How to Fix the Church in the 21st Century

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The challenge of how to fix the Church in the 21st century is both material and spiritual, as St. Francis of Assisi discovered when he was so challenged in the 13th century.

It seems like not a month goes by where we don’t hear of a story where millennials and other disgruntled Catholics are leaving the Church. And worse, only about 30% of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus as the Eucharist. Why is this? And how do we fix this problem?

Transcendence in Architecture

We’ve all been to beautiful churches, with tall ceilings, beautiful artwork, gorgeous altars, beautiful alcoves with petitionary candles, and inspiring stained glass. These churches were mostly built in the 19th century AD, by immigrants to this country. Sadly, a lot of new churches are lacking in all of these things that lift the heart, mind, and soul to God. For some strange reason, bishops allowed architects to design new churches that look more like large auditoriums which contain few statues, and with hardly any stained glass.

Church architecture should induce the people who attend Mass to be inspired to worship God merely by looking around. Sadly, transcendence, or the act of the heart and mind rising above the natural state to a superior state, is totally missing in churches today. Instead, we are forced to look at strange-looking crucifixes and bare altars. There are hardly any petition candles to light, and stained glass windows are few and far between. Parishes will have huge capital campaigns to build new gyms and parish halls and schools, but the thought of asking for money for the purpose of retrofitting the main worship area to enhance the experience of the worship of Jesus Christ seems never to enter the parish council’s mind.

Placement of the Tabernacle

A lot of Catholic Churches today have moved the tabernacle with Jesus inside into a back room chapel, instead of placing it front and center on the main altar. During the Mass, deacons and lay people exit the main church, retrieve Jesus from the chapel, and bring him into the main Church. The law of unintended consequences of this means that there is more talking and chatting before and after Mass in the sanctuary, making it VERY hard to pray and adore Christ silently. Genuflecting before taking one’s seat in the pews has almost disappeared in a lot of parishes. I’m so old I can remember when hardly anyone chatted and visited before and after mass in the main church. This was all done outside the Church, or in the foyer. Putting the tabernacle, with the living Christ inside, back in the center of the main altar is one of the easiest things to fix, and doing this will lead to an increased reverence for Jesus before, during, and after Mass.

Reverence

And speaking of reverence, some priests act more like emcees of a Broadway show, rather than as an alter-Christi about to perform the sacred mystery instituted by Christ at the Last Supper. Jokes during the mass should be limited to the sermon, and they should comprised of humor that is both clean and appropriate. The greatest Catholic evangelist of the 20th century, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, used to tell a few jokes during his sermons, so there really isn’t anything wrong with that, but I’ve heard priests crack irreverent (and immodest) jokes from the altar, which should never be done. The goal of a priest or deacon is not to entertain us pew sitters with their wit, but rather to enlighten us with the Light of the World. In some churches the bulletin is read to all immediately before Mass, which certainly detracts from our “preparing to celebrate this sacred mystery.” I do not want to hear about the fund raising of the Altar Society or about the Church blood drive before Mass. What the laity should be thinking about before mass is of the Passion of Christ and how to be truly sorry for our sins. Instead, we are forced to think about the upcoming Valentine’s Day dance, or the Archbishop’s appeal for money. Memo to the parish – “We the laity know how to read the bulletin!” If it’s so important for us to know, a simple statement about being sure to read the bulletin will suffice.

Fellowship

A lot of Catholic Churches get an F-grade on fellowship. This area of evangelization seems to be reduced to the priest’s shaking hands with people as they exit. Most Protestant churches get an A+ on this, as they always seem to welcome newcomers with open arms, by not only telling them that they are welcome, but also getting their name and address, so as to visit with them later on. Normally, a Catholic has to join a Church organization like the Legion of Mary or the St. Vincent de Paul Society to make Church friends. Some churches have a coffee and doughnut social after mass. I have been to these many times, and what I have observed is that strangers are ignored, while regular parishioners only visit with those whom they already know. This problem is easy to fix. There should be a newcomer ministry in each parish, that exists solely to meet and greet strangers after Mass, and to make them feel welcome and at home, instead of their being ignored.

