Sunday, July 08, 2018

Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelism

A major problem with widespread liturgical wimpiness is that it cripples the evangelical efforts of individual Catholics who are attempting to win their friends to the faith.

I know a person who is open to the Catholic religion. They are kind of curious, but they don't know a lot about Catholicism. But they are open. Nice starting place.

Now ideally, if they are curious, my first impulse should be to tell them to go check out a Catholic Mass to get acquainted with what the public celebration of our faith is all about. However, this individual lives in another country (another continent, actually) in a part of the world whose liturgies, shall we say, don't have the best reputation. I certainly don't know the local scene; I don't know how to recommend what parish they should go to. Even if I did, does that look good for my witness to be like, "Yeah, the Catholic faith is the truth and Catholic means "universal", but I wouldn't recommend going to 90% of the parishes around you. Go to this one, specific parish that I found for you after an exhaustive search." That sounds so lame and I feel lame having to do that. It is lame.

Now, at this point the conservative Catholic jumps in ready to help and says, "It's not up to you to convert them. Just send them to Mass and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. If they aren't impressed, it's because they don't UNDERSTAND what's going on. You see, friend, they need to be EDUCATED about what the Mass really is, about the Eucharist, and about the liturgy. Once they KNOW what's happening, they will fall in love with the Mass. Here's some books by Jeff Cavins and Mark Shea."

Okay, I appreciate the sentiment. One certainly has to understand what one is doing in order to dive in to it; you can't love what you don't know.

But here's the problem...

Before one can even will to learn about something, that thing must first grab one's interest by some inherently attractive element. Knowledge can make things more interesting, but before you desire to acquire knowledge you must have some initial interest. But why would I want to learn about something was unable to generate any initial interest to begin with? Something that interests me makes me want to learn more; but does anybody feel a desire to learn more about something that is boring and uninspiring? Has anyone ever sat through a boring professional presentation and thought, "This presentation is boring. Hmm...I think if I learned more about the subject this would be less boring"? Of course not. Being bored and uninspired is the surest way to discourage people from ever wanting to learn more.

To bring this back to the liturgy, if I tell my friend to go visit their local parish and they see an ugly, minimalistic building decorated with the most horrific examples of post-modern decor, coupled with a ridiculous, limp-wristed liturgy, sappy music—presided over by a bunch of elderly women—with a pathetic homily by a socially awkward priest where the fundamentals of the Christian Gospel are not only diminished but are absolutely indistinguishable...then, what on earth would possibly possess that person to want to "learn more" about the ludicrous carnival they've just sat through? Why would they ever want to go back, let alone devote the time to reading books and studying it?

So, no, the conservative Catholic mantra of "Just learn about what the Mass is" doesn't help; who wants to invest another two hours learning about something that bored them for one hour? Who wants to watch a dull Power Point presentation at work that is ten slides long and then be told that it would be more interesting if you watched another Power Point with 20 more slides?

What some people need to get through their heads is that many Catholic liturgies today lack any sense of transcendent mystery and that this sense of the transcendent is what piques a person's interest and makes them say, "Huh. Now that was interesting. I wonder what the meaning behind that was?"—and then they want to learn more. You can't plant a barren garden bereft of seeds and then expect anything to grow upon watering it.

I fully expect if I sent this friend to a Catholic Mass at an average parish where they live that they would walk away shaking their head saying, "That was a huge waste of my time" and wouldn't find anything remotely interesting about it.

"Oh Boniface, you're just being.........NEGATIVE!!! You're projecting your own dislike of modern liturgies onto other people and stopping them from coming into the Church!" I have actually been told this by non-Catholics. I was talking to a Methodist girl I know in Texas about my faith, trying to kind of garner some interest, and she dismissively said, "Psshh...look, I've been to Mass many times. It just doesn't interest me at all." A long-time Protestant non-denominational friend of mine went to a contemporary Catholic Mass and derisively said it "seemed like a celebration of man" and that there was no way he could be nourished by something like that. And you know what my friends? I had nothing I could say back to either one of them. I mean, I could explain that "The liturgy is celebrated differently at different parishes" and "Well you see a lot has changed since the 60's" and offer all sorts of explanations for what they experienced,  but at the end of the day I can't argue with their synopsis of what they experienced.

So, yeah, the poor state of the Novus Ordo at the majority of Catholic parishes is an active, objective hindrance to bringing non-Catholics into the Church. It cripples evangelization because there is nothing in most contemporary Catholic liturgies to even pique the interest of a visitor and make them want to do the preliminary study that would lead to entering the Church. And it's absolutely useless to tell a non-Catholic who has just disgustedly walked out of a banal balloon and ballet Mass that it would make more sense if they just "studied it more."

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Dalriana Campbell said...

This is quite understandable. You're right about how the liturgy being celebrated differently at different churches somewhat confuses the whole belief that the church is universal (although, true, liturgies vary with different rites). People are very good at dropping something that doesn't interest them. Very good post. Thank you.

Aaron D said...

Yeah I agree and have similar problems.

Why don't I start a confraternity where we do some regular prayers and punch catholics in the head who deserve it. Obviously called the confraternity of St Nicholas. Any bishop reading this should let us know if they are willing to help start this! Is it sacrilege to punch priests in the head?

Anyway it would definitely pique the interest of visitors if random people got punched in the head! Heck I would start going to the NO again just for fun.

Unknown said...

The women comment may be besides the point . The Ordinariate Mass reminds me of how Mass was when I was young and I experienced pre Vatican II Liturgy . Mass took as long as it needed to take . There was a sense of holiness and respect that permeated the church . There were few Masses offered and we knelt to receive communion . We reflected on the Eucharist with our face in our hands for at least 10 to 15 minutes post communion . There was such a thing as preparation before Mass . Post Vatican II , our same church started adding Masses while cutting down the time of the Masses to 35 minutes flat . I used to see fellow parishioners walk down the aisle , receive communion in their hands and walk right out the side door of the church to their cars which they left running . The sense of sacred mystery went right out the window .I started attending the Vigil at 2:30am at a Abbey of the Genesee Monastery 40 miles from Rochester - where I live. I heard the Psalms chanted .I heard prayer . I would hear the readings of the early church fathers . I would pray for those who needed conversion to Christ . I soon started going to the Liturgy of the Hours during personal retreats there and would actually be filled with joy to drive the 40 mile trip to attend 2:30am Vigil on a frequent basis . I found out that this is also known as Divine Office / Breviery . The Abbey of the Genesee also has Sunday Mass . I suspect many go there for Mass because the attitude of sacredness still exists .
I do know that my brother in law’s sister who died from cancer on June 7th, 2018 , was a Discalced Carmelite Nun. The nuns assisted at Liturgy held by a visiting priest at their convent , but there was that same sense of sacredness .Perhaps the best recommendation to give your friend or friends - would be to visit a monastery for the Liturgy of the Hours / and to do the Liturgy of the Hours with some others or by themselves .

Anonymous said...

Annibale Bugnini made that infamous quote about removing and stripping from the Catholic prayers and liturgies everything that is a stumbling block for the separated brethren. Seems like that mantra can now be used against the bad liturgies and weak prayers in the aftermath of the Council. Remove the bad, vernacular liturgies and bring back the beautiful prayers and litanies and teachings of the Church.