Paul Catalanotto: Preach Jesus, all will follow

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The laity are vital to the renewal of the Church. But do they risk being overlooked? PHOTO: CNS
The laity are vital to the renewal of the Church. But do they risk being overlooked? PHOTO: CNS

The Australian Catholic Mass Attendance Report 2016 offered three conclusions on raising Mass attendance from the reported 11.8 per cent, and it is the credibility of these conclusions that will be on trial when the results of the 2021 Report are finally presented.

The first recommendation to remedy the declining Mass attendance, according to the 2016 Report, was that “an extraordinary event or events would need to occur before we witness a reversal – or even a plateau – of the declining attendance trends”.

In other words, apart from the second coming, a miraculous event, or perhaps another world war, the declining trend would continue. The impact of COVID, which undoubtedly would fall into the category of “extraordinary events” ironically, however, appears to have had a reverse effect on Mass attendance, even with Churches now reopening.

The second solution: “There would need to be a surge in younger people attending Mass.” In other words, this solution would require a paradigm shift in how our current contracepting culture views families and children; yet this will take generations to rectify it if it is even possible at all.

“I can assure you; more evangelisation occurs when any of the works of mercy are exercised, when a priest celebrates a good and proper liturgy, or when a parishioner spends an hour before the Blessed Sacrament than the result of most evangelisation committees.”

The final suggestion to bolster Mass attendance was to increase numbers through the “unanticipated arrival of large numbers of Catholics from overseas, to offset the advancing age profile of attenders.” Seeing what COVID has done to international travel, this will not happen anytime soon.

The final hope of increasing Mass attendance which the 2016 Report gives is a wait-and-see approach to determine if the redoubled evangelisation efforts of various dioceses will increase Mass attendance.

Having sat on evangelisation boards and committees, I am sceptical. I can assure you; more evangelisation occurs when any of the works of mercy are exercised, when a priest celebrates a good and proper liturgy, or when a parishioner spends an hour before the Blessed Sacrament than the result of most evangelisation committees.

Sadly, I suspect the 2021 Report will show a further decline in Mass attendance, and a hold in Mass attendance at 11.8 per cent is the best we can hope for. Fortunately, the laity doesn’t have to wait for the 2021 Report or a local plenary council to evangelise or invite others to Church.

An usher at Notre Dame de Chicago Church in Chicago collects funds June 2, 2019. The Archdiocese of Chicago launched a site to collect donations to help parishes and those in need during the coronavirus shutdown, which has forced the cancellation of all public Masses for foreseeable future. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic) See CHICAGO-WEBSITE-DONATIONS March 25, 2020.See CHICAGO-WEBSITE-DONATIONS March 25, 2020.

The Church is loaded with social services, maybe even overloaded. Can we say the same about its spiritual services? How many of our Churches offer regular Eucharistic Adoration or Bible Studies, for example?

Currently, there is no easily accessible pre-packaged program that will solve this problem, nor should there be. The real solution is multifaceted, and it won’t be easy. Like the cathedrals of old, generations will pass without seeing the final fruits of their labours.

Moreover, whatever changes that occur for the better will be subtle changes over decades, if not centuries, which seems like a long time from our perspective.

But to the Church, which thinks in millennia and still considers the Rosary a modern devotion, a century is not a long time. So, anyone promising drastic results by just changing one or two things quickly and suddenly will undoubtedly only leave the local Church frustrated.

“The laity will be used in many parishes, but only if they do not challenge the status quo of lukewarm Catholicism.”

Furthermore, if you are waiting for a top-down solution and approach, don’t hold your breath; please don’t, we need you at Sunday Mass and in the world making a difference more than you passed out on the floor at home. Still, I cannot help wondering from reading the 2007 Research Project on Catholics who have Stopped attending Mass and the 2016 Report if the Church will ignore her biggest asset in her endeavour to increase Mass attendance: the laity.

The laity will be used in many parishes, but only if they do not challenge the status quo of lukewarm Catholicism. God forbid that someone should comes in and overturn tables in the temple of God.

When the Apostles went to evangelise, their goal was not to increase Mass attendance. They proclaimed the Resurrected Christ as King. It was only through the proclamation of Jesus as Lord, and the works that give testimony to the preaching, that butts appeared on seats.

If the 2021 Report recommends anything other than a vigorous preaching and proclamation of Jesus as Lord and King from the pulpit, in the home, in Catholic schools, in the streets in both word and deed, not only will Mass attendance continue to decline in Australia, the Church will become a remnant, which may not be a bad thing if that means scraping the lukewarm barnacles from the hull of our Holy Mother Church.

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