The Church Mediocre

Among converts and those thinking of converting and those who are thinking of converting but denying it, there is a lot of talk about how awful the Catholic Church is when you actually stop reading books of apologetics and visit the local branch.

Here you thought it was the Church Militant and it seems like the Church Mediocre. It has what Fr. Newman calls, ‘living room liturgy’ a goofy left wing priest wanders around in sandals, and tone deaf children sing kumbayah and stand around the altar with father to say the Lord’s Prayer…(Awww, aren’t they cute?) Added to this are the pedophile scandals, priests dipping into the funds and what seems an epidemic of ignorance, complacency and idiocy in the pews.

Too often this is what it is like dear friends. If you want one man’s recipe for improving the liturgy, Fr Newman’s written down his recommendations.

But beneath it all remember what you’re looking for. People said to me when I became a Catholic, “Well, do you like the Catholic Church?” My answer: “Not really, If I was choosing a church I liked I’d still be an Anglican. They have all the nice buildings, all the nice music, all the nice table manners and all the nice people. I became a Catholic not because I thought it was the perfect Church, but because I thought it was the true church.”

Mark Shea has a good post about the church mediocre. He says it better than I can: it’s down to this–don’t join the Catholic Church because you are against gays or women priests. Don’t join the Catholic Church because you don’t like Baptists or Anglicans. Certainly don’t join the Catholic Church because you think you’ll find fine liturgy, excellent preaching and enthusiastic congregations (with certain notable exceptions of course) Join the Catholic Church because you are convinced that it is the Church Jesus Christ really did establish on his friend Peter.

If you’re there, come and join us. We can always make room for one more sinner in the boat. If you’re not, maybe you’d better put up with what you’ve got.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17691145638703824456 kkollwitz

    “Come on in- it’s awful!”Actually it’s much better than, say, 25 years ago, in my experience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05227411938775535934 Jeffrey Smith

    I agree. There’s been a major improvement. Still, the only reason I’m Catholic is that I’m convinced it’s true. All the rest is icing on the cake.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04053407632823479165 UltraCrepidarian

    Technically speaking the Church Triumphant refers to the Saints in Heaven. You knew that too, though, I suspect. :-) I know, that Church Militant doesn’t sound as nice, but that’s what we’ve supposedly got down here.Other than the Rad-Traddies, there aren’t so many Militants down here, and nobody even mills about much after Mass, they’re out like a shot, some right after receiving the Eucharist and before the “Mass is ended Go in Peace” bit.Anyways there is everything from Great to Mediocre to Terrible at the Parish level. There are some great parishes, and some horrid ones, and some whole dioceses that are in deep trouble.Warren

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05227411938775535934 Jeffrey Smith

    I’m not sure I agree completely. First, how should we define militant. I’d say the radical traditionalists are more foul-tempered than militant. The militant ones are those who are out there every day, usually without thanks or even notice, doing the work of running the Church, spreading the Gospel, and generally trying to strive for holiness.I can’t say people are out of my parish like a shot. Everyone sticks around because in winter, because we have an excellent reception with coffee and all sorts of goodies.There are great parishes, bloody awful parishes and every step of the way in between, but the vast majority are, at least trying to live the Christian life. Never forget that they all have one thing in common, the Real Presence of Our Lord is always there, whether front and center or stuck away in a closet. Even mediocre parishes can shine with the glory of that one simple fact.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05227411938775535934 Jeffrey Smith

    Please excuse the typographical errors. I’m rather worn out right now.

  • Tubbs

    Sometimes I think that the Holy Ghost permitted the 60′s iconoclastic atrocities perpetrated against our Catholic worship. Perhaps He wanted this chastisement to preserve ‘Ma’ Church from the sin of pride. I think we’ve all witnessed the excessive obsession with liturgy in other “high church” congregations. …Just a thought. I loved that list of reasons why one should NOT become a Catholic. I think that pretty services, (however rarely they’re found in the R.C. Church), definitely belongs on that list.

  • Tim

    Father, that was an excellent post. On the subject of people shooting out of church (even before mass has completely finished), I think people (especially us cradle catholics) forget how important mass is. Rather than making it the focal point of the week, it is merely fitted in. PS I find your blog very inspiring. Thank you so much.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06735175874152541268 Stephen Wikner

    The points you make, Fr Dwight, are all well taken. Liturgical awfulness should not be a reason for staying away but I do think liturgical awfulness remains unnecessary. For this reason I find Fr Newman’s firm views on the matter a real tonic.At the risk of producing yet another long comment, this is what I wrote on his site:-’What a joy to read this. What I particularly like is the firmness with which you express yourself. There really is no room for argument about such things. Such an attitude used to be a characteristic of the Holy Roman Church but these days is a rarity. All power to your arm and to those of like mind. There’s every reason to believe the Holy Father for whom, as an Anglican I’m now (at long last) enjoined to pray, is with you in what you are saying and doing so (please) strike while the iron is hot. He’s not a young man . . .One final thought on which I’d be interested to hear your comment. Your remarks about the positioning of the tabernacle and and altar candles are, to my mind, entirely correct. My pet hate in older churches with side altars is the way they have usually been stripped, Reformation style, of all their furnishings. Yes, it is entirely right that attention be concentrated centrally (on the Blessed Sacrament) preferably in the correctly positioned tabernacle and the altar in front of it but surely that doesn’t mean everything else has to go. If only for aesthetic reasons, may I put in a strong plea for the restoration of crucifixes and candlesticks to these altars as originally intended? And please don’t let me hear a word about theft. Where necessary it really isn’t difficult to bolt down most portable objects. Where there’s a will, there’s unquestionably a way.Oh yes, one final, final thing. Please can all Catholic priests teach the confused faithful about the whys and wherefores of genuflection? A great many people all too clearly haven’t a clue about this any more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01718162592660319087 Radical Catholic Mom

    Great topic. My parents used to say “We are Catholic despite the Church.” I have had to say that to myself many a time.

