Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The missal (again) - yes it will generate mass Mass attendance!

The Age has yet another attack on the Church by Barry Zwarz today (M/T Fr Z), following on from his recent run - on the weekend on bishop selection; yesterday on Cardinal Burke, and now today, back to the new Missal! 

And yet again fed by ex-priest Paul Collins.

If in doubt, trot out Paul Collins - anti-Catholic spokesperson

Apart from his status due to membership of the Old Boys club, it is difficult to understand why the media take the slightest bit of notice of Collins - just who is he supposed to represent after all? 

Why not actually talk to some mainstream catholics for a change (and maybe our bishops should consider trying to ensure there are a few constructive lay voices voices in the public arena on such issues to supplement the voices of the bishops)!

I won't bother going through the whole article, it's mostly the same tired old rant about who controls the Church and so forth. 

But there are a few issues worth drawing out.  First the possible impact of the new missal on mass attendance.  Secondly, migrants and the use of less idiomatic language.  And finally, the case for 'accomodating' those who do not wish to accept the new translation.

The liturgy does affect Mass attendance rates!

Mr Zwartz dismisses out of hand the suggestion that improving the liturgy might actually encourage people to go to Mass:

But it takes a particularly fervent advocate to suggest, as William Oddie does, that a liturgy-led revival will reverse declining church attendance.

But in fact of course Mr Oddie has a very strong case.

Zwartz relies on some very unhelpful remarks from Bob Dixon of the Australian Bishops' Pastoral Office, who claimed that:

"...When we asked people why they stopped going to church, almost nobody said it was because the church has lost its sense of reverence by using modern English. They said they stopped because they can't find relevance, they can't see a connection between the church's agenda and their own agenda, they disagree with certain church teachings.''

Ideologically driven research?

But you have to actually ask the question!

Because here's the thing.  As far as I can see, the studies of why people stopped attending Mass undertaken in this country that Dixon refers to completely failed to actually ask about whether or not the liturgy was a factor in their decisions, or to do any probing on the subject!

The 1996 Catholic Life survey offered a number of alternative reasons for non-attendance at mass, but the closest it came to asking about the liturgy was 'Mass holds little or no meaning for me', a reason selected by 16% of non-attenders.

And the qualitative research that was undertaken by the Pastoral Projects Office to follow this up seems not to have seriously probed whether banal, irreverent or worse liturgy was a factor at all.

Surely a very strange omission...

Even stranger that a Church employee should be out in public attempting to undermine the implementation of the new Missal.  A case of inter-Office bureaucratic warfare?  And thus helping make case for a serious slashing of the size of the Australian Bishops' Conference bureaucracy!

Liturgy does matter!

In fact, of course, as Fr Peter Williams of the Bishops' Liturgical Office (and, I gather, newly appointed Vicar General of Parramatta diocese) pointed out in his commentary contained in the 2007 report to the bishops, there is every reason to think that liturgy is an important factor in Mass attendance. 

He commented in relation to the report that:

"Whilst a number of participants identified poor leadership, institutional inertia to change and what was perceived as intransigence in matters pertaining to moral issues, the report states:…they (respondents) did not get anything out of going to Mass any more and …came away from Mass feeling angry, frustrated and wondering why they were still attending."

That is a sentiment I, and many others, can completely identify with!

And consider the sentences in the 2007 Report before those highlighted by Fr Williams: "A common cause of declining attendance among participants was that they did not find much intellectual satisfaction in going to Mass. Ten participants commented that the homilies in their parish were of poor quality, being ill-prepared, theologically unsound, badly delivered and irrelevant."

He could also have pointed to a number of other problems identified in the research that also hint at liturgical discontent: a belief among some that 'the people at Mass lacked sincerity in their worship', and 'a lack of a sense of community'. Could it perhaps be in fact that all that liturgical fakery such as over-enthusiastic greetings at the sign of peace comes across to many as exactly what it is: insincere and artificial?

And international studies and comparisons I've previously referred to on this blog aside, there is a lot of other anecdotal evidence to support the importance of liturgy as a factor - take for example the phenomenon of attending mass in parishes other than their geographical one.  It is widespread. 

