Austria… atheism on the rise

I picked up from the wonderful and persistent Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald that, according to Die Presse, in Austria the number of atheists has doubled in 10 years.

In Austria… think about that.

I have always understood that one of the things which helped to preserve Catholic Austria from the onslaught of the theological revolt of the Reformation was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Mass coram Sanctissimo.

Maybe it is time to institute Perpetual Adoration in even more places and also return to Holy Mass coram Sanctissimo when possible.

I can tell you from my personal experience of a traditionally celebrated Forty Hours that Mass coram Sanctissimo is a powerful experience.

God save Austria.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    I know this will get some negative reactions, but I also think that one of the reasons for the de-Christianization of Europe is the toppling of the monarchs in the last two centuries. Lacking the Emperor, Austria has lost its mooring and cut itself off from its own history, and losing its history, the faith became easily relegated to the past as a mere relic of those former times.

    Restoration of the liturgy is certainly the central point, and I am certainly not saying that fidelity to Christ and His Church necessitates living in a monarchy, but beginning with the French regicide (celebrated blindly by so many today), Europe has increasingly become a continent adrift.

  2. Simon Platt says:

    But Father …

    I notice that Reid in his latest revision of Fortescue points out that the 1983 code of canon law actually forbids mass coram Sanctissimo!

    Here is the link:

    It says:

    Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament is not to be held in the same area of the church or oratory during the celebration of Mass.

    I should like to know: why?

  3. LCB says:

    Never fear, Father! The deans of the diocese of Linz are on the case!

  4. Beau says:

    Call me an ignorant convert if you will…but what is “Mass coram Sanctissimo”?

  5. I think the idea was that people were to be focusing on the Eucharistic dimension of Holy Mass in the hic et nunc, the here and now without the “confusion” of having the Eucharist exposed.

    That has always puzzled me, since people don’t fall down foaming at the mouth and pulling their hair in confusion when Holy Communion is being distributed in several different places in a church at the same time. People of Catholic Faith aren’t that dumb, after all. They can understand that

    Fracto demum Sacraménto,
    Ne vacílles, sed memento,
    Tantum esse sub fragménto,
    Quantum toto tégitur

    … as it were.

    There are a lot of questions we need to have answered about how older uses, emancipated by Summorum Pontificum, and the new Code and other liturgical legislation harmonize.

    I am not a canonist, but it seems to me that a couple basic principles should be applied.

    First, Summorum Pontificum did not revive all the old decrees in force in 1962.

    Second, we nevertheless need to have some guidelines for our use of the older forms and those guidelines and decrees seem to be a good place to start.

    Third, some of the newer legislation which concerns things not explicitly in the rubrics of the older form seem reasonable to apply to the older form: for example, in places where Communion in the hand is permitted, we cannot refuse Communion that way (unless there is risk of profanation, etc…. we won’t got here in this entry), and things having to do with music, etc.

    Fourth, the rubrics of the books in force in 1962 should be followed, not some previous editions simply because we like what they had.

    In our preset question, Mass coram Sanctissimo was pretty much forbidden long before 1962 except, as I understand it, in the specific context of Forty Hours Devotion.

    Moreover, authors are divided. Alcuin Reid is a sound writer on liturgical matters, but he isn’t the CDW. As a matter of fact not even the CDW is the CDW when it comes to the older forms of the Roman Rite! Another writer I read recently, a Jeffrey Collins, in his book on the older rites seems to think that Mass coram can be done. You might argue that his is wishful thinking rather than something authoritative. Fine! Do that. Still, authors – regardless of their level of scholarship or trustworthiness – are divided. The PCED seems to have been incapable for a long time about making official and explicit pronouncements about liturgical dilemmas, preferring instead to issues strong pointers rather than decrees in the manner of the old Sacred Congregation of Rites. I suspect that someday the CDW will have to do these things.

    Another principle concerns doubts of law. When there is a doubt about law, we should have some latitude, I think, informed by sound judgment and pastoral solicitude.

    It seems to me that in those places where the older forms are used, especially where only the older forms are used, that it is not a mistake to follow the old Clementine Instruction for Forty Hours and have Mass coram Sanctissimo as the Instruction indicates. And if it can be done in that context, then the local bishop and/or the Holy See could give permission for Holy Mass to be celebrated in that way at other appropriate times, for example, in those times of need for which Forty Hours is observed.

    Furthermore, are we not in a time of need? If we read that in 10 years the number of atheists in Austria has doubled… if in South America Catholics are falling away at a rate of %1 a year, if in France or Quebec and other formerly highly Catholic regions the Faith is on the ropes, if secularist humanism and the dictatorship of relativism is driving the voice of reason informed religion from the public square, if the culture of death is in the ascendancy, then… what is a real time of need going to look like?

