Question to Ponder

Question to Ponder April 20, 2009

The reason why so many people leave the Catholic Church is not because they lost their faith, but because they never had it in the first place. They are not raised to have any faith. They are trained to think of Catholicism as a set of rational propositions combined with a set of rules which one must follow. They think doctrines can be reasoned out by anyone, and should be reasoned out, just as one reasons out a mathematical proof (and so if they can’t do it themselves, they give up on the doctrine). What is left, then, is a set of rules that one has to live out one’s life. And isn’t that what we see with so many people – all they offer to others are rules, rules, and more rules. “Don’t do this, don’t do that”? No positive, holistic approach can be found in how they deal with their faith, for, in the end, there is no faith. Because of them, and how often they tend to be among the most vocal of Catholics, is there any wonder that people think this is what Catholicism (and religion) is about? Flannery O’Connor met with a young woman who left the Church because of this: 

The other thing concerns a girl I am writing to who is a lapsed Catholic. She says she found that instead of ‘make straight the way,’ it was ‘make tight the straight jacket,’ and that her family was very strict about trifles and treated the negroes terrible, etc., etc. A typical Catholic family, I gather. Anyway, apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back with her was when a priest told her that it was a mortal sin to eat meat on Friday. She is real confused and I am trying to give her suggestions about reading some people like Maritain as she obviously never read anything but the Do-Nots.
— Flannery O’Connor, Letter To Father James H. McCown, Dec 29, 1957 in O’Connor: Collected Works.  Ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Library of America, 1988), 1058. 

The sad thing is that the Do-Nots continue to be quite vocal and continue to confuse many a young person, male or female, about what Catholicism is about. Talk to the lapsed, see what it is they think Catholicism is about, and what Flannery O’Connor described will be a common occurrence. If you met someone like this girl, and they are interested in what you have to say to their experience, what would you tell them? How would you go about explaining Catholicism?


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  • The first sentence above sounds wrong. I know holy people who moved from Catholicism to a Protestant church in order to have (a) a meaningful liturgy; (b) better religious education for their kids.

  • If they had faith, why would they leave? While liturgy is important, it is not what makes or breaks the faith — indeed, since Protestants generally do not do liturgy, it can’t be for a more meaningful liturgy. Second, lack of a proper religious education would explain why one lacked faith, would it not?

  • This is a good post. I’d probably get them a good book, give them a copy of something like “Theology and Sanity” by Frank Sheed, or even “Theology for Beginners”–which is very meaty despite the title–or “The Faith Explained”. And of course there are many other great books discussing God and faith which don’t read like membership rule books. Giving books avoids the problem of one’s own personality getting in the way of their faith development–consider this is coming from someone with a personality which is rather obnoxious at times (i.e., me.)

    Oftentimes I’ve found that there are “stock” excuses given why people leave the church which aren’t their actual reasons. For example I’ve heard this many times: “All the priest did was ask for money every Sunday. That’s why I left.” Personally I’d be content if that was the worst “sin” a priest ever committed, but it’s patently untrue. Of course if you call their bluff it’s not going to help them get to heaven which is the real kitty here. It’s more like stealing the towel from a naked person.

    The mainstream media plays a big part in the reduction of religion into automaton morality. This goes hand in glove with the widespread denial by so-called intellectuals of the supernatural, especially within Christianity, the incarnation and resurrection, or Christmas and Easter, if you will. Even St. Paul admits that we are pitiable if there is no resurrection of Christ; they are just logically following the logical conclusion of a negative premise.

  • I, too, disagree with your opening statement. The question, to me, is whether one can “leave” the Church at all. But, regarding your position, I find it rather obtuse in thinking that such a draconian statement of all people who have left the faith could possible bolster an argument against the Do-Nots. Let me be more clear: I “left” the faith for several months in the midst of deep crisis of faith, belief, and identity. My “return” has left me all the more appreciative of that trial. It had nothing to do with some originary lacking of faith “in the first place”. Unless, of course, you mean that we are always lacking faith “in the first [and last] place”. So, coming back to my own question, what do you mean by “leave the Catholic Church”? Is that even possible?

  • Pauli

    Right, the stock excuses are just that. If one had faith, those excuses wouldn’t work, would they? That’s the problem, they become stock because they are easy excuses to deflect the real issues.

  • Sam

    First, I said many, not all. Are you denying people who were baptized as kids who really never cared for going to Church, and never had any faith as they grew up, but only did what was expected of them because it was expected? I know many who just went through the motions and stopped going once they became an adult. It’s quite common. I have taught many of them. They took up a large percentage of my classes, because they had to take religion classes, and I got to see where they were coming from. It’s not because their faith was tried, it was because it wasn’t tried at all, and it wasn’t developed, that they stopped going and left. They didn’t believe. They thought it was all about propositions and rules, and didn’t believe either. Faith transcends the propositions; many treat them as they treat scientific theories, when they are not, it is easy to understand why they might believe one day, and not the next, without it being faith.