  • J.

    Good post. We all need to remember to be grateful for the gift of the Church when we feel like complaining about the “lookey-lous” in church, the non-genuflectors (and all those aberrants of “form”). I’m reminded of the comparison of the Church to Noah’s Ark: it’s crowded, smelly, full of beasts & can really wear on you. But where else ya gonna go?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    The Church = Noah’s Ark. I love it

  • Anonymous

    “There are great parishes, bloody awful parishes and every step of the way in between, but the vast majority are, at least trying to live the Christian life. Never forget that they all have one thing in common, the Real Presence of Our Lord is always there, whether front and center or stuck away in a closet. Even mediocre parishes can shine with the glory of that one simple fact.”Jeffrey, I do hear what you’re saying and your comment is true as far as it goes. The problem is that it does not go nearly far enough. I am becoming more and more convinced that the Real Presence for many people functions something like the First Amendment: not only is it barely understood, but it is used as a tonic against making any value judgments whatsoever, and for letting the most brazen offenses against the Spirit go unredressed. Of course we all know about the Real Presence, but for most of us, it exists at almost all times at the level of a doctrine–something like the existence of black holes, which we take on faith but cannot in any way actually see, and so must remain for the most part on the level of cognizance. It’s an extremely difficult thing to approach and experience directly, as everyone who participates in regular Adoration can attest.The abominable state of liturgy, the out and out artistic and architectural vandalism that has taken place, the stomach-turning awfulness of our music, the flagrantly disrespectful carnival atmosphere before and after Mass–these are not small details. They say much, very much about the extent to which people have any faith in the Presence at all. Functioning as both cause and consequence, this lack of faith and the irreverence that comes with it seriously throttles the congregation’s ability to actually experience the Eucharist, and therefore the Real Presence, for what it truly is. If the Presence is only active on the level of a doctrine, then it is for all intents and purposes superfluous.Yes, of course we know that “deep down” the Presence of Our Lord is shared in common between good and bad parishes. But should anyone actually walk into a Catholic Church these days–and by this I mean fully 95% of all the Churches I have ever been in–he would need to have that fact explained to him in very explicit terms, because absolutely nothing that happens there, nor anything anyone can actually see, hear, smell, or touch, would give him any indication of the fact. Whether the Real Presence is actually extant is not the point here–we all believe, imperfectly, that it is. The point is whether the aesthetic and liturgical holocaust that has pillaged the heritage of the Roman Church–that is, the demolishing of every Catholic’s birthright–makes any difference in how people believe. I submit it does.If simply attending Mass is an intense, soul-crushing weariness, then knowledge of the Real Presence is likely to fade into indifference, blind rage, or disbelief. Human beings, in short, need reminding, and it is the purpose of the liturgy and of the space in which it takes place to constantly remind us. When it fails to do this, the souls of the faithful are imperiled.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07822146312033633535 ~m2~

    I joined the Catholic Church almost 11 years ago because this is where I meet Jesus in the Eucharist. Where else could I go?Our homilies are rather bland, the choir sings off key, but at the consecration of the Host, I am lost in a sea of adoration. It keeps me tethered to the Church…good, bad or indifferent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05227411938775535934 Jeffrey Smith

    Just thought of something. You should do a post on that Tolkien quote about how a badly done Mass is good for us. That’d set the cat among the pigeons these days.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I don’t know the Tolkien quote, but i was saying much the same thing today at lunch.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01186202810919174492 Mac McLernon

    Now, now, Jeffrey… tempers are shorter during Lent, and it’s not nice to start stirring!!;-D

  • Anonymous

    If badly done Masses are good for us, we ought to be in the springtime of human saintliness. But of course, Tolkien had a particular idea of what he meant by “Mass,” and it in almost no way resembled what most parishes do these days.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14729612779930162079 4HisChurch

    “If I was choosing a church I liked I’d still be an Anglican.” Yep. I left the Church for 10 years for a “high” Episcopal Church. I still miss the music, the incense, the pageantry….*sigh* Why did I come back to the Catholic Church? Because Jesus is there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13753776175726884530 Rowena Hullfire

    I live in the Bible Belt, and a coworker’s Bible-thumper hubby was beginning to challenge me about my Catholic faith.”Why are you a Catholic?”I think he expected me to say because that’s how I grew up–but he doesn’t know I’m a prodigal daughter who left the Church and reverted later after “wrestling with angels.” Life is a great teacher. Some of us insist on learning the hard way.My answer: “Because it’s true.”He ended his challenge. He started asking me about the Mass, thinking I’d say something heretically unchristian probably, but I explained it as a perfect and complete symphony of worship, the direct vertical worship of God, and explained the “movements” to him.Challenge dead.I live in mission territory, and my parish is over half converts from the Bible beater sects, and they are too chatty before and after Mass, it’s their heritage. But at the same time, it’s the first parish I’ve ever been to that has adoration and benediction, and it’s where I learned the rosary. These people are really sincere. I am not going to get all het up about little things here and there.

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