Making the Church appealing. What “sells”?

When it is time to draw people in, do those in charge show ugly modern churches bereft of statues, windows and obviously Catholic elements?   SURE they do!

When it is time to make a movie and portray something about the Catholic Church, do the producers look for contemporary churches that look like municipal airports or theaters.  SURE they do!

When it is time to raise money, do the fundraisers publish literature with whitewashed walls, bizarre interiors, and spaces that remind you of a parking ramp?  SURE they do!

Nothing says “Catholic” like a beige wall with a clump of weeds in a vase and cliches like PEACE on a rainbow made by 5th graders.

I remember my first visit to the Cathedral in Los Angeles (aka The Rodge Mahal).   Ultra-modern, sometimes meeting inexplicably odd.  Then, go down stairs into the crypt… all the traditional stuff preserved from the old cathedral.  And that’s where they asked people to invest money for a burial place.

Shifting gears a little, probably because I am always harping on going to confession and priests hearing more confessions, I got an email about a GREAT project in the Diocese of San Jose.   During Lent the bishop asked all parishes to have confessions on Wednesday evenings through the diocese.   “The Light is On for You” they call it.   The email pointed out something interesting.  Here it is:

Bishop McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose is to be commended for encouraging confession during Lent–every Wednesday evening all the churches in the diocese are supposed to offer evening hours for confession during the “Light is on” campaign. I am all for that but…

There is something ironic about the video of happy and relieved people in a beautiful church exclaiming about how they feel after confession. Seriously, this is wonderful! Look carefully at the church in the background.

The location is not a post Vatican II church-in-the-round construction that speaks to modern man. No, it is Five Wounds Portuguese National Church in San Jose. This is an amazingly beautiful church, built by the hard working Portuguese community 100 years ago. It’s also, as far as I can tell, the only church in the Diocese of San Jose offering a TLM, thanks to the ICKSP which has an oratory there.

Interesting, no?

Sure, the fact of the sacrament and effects are the most important, but let’s not kid ourselves into think that people want churches to look like churches.  And when it comes to selling something that the Church is eager to provide, we don’t go modernist, we go trad.

Might I also suggest that teaching and sermons and worship that are in your face Catholic, with tough, clear, explained teaching is going to have a greater appeal than the uncertain trumpet sounded by lib, all-affirming, timid temporizers?

So, everyone in or near the Diocese of San Jose…


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Yesterday Rorate Caeli posted an article which clearly articulated “what sells” without saying much at all. It is something to ponder — and even to weep over. To see it in black and white was quite a shock. I have memory of those days. What was more shocking even to an adolescent was what followed.

  2. cpdog says:

    Hollywood does this not only for churches but for Catholic religious garb as well. Nuns in movies (shock) are dressed like nuns! Why? Because that’s what people expect nuns to look like. They immediately understand. Here’s praying someday soon life will imitate art.

  3. Gabriel Syme says:

    Nothing says “Catholic” like a beige wall with a clump of weeds in a vase and cliches like PEACE on a rainbow made by 5th graders.


    In my locality, a common favourite is a modernistic picture of wheat and grapes, painted on the wall in whatever garish colour of paint was available on a job lot. (Think Lime Green, Neon Purple etc).

    Extra points if the garish paint matches the garish carpet tiles and garish polyester vestments.

    During Lent the bishop asked all parishes to have confessions on Wednesday evenings through the diocese

    What a great initiative and a good Bishop.

    There should be a Church law which says that, in every deanery of a diocese, at least one Church must offer a minimum of one hour of confession time per evening. Which Church was “on duty” could rotate daily.

    I realise priests don’t have time to waste, but even if no-one came, 1 hour is not a lot of time to wait in the confessional. Our Lords waits eternally in the tabernacle.

    It seems to me most Churches here offer maybe 20 mins of confession once per week. Usually a Saturday prior to the vigil. Hardly anyone goes from what I’ve seen.

    The exceptions are:

    – the 3 City Center Churches (including the Metropolitan Cathedral) which each offer several diets of confession every day except on Sunday (why Sunday is different, I don’t know).

    – Certain Churches offering TLMs (both Diocesan and SSPX) which offer confession both before and after every mass, every day.

    So, there is ample opportunity for confession – but only if you know where to go.

  4. teomatteo says:

    “When it is time to raise money, do the fundraisers publish literature with whitewashed walls, bizarre interiors, and spaces that remind you of a parking ramp? SURE they do!”
    And when your Spirit of Vatican II priest decides they need to raise money for a new organ does he pull out the, “the fathers of Vatican II said that the organ was the most important and central instrument for the liturgy, we need a new one with this fact in mind.” Sure he does.
    (The other stuff about the use of latin, phffff…..)

