How to make your parish more self-centered

Tim Drake, a columnist for the National Catholic Register (Register – Good.  Reporter – Bad.) has 14 points for how to make your parish more self-centered.

(The point is: Parishes should not be self-centered.)

Here are the points.  You can read his commentary on each point over there.

14. Community Center
13. Move the Music to the Front
12. No More Smells and Bells
11. Ditch the Artwork
10. Remove the Stations of the Cross
9. Scrap the Kneelers
8. Favor the Horizontal over the Vertical
7. Technologize
6. Better Bread
5. Turn the Mass into a Talk Show
4. Get Rid of Reconciliation
3. Social Center
2. Play with the Liturgy
1. Move the Tabernacle

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Arieh says:

    He missed one of the most important: versus populum!

  2. Brooklyn says:

    I think this could all be summed up in one sentence: Get rid of anything relating to Catholicism.

    Unfortunately, this article describes only too well the state of far too many “catholic” churches today.

  3. traditionalorganist says:

    If there’s one thing that is really the sign of a progressive church, it’s the “headset” looking microphone with the glass tube that runs along the priest’s jaw. Because “oh, how we absolutely have to be able to hear every word the priest says!” If I were hard of hearing and had to wear hearing aides, I’d turn them off whenever I went to Mass.

  4. traditionalorganist says:

    Actually, those glass tube microphones scream of boy band narcissism.

  5. brent says:

    I’m sorry but I don’t see how offering activities at the parish outside of the Mass as making it self-centered (community center). We are not angels. When parishes don’t do these kinds of things they end up trying to create a community center in the Mass (bad idea). Even more, in the old society these weren’t necessary since the society was generally conducive to Christian morals. Today it is not. Not that we should hide or retreat as Catholics, but families need a place that is safe (If Catholics don’t build these, Catholic families will be forced to take their family to First Non-Catholic Church’s center down the street for the ice-cream social–remember our Holy Father has asked for the development of these kind of spaces). I guess it isn’t a good idea if you are building community centers at the expense of beauty in the church. Also not sure these kinds of lists help move forward reform…

    Last point: Why don’t we just focus on talking about how Ad orientem + communion rails + latin responses = a novus ordo consonant with the Tradition and honoring of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist? Let’s make the discussion about our Lord, something that should draw us together toward a charitable dialogue.

  6. chloesmom says:

    In all fairness, Mr. Drake describes his article as “satire”. Is it possible everyone missed this?

  7. GeekLady says:


    #14 isn’t titled very well. It’s not about having a community center in a parish, or the offering of community activities outside of Mass, it’s the renaming of a parish to a ‘Catholic Community’ that is being lampooned. I was just grumping about this yesterday. We’ve moved from the very precise word of ‘parish’, with all its connotations of membership in the local and universal Church, to the vaguer ‘community’ and I don’t understand why and it makes me cranky.

  8. matttheman says:

    “If there’s one thing that is really the sign of a progressive church, it’s the “headset” looking microphone with the glass tube that runs along the priest’s jaw.”

    I just recently went to a mass (novus ordo) where the priest did this and it was perfectly beautiful liturgy. In this case the priest was more dynamic than most but not in the narcissistic sense implied by your comment. I also know a priest who wears one who is not very dynamic at all because, indeed, there are many who are hard of hearing who would like to hear father at mass. The side mic is ugly in my opinion, but it is far from an indication of progressive heresy.

  9. lucy says:

    Arieh – he did address versus populum when he mentioned focusing on the horizontal rather than the vertical.

    Horizontal – priest & people looking at each other
    Vertical – priest leading folks up to God

  10. brent says:

    Geek lady,

    Good clarification. Also, the more I think about it the more all of the items on the list are right on track. (live comment retraction)

    Peace to all

  11. GeekLady says:

    Oh I know, the list is spot on and gag-inducing.

  12. JohnW says:

    Sounds like a protestant to me !

