fully and deeply participating in the Mass... which can lead them to deeper conversion through the Eucharist.

So, yes, the Pope is right to be concerned. However, the answer is not as simple as going back to the old Latin Mass or eliminating "liturgical abuse" by clergy and laity in the Novus Ordo parishes. What we have, my friends, is a failure to catechize.  We have, as I have often said, failed to help people discover why faith matters.


  1. "What we have, my friends, is a failure to catechize."

    Yes. And even in parishes where substantial adult catechesis is available, only a fraction of the adults will attend; and they are usually those who have already been catechizing themselves.

  2. I couldn't agree more. The Mass itself should be sufficient to make everyone saints. ONE Mass should be enough. Why doesn't it work that way? We don't understand the value.

    Latin Mass will not, in itself, fix the problems. If it could, there wouldn't have been the widespread exodus of the faithful in the 60's...all people that grew up and celebrated the Tridentine Mass.

    Only conversion will accomplish these goals! And people won't be converted without catechesis. Most certainly the Mass won't convert without catechesis. We need to be taught how to draw graces from it.