    I am sure there are people who had real faith who later had profound difficulties, a crisis of faith, and ending up rejecting their former faith as well. But the fact that the majority of former-Catholics I talk to don’t even understand the Catholic faith, and when they are asked to describe it, get it so wrong, tells me much they didn’t have the faith itself.

    So what does it mean to leave the Church? It depends upon the person. It can be anything from someone no longer going to church, becoming automatically excommunicated because of it (they left, and never came back); or it could be something more formal, with explicit statements (such as the people who tried to get “unbaptism” certificates). Even though they might be related to the Church in various ways, they have cut themselves off and, subjectively, have left.

  • Joseph

    How does this girl’s experience equate a lack of faith? It sounds to me that it was a series of externals that eventually made a malcontent out of her, no? Her faith faded because of the perceived Phariseeism she claimed to have witnessed (which I’m not denying, but we are taking her word for it). What are her positions on women priests, gay marraige, and abortion, contraception, sex before marriage, cohabitation, among other things?

    Wasn’t there a story told by Archbishop Sheen in which a priest complained to him that the Church was a den of hypocrisy because it says, “feed the poor”, but at the same time hoards all of the collection money and uses it to build elaborate churches, purchase expensive vestments and chalices, etc. The Abp’s response was, “how much money are you stealing from the offerings?”. It turned out that the priest in question was in fact stealing money from his parish. The moral of the story is, one’s public motives for dissent are probably not their real motives. Call me a cynic, but I encounter this more often than not with “fallen away” Catholics.

  • Patrick Mullen

    People leave their religious associations for any number of reasons. I would be hesitant to narrowly assign any one reason as the reason for all.

    Having said that, I suspect that no one having an authentic experience of God would leave the Church where they had it. Catholicism is NOT simply a body of beliefs, that if one understands it well, will satisfy with knowledge only. Yes, it is guided by a body of beliefs, and it is a way of life, but it is primarily an experience of God.

    Teachings taught poorly can damage that experience. Liturgy and sacraments poorly administered (as opposed to “celebrated”) can damage that experience. The holistic and rich way of life poorly modeled can damage that experience.

    Take my statement of “a way of life” with caution, though. There are actually many ways of life that suitably model and live out the authentic Catholic experience. I speak of it in the singular because that is the individual’s perspective. The communities’ experience will have wide variations because of culture, rearing, and to a certain degree within the proper place of human freedom, personal preference. Intolerance, in this last regards, is rampant in the current American Church. Both the progressive and conservative expressions of the faith have been intolerant of each other, as though one can only experience God within their own narrow and “correct” paradigms.

  • There is, I think, a real problem that the church’s work is often assumed (by both church and non-church people)to be that of establishing social order and control. Then the church’s life becomes exteriorized, the church is the “authority,” and the church demands compliance but has a decreased ability to offer transformation. While social order and control are necessary and good things they are not the primary work of the church which should be the healing of the soul – the interior life. If we get our interior life healthy and working the exterior life of social order, control, decision making tend to fall into place. So maybe the issue you describe is at least in part one of ecclesiology.

  • Henry, I think you’re spot on… speaking for myself (35 years old) and my high school confirmation classmates, the vast majority of us (all of us, perhaps) had no understanding of the Christocentricity of Catholicism… for us, it *was* about the rules. Our confirmation teacher was excellent, but unfortunately, we were already mostly-formed (17/18 years old at Confirmation) by prior catechesis and (presumably) family situations to see Catholicism as a matter of rules.

    Given this too-common gap between Catholicism at the local level “vs.” the Catholicism of JPII, Benedict, the CC, etc., I can see why some Catholics (cradle or convert) leave, disillusioned.

  • JP

    Henry,

    This post perfectly describes most of the students I teach. In New Orleans and the surrounding areas, Catholicism is part of the culture. The large majority of people are Catholic. My wife and I can walk to two different churches in less than 10 minutes and can drive to 5 or 6 others in less than 15 minutes. In this culture the sacraments become mere exterior rights of passage. Parents who never go to church demand that their child be allowed to recieve first Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, etc. Many get Confirmed because everyone else is doing it, because mom and dad want them to, and becase if I don’t I can’t get married in a church, which, although they never attend, remains very important.

    Adding to the problem is the sad state of public schooling down here. Almost everyone who can afford to sends their children to private/Catholic schools, not necessarily b/c they care about the faith, but b/c they care about “education,” or at least schooling. The problem is that religion class becomes just another class, and a blow-off class at that. Thus the students perceive little difference between religion class and history or listerature class. The Faith becomes mere information. It is not real. They have no performative encounter with the Risen Christ, no relationship.

    For many of them “leaving the church” in college is not a very momentous decision. It just happens. Just like forgetting what they learning in literature class just happens.

    • J.B., Chris, and MM

      I am glad not everyone misunderstood my point here. It’s always interesting for me to see what “former Catholics” who also claim to know everything about Catholicism have to say about it. It is from their statements, on top of other factors, which led me to post this. I think many people tend to be surprised when they read Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI, because what they find is not exactly the “Catholicism” they thought existed (and more non-Catholics read them than earlier Popes).