The reality is that underlying all of the other factors that undermine mass attendance, liturgy remains the elephant in the room for the liberal establishment.

The new Missal itself won't, of course, solve the problem.  But it is certainly an important step in the right direction.

Non-English speakers and the Mass

There is another issue raised by Mr Dixon of the Bishops' Project Office that I think warrants a comment, namely his suggestion that "a more elevated, less idiomatic liturgy" will create language hurdles for the nearly one-third of non-English speaking Church goers.

In reality of course, as any language teacher could tell you, precisely the opposite is likely to be the case.  It is idioms that those less familiar with a language struggle most with because they tend to mean things other than what the words literally suggest! 

Thus, while it does have to be learnt, a more hieratic style of language can actually make it easier, not harder for migrants (one of the reasons of course the Church used Latin for centuries).

Make provision for those who refuse to change?

But surely the most outrageous lines in the article belong to a Fr McGinnity, who says that:
"...when the church moved from Latin to English 40 years ago, the Vatican accommodated those who refused to change, and suggests the same should happen this time."

Now there is of course a big difference between suppressing a rite used for centuries, and changing a few words, however important, in a translation that has been used for only a few decades.

All the same, personally, I think we could go with the level of 'accomodation' Father proposes. 

Because as far as I can gather, that 'accomodation' was to allow retired priests to apply for special permission to say the old mass strictly in private only.

So go for it Father, retire (if you haven't already) and see if you can get that special permission.  And stop bothering the rest of us.

**A Priest Down Under has a helpful post on other aspects of Mr Zwartz's article.


Anthony S. Layne said...

It's a good thing I checked here first; I was going to comment on the article, but I figured you'd be more up on the matter.

BTW, do you have any evidence that Barney Zwartz and Paul Collins aren't the same person? I sometimes wonder if "Barney Zwartz" isn't the name Dr. Collins gave to his sock puppet.

Felix said...

One of the biggest problems is that young people chuck the Faith when they leave school. (There's a deeper problem involving priests, but that's another story ...)

And one reason why kids leave is that they feel the Faith has no point, no insights, no credibility.

By themselves, changes to the liturgy won't solve this problem. But they will help lead people to realize that Church's teaching is not a collection of simplistic platitudes.

Kate said...

I'm not sure I agree Felix - there was a very nice blog post I'm almost sure I linked to recently that argued that so much of school catechesis was completely undermined by liturgical abuses and the contradictory messages the liturgy can send. I'll hunt it down later....

R J said...

Kate reads this Zwartz rubbish so that the rest of us don't have to.

Incidentally Zwartz and Paul Collins are definitely different people. Years ago on the radio, oddly enough, I heard Collins (still a priest in those days) make some reasonably sensible remarks about the sheer awfulness of Catholic "liturgical" pop music. And in one of his earlier books - can't remember which one - he reveals an improbable liking for Palestrina and suchlike traditional Catholic composers.

So he's not altogether beyond redemption!

Kate said...

True enough RJ it certainly isn't worth reading as such!

And I agree on Collins - I read and quite enjoyed one of his books many years back (probably the same one from the sound of it) that talked about the unfortunate influence of Irish culture on Australian liturgical music (just getting my anti-St Paddies day plug in!).

I fear he has moved a long way from those views these days however - hard to reconcile a love of Palestrina in the liturgy and the hatred of the new missal after all!

Anthony S. Layne said...

@ R J: Okay, maybe so, and I'll concede the point once I see Zwartz say something positive about the Gather hymnal. (Or is that something that only we in the US suffer?)

@ Kate: Be nice about the Irish! I doubt the Irish were responsible for the awfulness of modern liturgical music. Blame American hippies from the 1960s ... much more probable, and much more fun to abuse. If you can't take Dr. Collins seriously on anything else, why should you take him seriously on this?

Anthony S. Layne said...

BTW, one blog I like to drop in on every couple of days or so belongs to the <a href=">St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association</a>, a traditionalist organization based out of Ireland. I don't know how St. Paddy's Day is celebrated Down Under—up here in the US it's celebrated with plenty of pub-crawling and (Lord help us) green-dyed beer—but in Ireland it's observed as a religious holiday, and most of the pubs are shut.