    Does it have to be total global catastrophe before people start to pray in serious ways, with serious devotions replete with challenging symbols and redolent of mystery?

    If this isn’t a time of need, what is?

  6. Cantuale says:

    If Mass coram sanctissimo is really forbidden and abusive, you can bet that in Linz and all over Austria it will spread like fire! eh eh eh :-))) [ROFL!]

  7. Austrian says:

    This is also a statistical problem: Once you declare in front of an Austrian State official that you are not a Catholic any more (normally in order to save “Church taxes”) you are moved to the “atheists” category.

    Actually, in the polls give quite a different result than the officially registered numbers: There are about 600.000 people (some 8 % of the population) who declare that they are Catholic, “but left the Church” (as far as State athority and Church taxes go).

    In other countries non-practicing Catholics would not be counted as atheists…

    Just some background information for non Austrians.

  8. English Catholic says:

    I am normally loathe to blame others for the decisions individuals take. We are all responsible for the choices we make. But in this case, I think it’s appropriate to break that rule:
    If the shepherd has disappeared to fight for social justice, or stock up on pitta bread, is it any surprise that the sheep wander off and get lost?
    The Austrian Church bears a very heavy responsibility for this.

  9. Ohio Annie says:

    Beau, i am a convert too. i looked it up, coram sanctissimo means Mass said in the presence of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I don’t know anything about it either, what it means or what is involved.

  10. Jack says:

    Exposing the Austrian Faithless to Ed Feser’s “The Last Superstition” may do the trick :)

  11. LCB says:

    It means a priest offering a Mass while the Blessed Sacrament is also exposed for veneration.

    It is banned because our focus should be on the Mass during the Mass. It was, in a past time, permitted during 40 Hours Devotions.

  12. Fr. Charles says:

    Thanks, Fr. Z, for the explanation in the comment box. A parishioner asked me once whether we would consider having Mass coram sanctissimo, but I had never heard of such a thing, and assured her that it was entirely and universally forbidden. So thanks for the education, as always. In any case, I don’t know how it could be done well in the only way we offer the Mass here–in the OF, scrupulously versus populum.

  13. Raphaela says:

    Let’s keep this in perspective, though. The number of atheists in Austria may have doubled, but if you read the article Anna Arco references, it’s still only four percent of the population. [only… and growing] And 79% of the population still describe themselves as “religious”. [In what sense?]

  14. John Polhamus says:

    There’s an elephant in the living room, or a two ton white rabbit if you like, but Vatican II and the attendant disapprobation of what it’s movers and shakers regarded as excessively devotional religion did the most damage not only to Austria, but to society worldwide. No, I’m not an SSPX’er, I’m a diocesan Catholic of both rites, but it’s an undeniable fact, and if it seems to open up a big rabbit-hole, it’s because it’s a big fat ecclesiastical rabbit.

  15. Simon Platt says:

    Thanks for the comment, Father.

    I should like to see greater use of exposition – and of mass coram Sanctissimo – which I am sure would bring many graces and help the restoration of catholic faith and catholic identity in many places where they have been weakened in recent years. I thank God for those priests who still encourage eucharistic devotion and I should like to hear more on this subject – perhaps canonists’ opinions on the matter of mass coram Sanctissimo in the current situation.

  16. Andy K. says:

    Why has Mass coram Sanctissimo been banned??

    Is it because the laity are too stupid?

    What’s the meaning? It sounds like something lovely.

  17. Michael says:

    It occurs to me, considering how many Europeans leave the Church for tax reasons, that the Catholic Church would be doing itself a great favor if it were to lobby to make the government proxy collection of the tithe entirely voluntary to the tax payer. That way a person can opt out of paying the tax without having to officially withdraw their name from the Church rolls. There may be some loss of revenue but the Church in America survives on the generosity of its members. Surely the Church in places like Germany and Austria could do the same.

  18. Rob says:

    When my friends and I were in Austria, we decided to pray a rosary on the train. A young man saw what we were doing and started yelling all the English curse words that he could think of at us.

    I believe what the report says–the only people going to mass in the churches we visited in Austria were tourists like us. Even in Vienna, a Sunday mass at one of the larger churches was nearly empty.


  19. David says:

    What is “Mass coram Sanctissimo”?

  20. Simon Platt says:

    Mass coram Sanctissimo (“in front of the most holy” – corrections gratefully accepted) is mass in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, traditionally (at least in the past) celebrated as part of 40-hours’ exposition.

