The Curse of Casual Catholicism

Back in April I began a series on What’s Killing American Catholicism. The first post was on Cultural Catholicism and I argued that this was countered by Comprehensive Catholicism–a Catholic faith that is truly universal and transcends all cultures and ethnicities. The second installment was on Complacent Catholicism which is countered by Compassionate Catholicism. The third post focused on Cafeteria Catholicismversus Complete Catholicism while the fourth installment was on Cut Off Catholicismwhich is countered by Continuous Catholicism. This was followed by a post on Coca Cola Catholicism: or sentimentalism which is countered by Contemplative Catholicism. I encourage you to use the links to read the whole series and share it.

The next “C” word is Casual Catholicism. By casual Catholicism I am not simply criticizing people who arrive late to Mass and leave early. I’m not simply having a grumble about people who come to Mass in short, flip flops and halter tops. I’m not only having a moan n groan about people chewing gum in church and allowing their kids to play games on their iPad during the homily.

These problems are the symptom of something else. We are casual in our approach to the liturgy and being Catholic because we have forgotten what the whole thing is about. We have forgotten that the liturgy is worship and that worship is work. Remember “liturgy” means “work of the laity”. We have forgotten that the liturgy is about the worship and sacrifice to Almighty God and we’re unsure exactly what it is. As modernists quietly downplayed the supernatural element of our religion and replaced it with banal platitudes about “gathering together” to “make a difference in the world” we have forgotten what the point of coming to church is at all. If being a Catholic is about no  more than belonging to a friendly group of like minded people who want to make the world a better place and think it would be nice to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, then why go to church?

I guess it is to hear a pep talk about making the world a better place and to sing some songs that cheer us up and inspire us to make the world a better place and be nice. If therefore, Mass is not much more than a pep rally then why not behave and dress as if you’re going to a pep rally? Look around at the typical Am-Church: it’s a big empty space like a gym, and the music is blaring as at a pep rally, the coach gets up to give a rousing speech and everybody is glad to see one another as they prepare for the big game. Yay!

What is the antidote? Not just grumbling about shorts and flips flops and chewing gum, but an embrace of what might be called Classic Catholicism. Forget the externals. I’m not simply saying ladies should wear calf length skirts and mantillas and that the men and boys must all wear sport coats, ties and comb their hair. I’m suggesting that Classic Catholicism begins with an understanding and embrace of what the faith is all about–right at the foundational level. Read More.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I have been contemplating externals vs internals lately, especially when I run across people who state, “I won’t attend a mass that has X,” or “If I go to mass and I see Z, I will walk out.” Humans are sensory creatures, and the Catholic mass is a sensual experience–we hear, we see, we smell the incense (if used) and the wine, we actually taste our Savior. Our externals in mass are outward signs of inward truth, and we need to be also, in our actions, words and dress. Which is all my very long way of saying that I like how you explained things in this article (I’ve enjoyed the whole series).

  • QM Barque

    I don’t see a lot of sport coats and ties at mass, and I’m okay with that because the church is generally full and not many in our parish can afford the nicest clothes. We have a large migrant population that adds a humble reverence to the liturgy. I would not call them casual Catholics because of what they wear. Our family definitely “dresses up” on Sunday, but it’s still rather “casual” by most standards, because of the style of our parish. We’d prefer not to serve as another dissonant distraction at mass. Our rule is that if you wouldn’t go to a sit-down restaurant wearing what you wear to mass, there’s a problem.

    • Christian LeBlanc

      It is indeed possible to overdress for Mass.

    • James

      I’ve had to deal with this issue myself, as I go to a “casual” parish.

  • Plain Catholic

    From our love of God and His Church in the depths of our hearts, comes the desire to live each moment in His service and sharing His love, mercy and compassion for us.

  • Deacon Jason Schalow

    Father, I think you are spot on with the solution and that it has to start with the clergy. As St. Paul told the Corinthians: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). I made a resolution prior to my ordination that, with Paul, I would never preach a homily or give a talk without mentioning the cross. Everything has to tie back in some way to that Paschal Mystery in which our faith is grounded or what we are doing is meaningless. So far I have kept my resolution and the result has been overwhelmingly positive.

  • profling

    Father, you can thank the Vatican II liberals for the chaos. Aren’t they the ones who promoted the clown mass, among other things?

    • Dan C

      The likelihood of winning the lottery is higher than finding a clown Mass. These are harder to find than unicorns. You are using rare anecdotes and defamating the piety and integrity of the vast majority of us “normal” folks for your culture war blood sport.

      It is insulting. It is a distortion, and continued promotion of such approaches dissembling for the Deceiver’s own propagandistic purposes.

      The culture war is not God’s war.

  • Dan C

    I have lived in the Philadelphia and South Jersey area all my life, excluding a brief stint in Santa Fe and the Navajo Reservation.