  5. Knight from 13904 says:

    I totally agree with your comment about the beauty of our older more traditional churches. There is an excellent book on this topic called “Ugly As Sin”. As far as selling Catholicism, I believe that “beauty itself” is not a bad thing to sell. There is a video on YouTube of a High Mass from St Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris that is professionally recorded and edited. The audio of the sacred music is tremendous. This parish is staffed by the SSPX but surprisingly the priest didn’t have horns and his head didn’t spin around in 360 degrees. As far as I can tell the Mass is exactly like the TLM I attended in my FSSP parish.

  6. L. says:

    I thought the L.A. cathedral was called the “Taj Mahoney.”

  7. Dan says:

    I totally agree that confessions need to be offered more regularly in deaneries. I like your idea of rotations. The last time I was at an SSPX Mass last summer, there was a priests in the confessionals hearing confessions through most of the Mass. They stayed there until each and every person seeking confession was heard. This was a Sunday.

    I have often wondered why priests do not offer confession prior to Sunday Masses. If you believe that to receive Holy Communion you need to be in a state of grace, and if your primary job is the salvation of souls, and if you only get one chance a week to communicate that importance to most of your flock, isn’t it a lesson in itself for the bulk of a congregation to witness people going to confession prior to Mass on Sunday?

    I also know that most parishes don’t have the multitude of priests that SSPX has to make confessions available through all the Sunday Masses, but I have seen concelebration enough with empty confessionals to make me wonder why one or more of those priests do not sit in the confessional?

    The last thing I have noticed and has always made me go “hmmm?” is why so many churches have abandoned the use of their confessionals all together? I have been in many churches and seen confessionals used as broom closets, storage for extra chairs, while confessions happen in a side room or office. That has always blown my mind a little.

  8. David says:

    Even when you do your best you need also to do some basic catechesis though. I was not in a pharisaical huff, but rather sort of sad to observe that when the pastor of my territorial parish returned the tabernacle to the sanctuary in the dreadful church he inherited, the people are now so used to starting up their after Mass loud talking that I don’t think I saw a single person genuflect before leaving.

  9. Ave Crux says:

    Bishop Serratelli, of the Paterson Diocese in NJ, also asks each year that all the parishes in the diocese schedule Confessions on Monday of each week during Lent in addition to their regularly scheduled times. He’s very supportive of the Traditional Mass and offered it for the re-Dedication of the Cathedral following its extensive renovations.

    In fact, Bishop Serratelli has set up an entire website dedicated to the Sacrament of Confession. It explains how to go to Confession, provides an Examination of Conscience, FAQs about Confession, etc. Here is the link:

  10. Pingback: VVEDNESDAY LATE EXTRA – Big Pulpit

  11. Mike says:

    What sells? At least the last time I checked, the posters promoting diocesan vocations and the Retirement Fund for Religious portrayed traditional-looking priests, brothers and sisters. Not a bus nun or a purple shirt in the bunch.

    One wonders, of course, whether some of these individuals would actually be welcome in some rectories, or at the Chancery, in the current regime of ‘mercy’.

  12. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    It is amazing to me…

    The Bishops, and the priests and deacons as well, have all managed to turn the Most Epic story in human history, filled with intrigue, betrayals, plot-twists, amazing characters, and what’s more, a story that is Still Continuing to this Very Day and that YOU READING THIS RIGHT NOW can participate in into something boring and sterile…

    Why shouldn’t young people leave such a Church?

  13. hwriggles4 says:

    My diocese began doing the “Leave the Light On” campaign circa 2008, not long after a new bishop arrived. Our newer bishop (arrived last year) is continuing the “Leave the Light On” during Christmas and Lent. I find when more good priests discuss the Sacrament from the pulpit, more Catholics attend.

    I also like when a priest makes the effort. At least two parishes in my diocese (three counting the growing FSSP staffed parish) offer confession daily, and a large parish does confessions daily during Lent. There’s also a downtown Catholic chapel with a vibrant priest who does two daily Masses between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm in addition to hearing confessions on certain days. This downtown Catholic chapel attracts many Catholics who work downtown, and take part of lunch hour to attend Mass. My parish does a 5:30 pm Mass daily that attracts Catholics on there way home from work, since it’s only a few miles from a business district.

    While I am not a fan of face to face confession, I will still go if it’s the only option – some of the long lines don’t allow the privacy, but one parish close to me has built portable barriers out of plywood for these occasions, and some parishes will put chairs back to back so the penitent has an option to not go face to face. There are also Catholics who prefer to go to confession with a priest they don’t know.

    As a CCD teacher, I always tell the kids a few things:

    Priests have heard it all.
    Priests aren’t going to tell your parents what your sins were.
    Priests won’t remember your sins and won’t stop you and say, “oh, you were at . ..”
    You have the option of either behind the screen or face to face.
    Don’t be afraid.

    By the way, I remember going to confession Christmas 1995 – that was the first time in at least 13 years, and I regularly attended Mass during those 13 years. Dear priests – confession is an important Sacrament.

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