  21. Jacques says:

    Recently the media echoed the very personal views in artistic issues of Card. Schonborn. I remember that a communist painter named Hrdlica exposed blasphemous pictures in the cathedral of Vienna with the support of this controversial Cardinal.
    May be this scandal be representative of the current sad state of the Austrian RCC?
    I was told 3 days ago that this same Cardinal Schonborn was asked by the Pope to preach a retreat for the world’s priests in Ars, France, the famous parish of St John Mary Vianney.
    Should we be puzzled by the Pope’s Choice and fear the outcomes of this retreat.
    My parish priest who read books of this Cardinal said I shouldn’t.

  22. With Cardinal Schönborn runing things there is anyone really surprised? Displaying modern art showing Christ and the disciples as homosexuals in the Cathedral is not exactly conducive to increasing the faith!

  23. Andreas says:

    Has anyone been to Austria lately? Have you strolled around Vienna? Have you seen many Austrians? Where are they hiding?

  24. LCB says:

    With all these things going on, maybe it’s time we stop this experiment in modernism and try…

    an experiment in tradition?

  25. Germanist says:

    Only God knows what has happened to the poor Cardinal Schoenborn …………
    Something must have happened, about nobody knows.
    Nevertheless, the Austrian church is of course small, as is the country, so their influence on the worldwide church should not overestimated.
    Actually, I’m at a loss understanding what you in USA find so important regarding the church in Austria.
    (This is just a humble question!!!)

  26. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    Will the last Catholic in Austria please put away the monstrance?

  27. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    Unfortunately, it is much, much harder to build something back up after it has been destroyed. Also, unfortunately, the bishops–with the Holy See as the Enabler–allowed such piety and devotions to be questioned, mocked, ignored for a couple decades.

    It’s been several generations now since Vatican II: Try talking to Catholic young adults about about the Forty Hours Devotion . . . or, Eucharistic adoration, period. Blank stares.

    Forget about “brick by brick”: We need to start blessing a new cornerstone!

  28. Dave N. says:

    In response to Germanist, I think the reason people in the US find this so interesting is that thirty years ago, it seemed (to us at least) that virtually everyone in Austria was a faithful, church-going Catholic. Now while this was certainly an over-estimation of Austrian piety, my anecdotal experience is that the churches in Austria now seem nearly as empty as the churches in the rest of Europe.

    The thing’s that’s noteworthy is the rapid decline.

  29. Zelus domus tuae comedit me says:

    Father, you reference Jeffrey Collins’ Roman Catholic Ceremonial ( chich which dedicates an entire chapter to the ceremonial of Mass coram Sanctissimo and a chapter to the additional rubrics of the Forty Hours’ Prayer.
    It would be surprising if the Holy See would actually forbid the celebration of Mass coram Sanctissimo according to the 1962 Missal, given that this Missal is not the Missal whose usage the 1983 Code of Canon Law envisaged.
    An interesting thing about Mr. Collins’ Roman Catholic Ceremonial is that it is the first entirely original work written on the 1962 liturgy since the Second Vatican Council, rather than a new edition of existing works.

  30. Germanist says:

    To Dave N.
    Thank you very much, now of course I understand your special concern.
    Well, I have some numbers:
    6 Mio Austrians are Catholics.
    On a “counting Sunday” in 2006, 800.000 persons attended Mass.
    According to the Austrian Bishop’s Conference, 33 % of Catholics attend Mass twice a month or even more often.
    Austria, of course, is a relatively small country AND it has exposed itself to an excessice tourisme! So I think it might not be surprising that this excessive tourisme has had and still has a vast influence on the local people and their cultur (as in other parts of the world, f. i. Thailand).
    Moreover of course, Austria is just a part of the “famous” European Union!
    And the Muslim population in Austria is rising, like everywhere else in Western Europe, due to immigration. And you MUST approve of this fact! On the forefront of defending each and every Muslim and immigration, even in Austria, is the Catholic Church. The bishops applaud each newly erected Mosque! And the faithful have to do the same. If, like in Austria, people elect a party critical to this immigration, the party and the people who voted for them, are called Nazis and the church issues condemning statements.
    And then, poor Cardinal Schoenborn! He believes the Communist, 81 year old artist, Hrdlicka, is the best living Austrian artist. So the poor Cardinal has personally commissioned this artist to create – for the Vienna Stephansdom! – a bust of blessed Sister Maria Restituta, who was executed by the Nazis in 1943.
    You may admire this extraordinary piece of art:

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