This is s good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that some among the new cohort of Catholic priests from generations X and Y understand the demographic and liturgical crises that are bringing the Church to her knees.
It is no secret that in many (if not most) Catholic diocese across the county, attendance for Sunday Mass has been in steep decline for the last 50 years. Some would even say the deadline has been precipitous in the post-conciliar-church.
Faced with this reality, many priests, pastors, and bishops have been confounded as to what can be done to stem this tide. One priest in a small Michigan diocese gave a homily as Advent started that lays out a real actionable plan that looks to the past to find hope for the future.
When Rev. Edwin C. Dwyer, of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan received the report of the annual Diocesan attendance count, the numbers spurred him to give an epic homily.
I’ll just jump in to say up front that nothing in Fr. Dwyer’s homily should be considered scandalous, controversial, or revolutionary. It is only “epic” compared to the milquetoast sermons most American Catholics are spoon fed each Sunday.
The entire diocese of Saginaw saw a 7.3% drop in Mass attendance this past year. Since 2013 (five years ago), the diocese as a whole has seen a drop of 23.7% in Sunday Mass attendance. Since 2005 (13 years ago) the Sunday Mass attendance in the Diocese of Saginaw has dropped by nearly 45%. Roughly 22,700 fewer souls attend Mass in this diocese than did when I graduated from CMU. I’ll say that again: 22,700 fewer souls are being fed by the Word of God, and the Holy Eucharist on Sundays since 2005: a 45% decrease. The raw population has only dropped 10%. Would any business, or political party look at similar numbers and decide to continue with the status quo? I will not do so either. We must make changes.
What did these changes entail?
The first step is to acknowledge where we are suffering the most in terms of demographics. So, look around the pews, and take note at the proportion of old and young. I’m 36 years old. How many folks do you see my age or younger? If we do not have folks my age or younger, who will have the children to be baptized and taught in the faith? Who will be the families at this parish in 15 years? Will we be able to stay open in 15 years without the young? Personally, I don’t see how we can. Again, no business or political party would see how they could.
I want to be clear. I will rejoice in any soul I help bring to Christ. I am in this job for the zeal of souls. So if a 98-year-old man wants to be baptized, I will rejoice just as I would if a college student asked for the same thing. I’m in this to save souls, but I wouldn’t mind if I could save a parish along the way. If we are going to keep this parish afloat into the next generation, the major focus must be on what emboldens younger Catholics, and what attracts younger non-Catholics to the Church.. . . . . So what works?
Believe it or not, tradition works. So-called “old ways” are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, LATIN are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church. Furthermore, when younger non-Catholics experience these traditions they are struck by how different they are from everything else they experience in a noisy, secular culture. These “old ways” are beautiful to them, and beauty is a great place to introduce young folks to Jesus Christ.
Thus, we are going to make Sunday beautiful at Our Lady of Peace. That’s not to say it isn’t now. I have nothing but respect for all who help with our worship, but we are going to make it more beautiful with tradition. We are going to look, and sound, and smell vastly different from the rest of the world on Sundays. It will be a religious experience that, at the very least, will be memorable to the young who encounter it. We’ve already taken a few steps with Communion distribution, and the altar server attire. I have not been here long, but folks tell me they’re noticing more young families, and crying babies. And if the church ain’t cryin’, the church is dyin’. My goal is to hear a chorus of crying babies before my time here ends. To do that, however, we need to embrace what works with the young. We need to more greatly embrace timeless traditions. We cannot keep the status quo.
If you want to see a bit of what I mean by tradition, come to the 6 pm Mass at SVSU (Saginaw Valley State University). I’ll happily give you directions. It’s not the pre-Vatican II Mass, but we have restored many lost traditions that Vatican II requires us to practice to the delight of the students.
I’ve given my prescription for revitalizing the Church. Fr. Dwyer’s measures are a good start, but they represent the bare minimum necessary to stave off the graying and emasculation that are poised to devastate the Church in the West. Still, the fact that any pastor is willing to celebrate tradition over failed innovation is encouraging.
In a letter released Friday, Bishop Walter Hurley attempted to explain his actions in removing Fr. Edwin C. Dwyer, the parochial administrator at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Bay City, Michigan.
“For some time now I have been aware of a number of issues, particularly with the Liturgy, that have divided the parish community at Our Lady of Peace Parish, Bay City,” Hurley wrote. “This is a serious concern in that our worship should draw us together, rather than divide.”
The “issues” Bishop Hurley references are the slow introduction of some traditional elements to only one of the three weekend Masses celebrated at Our Lady of Peace. These changes were not offering the Tridentine Liturgy, or even offering the Mass Ad Orientem. The changes included placing candles on the altar, the use of incense, the ringing of sanctus bells during the Consecration, and reducing the amount of extraordinary Eucharistic ministers.
These minor and gradual changes were met with resistance by a small portion of entrenched parishioners at Our Lady of Peace, but met with joy and hope by younger members of the parish. The vocal minority forced a “town hall” parish meeting on Jan. 21 to complain, and the meeting was marked by acrimonious statements, sometimes becoming blatantly disrespectful, from a handful of discordant and disrespectful, mostly baby-boomer generation parishioners.
Just days after this town hall meeting, Father Dwyer was relieved of his duties as chaplain at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) without warning by Bishop Hurley. The reason giving was that his work at SVSU was causing “conflict” at his parish.
Note to aloof Catholic prelates: It’s no longer 1972. “Appealing to the youth” does not mean constantly massaging the egos of aging Boomers who pay lip service to serving young Christians’ needs but pitch a royal fit anytime they’re not the exclusive center of attention. Condescending letters based more on SJW cant than the Gospel will no longer serve as fig leaves for your cowardice in throwing pastors dedicated to the cure of souls under the bus.
Christ commanded you to let the children come to him, not “Let the children come to Him, unless it makes Baby Boomers feel unhip.” If the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll generation doesn’t like bells, candles, and incense, they can go to the Protestant church down the road.
Related: Protestant friends have asked my why the Catholic Church seems to have been copying off them for the last 50 years. I hope this post resolves that mystery.
Back to our millstone candidates: sacrificing a Gen Y priest like Fr. Dwyer who’s at least aware of the demographic crisis, to assuage shrill Boomers who are on their way out one way or another, demonstrates disastrously poor foresight.
Too many in the current Catholic hierarchy are not wartime consiglieri. And the diabolical forces currently working day and night to destroy the West are first and foremost making war on the Church.
Bishops who are too oblivious, too cowardly, or too addicted to the government trough to energetically oppose the forces of Mammon and Moloch should step aside and let more capable shepherds take their office.
Perhaps Providentially, parents of the kids being sold out by the hierarchy at the Boomers’ behest are waking up and pushing back. The list of persons and organizations potentially being sued by lawyers representing the calumnized Covington students includes:
- Diocese of Covington
- Diocese of Lexington
- Archdiocese of Louisville
- Diocese of Baltimore
The Church’s renewal will come from the laity. It is our vocation to consecrate the world to Jesus Christ, and that includes prelates who seek the praises of the world rather than God.
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