  13. APX says:

    Some over the ear style mics are small enough that they can’t be seen, I don’t have a problem with that. What I can’t stand is when thy use cheap batteries that can’t make it through Mass, so it keeps cutting in and out.

  14. Philangelus says:

    I was in a parish once that did ten of the fourteen. I have to say, they really did have a terrific community spirit.

    Years later, I belonged to another parish that had a terrific community spirit and somehow managed to avoid all those things. It’s entirely possible to have well-done worship *and* a parish family.

  15. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    You can add to the list: 15. Have a parish with clergy and “educated” lay people in key positions, who have studied erroneous theologies like liberation theology, feministy theology, Lonergan theology, __________ (insert non-conservative or self-centered/societal influenced) theology …

  16. Actually, he missed a real biggie:

    Build your new parish church in the round. So everybody can look at everyone else as “we see the real presence of Christ in one another”.

  17. JKnott says:

    How about whistles and cat calls to round out thunderous applause?
    Two weeks ago at a diaconate ordination in a beautiful church. The Mass was exceptional for a N.O. with a fine schola singing the propers in Latin and the hymns were classic and not the silly stuff. Toward the end when the bishop was thanking people, the applause was thunderous. Each time the bishop gave out the permanent deacon’s assignment for each of the four of them, the applause was ear splitting….and then came….the whistles…very plural.
    The final indignity was as the bishop asked each of the four wives to stand separately…the applause and the whistles …. were joined by very loud….cat calls. Loud cat calls and whistles. This is not an exaggeration. It was horrifying.
    I really thought it couldn’t get worse.
    Many of the people at the Mass may have come from those 14 point parishes and didn’t seem to even recognize the reverent quality of the Mass and the church itself.
    Before the Mass began, the noise and physical activity of the people could only be described as a din, worse than any airport, football game etc.. well, more like a hockey game. The slope continues downward.

    I was thinking how at end the end of a Low Mass we kneel and honor Mary with the three Aves and the Hail Holy Queen. Now we “honor” ourselves.

  18. flyfree432 says:

    The list threw me off until I read his descriptions, now that I have I agree with him completely.

  19. ipadre says:

    All depends on what he means by “Technologize”. Yes, the headset mics are really obnoxious, but there are some technologies that help the faithful. Steaming for example is one of them. There are so many shut-ins that can never get to the church for Mass, but if we give them the ability to watch and listen, they feel more connected to the Catholic community.

  20. Adam Welp says:

    I have to agree that over the ear microphones are not a sign of a progressive parish. I’ve worked semi-professionally in the live audio field for about 15 years. There are some priests that would greatly benefit from the use of these types of microphones as they do not have a voice that works well with a clip on lavalier microphone or a small condenser mic placed strategically on the altar. These mics also eliminate the horrible sound of vestments or chins/necks scraping across them (not a pretty sound to hear during mass). When I’ve consulted with Priests regarding their sound needs, I always suggest these types of mics as chasubles and dalmatics are not designed to have a mic clipped to them (which also protects the vestments from damage as some clips I’ve used have very sharp teeth that can damage cloth).

  21. BLB Oregon says:

    I find this list encouraging, actually. The parishioners at our parish have recently pushed for a huge vestibule to be built, so the pre- and post-Mass visiting can take place, but not in the church proper, the parish has commissioned an icon of the parish patron, the pastors of the vicariate have been stressing the need and treasure of regular confession, especially during Advent and Lent, there is more incense being used, and especially because of the archbishop’s strong encouragement to do so, Adoration has been brought back on a regular basis.

    I agree that the word “technologize” isn’t quite right. When the sound system is improved so that people who couldn’t hear can hear, that’s a good thing. There are many examples like that. It is the “Broadway-izing” of the Mass that is the problem, the decision to mimic popular entertainment. Those are liturgical decisions, not technical ones.

