Sunday, March 14, 2004

Believing but not belonging John Allen's internet column for NCR is a must read. This week he was discussing the Vatican's Council for Culture's assembly in Rome. I was intrigued by his report on the Vatican assessment of the world's growing indifference to church attendance. One conclusion: people "believe, but do not belong." I would have loved to get my hands on the actual working documents and reports from this meeting. Allen reported the "working agenda" also included some strategies for addressing the issue. (Typical of Rome, though: call a meeting, set the agenda, list the solutions before anybody even steps on the plane to get there.) The suggested solutions were interesting, even if premature. The usual suspects: Catholic schools, more apologists, etc. -- despite a worlwide survey's finding of widespread disrespect for institutions. But an artist should be intrigued by the notions of cultural festivals, sacred art festivals and programs, the establishment of Catholic cultural centers, etc.. Then reflecting on the current round of liturgy scuffles, I was struck that ... - Institution-centered liturgical reform will not address the core issue of low Mass attendance, and if anything, could further alienate those who do attend Mass. - Parish staff-centered liturgical solutions might be a mixed bag, at best. In the best of situations (mutual respect and love between parish priest, liturgy staff, and people) the efforts must be collaborative. And at worst, the pew people will disengage as they do with other authority-driven impositions in their lives. - And even given the collaboration one finds in occasional parishes, the danger is that attention given to liturgy will become too much of an internal focus. A strong evangelistic streak needs to run down everything the parish does in liturgy, especially baptisms, weddings, funerals, First Communions, Christmas, and Easter. The narcissism and self-celebration I detect in liturgy -- yes, in both IGRM and Tridentine Masses -- will not address our challenges. Thinking and reflecting and getting excited about these core issues, I suppose I could envision a day in which I would no longer be a parish liturgist. (I have already spent two of my sixteen professional years in other ministries.) Evangelization has got to be a much higher priority in every parish. And I see fewer parishes taking it seriously than those who try to address the challenge of making their Sunday liturgies better. Efforts in this area need to be pragmatic. The Church can no longer afford to just throw "evangelization programs" at the masses and hope for the best. We need to assess what we do against the marker of who and how many are showing up on Sunday. If something isn't working, throw it out and try again. What do you think?

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