  • JB

    oops JP = JB

  • This rings true for me. I drifted away from the Church in college, on account of what O’Connor describes as the “Do Not” attitude. I would describe it as the effects of Jansenism, the pernicious importation of Calvinism into the Church, where virtue can be assessed by adherance to rigid rules and norms of behavior. As always with Calvinist-inspired ethics, the answer is to emphasize the person of Christ — this is familiar to us on this blog, but it was not familiar to me back then. Far from it. It took me a long time to figure it out, with help, of course. For the Word of God is not a book, it is not a set of codified rules and regulations, it a person.

  • Ronald King

    I actually agree with your opening statement. I left the faith when I was 18 and returned Easter of ’05 only through the gift of grace that is God’s Love. Prior to that Gift I can now see that the Sacraments were also a gift that gave me a conscience and an internal guide in life that I did not listen to at times and resulted in self harm or harming others.

    First and foremost is the human being in childhood is wired to love and be loved. Instinctively, the child learns from the behavior, words and attitudes of those who have some authority over them in the family and social environments. A child will respond with fear or security based on the disposition of the authority. If you have the best catechesis program in the world being taught without a loving disposition the child’s instinctive response may be compliance without a sense of appreciation for the subject.
    Love creates the response of reward and attraction. Fear creates the response of distress, isolation and aversion.
    Compliance can occur in both cases. However, that compliance in the either case does not equal faith. It only indicates an internalization of a particular aspect of the experience of developing faith or its lack of development. Either case can lead to a rigidity of belief that does not evolve into a mature faith that leads to an ever deepening search for the mystery of God’s Love on this planet.
    However, the story of the prodigal son is the partial story of my faith. It is interesting in that story that the son who never left and was faithful had no love for his brother.
    Miracles that I never asked for and the discovery of God’s Love that I never prayed for brought me home. No theologian, no priest, no catholic, no reading about Catholicism brought me home.
    God softened me up with Buddhism for approximately 35 years and then blew my mind with His Love.

    • Ronald,

      The story of the prodigal son is the story of us all, in different ways and different circumstances. But you are right, the focus of love is important. Indeed, as I pointed out in my series on lies, it’s the real law, and as a law, its dictates oblige us, but not by external force. When love is gone, all one sees is the “Do not.”

      I think many could find and learn much from the Buddhadharma as you had. While of course Catholics do not agree with everything Buddists do, I do think (as with many others) it could offer much in a way Aristotle or Plato did before. Hans Urs von Balthasar even believed the day would come that it would be for the future what Neo-Platonism was in the Patristic era.

  • David Nickol

    I wonder how many people leave the Catholic faith (or any faith) when they belong to a true community of fellow believers that they know and care about and who know and care for them. I have sometimes compared the kind of Catholicism I was raised to believe in as more like banking than religion. There was very little sense of community in my parish growing up. You went to Mass, went to confession, and participated in other devotional activities as individuals (or at best as families). There was no sense that people in the parish formed a community of interrelated individuals who were there ready to help each other if something went wrong. The whole thing was about as personal as deposits and withdrawals from a bank. And in fact, as with a bank teller, the importance of the transaction with a priest administering the sacraments has nothing to do with his moral worthiness or personality. We had a priest at our parish once (not the pastor, thankfully) who was clearly psychotic, although not dangerous. (A friend in a religious community said the inside story was that they just didn’t know what to do with this poor priest, so he got moved around from one parish to another. So it wasn’t just pedophiles that were handled ineptly.)

    I am no expert on very early Christianity, but I have always assumed that people in the early Christian communities actually knew each other as human beings and felt a kind of connectedness that (for many reasons) most Catholics probably don’t feel today. And of course they didn’t have hundreds and hundreds of years of elaborately formulated doctrines and dogmas to believe in. The didn’t have to concern themselves with words like “ontological” or “hermeneutics,” or “hypostatic union.”

    I suppose it was inevitable that the life and teachings of Jesus got worked into an elaborate system of rituals and philosophical propositions that the early Christians could not possibly comprehend were we to travel back in time and try to explain them.

    • David

      I think a sense of community, which is important and should be there to fully actualize the faith, could also serve as a way to get people to continue to go without having faith, if the community is strong. But I think one who has faith would not find the difficulties when one lacks the community as being a detriment for staying. They would understand that faith often requires us to do things on trust, in love, for Christ, even if we feel we get nothing out of it. Of course, it’s a tough road, and, like with Abraham and Job, it tries the one who has to face it. Indeed, it is in the crisis and how we react to it that we see whether or not we have faith. The crisis doesn’t have to be something big, to be sure; C.S. Lewis, for example, said he didn’t always like going to church, and so thought it was, in a way, an act of faith to go when he did.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    I think a person can be graced with a rudimentary Catholic faith on the personal level but at the same time be subject to an insufficient communal expression in the life around him /her. Additionally, he/she may not be graced with the presence of others who provide a deep and authentic personal witness.

