Father Z has posted a link to this very interesting blog about Mass attendance and more specifically the attitude of many priests toward it. The blog is very good, his author possesses that mix of saying it straight but not being overtly controversial which is the mark of the excellent priest.
I was particularly caught by the author’s opinion that “the eucharist is all-important to most every priest” but at the same time “the element of obligation strikes many priests as well as their parishioners as an outdated and immature notion”. I find it a remarkable exercise in mental gymnastics to understand the first but manage not to understand the second. It is every bit like saying that one fully believes in Patriotism but considers desertion an acceptable option.
For a priest, the aggravating circumstance is added that the very first of the “precepts of the Church” is “to hear Mass on Sundays and on holidays of obligation”. Of all people, a priest should know. It is indicative of the times that many priests just do not get elementary facts like the precepts of the Church. I am tempted to blame the horrible formation in the seminaries (which certainly plays a role), but I do not think that this is the whole truth.
In my experience, at the root of the fact that many priests do not stress fundamental truths of Catholic life is another element: cowardice. This I found, in my experience with priests during my younger years, to be the dominant feature of the category. The assertive and fearless priests were something I had only read about (say: Father Brown) or seen on TV (say: the unforgettable Don Camillo); until very recent years, when by the grace of God the contact with the Brompton Oratory finally put me in contact with the reality of priests not afraid to say it straight.
I blame this collective cowardice for the decline in Mass attendance and, unavoidably, the decline in the feeling of Christian values in the West.
If you think it too hard to tell people that they must attend Mass, it is only a matter of time until many of them skip Mass because they must do something else. If people start skipping Mass more and more often, the constant exposure to Catholic doctrine will slowly but surely fade away. When this happens, “alternative religions” will, in time, start taking form in their brains and extraordinary assertions like “I am a Catholic, but….” (insert here some disagreement with a point of doctrine) are going to be the consequence. At this point Catholicism doesn’t shape the faithful’s life anymore, but it is shaped by it. Say hello to cafeteria Catholicism.
The total failure of Catholicism in stemming the tide of secularism in the West is the result of the total failure of the Clergy in properly transmitting Catholic values. Bad teachers create poorly prepared students, teachers who do not even insist on class attendance create catastrophically prepared ones. At the root of this is the desire to be “liked”, not to be in conflict with the world, not to be considered “uncharitable”, “reactionary”, “backward”. Say it in one word: at the root of this is cowardice.
I do am hopeful, though. The seminaries are slowly producing a better clergy, more orthodox and more assertive; the public opinion is starting to react (witness the strong opposition to euthanasia in Italy or the bitter polemics in Spain); the future generation of priests will produce a better generation of faithful in the pews and from there to the ballot the step is very short. But we need our priests to tell it straight. We need to recover old values, re-appropriate orthodoxy, rediscover our religious and cultural roots savaged by Vatican II.
Starting from Mass attendance.