Liturgy

The never ending battle between the Vatican II Mass of St. Paul VI and the traditional Latin Mass continues to rage. Both Masses are certainly valid, and both have their particular strong points. The Novus Ordo Mass surely involves the laity more, and has more scripture reading, while the Latin Mass certainly seems more beautiful, reverent, and transcendent. Why can’t we combine the best of both worlds? A lot of priests today shun Latin, as if it weren’t the official language of the Church. But why can’t we sing the “Agnus Dei” instead of the “Lamb of God?” Why can’t we sing the “Kyrie Eleison” (which is Greek, not Latin) instead of “Lord have Mercy?” Why can’t we sing “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” instead of “Holy, Holy, Holy?” Exorcists tell us that the devil hates Latin even more so than English, so why not include some during Mass? Some priests also deny the right of communicants to kneel to receive Holy Communion, and make the communicant stand up before giving him Jesus. This is in direct violation of Church law. This is easy enough to fix, as there should be one area set aside with a kneeler for us old folks to kneel on to receive Our Lord. Sadly, most priests refuse to allow this. Adding the St. Michael Prayer after Mass would also be a great thing to do.

And where in the world did all of this hand-holding during the Our Father begin? This is not part of the rubrics of the Mass, and instead of pointing toward Jesus, the hand-holding points more toward the parishioners than it does to Jesus. I’ve even seen priests and deacons do this on the altar, instead of the priest using the prescribed orans position. This do-it-yourself innovation to the Mass from pew sitters is very distracting to those of us who want to worship Jesus during the Mass. FYI – I do NOT want to hold hands with other men next to me.

Apologetics

Protestants steal the Catholic faith from a lot of cradle Catholics by asking simple questions of ignorant Catholics, such as “where is worshiping Mary or bowing down to statues in the Bible?” Most parishes do not have an apologetic ministry that can fight back against these anti-Catholic attacks from well-meaning Protestants. This is so easy enough to fix, as both Catholic Answers and EWTN are now at our fingertips on the internet. However, each and every church should have a ministry that teaches their parishioners how to refute specific talking points of Protestant evangelists. Catholic churches should also encourage parishioners to be outspoken evangelists as well, in support of St. Peter’s dictate of 1 Peter 3:15-16, that is, to “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” There are a few of these Catholic evangelists out there, but there should be a LOT more, in each and every parish, and not just on TV, the internet, or the radio.

Sermons

Priests and Deacons have one shot all week to reach out to and inspire their parishioners to become soldiers for Christ. Instead, what I usually hear is a boring sermon on being nice, “God loves us all,” unlimited illegal immigration is a wonderful thing, etc. It’s almost as if their degree in theology has been forgotten. What parishioners need to hear from the pulpit is authentic Catholic teaching, like Christ crucified, Purgatory, indulgences, the reality of hell, the evils of sodomy, pornography, and abortion, the power of the rosary, the Real Presence, etc.

And it would really be nice to hear some authentic emotion put into the sermons, instead of monotony, which is guaranteed to put half of us pew sitters to sleep. If you can’t get excited and emotional about someone’s salvation, then I’m not sure what you can get emotional about. Lots of people in the pews are going to be very surprised when they wind up in purgatory for hundreds of years, mainly because they really thought that the Church had done away with purgatory. After all, the necessity of going to confession, purgatory, and indulgences are hardly ever mentioned by any priest from the pulpit. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a priest on his judgment day who failed to warn his flock about the possibility of going to either purgatory or hell.

And by all means, keep liberal political ideology cleverly disguised as authentic Catholic dogma out of the sermons. All it does is to turn people off and close up their wallets. I have heard so much of this over the years, and it really makes me angry. You never hear conservative political ideology from the pulpit, because conservative priests and deacons have either been removed from ministry or banished to some small parish out in the boondocks by a very liberal bishop.

Preaching niceness from the pulpit is okay on occasion, but Jesus and John the Baptist certainly didn’t do just that. Jesus was killed by the Pharisees because he actually called them out on their hypocrisy, and St. John the Baptist was killed for actually telling King Herod that he was a public sinner. Sadly, those kinds of poignant sermons are never to be heard in most pulpits today. FYI – Some of us sinners need to hear from our priests about the evil of sin; we already know how to be nice.

