Connecting the Dots

What happens to a Church when:

  1. Its Sunday attendance drops from over 80% of members to only 27% of its members attending weekly?
  2. When the Birthrate of its members drops below replacement due to contraception and abortion?
  3. When it’s members have seldom been trained to evangelize?
  4. When It’s members prefer to fit in to the world around them?
  5. When the majority of its members see faith merely as a private matter?
  6. When the majority of its members see the sacraments merely as rituals rather than saving medicine?
  7. When the majority of its members are more influenced by popular culture than by the teachings of the Church and Scriptures?
  8. When catechesis in that Church has been poor for decades?

Start connecting these dots and they spell trouble. They also spell “church closings.” Throughout the Nation Catholic Schools are closing at an alarming rate. Parishes are closing too: Last year Scranton closed 90 of its Catholic Parishes, Cleveland closed 50. These churches were once filled and busy. They grew empty as Church attendance in the US dropped from over 80% in the 1950s to 27% today and as the average number of children in Catholic families shrunk from almost 7 in the 1950s to less than 2 today.

I am aware that there are demographic shifts too. Some city centers have depopulated as people moved to the suburbs. But that only explains a litle of the drop. In the end the Church is about people and when people loose the sense that their presence is essential to the Church’s health, then the Church suffers. There are more Catholics today than ever before in this country (Almost 70 million). The only denomination that even comes close are the Southern Baptists with 16 million members. And our overall numbers have been growing each year thanks especially to immigration. But the number of PRACTICING Catholics keeps dropping. And now it has become critical. We can no longer sustain and maintain the praishes, schools, hospitals, seminaries and convents we once did.

Consider well how essential your faithfulness and attendance are:

If you are steady in your attendance, recommit yourself to this and become and evangelizer, drawing back to God’s House your family members who have drifted away.

If you are one who has drifted or fallen away from the practice of your faith, please see your  attendance as absolutely critical. If you have never been told this, I am telling you now: we need you, we need your gifts and talents, we need your support and prayer. Without you we perish.

All of us have to be serious about the situation and start connecting the dots. The Church is currently very injured by a great falling away. We have to commit, recommit and become better eveangelizers. Otherwise we will see more of what is displayed in these videos. Church and school closings are a great loss, not only for us but also for the communities we serve. In the end the Church is about God with his people. Commit to God and the Church!

13 Replies to “Connecting the Dots”

  1. Re #1

    Back in the early 90’s I attended a funeral Mass for a community-band friend who passed away after a brief illness.

    I arrived at the church knowing that I could not take Communion (because I am a Lutheran), but expecting to otherwise participate in the liturgy.

    We sung the opening hymn…OK.

    We said the general confession…OK.

    Then there was the Gloria…using a setting that clearly was NOT the one in the front of the Missalette (sp?). I thumbed through the book in vain, trying to find the music that matched what I was hearing. I gave it up for lost, and faked it, along with the rest of the liturgy as best as I could. [Those in my immediate vicinity were of no help – they also were community-band members who were non-Catholics.]

    Then there was the Psalm…which apparently was in a separate book, a copy of which did NOT happen to be in my pew.

    So, instead of participating in my friend’s funeral Mass, giving thanks for his life and praying for him, I spent most of the Mass looking like an idiot. Needless to say, I was frustrated by the whole experience. Actually, I was infuriated. I walked out of that Mass feeling like an unwelcome outsider.

    In the decade I’ve been married to my Catholic husband, and as we’ve attended Mass at different parishes when we travel, I’ve noted that each parish has its own preferred Mass setting. When my in-laws (who faithfully attend Mass each week) visit, I (the Lutheran heretic) have to help them find the Mass setting, because what we use is not what they use in their home parish.

    My experience at the funeral Mass, and that of my in-laws when they visit us, and, for that matter, that of those who venture in to Mass after a long absence, would be much different if the cantor would announce which setting of the Mass was being used and on which page the liturgical music could be found. One feels so much more welcome when one knows what is going on! Who wants to spend an hour feeling like an idiot?

