Some of you are writing to me today about a piece at the National Catholic Register by my friend Msgr. Charles Pope in Washington DC about the future of the TLM or Traditional Latin Mass. Pope contends that a ceiling has been reached and that now, at least where he is, numbers in attendance are dropping. His message is, effectively, “Evangelize or else close and die.”
I concur. I’ve been raising this call for a while now. It has ever been so, at least since the devastating to our Catholic identity inflicted since the Second Vatican Council.
Pope says that the numbers have to increase “to make a viable presence going forward”.
After an introduction concerning the harsh reality of numbers, both the bottom money line and attendance in the pews, Msgr. Pope makes a call to get out of complacency. This call cuts across the entire board of everything the Church is trying to do, TLM or not. As Pope says:
Frankly, our problem in the Catholic Church today is not one of money, but of people. When only 30% of Catholics go to Mass and many of those give less than 2% of their income to the Church, many activities, buildings, and institutions can no longer be sustained or maintained.
That’s right. People get what they are willing to pay for, pay in time, treasure and talent. If Catholics sit back and let everyone else do all the lifting, the whole thing will fall. Mind you, this is the situation across the board, not just in the “traditional” sphere.
Our forbears in the faith built churches, school and hospitals because they believed and they were not complacent.
Back to the TLM issue. Pope writes (my emphases and comments):
Evangelization matters. Effectively handing on the faith to the next generation matters. Attending Mass regularly and supporting the work of the Church matters. Vocations matter. Sacrificially offering our time, talent, and treasure matters. These truths matter throughout the Church and in every different setting.
Now go with me to a very different situation—a different scenario and part of the Church altogether—and see that the same basic rules apply.
Some years ago (as far back at the early 1980s) we who love the Traditional Latin Mass often said (or it heard said) that if we would just return to the beautiful Latin Mass our churches would again be filled. [That was a bit dreamy, perhaps.]
At first this appeared to be happening. As many dioceses (through the various indults of the 1980s and 1990s) began to offer the Traditional Latin Mass, those churches were filled, often to standing room only. Liturgical progressives were horrified and traditionalists were joyfully pleased and felt vindicated. [Pride goeth before…]
But as the availability of the Traditional Latin Mass has increased, it seems that a certain ceiling has been reached. [Perhaps in Washington DC.]
In my own archdiocese, although we offer the Traditional Latin Mass in five different locations, we’ve never been able to attract more than a total of about a thousand people. That’s only one-half of one percent of the total number of Catholics who attend Mass in this archdiocese each Sunday.
One of our parishes generously offers a Solemn High Mass once a month on Sunday afternoon, a Mass that I myself have celebrated for over 25 years. But we have gone from seeing the church almost full, to two-thirds full, to now only about one-third full. [It could be that people are demoralized by the feckless crawling of the leaders of our Church in the face of attacks from within and without, from the world and the Devil.]
Explanations abound among the traditional Catholics I speak to about the lack of growth in attendance at the Traditional Latin Mass. Some say that it is because more options are now available. But one of the promises was that if parishes would just offer the Traditional Latin Mass each parish would be filled again. [“Filled”? Not in my circle they didn’t.] Others say there are parking issues, or that the Mass times are not convenient, or that the Masses are too far away. [Which means that more Masses are needed, and a good times and more locations.] But these things were all true 20 years ago when the Solemn Mass was thriving. [So, he is talking about one particular scheduled Mass, once a month. So, just to play devil’s advocate… if it is only once a month, what signals to people that it is worth attending? For example, at Holy Innocents in NYC, a parish that was slated for closure, the TLM was implemented every day of the week. Attendance grew. Not only, most of those Masses are sung Masses and many are Solemn. Solemn Mass not just once a month, solemn every few days if not more often. It’s Tuesday: Solemn Mass. Attendance rose. Then they started devotions like all night vigils for First Friday… yes, all night vigils, literally from dusk to dawn. Attendance grew. They don’t do things by halves. Did they incur the hatred from some chancery folk? Of course. But they built it – at the cost of real sacrifice – and now more people are coming. I’ve seen this develop over the years and it is amazing.]
It seems that a ceiling has been hit. [Perhaps “a ceiling”, but not “the ceiling”.] The Traditional Latin Mass appeals to a certain niche group of Catholics, but the number in that group appears to have reached its maximum. [And then there is the harsh fact that older parishioners die. It is going to take a while to get the children of young couples into the mix on their own.]
Some traditional Catholics I speak to say, “If only the archdiocese would promote us more,” or “If only the bishop would celebrate it at all or more frequently.” Perhaps, but many other niche groups in the archdiocese say the same thing about their particular interest. [Has the bishop been invited? Repeatedly?]
At the end of the day, for any particular movement, prayer form, organization, or even liturgy, the job of promoting it must belong to those who love it most. Shepherds don’t have sheep; sheep have sheep. [Right. This is so. People should commit to inviting one person per week to come to Mass with them.]