    In these cases, it would ‘make sense’ if such a person were to look elsewhere for both a deeper and more profound communal and personal expression in the lives of others.

    • Mark

      True; of course, one is gifted with grace in baptism (and I was not talking about that here). Obviously, without having others there, without having communio, it’s a tough road. I know that one first hand. It can be quite tough when one feels like one has to go about it alone. But that is also a time of trial. And it’s not a judgment to those who find their faith is weak — but, again, I do think faith shows, not when things are easy, but when they are tough. When things are easy, and everyone else is going along with you, it might be faith, or it might be something else…

  • Joe Hargrave

    Spirit of Vatican II:

    “Meaningful liturgy” at a Protestant service? That’s what we get when we water down Catholicism with Protestantism to get Novus Ordo; both are diluted and lukewarm.

    Nothing is more meaningful than the Tridentine rite, the so called “extra-ordinary” form of the Mass. I will never understand the childish complaints that lead to its revision and abandonment.

    Priest doesn’t face the people? He’s not there to be your buddy.

    Doesn’t speak your language? Get the little red booklet and read along.

    You don’t “participate” enough? You’re present at a ceremony that is hundreds if not thousands of years old. Why isn’t that enough? Why isn’t that “special”?

    And the chant of the choir is sublime. There was no reason to do away with any of it. None of the changes increased Church membership; its still on the decline. Even the pragmatic reason is dead. Hence Benedict’s Motu Proprio on the traditional Mass.

    • Joe there are many other liturgical traditions, and I wouldn’t say “nothing is more meaningful” than the Tridentine Liturgy. To me, the notion that it needs to be in a foreign tongue is strange (whether or not one can “read” what is going on, it is a disconnect, and makes an extra layer of disassociation between the laity with the celebration itself). Clearly, for many who experienced the Tridentine growing up, it was anything but meaningful as a worshipful experience. In part, it is because the Tridentine itself can be done in many different ways, and those who go about it now are those who have a special focus with it, and so do it in a way which was not the normative way it was done, making it appear to be more than it actually was. For me, I always ask, how meaningful can a liturgy be when there is a strong disconnection between what is going on with the priest and what is going on with the laity (and the two rarely, if ever, interact)?

      In saying this, I know it has good elements, but so do all liturgical traditions. It is not the exemplar of liturgy, however. There is only one of those (The Mystical Supper/Last Supper). And as we notice quite easily, it is not necessary for us to repeat it exactly as it was done.

      There are many ways we go about interpreting liturgy to get meaning, and I find far more meaning in my liturgical tradition than what I’ve ever seen at a Tridentine liturgy. But, as with all search for meaning, we have to understand some of what we get is subjective… and that is a point few want to deal with. This is why some can get more meaning out of a Tridentine, others out of a Liturgy of St James.

  • Sherry

    Hogwash. Just as many leave the Catholic church because they don’t believe the church is correct on any number of dogmatic pronouncements. They have plenty of faith, and they exercise it elsewhere. To say as you do is nothing more than the usual diatribe launched by the ultra right which declares that all lapsed, cafeteria and left Catholics are “poorly catechized” as are nearly all Catholic universities and colleges, most priests, and virtually all religious women who don’t agree with them. People leave because they in their hearts cannot reconsile what they believe is right and God with the stance taken by the Church. It has little to do with rules…I can be pro choice, pro Gay marriage, and pro women’s ordination without any of those touching me personally.

    • Sherry

      If they don’t believe in the dogmatic teachings, isn’t that the same as “they don’t have faith”? I am not quite getting your point.

  • David Nickol

    In these cases, it would ‘make sense’ if such a person were to look elsewhere for both a deeper and more profound communal and personal expression in the lives of others.

    Mark,

    I was thinking about my sister and brother-in-law who have a developmentally disabled child. To make a long story short, they felt they got nothing from their Catholic parish. One day my sister stopped into church with the child, who was not really misbehaving but was restless. A woman who was also in the church made an unkind remark about the daughter, and when my sister explained the daughter’s problems, the woman said (and not kindly), “Well, maybe she shouldn’t be in church!” It was the last straw for both my sister and her husband, and they joined a Methodist Church where they felt they got real support. They have since moved to another city and found the local Methodist Church there to be as welcoming of them and their daughter as the first one was.

    On television, you often see people who have gone through ordeals saying they couldn’t have made it without the help of people from their church. I wonder how many of these are Catholics.

  • David Gamaliel

    Priest doesn’t face the people? He’s not there to be your buddy.

    Doesn’t speak your language? Get the little red booklet and read along.
    Dear Joe Hargrave:

    #1: The Tridentine rite is not thousands of years old. It was formalized at Trent. There were a variety of rites in operation in different places before it.

    #2: Music and the judgment of what is sublime or beautiful, or even simply enjoyable is always a question of taste. I rather like chant, as apparently you do, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to like it or be moved by it.