    1. Not a bad insight. Many communities and priests think they are doing a good thing when they distort the liturgy or engage in unpermitted innovation. They claim they are being relevant. But usually liturgical disobedience only divides and alienates as you note.

      1. Actually the liturgy wasn’t being distorted – it was another Official Setting that turned out to be in the BACK of the missalette. I had no idea there were other settings in there, until I was married to my husband for several years, and we visited a parish that made a point of accommodating visitors by announcing where the setting used could be found. I turned to the page noted, and there it was! Who knew?

        There are various editions of the Missal used in the US, and frankly I don’t think the ones I’ve seen are particularly user-friendly. Start with the Confession at the front, flip-flip-flip-flip pages to find the liturgy, flip-flip-flip-flip to find the readings & psalm, flip-flip-flip-flip to go back to the liturgy. One can miss half the liturgy with all the flip-flip-flipping! And that’s presuming one has an idea where the various parts are printed in the book.

  2. Well…
    There is a short little book published in 2003 that outlines this crisis:
    Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, the Church since Vatican II. by Kenneth C. Jones.
    In the introduction the author quotes the then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope):
    “Certainly the results (of Vatican II) seem cruelly opposed to the expectations of everyone…Expected was a new enthusiasm, and many wound up discouraged and bored…it is incontrovertible that this period has defintely been unfavorable for the Catholic Church”

    The interesting thing to all this crisis talk is from everything I have heard / read about the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the various other “traditionalist” orders is that their seminaries have to turn away men every year for lack of space… I’m not saying that every Latin Mass you see out there is standing room only, it just seems that a great number of people who have strong religious sensibilities seek out the “old Latin Mass”..

    O God, Thou wilt turn again and give us life.
    And thy people shall rejoice in Thee. -Psalm 84

    1. Yes there are areas of the Church that are curently thriving. One thing seems clear, all the areas that trhive are authentic to the magisterium, have a proper reverence for tradition and are clearly and unambiguously articulating the faith. As for the Latin Mass, per se, I celebrate in the extraordinary form frequently and also observe your point that many are seeking it out who have strong religious sensibilities. However, there are other areas of Church life as well that are undergoing a great revival and there are also new movements. I think the Traditional Latin Mass is surely a leader among these movements but we must also recognize that the Holy Spirit is reviving segments of the Church in many areas. I hope to see the TLM grow in influence becuase I share your basic insight but would only like to add the notion that we see it as among a number of important signs of renewal.

    1. Thanks for this link. My favorite lines from the quote are these:

      “Many ecclesial communities senselessly fell into self-secularization; attempting to please those who would not come, they witnessed many whom they had, leave them, deceived and disillusioned…. In this desert of God, the new generation feels a great thirst for transcendency.”

  3. Msgr. Pope, sometimes the way I think about the problem of decreasing numbers is as follows: perhaps it’s a good thing? Of course it’s not good for “business” or the public image of the Catholic Church, but perhaps it is a sort of recession that (like what is happening with the financial system) can serve as an opportunity of revealing, addressing, and fixing the problems that caused it in the first place.

    Another analogy might be that of a body. The Church sometimes prides itself on how big it is, which I guess is good. But is it’s size healthy or sustainable? It is very clear that so many Catholics are spiritually obese and are almost like fat on its body, its being. The current decrease in numbers might not be a sign that God is losing, but that God is working in the Church to help it lose some weight and make it a healthier, more vibrant, more sincere institution capable of spreading the gospel effectively. Historically these times of crises have given birth to great movements in the Church, so I for one and excited as to how we all will respond to the times we find ourselves in.