Preaching Mary

A lot of priests are good priests, but they seem just to mention the power of the Blessed Virgin in passing, as if she is some kind of afterthought. Mary is THE WOMAN of Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12 whose job it is to crush the head of the serpent. At the sound of her voice, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit in St. Elizabeth’s womb. At Fatima, she warned us all about the evils of socialism and the errors of Russia. All of the great saints had a very strong devotion to Mary, the first Christian, and they promoted her every chance they got. But sadly, her power to defeat Satan, her love for her children, and her Angelic Psalter (the rosary) are hardly ever mentioned from the pulpit, except maybe on her feast days. She should be front and center of every priest and in every parish. Why? Because, in the end, her Immaculate Heart WILL triumph!

She is our Mother, according to Jesus from the cross. To ignore her from the pulpit would be like the priest ignoring his earthly mother on Mother’s Day. She should be preached at every sermon, in some way, if only to ask us all to say our rosaries every day, like she asked us to do at Fatima! Doing this will bring back the missing parishioners, guaranteed!

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29 thoughts on “How to Fix the Church in the 21st Century”

  1. Dear Ray
    Where in the bible does it state that Mary was born without sin.?
    Why did it take until 1854 for the Catholic Church to introduce the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception ?
    Most Catholics do not know that this refers to Mary and state it refers to the conception of Jesus.
    Is this not taught in Catholic schools ?
    Does this church doctrine look at the parents of Mary being born with a original sin.
    Does it not state clearly that all man is born with original sin in the bible/

  2. This week’s Gospel is from Matthew 4. The most interesting portion is the final discourse between Jesus and the devil.
    “At this, Jesus said to him, Away with you, Satan! Scripture has it:
    ‘You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore.’”

  3. Or………….we could emphasize teaching the Kerygma instead of a giving people a lengthy “catechesis” consisting mostly of why the priest wears red vestments sometimes and how missing mass sends one to hell. I believe that people are leaving the Church because they don’t understand the real point of Jesus’ ministry on earth (level-zero Christianity), don’t see the Church’s relevance to modern society, and get catechetical emphasis on the rules of tradition instead of the Good News (predicated on the bad news). I believe the hierarchy has problems because their emphasis does not appear to be living the Gospel message, but instead filling roles that are bureaucratic and politicized. If this article doesn’t give the answer to the question “what’s the point of Christianity?”, then there is no hope of it “fixing” the 21st century Church. This article is equivalent to telling someone that the way to fix a car’s engine is by painting the car.

  4. To Ray:
    Found a Catholic discussion about the 4 senses. This paragraph was very interesting.

    “Without the literal sense, Holy Scripture would be virtually meaningless, as “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.” It is important, then, in the modern milieu – with Biblical Modernism still rampant – that the literal truth of the sacred page be vigorously defended. This would include the historical reality of such things as Creation, the Resurrection of Our Lord, his miracles, the interaction of angels in the lives of men (e.g., Abraham, Tobias, St. Peter), the virgin birth, and Our Lord’s promises to the Church. If God cannot teach reliable truth “by words,” then how can the inspired text be reliable when the same Authority teaches “by things themselves”? If Jonas in the whale’s belly was a fiction, then why is not Jesus’ reference to Jonas also a fiction? For that matter, why is not Jesus’ Resurrection, which was foreshadowed by Jonas, a fiction, too?”

    Hence, the literal sense of the words is paramount.

    1. I’m already there….God bless you…I will mention you in my rosary today, and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to help you to see all of the 4 senses of scripture besides the literal one….

      Pax Christi/Ave Maria

  5. To Ray,

    You wrote: “Mary is THE WOMAN of Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12 whose job it is to crush the head of the serpent.”
    Your words are refuted by Scripture.
    Genesis clearly mentions a male offspring of Eve, not a female.
    Revelation 12 does not address the destruction of Satan; it talks about his assault on Israel and the followers of Jesus in the End Times.
    Satan is not crushed by Mary; read Rev. 20.

