Latinos prefer low (church worship)

lowworship I have a pet theory about the educational value of the printed page. Newspaper stories tell us what happened; books why it happened; and features stories a bit of both.

Sherri Day of the St. Petersburg Times wrote an interesting story about the response of older Hispanic Catholics to the fact that many young Hispanics are leaving their ancestral faith; it’s not often that readers learn about the perspective of those who did not convert. So she informed us about what happened, but she failed to explain why their children are converting or thinking about doing so.

Day traced the religious lives of three women. Aida Aviles is the grandmother of five children, two of whom left the Catholic Church to become Protestants. In a memorable passage, Day describes the religious squabbles and awkwardness that has ensued:

One of Aviles’ sisters has an antagonistic relationship with her now-Protestant progeny. In another branch of the family, a niece divorced her Pentecostal husband. Among other things, the couple fought over bringing a crucifix into their home, family members said. Relations with Jehovah’s Witnesses in the clan also have made family celebrations awkward. Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays or observe holidays they believe have pagan origins or nationalist roots.

Aviles’ sister, Maria Rodriguez, has succeeded in keeping her children Catholic. Yet Rodriguez is clearly no ordinary person. Besides being quite perceptive, she is a leader, as Day explains:

[Rodriguez] recognizes the attraction of spirited Protestant worship services and currently leads the Hispanic charismatic renewal in the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Catholic churches around the country are encouraging charismatic prayer ministries featuring practices traditionally associated with Pentecostals such as healings, laying hands and speaking in tongues.

The effort has become a lifeline to reach family and friends who might abandon the faith.”I do whatever it takes to keep them at home,” said Rodriguez, 57, a lay minister. “I say ‘home’ because it’s like losing a family member when they leave the Catholic Church.”

Flormarie Sanchez, Aviles’ daughter, explains that Catholicism no longer has appeal for her. As Day explains,

But Sanchez grew tired of straddling the fence, attending church both with her husband and her mother. She began to see the Catholic Mass as a predictable, uninspiring ritual. And she could not escape feeling called to worship with her family in the Protestant church.

Day’s story is organized around the lives of the three women, all related. But perhaps it should have been organized around the allure of more “low” worship styles — singing and clapping, laying of hands, speaking in tongues.

Day failed to explain the attraction of these more emotional and personal forms of worship. Indeed, only after the story has ended do readers learn a crucial statistic: 83 percent of Hispanics convert away from Catholicism because they “desire a more direct, personal experience of God.”

I got questions but no answers. What is it about contemporary American life that causes millions of Hispanics to seek a more personal God? Why are Hispanics today searching for more emotional and personal forms of worship? Why didn’t their parents and grandparents of yesteryear? And what about the millions of Catholics who are embracing Pentecostalism — in Catholic sanctuaries?

Day did a great job in elucidating the faith lives of her interview subjects. But she really needed to tell her readers, at least by quoting a professor or two, about the appeal of low-church worship styles.

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  • Mary Jones

    Many who leave the RCC for the Jehovah’s Witnesses will return back to their Catholic roots.
    The Watchtower sect is a high control religion no member is allowed any kind of dissident viewpoint.

  • Julia

    She began to see the Catholic Mass as a predictable, uninspiring ritual.

    This is all the fruit of the “spirit” of Vatican II.

    Young Catholics are no longer really aware of what the Mass is. It is a ritual – where something is happening on the altar. Catholics used to innately understand that, so that how a particular Mass was conducted wasn’t that important. I can’t imagine a more direct experience of God than being in His presence at Mass. If a Catholic has come to think of Mass as an uninspiring ritual, then he or she no longer believes what the Church teaches about the Mass or never understood it in the first place.

    On a very popular Catholic blog I made the comment that the Mass is still valid no matter what music was sung or how good the homily. That rather stunned a few. Because the younger folks now look at Mass as merely a religious service like Protestants do. So you need to attract people with bells and whistles and an emphasis on what they can “get out of it”. Catholic Mass is NOT a prayer meeting. It’s that Vatican II over-emphasis on community that is warping how younger Catholics understand the Mass and now find it boring.

    I’m old myself and remember when being Catholic went beyond Sunday Mass. It also included retreats, the Angelus, 40 hours devotions, Benediction, May day crownings of Mary, vibrant youth groups, men’s clubs, etc. That’s how community and personal feelings were nurtured, but today people only have time for that one event on Sunday morning. If it doesn’t entertain and get our juices flowing, people are disappointed. Previously, nobody expected that from Mass which is an ancient ritual where the important thing is what is actually happening at the altar – whether anybody is there or not.

    You would think that these young folks moving to Pentecostalism would recognize what they are giving up, but they don’t because 40+ years of modern teaching about their faith has been faulty. I see it in my own sons who grew up with the happy, clappy stuff. They don’t understand the Mass at all.