Kate said...

Hmm, I have to admit that strictly speaking the case against the Irish is really an indictment on the English!

But the effects did indeed come to us via Ireland - the preference for the low mass over the solemn/sung; unwillingness of catholics to actually join lustily in hymns, chant, and some jansenistic tendancies.

The excellent book by Thomas Day, Why Catholics Can't Sing attributes the cultural wasteland that was Irish catholicism to it largely being cut off from the continental theological mainstream for a couple of centuries; being forced to celebrate masses as silently as possible in secret due to the anti Catholic laws; and to the association of high liturgical music, bells and smells with the enemy Anglicans...

It is a great and very entertaining book, do go and read!

Anthony S. Layne said...

O alas! Another book that must wait on my Amazon wish list until I'm employed and fully funded! But I've been wanting to read that one for some time. I have ancestors on both sides of the Irish Channel, so I understand any reluctance to blame the English for bad Irish musical taste. But I do suggest you follow the link to St. Conleth's CHA—not because it proves anything, but because they have a lot of interesting posts looking at different aspects of the Faith in Ireland.

R J said...

I think the Paul Collins book in question was called Mixed Blessings. Whether or not Collins knew of the Thomas Day study, he came to conclusions that weren't wholly dissimilar.

Anonymous said...

With regard to declining attendances, liturgy and theology are a 'chicken and egg' conundrum. If the theology is clear then the liturgy will follow from this, and abuses will not happen, whichever rite the mass is celebrated with. Children rarely get exposed to good theology, and even good liturgy tends to assume clear theological knowledge. I recall teaching a class for communion (two years ago, in the parish not at school) and some of the parents (and 90% of the children) were surprised when I explained why I genuflected on entering the church. This despite most of the children and parents having attended Catholic schools. But, oops, I'm back on my soap box about the state of the Church in Tasmania....

Anonymous said...

I wish to make two points here.
1. Paul Collins, the former priest. This man seems to have so much to say on almost every issue of Catholic life especially anything concerning the priesthood of which he has left. The man is highly critical by nature, very critical of the bishops of Australia (of which he is not one nor would have been one) and generally takes a most negative approach to all things Catholic. In a country like Australia which is small and where Catholics are not more than 30% he seems to think he is the man to right all wrongs whenever on the radio, Tv or in the press.
Isn't it about time we stopped listening to such negative, anti-catholic diatribes from Collins? Has he ever done anything to build up the fabric of the Church. Has he gone off to the slums of Calcutta and just spent many months anonymously caring for the sick and dying? There are so many people who live selfless, anonymous lives being Christian and fully catholic in their daily moments. I think it would be best if he had a little bit of humility and just cleared out for a while and gave the whole Australian CAtholic community a rest.
2. Mass attendance - this is not just an Australian problem, its universal and especially in Europe. But, I know that at one church in London on Sundays, the place is packed out with over 1000 or more, young and old, at Mass - and its a latin mass with the most amazing polyphany - great Mozart masses and a real sense of the sacred. No guitars here, no jungoistic music. No, its just a MAss with the sacred intact and not pandering to some liberal-balloon-dancing-eucharist (a total contradiction). In Paris I have seen a church where so many young people come by and pray before the Blessed Sacrament every day and sing evening prayers and psalms with a large crowd. It is a place of great peace and prayer. A stunning old church near Notre Dame, which is a refuge from the crazy world and one in which the Blesssed Sacrament is central. No gimicks, no guitars - voila!!!

PM said...

Some of the comments ever at Cathnews bear out kate's point about the chip on the shoulder (chant is for arty-farty elitists, etc - when it's nothing of the sort and a lot easier to sing than mostof the liturgical pop we suffer from).

Collins is not alone here. Susan Parsons, co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology, no less, prefers a sung OF Mass to the 'sheer crushing banality' (nice phrase) that blights so much OF liturgy.

PM said...

I have seen some more excerpts from Dr Collins's piece. It has all his usual gravamina against the Vatican, but may still get him denounced as a crypto-fascist fundamantalist over at aCatholica. Why? He still seems to think the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed count for something and should be in the questionaire.