    1. This is why I’m Catholic – Going with 2000 years of Church teaching instead of protestant personal opinions which don’t make any sense whatsoever from a Biblical perspective is the only way to read the bible correctly.. Praying for your to see The Light, Robert

  6. To Christopher:
    The modern state of Israel was formed in 1948 by a resolution from the UN. Since then, God’s chosen people have been returning to their land.
    Yet, the Book of Revelation, Chapter 11, indicates that the Ark of the Covenant will be revealed in heaven at the 7th Trumpet, or the last trumpet.
    No doubt that we are getting closer to that event.

  7. To Ray,
    “King of Kings” appears three times in the Bible. Twice in the Book of Revelation as a future event.
    In the third instance, another reference to a future event, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6,
    “13 I charge [you] before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, 14 to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ 15 that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.”

  8. I agree that most recently composed “hymns” are pretty awful, but the second one you quote is actually one of the better ones. The full line is “we the daughters and sons of HIM WHO built the valleys and plains”. It’s certainly not claiming that we built them. The hymn us called “Glory and Praise to our God” and us a paraphrase of the Psalms and other Scripture. What’s wrong with that? And it’s a catchy and easy to sing tune for a congregation, unlike most of the other new stuff.

  9. Woman is a term used by Adam to refer to the universal Eve, the mother of all of the living. But using that term to refer to Mary, Jesus is telling us that Mary is the spiritual mother of all of the living, i.e., the new Eve.

    1. “When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a chamber in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he sealed the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it. When Jeremiah heard of this, he reproved them: “The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. Then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will be seen, just as they appeared in the time of Moses and of Solomon when he prayed that the place might be greatly sanctified.””

  10. Woman is the term Adam used to refer to Eve, so Jesus is telling us all that Mary is the new Eve. And Hail is never used as a greeting in the bible to ordinary people, never. It is a royal greeting. You cannot find it anywhere in the bible as a greeting to regular people…

    1. Did a word search for “hail” in the Bible. It appears a total of 46 times. 41 times in reference to hail storms or hailstones. Appears three times when the Roman soldiers mocked and beat Jesus. Once spoken by Judas when he betrayed Jesus. And finally when the angel greeted Mary.

  11. “Hail” can just be a greeting.
    Nothing in the Bible that decrees Mary as the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of David. In fact, Jesus simply refers to her on two occasions as “woman”.

    1. Woman is a term used by Adam to refer to the universal Eve, the mother of all of the living. But using that term to refer to Mary, Jesus is telling us that Mary is the spiritual mother of all of the living, i.e., the new Eve.

    2. All of the Jewish Kings in the OT had their mother as queens, starting with Bathsheeba. Mary, the Mother of the King of Kings, therefore the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of David.

  12. JESUS Teaching About Prayer.
    5
    “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
    6
    But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
    7
    In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
    8
    Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
    The Lord’s Prayer.
    9
    “This is how you are to pray:
    Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    10
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth as in heaven.
    11
    Give us today our daily bread;
    12
    and forgive us our debts,
    as we forgive our debtors;
    13
    and do not subject us to the final test,
    but deliver us from the evil one.”

    Nothing about Mary. In fact, there is very little about Mary in the Scriptures.

    1. Hail Full of Grace, said Gabriel – Hail is a royal term, as in Hail King of the Jews, or Hail Caesar. Mary is the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of David. Full of Grace – She is sinless…Pretty important stuff…

  13. Revelation 22:8-9 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

    8 It is I, John, who heard and saw these things, and when I heard and saw them I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me. 9 But he said to me, “Don’t! I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brothers the prophets and of those who keep the message of this book. Worship God alone!”

  14. Revelation 19:10 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

    10 I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t! I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brothers who bear witness to Jesus. Worship God. Witness to Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

  15. Good on you Ray. All your points are valid in my view and I am sure they will resonate with many other pew sitters. The Church is in dire straits and your recommendations, if faithfully implemented, would give it a wonderful boost. God bless.

    1. Thanks Robert – I didn’t have any more space left for the article, or I would have launched into the types of hymns that we sing during Mass….

      For example, “WE” are not the light of the world…Jesus is!

      “We the daughters and sons of Him” did NOT build the valleys and plains! Jesus did!

      And we did not receive grace the hour we first believed…We received that grace the instant we were baptized!

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