    One last thing from a choir member. Catholics have turned their backs on hundreds of years of glorious music which was truly emotionally engaging and transported one to the infinite. This has been replaced by out-dated folk music. My sons say they can hear better music on the radio and at concerts. The music that has taken over at most Catholic churches is banal and is focussed on the people in the pew and not the transcendant.

    But there is hope. My oldest son is back. He is getting married to a faithful Catholic and invited me to a weekday noon Mass to get a look at his parish church in a downtown area. He is fascinated with the Angelus the people say before Mass starts and the full participation of the people in the pews – who are mostly professional people on their lunch break. After Mass, the Rosary is led by a man in the pews. My son is discovering the Mass that he never saw growing up. It doesn’t require Latin to get our roots back -just an absence of the banal and giving up trying to be trendy.

    I don’t think going “charismatic” is going to retain or lure back Hispanic kids who don’t know what the Mass or their religion is all about.

  • Joe

    What is it about contemporary American life that causes millions of Hispanics to seek a more personal God? Why are Hispanics today searching for more emotional and personal forms of worship? Why didn’t their parents and grandparents of yesteryear? And what about the millions of Catholics who are embracing Pentecostalism — in Catholic sanctuaries?

    The question is based on a false premise that a personal God cannot be found within Catholicism. I’d guess Maria Rodriguez, if asked, could have described to us her personal God and emotion prayer style. Catholicism has BOTH high AND low styles of worship. The high style is reserved for the Mass, and low style(s) is acceptable for various kinds of communal or individual worship services.

    We read about how the protestant Hispanics feel about the Catholic Mass: predictable, uninspiring, ritualistic. I’d want to read more about their understanding, in light of Catholic teaching, why the Mass is different from a ‘worship service.’ It’s clear they’re seeking more emotional, personal worship (who isn’t?), but did they leave the Church due to doctrinal issues or ignorance.

  • Dennis Colby

    I agree that there could have been more in the story about the appeal of low church worship, but I thought it was very well done. The conversion of Spanish-speaking Catholics to various forms of Protestantism is a HUGE story both in the US and in Latin America and deserves a lot more attention.

    It’s just a guess, but it could be that for many readers the appeal of low church worship doesn’t need explaining because it’s self-evident. America, after all, is a Protestant country and Protestant assumptions are deeply encoded in the culture. I imagine someone saying they want a “direct, personal experience of God” wouldn’t raise many eyebrows anywhere in America.

  • Brian Walden

    There’s an interesting relationship here that I wish the article had examined more closely. As Julia pointed out, Mass in many (most?) U.S. parishes much less ritualistic and much more “personal” than in pre-conciliar times. But if this is truly what people want, shouldn’t less and less people be jumping ship as more and more alterations from the prescribed rubrics occur at Mass? And with the news over the past months of the growing popularity of the Traditional Latin Mass, it seems that people are abandoning watered-down Masses from both ends of the spectrum.

    I wish there was a way the article could have explored the theological beliefs – especially those beliefs concerning what happens at Mass vs. at the services at their new church – of the people it wrote about. As Julia and Joe pointed out, I think it would have revealed far more interesting insights than merely looking at the styles of worship.

  • Julia

    low church worship

    This is the problem with the article. It isn’t even a term used or recognized by Catholics. As I understand the term, it has the connotation of no incense, no vestments, no bowing, no ancient music, etc. It relates to liturgical styles within the Anglican church, which does have both high and low church versions.

    “Low church worship” has nothing at all to do with the essential difference between the liturgical Catholic Mass and Protestant worship services (such as Pentecostal) that are not liturgical.

    That’s the big issue that is missing in the article as Brian pointed out.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    Hmmm. Penteostals and Roman Catholics have very different understandings of Baptism in the Holy Spirit. I wonder how the Roman Catholic Pentecostals work that out.

  • Maureen

    A high mass is sung and uses six candles (usually). A low mass is spoken, is often practically silent, and only uses two candles; it is the newer form and was invented so priests could get their daily mass said and done quickly.

    But these distinctions only apply to the Extraordinary Form of the Catholic Mass (and only in the Latin Rite), AFAIK.

    Moving right along… the charismatic movement is _related_ to Pentecostalism in many practices, but retains Catholic theology. I doubt you see a lot of Pentecostals spending a lot of time thinking about Marian apparitions, which is almost universal among Catholic charismatics. What’s interesting is that it’s very popular among Hispanic parishes, at a time when it’s pretty much run its course among most American Catholics. (I think of charismatic Catholicism as an 80′s movement, and tend to forget that it’s still around.)

    After Vatican II in many parishes, paraliturgical services, guilds and sodalities, adult religious education, and personal devotional practices were discouraged or swept away as unnecessary distractions. But the truth is that these add-ons personalize faith and teach people things they need to know as individuals — and thus _allow_ true collective worship of God in the Mass without distractions.

    Or you might think of them as faith vitamin supplements, or balancing your diet. You can survive without them, but you keep having these strange cravings, and you don’t know for what. So then if you find something that has some of the nutrient you need, you binge on it… but somehow, you’re still not satisfied, because something else is now neglected.


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