An article in the Daily Telegraph ponders why the number of people attending parish churches in England continues to plummet.
While attendance at cathedral worship is up, the number of worshippers in the local churches is in free fall.
The Anglicans, of course, are not the only ones.
All the churches in the Western developed countries are seeing numbers decline.
The reasons are complex, but there are two big culprits.
One is simply that people are busy doing everything else on a Sunday. As more and more shops and businesses open on Sunday an increasing number of people will be needed to keep them open. Put simply, people are working on Sundays and shopping on Sundays.
When the civil authorities stopped keeping Sunday special it was bound, eventually to lead to a decline in church attendance.
It takes self discipline to get organized enough to make church attendance on Sunday a priority, and when it ceases to become THE priority for Sunday it soon gets edged out. It has to be fit in with the other stuff to do on Sunday, and if there is enough other stuff, then it is difficult to make it a priority. Soon the church habit slips and before long you’re not really going at all anymore.
So much for the third commandment.
However, there is a more profound reason for the drop in church attendance.
I don’t think many people really understand what church is for.
Let’s face it. Why should anyone bother to go to church at all?
What’s the point?
In most places the Protestant religion has been reduced to Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. That means God (if he exists) is out there and doesn’t really interfere. Religion is therefore about becoming a nicer person and doing good stuff.
If that is all that Christianity is, then (as Flannery O’Conner would say) to hell with it.
No wonder people have stopped going to church because if your religion is no more than Moralistic Therapeutic Deism why bother dragging yourself off to a dreary building early on a Sunday morning to sing awful hymns with awful people and listen to some guy or gal read from a 2000 year old book and then drone on about being a nicer person peace and justice all are welcome gather them in and songs about eagles.
You get my point.
People are dropping out of church because it simply doesn’t make sense.
However. Take yourself off to a traditionally celebrated Mass and you are on another planet. Suddenly the worship is strange and beautiful and otherworldly.
The priest is talking about stuff you can’t get anywhere else. He’s not talking about making the world a better place, he’s talking about finding our way to the best place.
He’s not talking about saving the environment. He’s talking about saving souls.
He’s not talking about peace and justice, but introducing you to the Prince of Peace and the Fearful Judge of All.
This is something you need if your soul is to be saved and you can’t get it anywhere else.
Here is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of your Redeemer, and you can’t get that at the mall, the athletics activity, the soup kitchen or the activist’s meeting.
This is why not only the Catholic Church, but the traditional form of Catholicism will ultimately survive and thrive: because it is real religion.
This is what real religion is about: a transaction with the supernatural, the threshold of heaven, the staircase to the stars, the grittiness of repentance and redemption, the soul’s salvation and the heart’s homing.
All the churches that are declining are declining into moralistic therapeutic deism…..and they will continue to decline because what they are offering is not religion.
It’s a blend of the Girl Scouts, Being Spiritual and the Power of Positive Thinking…and you don’t need to go to church for that.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the other hand.
That you got to go to church for.