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!

Comings and Goings

There’s a lot of talk these days about Catholics who leave the Church. And yet it also remains true that there is a steady stream of very high caliber Anglicans, Protestants and Evangelicals who are entering the Catholic Church. They bring with them a tradition of good preaching, love for God’s word and liturgical traditions as well that enrich us.

The latest example of this is a group of ten Religious Sisters from the Anglican Church who have decided to come into the Church as a group and a community. Here are some excerpts from the Catholic Newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore The Catholic Review, George P. Matysek is the author:

After seven years of prayer and discernment, a community of Episcopal nuns and their chaplain will be received into the Roman Catholic Church during a Sept. 3 Mass celebrated by Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien. The Archbishop will welcome 10 sisters from the Society of All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor when he administers the sacrament of confirmation and the sisters renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the chapel of their Catonsville convent.  Episcopal Father Warren Tanghe will also be received into the church and is discerning the possibility of becoming a Catholic priest.

Mother Christina Christie, superior of the religious community, said the sisters are “very excited” about joining the Catholic Church and have been closely studying the Church’s teachings for years. Two Episcopal nuns who have decided not to become Catholic will continue to live and minister alongside their soon-to-be Catholic sisters. Members of the community range in age from 59 to 94. …Wearing full habits with black veils and white wimples that cover their heads, the sisters have been a visible beacon of hope in Catonsville for decades. The American branch of a society founded in England, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor came to Baltimore in 1872 and have been at their current location since 1917. In addition to devoting their lives to a rigorous daily prayer regimen, the sisters offer religious retreats, visit people in hospice care and maintain a Scriptorium where they design religious cards to inspire others in the faith. Throughout their history, the sisters worked with the poor of Baltimore as part of their charism of hospitality. Some of that work has included reaching out to children with special needs and ministering to AIDS patients….Orthodoxy and unity were key reasons the sisters were attracted to the Catholic faith. Many of them were troubled by the Episcopal Church’s approval of women’s ordination, the ordination of a gay bishop and what they regarded as lax stances on moral issues. …“People who did not know us looked at us as if we were in agreement with what had been going on (in the Episcopal Church),” she said. “By staying put and not doing anything, we were sending a message which was not correct.” ….The sisters acknowledged it hasn’t been easy leaving the Episcopal Church, for which they expressed great affection. Some of their friends have been hurt by their pending departure, they said. “Some feel we are abandoning the fight to maintain orthodoxy,” said Sister Emily Ann Lindsey. “We’re not. We’re doing it in another realm right now.” In addition to worshipping in the Latin rite, the sisters are expected to receive permission to attend Mass celebrated in the Anglican-use rite – a liturgy that adapts many of the prayers from the Episcopal tradition. Mother Christina said 10 archdiocesan priests, including Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden, have stepped forward to learn how to celebrate the Anglican-use Mass.

So there you have it. We do have many leaving the Church today but the Lord is still blessing us with wonderful additions who appreciate the beauty of truth and of Catholic unity and order. They add to our diversity our depth and appreciate our distictiveness. God be praised.

The following video shows what an Anglican-use Mass looks like. There is a two minute introduction and then some video footage of the Anglican Use Mass. It looks a lot like the Old Latin Mass except that everything is in impeccable English.

A Sometimes Humorous Look at the Liturgy of the Early Church

As you may know the Catholic Faith was illegal in the Roman Empire prior to 313 AD when the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan permitting the Christian Faith to publicly flourish. Prior to that time Church buildings as we know them today were rare. Mass was usually celebrated in houses.

Now careful here. These “houses” were usually rather large, with a central courtyard or large room that permitted something a little more formal than Mass “around the dining room table.”  I remember being taught (incorrectly) that these early Masses were informal and emphasized an informal communal quality and were celebrated facing the people. Well that isn’t really true. People didn’t just sit around a table or sit in circle, not at all. They sat or stood formally and everyone faced one direction: East.

In the drawing  above right you can see the layout of an ancient House Church from the excavated 3rd Century House Church at Dura Europos (Syria). Click on the picture for a clearer view. The assembly room is to the left and a priest or bishop is conducting a liturgy facing east at and altar against the east wall. A baptistery is on the right and a deacon is guarding the entrance door. The lonely looking deacon in the back of the assembly hall is there to “preserve good order” as you will read below. The Picture below left shows the baptistery of the Dura Europa House Church.

What is remarkable about these early liturgies is how formal they were even though conducted under less than ideal circumstances. The following text is from the Didiscalia, a document written in about 250 AD. Among other things it gives rather elaborate details about the celebration of the early Catholic Mass in these “House Liturgies.” I would like to print an excerpt here and make my own comments in RED. You will find that there are some rather humorous remarks in this ancient text towards the end.