    As for Henry Edwards’ comment: Build your new parish church in the round. So everybody can look at everyone else as “we see the real presence of Christ in one another”…. I’d clarify that I don’t think he means it wrong to see everyone receiving Holy Communion with you and to think, “This is someone Jesus wants me to spend eternity with. He died to make me and these people into His Body.” It is just that you have to see the Eucharist as the alpha and the omega to get there. Just looking across at someone else, without the Eucharist as the true Center, with the Mass as the true Source and Summit, won’t do that. The thought is OK, but those means don’t work.

  22. All depends on what he means by “Technologize”.

    Indeed. Some find valuable the daily TLM from an FSSP apostolate that is available either live or by download whenever you want it, iMass for iPad, etc:

  23. tealady24 says:

    Seems to me, aside from removing the kneelers, I’ve seen all this silliness in parishes I’ve gone to. In a newly-built church nearby, there had to be the inclusion of a ‘narthex’, gathering room, if you will, which most of the time sits empty except for food donations and the like. The church could have been made so much bigger if not for this distraction in back.
    Catholic mass is all about ‘you & me’ and most of all about those swirling, swooning parishioners who play at cantoring, lectoring and ministering the Eucharist in their pretty robes. And most of all, it is centered on the priest; I think if we lowered the lights and gave him a ‘spot’, he’d be ok with that too! Prance on!

  24. Brad says:

    Re number 5: have the layperson who must welcome the seated people from the pulpit and announce the Mass’s commencement (unnecessary) refer to Father (sole ordained in the building) as “presiding today is Father X”. Likewise, systematically eradicate all verbal and written usage of of the word and concept of celebrate/celebrant/concelebrate. Father is only the m.c., after all…

  25. Glen M says:

    It may have been intended as satire, but sadly every point has been deployed in the modern Church. The results speak for themselves: crisis.

  26. Pachomius says:

    Henry Edwards, there are a fair number of pre-Reformation churches which are either circular or else polyhedronal – the Temple Church in London is octagonal, as is the 5th Century Octagonal Church in Capernaum. That doesn’t militate in favour of the ‘tambourine rite’, but still…

  27. Will D. says:

    When I first started attending my current parish they scored an 8 out of 14 — and it seemed pretty traditional by comparison with some of the other churches with which I was familiar. Now, about 4 years later, it scores between a 2 and a 3 out of 14. I am deeply grateful to our pastor, Father J. W., for making these great strides.

    I wavered on one of the items: Confession. Confession is still generally only on Saturday for 45 minutes, but Father frequently urges people to go to confession either at the parish or at the Franciscan chapel at the local mall that offers the sacrament 8 hours a day Monday-Saturday. It’s kind of a chicken and egg problem, of course, parishes don’t offer the sacrament all that often because hardly anybody goes, and hardly anybody goes because it’s hard to find it offered. Not to mention, of course, the truly awful problem of some priests and catechists telling people that they don’t need to go to confession if they “felt sorry for what they’d done.”

  28. HighMass says:

    Remember Folks, The Parish becoming more Self Centered is “ALL IN THE SPIRIT OF VATICAN II!” or so we have been told!!!!

  29. RichardT says:

    Pachomius (12:59 pm) referred to the Temple Church in London, and other medieval “round” or “octagonal” churches.

    Those were NOT “churches in the round” in the modern sense.

    Yes, they had a circular (or octagonal) nave, but there was also a rectangular chancel coming off that, with the altar at the far end of the chancel.

    So the congregation were not looking at each other across the altar, but were standing or kneeling together, all looking in the same direction, up the chancel to the altar at the East end.

    See here for a plan of the Temple Church, London (the chancel shown is later than the circular nave, but the original church also had a similar, although smaller, chancel):

    Aachen cathedral is very similar, with a circular nave at one end of the chancel:

    The Round Church in Cambridge is also similar. The original chancel seems to have been smaller, an apse rather than a rectangular choir, but the principle is the same – the congregation were looking in the same direction, towards the altar, not looking across the altar at each other.

