The Catholic Church in Detroit is Unleashing the Gospel


The Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit is getting “turbocharged.” At least that is what George Weigel says.

In a recent article at First Things entitled “Motown and the Turbocharged Church”, Weigel had nothing but good things to say about Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s plan to “Unleash the Gospel” in the archdiocese.

“Motown may no longer be the epicenter of the global automobile industry. The Archdiocese of Detroit, however, is well on its way to becoming a shining model of how to gather and organize a local Church for the New Evangelization,” wrote Weigel.

Whether or not Weigel is correct, only time will tell. It is going to take quite a bit of prayer and a whole lot of resolve to turn things around in what became a “liberal” archdiocese in the 70s, and 80s.

But he is correct in that Archbishop Vigneron’s “Unleash the Gospel” is an “extraordinary pastoral letter.” It is actually a 45-page plan for implementing strategies developed during “Synod 16,” a three-day long, archdiocesan-wide meeting held in November 2016.   Clergy, religious, and lay people all “gathered to pray and reflect together on what will make the Church in southeast Michigan a joyful band of missionary disciples.”

A Roadmap

Unleash the Gospel contains ten guideposts, along with numerous, specific ‘markers,’ to serve as a roadmap for implementing the strategies of the Synod. It also contains a list of specific propositions and action steps to be used throughout the archdiocese, all intended to make the Archdiocese “a missionary Church.”

And there are a lot of really good guideposts, markers and action steps in Vigneron’s plan that may actually help ‘turbocharge’ the Church in Detroit. In fact, other dioceses and archdioceses might do well to take a look at the plan and consider putting together similar plans.

In addition to the ‘markers’ calling for a renewed emphasis on Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration, three of my favorite ‘markers’ are:

“We must provide our pastors, catechists and others with practical help and a systematized approach to presenting Christian morality. In particular, priests and deacons need training and resources for successfully preaching on the “hard topics.”

“Priests and deacons need to be bold in proclaiming all the elements of the Gospel, not only those parts that people want to hear. Preachers need ongoing formation in how to do so with compassion, conviction and clarity.”

And finally,

“Many parents have not been evangelized or well catechized themselves. In recent generations, the pattern for many Catholic parents has been to delegate their children’s religious education entirely to the parish, assuming that by doing so they fulfill their obligation to pass on the faith. Parishes must make every effort to resist this pattern since catechizing children has little effect if parents themselves are not living as disciples of Jesus. Parishes must look for ways to make catechesis and sacramental preparation family-based, helping parents grow in discipleship so that they can then form their children.”

Family Identity

One of the best parts of Unleash the Gospel is Action Step 1.3 – Christian Family Identity. In this step, Archbishop Vigneron charges all families in the Archdiocese to reclaim “their identity in relationship to God.”  He offers seven ways families can do this, and his suggestions really should be practiced by all Catholic families everywhere:

  1. Reclaim Sunday: attend Mass as a family and intentionally spend time with one another, including sharing a meal together.
  2. Commit to forming your family in the love and power of sacred Scripture by placing it at the center of your family life. Study and reflect on Scripture, especially on the Sunday readings. Participate in Bible studies, use the Sunday readings, Scripture aids, and participate in family fellowship where Scripture is shared. Make full use of Sunday parish opportunities to unleash the Gospel in your family.
  3. Create time for regular family meals without distraction to reclaim its sacred nature.
  4. Commit to developing family prayer time. Make time to listen, share, and grow together as a family guided by the Lord in times of joy and trial. Trust and develop a relationship with the Holy Spirit. Seek out simple ways to pray that fit your family, giving primacy to the family rosary, Scripture reflection, especially the Sunday readings, and devotions. Seek out and initiate opportunities to pray with other families.
  5. Reclaim the sacrament of reconciliation as a lived reality in your home: heal wounds and brokenness in your family through sacrifice, forgiveness, mercy, and love.
  6. Create a home where your family models Christ’s love, become aware of your neighbor’s needs and reach out to them with a welcoming spirit so as to share your faith.
  7. Parents: be the primary witnesses of the faith to your family.

The Mass

The single disappointing aspect of the plan, for me, a resident in the Archdiocese, was the wording used to describe what is needed with respect to the Mass, referred to in the plan as “sustained attention on the quality of the Sunday liturgy experience.” I’m all for creating a “friendly, hospitable environment where mutual love is evident,” but words like devotion, reverence, solemnity, piety, or penitence were sadly missing from what is needed to make sure that in the “the Sunday liturgy experience” the “people’s attention is truly focused on the Lord.”

As I opined last year here at CS, “Maybe taking the solemnity and reverence out of the Mass and replacing it with friendly and welcoming has not been such a good idea. Just maybe this new way of ‘Celebrating the Mass’ also has people thinking about Mass today in a whole new way as well: Maybe Mass is now thought of as more of a social gathering-type “celebration” where people are free to come and go as they please, as opposed to a solemn re-enactment of Christ’s death on the cross.”

Maybe the quality of the Sunday liturgy experience would be improved if the priests in the Archdiocese would start saying Mass ad orientum.  And maybe even offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form (TLM) once in a while wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

With all due respect to the Archbishop, the form of the Mass should not create a “friendly, hospitable environment where mutual love is evident.” This is up to the people attending the Mass.