    #3: The Church in Europe had dramatic losses in participation prior to Vatican II, meaning that your old rite hadn’t held on to them. If the new rite didn’t increase the percentage of attendance, the old one was failing even earlier.

    #4: Yes the priest isn’t there to be your buddy. In the original liturgy, though, in which Jesus participated, his disciples reclined at table, facing each other. The truly ancient liturgies did the same. The idea that priests should not face the people was a relatively late liturgical innovation. It surprises me that you fine late liturgical innovations attractive.

    Blessings,
    David

  • Joseph

    Wow. That was a strange mix of responses. My head is spinning.

  • Joe Hargrave

    David,

    Does “formalized” mean “created”? If not, then when exactly was the content of the Tridentine Mass created? I’m not a liturgical scholar, but Traditionalists argue that it dates back to the Apostles. Are they lying?

    “Music and the judgment of what is sublime or beautiful, or even simply enjoyable is always a question of taste.”

    When it comes to what you listen to on your iPod, I agree. But is it out of bounds to ask, “what music pays the greatest homage to God?” What is more conducive to a state of prayer and worship, and humility before God? Is the Mass about “us”, or is it about Christ? These are the questions I ask.

    “The Church in Europe had dramatic losses in participation prior to Vatican II”

    If that’s true, they should have done a better job assessing the root of the problem before uprooting the ancient liturgy.

    “It surprises me that you fine late liturgical innovations attractive.”

    It isn’t about what I find “attractive”. It’s about accepting something that is relatively easy to accept for the sake of attending the most reverent worship of God I have ever seen in my life.

  • A woman who was also in the church made an unkind remark about the daughter, and when my sister explained the daughter’s problems, the woman said (and not kindly), “Well, maybe she shouldn’t be in church!” It was the last straw for both my sister and her husband, and they joined a Methodist Church where they felt they got real support.

    I think there is a connection between this and the view of the Tridentine Mass that Joe expressed — the kind of Mass-as-concert, the high culture “hand-me-my-Latin-read-along-program-and-do-not-disturb-me-while-I-soak-in-the-transcendent-mystery” approach. I don’t get it.

  • …when exactly was the content of the Tridentine Mass created? I’m not a liturgical scholar, but Traditionalists argue that it dates back to the Apostles. Are they lying?

    Yes, they are lying.

    But is it out of bounds to ask, “what music pays the greatest homage to God?” What is more conducive to a state of prayer and worship, and humility before God?

    It’s not out of bounds to ask such questions, but it is dangerous to think that we could come up with only one answer. The Church is catholic.

    Is the Mass about “us”, or is it about Christ?

    It is — and this is KEY for any liturgical discussions — about BOTH. The gathered Church is the Body of Christ.

    If that’s true, they should have done a better job assessing the root of the problem before uprooting the ancient liturgy.

    They did not “uproot” anything. The goal was not to “protestantize” the Mass, but to simply it based on a going-back-to-the-sources (ressourcement).

    It isn’t about what I find “attractive”.

    Actually, he is right. This is pretty much what it comes down to.

  • If they don’t believe in the dogmatic teachings, isn’t that the same as “they don’t have faith”? I am not quite getting your point.

    The dogmatic teachings of the Church and “faith” are obviously connected, but I don’t think they are simply the same thing.

    • Michael I

      Obviously they are not the same thing, if one is looking at the dogmatic teachings as mere propositions. It’s, to me, a finger pointing beyond itself; if all you complain about is how ugly the hand with the finger is, then you don’t get the point. And that is what I see with the complaints about dogmas (on many sides of the debate). They just don’t get the point, but argue over the hand.

  • At the risk of spoiling a perfectly good liturgical pie fight in its infant stages…

    I’m trying to think whether I find this post describes something akin to my experience or totally opposite.

    On the one hand, I’d say my experience of religious education (ours was a working class parish in the San Fernando Valley — Los Angeles Archdiocese, and I’m 30, so I’m talking about the mid 90s) was definitely one in which most of the other people in CCD/confirmation prep did not have any real understanding of or interest in the Catholic Church, and were very open about their plans not to go to church anymore as soon as their parents weren’t making them.

    However, I saw very, very little of “do nots” or of Catholicism as rational propositions to be accepted or rejected. We got lots of little inspirational snippets (the catechists loved to read from Chicken Soup For The Soul); discussed our feelings; talked about how Jesus was always on the side of the oppressed (I specifically remember the catechist arguing this meant if Christ were around today he’d be going on Gay Pride marches); we were repeatedly told that mass probably didn’t mean anything to us but that we should come “at least once in a while” anyway in order to feel like part of the community; and we were required to do 100 hours of volunteer work per year.

    The main things people got out of the program seemed to be that the catechists had terrible taste in music, Jesus loved everyone, and we should be doing lots of volunteer work.

    Our current parish is not nearly as much of a train wreck as the one I grew up in when it comes to catechesis, but it’s still generally fairly light on rules and doctrines and fairly heavy on telling everyone how great the community is (despite the fact it’s a 3500 family parish where you see more strangers than familiar faces at any given mass.)

