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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!