Philippa Martyr: Downton Abbey Catholicism

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Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 11, 1962. Before the Second Vatican Council’s opening, church authorities felt it necessary to declare Vatican I officially closed. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano) See FAITH-ALIVE 40 Oct. 17, 2019.

A Church for the modern person

Having read the Australian Catholic Mass Attendance Report 2016, I think we can safely say that the experiment has been a colossal failure.

The experiment was not Vatican II – which I believe was necessary and is still waiting to be fully implemented.

It’s the unauthorised experiment where loud and prominent individuals – strongly convinced that they knew better than the Church – decided to renovate the liturgy, the Catholic education system, the priesthood, and Catholic marriage.

They did this in the ‘spirit’ of reform, to clear the rubble of accumulated centuries and create a brave new Church for modern people. And they succeeded.

Modern people like to be affluent and successful, have very few children, and invest heavily in the things of this world.

They appreciate ‘Catholic values’ and nice church architecture and a bit of social justice as a sort of Downton Abbey background to their lives, as long as it doesn’t intrude too much.

And here we are, with just over 10 per cent of all Catholics at Mass every Sunday. Well done.

The most disappointing part of the Report was its suggestion that those who ‘identify as Catholic’ - while never coming to the sacraments - are still somehow benefiting, writes Dr Philippa Martyr. PHOTO: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY 2.5Reuters
The most disappointing part of the Report was its suggestion that those who ‘identify as Catholic’ – while never coming to the sacraments – are still somehow benefiting, writes Dr Philippa Martyr. PHOTO: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY 2.5Reuters

The Spiritual over the Sacramental

The most disappointing part of the Report was where it tried to save face by claiming that people who ‘identify as Catholic’ – while not actually believing most of what the Church teaches and never coming to the sacraments – are still somehow benefiting from all this.

And perhaps they are, in the broader spiritual sense.

But that’s because there’s a tiny minority actually in church, doing all the spiritual heavy lifting.

The minority is at Mass on Sundays, and during the week they’re trying to swim upstream against a powerful current of sin and worldliness.

And they’re not getting much help from those who ‘identify as Catholic’ and who so often work for our diocesan ministries and agencies while freely disagreeing with Church teaching on important issues.

Everyone’s prayers matter – from the oldest to the youngest. A family prays during Mass in the Church of St Catherine in Bethlehem,Israel. Photo: CNS, Debbie Hill

Who is to blame?

The reason Australian Catholics don’t go to Mass is not the Royal Commission. It’s because we failed to pass on both the theology and the habit of Mass-going as an essential part of Catholic life.

And the people primarily to blame for this are Catholic parents and baptised pagans in Catholic bureaucracies.

It’s not our clergy – priests who preach about Sunday Mass attendance at Sunday Mass are literally preaching to the converted.

Parents who don’t go to Mass send their kids to schools where most of the teachers don’t go to Mass. The children are taught at school that they must go to Mass, but for some reason they can’t muster up any enthusiasm for it.

As you can imagine, I have quite a few more things to say about this Report, but that will have to wait for next week.