  30. trespinos says:

    The single parish in the town where I live scores an 8-1/2, and so I choose to travel ten miles to the next town. Interestingly, this Tuesday, the local parish (oops, “Community” – #14, check) church, a really large structure, was entirely tented — for termite control, I assume. I only wish that the orange oil was effective in warding off liturgical termites in addition to the wood-munching kind.

  31. andrewnhan says:

    I think people need to read the commentary on this list before commenting because it has many of the things mentioned that people don’t see on the list but are related. Also….. understand this is satire if you didn’t already, which I severely doubt.

  32. Lioba says:

    Good article — and we’ve all been there! Thanks be to God for the beautiful Latin Mass I can now attend. But I was chastened by Simcha Fisher’s piece in the same issue, “Why I Love My Ugly Little Liturgy.” Please take a look — it’s food for thought. (The link is in the sidebar to the right of Tim Drake’s article.)

  33. MJ says:

    My EF parish scores a 0. :) Unless you count the social/coffee hour after Mass as a 1 (for point #3…”Social Center”…)

    The local OF parish…probably scores, oh, a 11. Thank goodness I don’t need to go there often.

  34. Jack Hughes says:

    Will D

    A good idea to increase demand for confession is for Priests laity to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in order to win the actual graces needed for a soul to go to confession, we can also fast and offer up our sufferings

  35. Kieninger says:

    Three little words missing from that list: Oregon Catholic Press.

  36. Stephen D says:

    Just to cheer everyone up. Last Friday I attended the first of a proposed regular monthly sung Latin Masses at a local parish (in the UK). This was preceded by Exposition including the recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the reading and singing of the Daily Office before the Blessed Sacrament.

  37. Did Tim write this during a trip to Rochester (NY)?

    Seriously, it reads like the blueprint adopted by my home diocese.

    The result is plummeting Mass attendance, a crisis in priestly vocations, and scores of parish closures.

  38. Jayna says:

    I sent this to a priest I know (his parish fits this description perfectly, but it wasn’t his doing) and he thought it was hilarious. At least I know he recognizes the absurdity of it all.

  39. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Stephen D. More cheering up for you: If I’m not getting a ride to a party with some good devout Catholic friends of mine, I’ll be heading to a Latin Mass by Una Voce Toronto which I’m part of 7pm tomorrow for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

  40. AnAmericanMother says:

    I’m relieved to report that our parish (NO but orthodox and traditional) scored around a 1. I wish we had more Confessions, it’s 45 minutes before the Saturday Vigil Mass (although we do have several penance services during the year and the priests DO preach on Confession), and we have a remarkable ugly “Resurrexifix” that I think somebody donated. Otherwise there’s none of this nonsense about.

  41. Hmmmmm … as a former Anglo-Catholic priest I celebrated Mass with a resounding NO to all of the above. Hope its OK with y’all, if blessed to be accepted as a priest within the Ordinariate, I continue as before ………;)

  42. Gaz says:

    My family and I normally are out of town for Christmas. A year or two ago, I snuck in a preview by going to midnight Mass on my own in the parish where we were staying. It was like Dave Lederman. Absolutely horrible, it was an absolute disgrace!!! The family and I went to another parish for morning Mass. Deo Gratias for a sober, respectful, beautiful Mass).

  43. AnAmericanMother says:

    As a former “nosebleed high” Episcopalian, I support you completely!
    (When – with God’s grace – you are accepted, don’t forget Anglican chant and the English motets, either, please! Byrd’s “Ave verum corpus” is the pinnacle and summit of English Renaissance vocal music – just my semi-educated opinion.)

  44. Frank H says:

    The PrayTell folks are really worked up over this one!

  45. SouthTxMom says:

    Oh my… I was a little afraid those descriptions would make me have bad dreams, or that I’d wake screaming: “You can’t make me go back there!”
    That parish was years ago, in another town, but I will still have the heebie jeebies for a while after remembering. sad.

    Sacred Heart of Jesus, help us love like you.

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