Now, in your gatherings, in the holy Church, convene yourselves modestly in places of the brethren, as you will, in a manner pleasing and ordered with care. [So these “house liturgies were NOT informal Masses. Good order and careful attention to detail was essential].  Let the place of the priests be separated in a part of the house that faces east. [So, even in these early house Masses the sanctuary, the place where the clergy ministered was an area distinct from where the laity gathered. People were not all just gathered around a dining room table.]  In the midst of them is placed the bishop’s chair, and with him let the priests be seated. Likewise, and in another section let the lay men be seated facing east. [Prayer was conducted facing to the east, not facing the people].  For thus it is proper: that the priests sit with the bishop in a part of the house to the east and after them the lay men and the lay women, [notice that men and women sat in separate sections. This was traditional in many churches until rather recently, say the last 150 years.] and  when you stand to pray, the ecclessial leaders rise first, and after them the lay men, and again, then the women. Now, you ought to face to east to pray for, as you know, scripture has it, Give praise to God who ascends above the highest heavens to the east. [Again note, Mass was NOT celebrated facing the people as some suppose of the early Church. Everyone was to face to the east, clergy and people. Everyone faced one direction. The text cites Scripture as the reason for this. God is to the East, the origin of the light.]

Now, of the deacons, one always stands by the eucharistic oblations and the others stand outside the door watching those who enter [Remember, this was a time of persecution and the early Christians were careful only to allow baptized and bona fide members to enter the sacred mysteries. No one was permitted to enter Sacred liturgy until after having been baptized. This was called the disciplina arcanis or “discipline of the secret.” Deacons guarded the door to maintain this discipline], and afterwards, when you offer let them together minister in the church. [Once the door was locked and the Mass begin it would seem that the deacons took their place in the sanctuary. However it also seems that one deacon remained outside the sanctuary and maintained “good order” among th laity.] And if there is one to be found who is not sitting in his place let the deacon who is within, rebuke him, and make him to rise and sit in his fitting place…also, in the church the young ones ought to sit separately, if there is a place, if not let them stand. Those of more advanced age should sit separately; the boys should sit separately or their fathers and mothers should take them and stand; and let the the young girls sit separately, if there is really not a place, let them stand behind the women; let the young who are married and have little children stand separately, the older women and widows should sit separately[This may all seem a bit complicated but the bottom line is that seating was according to Gender and Age: the men on one side, the women on the other, older folks to the front and the younger ones to the back. Also those caring for young children should be in a separate area. See – Even in the old days there was a “cry room!”] And a deacon should see that each one who enters gets to his place, and that none of these sits in an inappropriate place. Likewise, the deacon ought to see that there are none who whisper or sleep or laugh or nod off. [Wait a minute! Do you mean to tell me that some of these early Christians did such things! Say it isn’t so! Today ushers do this preserving of good order but the need remains!] For in the Church it is necessary to have discipline, sober vigilance, and attentive ear to the Word of the Lord. [Well that is said pretty plain and the advice is still needed].

Pope Pics

I dunno why, It just looks funny to see the Pope on the Phone:


Suggested caption: “No! Really this is the Pope! I really mean it! Please deliver three pizzas, extra cheese and Italian Sausage… No really! I am not kidding.  This is me!”


Also: Trying on a New Miter? 

Suggested Caption: In a suprising and bold move the Pope shows off the new “Mini Miter” to the world.

Sin in the Church

Back when I was in seminary over 20 years ago I remember one of my Church History teachers say, “Don’t be too quick to defend the Church against charges. The Church is so big and so old that what ever the charge, it is probably true!”  Now careful, this is an intentional  EXAGGERATION folks intended to teach a point. I will say that I have sometimes rushed to defend the Church against some charge only to find later that some or all aspects of that charge were true. We ARE very big and very old. A LOT has happened in 2000 years and we’ve had more than a few nuts fall from our family tree. Our past has both glory and is sometimes gory. Saints and sinners are in this house. We’re running a hospital here and so sickness is often found in abundance. So a few thoughts here about sin in the Church.

  1. Sin is the human condition. I am not excusing it but where ever people gather there is sin as well as grace. It is no less true of the human dimension of the Church. Truth be told, Jesus had this annoying habit of hanging out with sinners. He ate with them, preached to them, healed them and called them to follow him. And the odd thing was that they didn’t become instantly perfect after they followed him. Look at the Apostles. Even after following Jesus they squabbled about who was the greatest, they were jealous, fearful, undependable, one of them betrayed Jesus, another denied him, all but one deserted him. A pretty sorry crowd. Little by little they got better but it took time. But where was Jesus found? Among these sinners and worse besides.  Demanding that the Church be free of sinners is like demanding that a hospital be free of sick people. If that could happen the hospital would no longer be a hospital. Asking the Church to be rid of sin and sinners would mean that the Church would no longer be the Church.
  2. Sin is Serious. OK but lets also be clear, to admit that sin is inevitable in this giant hospital we call the Church is not to approve of it. Jesus said this clearly when he declared, “Scandals will inevitably arise. But woe to that man by who they come. (Luke 17:1)   So Jesus hung with sinners but did not patronize them. He spoke the truth in love.  Neither can we overlook sin in the Church. We ought to be serious about correcting the sinner.  When we go to a hospital we expect to encounter illness and also to experience healing. And part of that healing is for health care professionals to speak the truth to us in love. There are some things in our life that need to change. Smoking, fattening  foods, high cholesterol etc. all that has to go. But do people instantly change? Not usually. We’re back next time and have gained even more weight! But perhaps, little by little the message gets through. And so it is for the Church. We reconcile sinners but also preach a new life. Sin like disease is not to be excused, but just as a hospital, the Church can sometimes be a messy place.