    So while I’d agree that in some corners of the Catholic blogsphere there’s a heavy emphasis on “do nots” and on a rational proposition approach to doctrine, I’ve always taken that as being primarily an attempt to fill in the massive gaps that one often finds in Catholicism as presented in the average parish.

  • On liturgy: I fail to see the big divide here. Personally, I attend a Novus Ordo Latin Mass every week, and I’m training to serve the extraordinary form. The more chant, smells, and bells, the better! And yet, if people are drawn closer to God with Masses featuring guitars and drums, even rock music, then good for them. Let them have it. What’s the problem?

  • What’s the problem?

    The problem is the attitude we see so often from fans of the Tridentine Mass: that it’s the “right” way and that the “Novus” Ordo is deficient.

  • Joe Hargrave

    I don’t want to get into the “liturgical pie fight” either. Suffice to say, I simply do not – and cannot – share the complaints that many have about the Latin Mass.

    “And yet, if people are drawn closer to God with Masses featuring guitars and drums, even rock music, then good for them. Let them have it. What’s the problem?”

    I might ask the same to those who actually get upset when a Pope simply reaffirms our right to the traditional liturgy.

    You ask what the problem is. In answering I want it to be clear that I am not some “rad-trad” sede-vacantist.

    We have a habit today of not taking certain subjects seriously anymore. Plato philosophized about the effects of music on the soul, and many Popes have followed suit.

    But today to even suggest that music is anything more than a matter of personal entertainment, to suggest that it and its effects can be subjected to an objective analysis, is met with skepticism if not derision. We’ve decided what music is for, and no one is going to tell us otherwise.

    Yes, what is the problem indeed? If music isn’t that important then it shouldn’t matter what kind of music one hears at Mass, whether it is a rock band or Gregorian chant. But if music IS important then it can’t simply be left in the realm of “personal taste” – a deeper analysis of cause and effect upon the soul of the listener seems to be required.

  • The tired liturgy debate is obviously not the topic of this thread, but nevertheless…

    I might ask the same to those who actually get upset when a Pope simply reaffirms our right to the traditional liturgy.

    “The” traditional liturgy? The current (or “Novus” if you prefer that inaccurate term) liturgy every bit as “traditional” as the older form of the liturgy. This “traditional” vs. “Novus” binary is simply not helpful, nor is it accurate.

    If music isn’t that important then it shouldn’t matter what kind of music one hears at Mass, whether it is a rock band or Gregorian chant. But if music IS important then it can’t simply be left in the realm of “personal taste” – a deeper analysis of cause and effect upon the soul of the listener seems to be required.

    Being in favor of a pluralism of musical forms at liturgy does NOT mean that one thinks “music doesn’t matter.” Music does matter.

    I don’t think anyone here suggested that liturgical music should be ‘left in the realm of “personal taste.”’ I think what was suggested is that you yourself are basing your views liturgical music on your own personal taste.

    I think you are reducing what is properly a theological question to a question about genres.

    There was a really lengthy and horrible conversation about liturgical music a couple months ago at your other blog, Joe. I don’t intend to revisit those annoying discussions here. But I do think we have to get out of this “either/or” mentality when it comes to the liturgy.

  • Joe Hargrave

    “Being in favor of a pluralism of musical forms at liturgy does NOT mean that one thinks “music doesn’t matter.” Music does matter.”

    Is it pluralism, or relativism?

    If it matters, then we should be able to ask if there is not one form that is better than the others, that is more instrumental and better-suited to the Mass.

    I’ve said nothing about genres or personal taste. I said the music was sublime, and I meant it – it isn’t about aesthetics, but what orients our entire being towards God.

    “I don’t think anyone here suggested that liturgical music should be ‘left in the realm of “personal taste.”’

    Really? One person said this:

    “Music and the judgment of what is sublime or beautiful, or even simply enjoyable is always a question of taste.”

    Another, this:

    “if people are drawn closer to God with Masses featuring guitars and drums, even rock music, then good for them. Let them have it. What’s the problem?”

    Was I unreasonable in assuming that some do see it as a matter of personal taste?

  • “Being in favor of a pluralism of musical forms at liturgy does NOT mean that one thinks “music doesn’t matter.” Music does matter.”

    Is it pluralism, or relativism?

    Well, if one thinks “music doesn’t matter,” then it is relativism. If one thinks that many diverse forms of music are suitable should be welcome at Mass, but without taking a “whatever floats your boat” approach, then it would be pluralism.

    If it matters, then we should be able to ask if there is not one form that is better than the others, that is more instrumental and better-suited to the Mass.

    I’ve said nothing about genres or personal taste.

    You didn’t use the word “genre,” no, but you are discussing what “forms” are appropriate and which are not appropriate and drawing such distinctions according to genre.

    I think we need to be able to make theological judgments about particular music’s suitability, but that this cannot simply be reducible to genre, or “form” as you put it.

    I’ve said nothing about genres or personal taste. I said the music was sublime, and I meant it – it isn’t about aesthetics, but what orients our entire being towards God.