    I am closer to 50 than 40, attend Mass in one of the insultingly described “theaterin-the-round” teepees. I have never had been a revert so I lack angry baggage blaming my straying on liberal liturgies.

    I do not understand these stories of clown Masses etc. i have not been to a Mass, including Masses at my Jesuit college in the 1980′s, that were not done seriously and piously. I have been to Benedictine monasteries in New Mexico, to Mass in Fort Defiance and throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey.

    The carcatures are unstudied, without statistics, and reflect anecdotes perpetuated by complainers from 10 years ago in forums that were created to complain.

    Truth is, as a Chruch goer, I find no truth to your reports on liturgical excess, suspect you are biasing rare problems and depicting trends. That makes you a deliberate or unwitting propagandist.

    • Al Bergstrazer

      You are correct, the ‘clown mass’ is a myth which had its origins in the Episcopal church, of which one did have a clown service in which the celebrants all wore clown costumes and the congregation was also invited to wear similar garb. There is photographic evidence of that. Although some might say an Episcopal priestess in a clown suit is redundant.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      I suspect that what are often referred to as ‘clown masses’ likely happened a while ago. I’ve not seen one either, and I’m still wondering what exactly a folk mass is, and why it’s so bad. My parents and an aunt and uncle of mine both describe their weddings as folk masses, but they are all very devout Catholics doing their best to live their faith and are very informed about their faith–that aunt teaches as Mount Angel Seminary, in fact.
      However, I did end up in a parish during college that struck a very wrong cord with me. The parish had been renovated the year before I came. Before it was what you would expect of many Catholic churches: a long rectangle, altar front and center, tabernacle in a prominent place, the largest crucifix I’ve seen up behind the altar. While the renovation was done to increase seating, when it happened, the large crucifix, in fact ALL the crucifixes, disappeared. The tabernacle was moved to a small side chapel that was usually closed off; it was only opened when the extra seating was needed. A visitor likely wouldn’t be able to find it. The priest, who also taught religion classes at the college, had a set rubric of homilies for the year, mostly focusing on community. He never gave his homilies on the readings or the gospel. It was a fun parish, there were lots of social events, free food almost every Sunday, upbeat exciting music, but after my second year, I started attending the parish across town, which was older, quieter, often had no music, and the heaters were not doing a very good job, but I liked it better. I could see both the crucifix and the tabernacle during mass, could find holy water fonts at each entrance, and the homilies were actually about the gospels of the day.

      So, I believe people when they feel like a parish has gone off the rails a little bit, but I also think folks get much too persnickety, picking at the small and unimportant. Maybe I was too, during that time. When I moved to Texas, I enjoyed the variety of masses I could attend, as there were more parishes within easy driving distance. I loved the Spanish masses, adored the chance to attend mass with the sisters in Prayer Town, and loved the traditional dancing procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe in December, which passed through all the streets of the little Hispanic satellite community near mine.

    • Nick_from_Detroit

      The only person being deceitful, here, is you, Dan. You are deceiving yourself if you believe that liturgical abuses have not hurt the laity of the Catholic Church. Just because you have not experienced such abuses, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.

      And, it is not just “clown masses” either. It is using cookies, cupcakes, Twinkies, and grape juice as the elements of the Eucharist, which is not licit, but happens in gatherings of dissenting “Call to Action” types. Or, so-called liturgical dance and other neo-pagan/New Age practices. Or, not using the proper words at Consecration, which means that the faithful are not receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

      The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life,” remember?
      See CCC para.1324 & Lumen gentium 11.

      http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm

      Pray for discernment from the Holy Spirit.
      God Bless!

    • Claire

      I’m a revert to Catholicism, and I have also never witnessed a so-called “clown Mass”; nor have I ever heard a first-hand account of one from anyone I actually know. Since I returned to the Church in 2011, though, I’ve seen so many online complaints about “clown Masses” and “liturgical abuses” that I’d wonder if there weren’t an epidemic. Clown Masses: the Urban Legend of the New Evangelization.

  • James

    I like the smells, the bells, and the old “Classic Catholicism”. (The Church once required the priests take an Oath Against Modernism. It’s a shame she did not require the same from her architects.) But one must be aware of going too far and mistaking formalism for worship.

    Some of the best masses I have been to were in a cinder block “modern” building with the congregation in “casual” dress. The building is a 1970s era mistake that no one likes, but the parish can’t afford to replace. It’s also in a college town, so shorts and flip-flops don’t raise an eyebrow. But the masses are full and the community is engaged.

    I have also been to masses that were so “formal” to the point of being stuffy. The mass became all about the priest and the ritual that the people in the pews were almost an afterthought. It felt not like an encounter with God, but like watching a performance on stage.


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