    1. Yes, it may be true that God intends to prune the Church at this time. Prunning is a necessary step for many plants to strengthen them for the days ahead. Perhaps the Lord intends a smaller more intense and dedicated Church for difficult days ahead. I am mindful of the sotry of Gideon in the Bible (Judges 7) wherein God tells Gideon that his army is too large. Ultimately in several stages God things Gideon’s army from 30,000 men to 300 and sends them out against an army of 60.000 Midianites. The 300 won by the way. SO perhaps this is our lot today. That said, it does not follow that we are without sin in this matter. God told Gideon to send the cowards home. Why are there “cowards” aming us. WHere do the lukewarm come from? Why has intensity died. While this may be inevitable in large Churches, it does not follow that we are without blame for the fact that God has to prune us, or to use your image, that we are overwieght.

  4. It’s good to ask those questions and reflect on how things got to be the way they are now. But even among the pruned – i.e. the cowards, lukewarm, etc. – we have to keep in mind perhaps a more central example. Jesus, when the going got tough, was abandoned by lukewarm and cowardly apostles. These are the same guys who we have statues of all over the place! What I personally draw from this fact was that even cowards and lukewarm and persecutors, like Paul, can turn out to do tremendous work for God. Though it’s difficult to see with our lenses zoomed in to present circumstances, and though it’s frustrating because we want to be able to recruit them back as quickly as possible, we have to remember the bigger picture that is illustrated in the Bible and throughout history about how God works in this life. Once again, I found your “feeling worthless” post quite an inspiring snapshot of this bigger picture.

  5. When our Holy Father was the Prefect of “The congregation for the propagation of Faith”, he lamented at the deformation of the Holy Mass Liturgy. He decried the WRONG impression that arose during the 2 decades of disobedience after Vatican II, that there was only ‘ACTIVE PARTICIPATION’ when there was discernable EXTERNAL ACTIVITY—speaking, singing, preaching, reading, and shaking hands. (Chapter IX, Radzinger report). I myself would add holding hands during “The Our Father” or hands outstretched like the priest. It is never boring to entertain the Lord in giving Him glory. When one says Liturgy is boring, one is looking to be entertained instead of the other way around.

    In our Parish Church, right after the “Ite misa est” and “Deo gracias”, the church becomes like a conference hall, a sacred place not to house man worshipping (or talking to each other) but Christ worshipped. I once asked our Parish priest why he condones talking and what I got was a steely-eyed look of condescension. This is just one simple example of so many aberrations. Respectfully, Msgr. Charles Pope, in my humble opinion, we are in this mess because our past bishops and priests did not do their jobs. (One glaring example to me is that, of over 200 supposedly Catholic Universities, only 22 authentic ones are left.). The Holy Mass is supposed to be the universal Church’s celebration in the individual parish, I humbly suggest to stick to the Rubrics, something a priest is not permitted to change and yet I see a lot of deformations.(Why is this, Msgr.?) I further suggest that all parish priests should watch EWTN and adhere to the proper way.

    There are many examples I could give you, Msgr., but I think you know them all. Our catholicity has declined tremendously because of too much liberalization. The most reverent way to approach our Lord Jesus Christ is with awe (receiving Holy Communion on one’s hand has been a disaster. Let us all go back to receiving it on the tongue because nobody is worthy, I repeat, no one is worthy to touch Him except your consecrated hands. You say you need us, the laity. In my humble opinion, we need you more. The devil really knows where to attack. Attack the shepherd and the sheep (laity) scatter.

    Lastly Msgr., I always remind my family, both immediate and extended, that the 10 commandments and the Precepts of the Church are not SUGGESTIONS. They are COMMANDS!!!

  6. This is the result of NO CATECHESIS…. NO honor to The Blessed Sacrament by the bishops and the total ignoring of the True Faith since Vatican II. When we finally wake up to that fact…. this will continue and it will get much worse. The muslims are getting stronger while the Catholics are getting weaker…. Why??? because their leaders have discipline….. That is all they have…. but they do show it!!!

    We get petitions from all over the world from all creeds…… We know the sad situation with the Arab countries…. but, we as Catholics, do not have the leadership to fight it…..

    God Bless and protect us….

    Junette Merwin,
    Fatima, Portugal

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