    You can dress your preference up all you want in theological-sounding justifications, but the fact of the matter is that different people find different types of music to be “sublime.” And they mean it, just as much as you mean it when you are talking about your own preferences.

    Was I unreasonable in assuming that some do see it as a matter of personal taste?

    Personal taste is certainly involved. I’m not saying it’s not involved. I’m saying that we can have both objective criteria for what makes music theologically and liturgically appropriate along with a recognition that a diverse assortment of music is in fact appropriate because people are different, as individuals and as members of various cultures, and thus they find the divine in various musical forms. What ends up happening, though, is that people of whatever musical persuasion take their own personal taste and elevate it to the status of the “right” “form” of liturgically-appropriate music as if their tastes can be universally imposed on everyone else as that which truly “orients our entire being towards God.”

    Both/and, both/and, both/and…

  • David Gamaliel

    Joe Hargrave,
    when I said “Music and the judgment of what is sublime or beautiful, or even simply enjoyable is always a question of taste” it was in response to your statement: “And the chant of the choir is sublime. There was no reason to do away with any of it.”

    YOU say it is sublime (again, I rather like it myself for the purpose for which is intended). But I realize that it is NOT sublime for everyone. It does not lead everyone to God. It does not enable an experience of the presence of God for all. People are moved by what moves them. You were the one who made everything absolute by saying that “there was no reason to do away with any of it.”

    For the sake of those for whom the Tridentine Mass did not work, and does not work, I recognize that it was good to go back to a simpler, and in MANY regards, more traditional liturgy.

    The trouble I see is that part of the original plan of the writers of the Vatican II docs on the liturgy was never brought to fruition. After the hard work of restoring the more simpler forms of the ancient liturgy, which is largely what we have in the vernacular, each culture was going to be invited to adapt it using their own symbols and actions. This last step got short changed. In essence, we ended up with the genius of the ancient Roman rite (“noble simplicity”) that needed to be applied to new cultural and social realities, but the adaptation never happened.

    My own take is that what we have is “better” than the Tridentine liturgy for most, but that it is not at all as good as it could be, if the limitations placed on authentic, well reasoned and careful adaptation ever was carried through.

  • David Gamaliel

    Sorry, that last sentence makes no sense. Let me rephrase:

    My own take is that what we have is “better” than the Tridentine liturgy for most. It is not at all as good as it could be, but that would require that the authentic, well reasoned and careful adaptation, originally intended, actually happened.

  • Joe Hargrave

    “But I realize that it is NOT sublime for everyone. It does not lead everyone to God. It does not enable an experience of the presence of God for all.”

    Is it not possible that what some people feel is in itself mistaken and disordered? That some people mistake “the presence of God” for what makes them feel good? Lots of things can make us feel good, so how do we discern those things from the true presence of God?

    I know in even saying such a thing, it sounds as if I am simply trying to elevate my “preferences” to the top spot. But Pope Benedict makes a lot of these points in his “Spirit of the Liturgy”. There is a right and objective order in the God-created universe. We can align ourselves with it’s rhythms and harmonies, or we can choose our own.

    Does this mean I think everyone who likes rock music at Mass is a flaky, undevout, unworthy, sacrilegious blasphemer of Christ? No! But do I think the form of worship is less prefect? Yes. And I’m willing to be deliberately misunderstood, taken out of context, and insulted to hold and state that belief.

  • Joe Hargrave

    “but that this cannot simply be reducible to genre, or “form” as you put it.”

    Michael,

    Do you not like the word “form”?

  • Kurt

    To each their own. In my private opinion, I certainly appreciate the wider selection of Scripture proclaimed at Mass (three Sunday readings on a 3/year cycle and 2 weekday on a 2 yr cycle) in the renewed Lectionary rather than the two brief Sunday readings, the same every year, and then repeating the Sunday readings during the week, as in the former Lectionary.

    I appreciate music at most Masses, as opposed to the widespread Low Mass without music prior to the renewal.

    I appreciate the practice of more frequent communion and the sharing of the cup with the lay faithful.

    I think the restoration of the Holy Week rites are of great benefit. I think anticipating the Holy Saturday Vigil in the morning and then picking up with Mass on Easter morning was unfortunate.

    I appreciate the restoration of the diaconate and the discontinuation of using pretend “deacons” and “subdeacons.”

    I appreciate the permissibility of concelebration.

    I appreciate the renewed attention to the liturgical seasons, rather than an excessive focus on the calendar of the saints.

    I appreciate the ability to have Sunday afternoon and evening Masses along with Vigil Masses, particularly to the benefit of shift workers.

  • Ronald King

    Since returning to Catholicism I have experienced Mass in the Byzantine Rite and was absolutely overcome with the reverence being expressed. It seemed more reverent than the Mass I attend in the Roman Rite.
    However, this experience would not keep me in the faith if I did not have the gift of grace to have faith. I attend Mass for the ritual that brings Christ into the Eucharist and consequently into me. Before grace I experienced the Mass as empty. After Grace every word has meaning and purpose that had never been available to me before.
    It was the Catholics that influenced me to leave and it was Grace that brought me home.