If you’ve been hurt by sin the Church may God help you to experience healing. Maybe it was an unkind word, perhaps it was a grouchy priest, a bad confession, a lack sympathy. Perhaps it was just the discouragement of overhearing gossip or experiencing factions. Maybe you felt forgotten when you were sick. Perhaps it was something even more serious like sexual abuse. Maybe you’ve felt you weren’t wanted because of something you did and you figured you’d be judged. Whatever it is please know you are not alone. If someone in the Church hurt you, perhaps someone else can bring you healing from God. Maybe one priest was unkind but another can show care. Somewhere in the midst of all this mess Jesus is waiting. Let the healing begin.

Church Needs a Change of Mentality

Dome of Saint PetersUsually, when you see this headline, what follows is a story about a person or group who is unhappy with the church and wants it to change–now! So, it might surprise you to learn that these are the words of Pope Benedict XVI. Needless to say,I was interested in reading more and was really pleased to see that what he is talking about is a deeper understanding of the co-responsibilityof clergy and laity for parish life and for the work of evangelization.

His remarks are an adress he gave at the Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome on May 26. Here is the link to the full text of the speech.

Co-responsibility of the laity

Pope Benedict points out that many of the baptized “do not feel part of the church community and live on its margins, only coming to parishes…to recieve religious services.” He beleives this is so for two reasons. Firstly, he calls for renewed efforts in formation and a clearer understadning of what it means to be the People on God in the Body of Christ. Secondly, he speaks directly to the clergy and reminds them that “the laity can no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible,’ committed laity.”   You can hear in this an echo of St. Paul who spoke of co-wokers in the vineyard.

Become actively co-responsible

Pope Benedict XVI is presenting a terrific challenge for clergy and laity to take full responsibility for the evangelizing mission of our parishes.  This is a timely challenge because this is the time of year that our parishes are looking for people to share their gifts with the body of Christ. Parishes need catechists, bible study leaders, ushers, lectors, and volunteers for all the services the parish offers to parishioners and to the community.  One of the easiest ways to make your parish feel like a community is to get involved in a ministry or group.

Proclaiming Christ

Pope Benedict’s vision for our parishes is that we strive to restore life to small groups within the parish. He dreams that our parishes be centers where “it is possible to experience faith, to put charity into practice and to organize hope.” He ends his talk by saying that the “future of Christianity and the Church of Rome also depends on the commitment and witness of each one of us.” 

Catholics-Secret Service Evangelizers

Why is it so hard for Catholics to evangelize? We say it is not part of our tradition, yet, Jesus can be heard saying “Come and see.” We say, oh, I don’t want to seem pushy, or faith is too personal. Evangelization is sharing the Good News. Who has ever heard good news and thought, gosh, I’m not going to say anything, she might feel like I’m imposing.

Shortly after I moved to Washington, I was waiting for the train at the Brookland Metro Stop. A young woman approached and asked which train went to Georgetown. I knew enough to say, there is not a direct train, but did not know what more to say and so I said “I’m new to D.C. and not sure.” And she said, “I am new to town as well, have you found a church home?” I was taken aback and looked to see if I had something on that revealed I was Catholic! I said, no, I am looking at a couple of parishes. My evangelizer replied, “I’ve found a church I really like, near Union Station, do you want to come with me?”  Hesitantly, I said, ” Well, I’m looking for a Catholic parish, but I am happy you’ve found a church you like.”   My evangelizer said, Can I have you phone number, because finding a good church is so important, I want to call you in a few weeks to see if you have found a church home.” Big hesitation on my part!  I was hooked and wanted to see where this would go, so I wrote down my phone number and name and we parted.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, my evangelizer called and said “Hi, remember we met at the Brookland Metro and talked about finding a church home, did you find one?” I said “yes, I found a parish I really like.”  She said “Praise God, my community is great as well, I’m so happy for both of us. And we said goodbye, promising to pray for one another.

Ten year later, I still pray for her from time to time because she is a model for me of the right way to do evangelization. What was not to like about her enthusiasm,  about how important finding a church home was to her settling into a new city, how her keeping her promise to check back.  She found something good and wanted to share that. What’s not to like about that?

This Lent, Archbishop Wuerl is asking us to invite a fellow Catholic whose forgotten how important a church home is one’s life, to rediscover the Mass.  Archbishop Wuerl is depending on us to share with someone why Mass is so important to us or what difference it makes in our week or whatever it is about our faith that is good news for us. My experience has taught me that even if the person says “no.” They have always appreciated that I thought enough of them to ask.

If you are reading this and you have not been with us at Mass for a little while, or a long time, ask a Catholic friend if you can join them. Trust me, that will be so grateful you did the hard part! If you don’t know a Catholic and would like to visit a Catholic church, please post that in our comment section and we will help you make that connection.