Dr Philippa Martyr: The long haul of rebuilding

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Encouraging and helping priests to re-establish reverent liturgy as normality is a key task for the laity. Photo: CNS/Chaz Muth

It’s a good idea to invest in your parish if you want a say in what happens there

So, can traditionally-minded Catholics stay in a time-warped parish and reform the liturgy and sacramental life from within? This was the question that came up in my recent online conversation with a US-based friend.

My feeling is that it’s almost impossible to improve either the liturgy or devotional life unless the parish priest is firmly on your side, or at least willing to listen.

Sometimes he is. Sometimes he isn’t. Sometimes he smiles a lot and always agrees with whoever spoke to him last. The last ones are the worst, but there’s a lot of them out there. (I think they teach them this in the seminary.)

“I’m glad to encourage and support any millenials who want to take back their parishes. I think you’re worth investing in.”

If he’s a smiley Fr Jim, then you might be better off investing in Fr Youngtrad’s shabbier and more remote parish. But if you are determined to stay in Fr Jim’s parish, then settle in for the long haul.

You will have to do everything yourself. If you want Adoration set up in the parish, be prepared to do it yourself until other people get interested. If you want a kneeler option for Holy Communion, be prepared to use it yourself.

You will possibly be accused of ‘thinking that you’re better than everyone else’ or ‘attention seeking’. Examine your conscience on this, grow a thicker hide, and carry on regardless.
Remember that it’s easier to reform weekday Masses than weekend ones. Weekday Masses are often the liturgical high-water mark of a parish.

And a warning: it’s not enough to be young, because some young people are more equal than others. Traditional minded young people quickly become unpopular and pushed aside in older Boomer parishes.

Snapshot of today’s Catholic Sydney

The music ministry is going to be a very tough nut to crack – as will any other ministry that has someone’s fingers buried deeply in it. There are people for whom church ministry is their only form of meaningful work. These people usually don’t like to share.

But eventually they get sick or too old, and then there are opportunities for younger people to step in and reshape things along more recognisably Catholic lines. Try not to become that person who’s always banging on about the liturgy.

If you want the parish priest and parishioners to take you seriously, you have to invest in the parish. There’s gardening, church cleaning, morning teas, and flower arranging. These all need doing.

The finance committee might need someone who can add up (or not). Find unoccupied niches and commit visibly to the parish. The more you know about how the parish works – and doesn’t work – the easier it is to make changes that last. And this includes the liturgy.

Personally, I am no longer up for this. I’m used to being a liturgical nomad, and it’s hard for me to really belong anywhere now. I usually find a Fr Youngtrad and try to help him out.
But I’m also glad to encourage and support any millennials who want to take back their parishes. I think you’re worth investing in. You are the future!

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