And once again we are back to the fundamental point: numbers matter. Groups that seek respect, recognition, and promotion in the highest places need to remember that numbers do matter; it’s just the way life works. If we who love the Traditional Latin Mass want to be near the top of the bishop’s priority list, we’re going to have to be more than one-half of one percent of Catholics in the pews. [Even though some bishops lavish attention on other noisy but politically correct minorities.]
All of this is also background to a sad but instructive story that came out of a large archdiocese in this country. I don’t wish to mention the diocese or the name of the parish. If you want to read the details, the story is available here: Church to be Demolished. [Chicago. Institute of Christ the King.] For the purposes of this article, though, simply note that the church in question suffered a rather devastating fire. The particular church was home to the Traditional Latin Mass community and was rented from the diocese. [I don’t think there should be a “home” to the TLM community in one place.]
This is another situation in which numbers matter. The congregation attending the Traditional Latin Mass in this large urban diocese numbered only about 200. Given the typical pattern of Catholic giving, this is not a number that can sustain any parish, let alone one with an older and larger building.
Nevertheless, many bitter recriminations are being directed against the diocese and its bishop. Because many of the complaints are circulating on the Internet, it is not at all clear that the critics are even among the parishioners or clergy of that parish.
But at the end of the day, it really is about numbers. [Yes… it is. But is also isn’t. Numbers are not the only factor. First, at least in the wealthy North let’s acknowledge that we as a Church are dying. We are not dying by murder, but by suicide. We must get our heads into a new “creative minority” mode. People must choose to be Catholic today rather than just go through motions because that’s what the family did. Creative minorities are, by definition, smaller than the rest of the group. Also, because of a lack of advertisement (and this is another factor) there weren’t as many people at our Epiphany Mass as there could have been. No matter. We celebrated a beautiful Mass that was pleasing to God. I have no doubt that it resonated through the cosmos and perhaps … perhaps… kept something dire at bay one more day. Save The Liturgy – Save The World.] It just doesn’t make sense to plow millions into repairing an old building where only 200 people worship; it is not good stewardship. And ultimately, bishops are not responsible for church maintenance—congregations and people are. Congregations need to pay their insurance and maintain their facilities. Simply having a building is not enough. It must be maintained as well.
Further, simply offering a Traditional Latin Mass is not enough, [Hey! It’s a start!] as I try to show above. People aren’t just going to pile in, relieved that the “silliness” is finally over. Even traditional Catholics have to evangelize. [Here is another point. I think that strong-identity Catholics are demoralized. The weak-identity drift like corks bobbing on the stream. I suspect many of them belong to some other religion that has Catholic elements but… they are so squishy after decades of squishy preaching, squishy catechesis, squishy effeminate liturgy, cowardly leadership that they are… something, but not Catholic. Lately, however, I think that even hard-identity Catholics are becoming demoralized. You can only beat people so long until a supporting bone breaks. I wonder, in this scenario of falling attendance, if some people are not going to the SSPX.]
This is why evangelization and effectively handing on the faith to the next generation is so critical. Simply having a beautiful liturgy, or a historic building, or a school with old roots in the community, is not enough. Attracting, engaging, and evangelizing actual human beings who will support and sustain structures, institutions, and even liturgies is essential. No one in the Church is exempt from this obligation. [Across the board.]
If we who love the Traditional Latin Mass thought that it would do its own evangelizing, we were mistaken. It is beautiful and worthy of God in many ways. But in a world of passing pleasures and diversions, we must show others the perennial value of the beautiful liturgy. [We need hard-identity Catholicism. And we need to put what we think is important front and center. Priests… toughen up! Stop being afraid! Do you think your TLM is important? Then make it the principle Mass and be ready to explain why. Is the bishop your enemy? Win him over. Is he still your enemy? Bux Protocol.]
The honest truth is that an ancient liturgy, spoken in an ancient language and largely whispered, is not something that most moderns immediately appreciate. It is the same with many of the truths of our faith, which call for sacrifice, dying to self, and rejecting the immediate pleasures of sin for the eternal glories of Heaven. We must often make the case to a skeptical and unrefined world. [But if the TLM is an important tool for bringing back, in worship, those messages that are hard… then we have to have it. And we have to sacrifice for it.]
Evangelization is hard work, but it is work that matters if we want to maintain a viable presence going forward. The lovers of the Traditional Latin Mass are not exempt.
Evangelize or else close and die. It’s a hard fact, but numbers matter. Too many in the Church today demand respect and support without showing the fruits that earn respect and that make support prudent and reasonable.
If we care, we who love tradition ought to work tirelessly to show forth the fruits of tradition. Surely it will come, by Gods’ grace, but we are not exempt from the work of evangelizing.
Thus, Msgr. Pope.
Moderation queue is ON.