    • Ronald

      As a Byzantines, I love the Eastern liturgical tradition, and I certainly am at home with it. But it also, almost by necessity, turns me into a pluralist, to recognize that there are different liturgical traditions, each with their beauty and graces. Yet, you are right, though it attracts us to Christ, it is through grace that the theological virtue of faith is able to be developed, and so it is through grace which we are kept in the faith itself.

  • Zak

    Kurt,
    Pius XVII restored the Easter Vigil in the early 1950s. I agree with you on the merits of the reformed lectionary, and on the problems of the low mass. I think there are merits in the broader mass schedule for Sunday, including Saturday evening vigils (as my wife is a nurse who must often work on Sundays, they are certainly a boon to us) although I think they have also let to a weakening sense of the holiness of Sundays. I don’t know how the pre-Vatican II liturgical calendar diminished attention to the seasons. It seems to me that the common practice nowadays of moving important days like Epiphany, Corpus Christi and the Ascension to Sundays diminishes their importance. It also seems to me that the penitential nature of Advent and Lent has been deemphasized (particularly in the case of the former). Maybe you mean that there’s more of a focus on Ordinary Time (which, prior to Vatican II were dated as weeks after Pentecost or Epiphany).

  • Is it not possible that what some people feel is in itself mistaken and disordered? That some people mistake “the presence of God” for what makes them feel good? Lots of things can make us feel good, so how do we discern those things from the true presence of God?

    Of course that’s possible. Do you think it’s possible that you advocate for the Tridentine Mass because it makes you feel good?

    I think the word “form’ is fine. But I wanted to point out that you are talking about genres.

  • RR

    I think there’s a big distinction between apostates and heretics. Apostates may have fallen from grace from any number of reasons. Heretics, in my experience, are usually born from ignorance and peer pressure.

  • Joe Hargrave

    “Do you think it’s possible that you advocate for the Tridentine Mass because it makes you feel good?”

    I try to be as conscious as I can of all things in my life, but anything is possible.

  • Ronald King

    Joe, “A rose is a rose by any other name.” Love has many different languages. What matters to me is the effect of the light of love in the quantum entanglement of human beings as opposed to the light that entangles us through friction–whatever that means.

  • david

    Dom Gueranger’s Liturgical Year. Such work is lost with current liturgical practices. To me, sad.

  • Welcome aboard, Joe. I’ve enjoyed your comments in this thread.

  • I try to be as conscious as I can of all things in my life, but anything is possible.

    Perhaps, then, you could give Catholics with differing liturgical preferences and opinions the benefit of the doubt and assume that they, too, have reasons for their preferences beyond mere “feeling.”

  • Kurt

    Zak,

    The liturtical renewal was an organic reform that developed over time, so yes, some features came earlier (the option for gothic vestments and the reform of the Holy Week rites in the 1950s). With the reforms following the Council, the Calendar of the Saints was reformed as previously it was so full, it obsurced the liturgical seasons. The reforms also introduced the practice of optional memorials allowing celebration of the feast of a locally important saint without making it a universal obligation.

  • Joe Hargrave

    “Perhaps, then, you could give Catholics with differing liturgical preferences and opinions the benefit of the doubt and assume that they, too, have reasons for their preferences beyond mere “feeling.””

    I’ve yet to hear those reasons. But my ears are open.

  • I’ve yet to hear those reasons. But my ears are open.

    They find the music “sublime.” Same as your reason.

  • Joe Hargrave

    Yes, but that brings us back to the question of objectivity, doesn’t it?

    I know it can’t sound good for a person to declare that his own preference is objectively better. At the same time it is a rejection of reason altogether to declare that one form, or if you like, ‘genre’ cannot possibly be superior to another, independently of what anyone thinks.

    I can’t help that Gregorian or polyphonic chant a) happens to be objectively more conducive to states of deep prayer and meditation and b) happens to be music I would rather hear than rock music, or even the vanilla hymns accompanied by the less intrusive piano.

    Maybe its because I’d rather be helped, and not hindered or left unaided, in my attempts to reach a state of more perfect union with God, that I prefer one music to the other. Maybe it has nothing to do with aesthetics.

    I say it clearly and again: I don’t think a person who likes other kinds of music at Mass is bad in any way. I don’t judge them as ‘less Catholic’. But I do think they’re mistaken about a number of things.

    If I can’t think that without bringing down a heaping pile of sarcasm and contempt from you, Michael, or anyone else, then so be it.

  • Contempt? Please. Get over yourself, man.

    Yes, objectivity, fine. But we’re dealing, though, with the realm of prayer, of mystery, of God’s interaction with human persons. If you want to go around making gigantic claims that one particular type of music, in the entire history of musics, is “objectively more conducive to states of deep prayer and meditation,” go ahead. But it strikes me as culturally arrogant and spiritually imperialistic.