Sammons: “Will Catholic Ever Return to Mass?”

At Crisis there is a piece by Eric Sammons from January which echoes what I have been writing about, what I call the “demographic sinkhole” that has been opening up under the Church for some time now.  The “beige” will fall through this sinkhole and vanish from our churches.   As a matter of fact, our churches will disappear as well.  COVID-1984, which I am convinced is also literally cursed, has accelerated the opening of this sinkhole.  And don’t rule out open persecution.

I have a sense that only the stronger identity groups will remain practicing and vibrant and they will find their source of strength in traditional worship.

Sammons’ piece is entitled “Will Catholic Ever Return to Mass?”

His prognostication is less than rosy.   As he points out, in the 70’s 55% of Catholics in these USA went to Sunday Mass.  In 2019 that dropped to about 20%.  Now… around 5%, given that virtually all dioceses forbade going to Mass for some time.   Once things open back up again… if they are ever allowed to…

From Sammons:

The question that currently hovers over every chancery and rectory in America is this: will they ever come back? Will the Catholic Church in America see a return to pre-2020 numbers, which were already quite dreadful, but weren’t as catastrophic as now? No one knows the answer to that question, but I don’t think Church leaders should have high hopes.

As I’ve detailed elsewhere, the Catholic Church in America was facing a demographic collapse before the Age of Covid. Since 2000, the number of infant baptisms—one of the best indicators of the health of the Church—has plummeted more than 40% after it had remained relatively steady from 1975-2000. And there were no signs that this trend was reversing before 2020. Now add to that the following realities: (1) our bishops, whether intentionally or unintentionally, have signaled to the world that attending Mass is “non-essential;” (2) lifelong Mass-going habits have now been broken; and (3) many parishes are so vigorous in their COVID-19-restrictions that they’ve become less welcoming than an East German Stasi house call. Add it all up, and you’ve got a recipe for empty churches.

A recipe for empty churches.

And yet, where Tradition is tried, things look a lot brighter.

But don’t worry, dear readers, our inventive and committed leaders will find the right combinations of programs and pamphlets and reassuring declarations which will inspire all those lapsed Catholics to return and will win over new flocks of converts. The key will be to make the Church more attractive to the secularized by secularizing the Church. That’ll do it. We have to make sure people know how committed we are to saving the planet from climate change, diminishing the differences between world faiths, and, you know, making sure we don’t discriminate based on our many genders.

You might check out Sammons’ suggestions. They are grim, but they may be realistic.

Orrrr… we can keep doing what we are doing.

Maybe it’s time to stop marginalizing and persecuting those who desire traditional expressions of the faith.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Throughout the era of lockdown, when nobody is putting anything in the collection basket, I have been struck by the fact that the bishops don’t seem to be crying poverty.

  2. Ms. M-S says:

    They say every breakdown is a breakthrough. Might that be the case in the aftermath of the all-too-eagerly imposed and accepted Covid restrictions on Mass attendance? The many young families who bring their children, often considerable distances, to the few available Traditional Latin Masses might well remind us of those blades of grass you see inexorably springing up in sidewalk cracks. I don’t know whether we’re going through difficult times or the end times, but the farseeing Pope Benedict provided us with the means of living through them.

  3. “…it would be far better to raze a dozen ugly suburban parishes than one beautiful historic urban church.”

    Yup. People are drawn to beauty. Brutality (and let’s call most nouveau-catholic architecture from the usual suspects what it is: Brutal) drives them away, recoiling inside even if they don’t know that what they’re forced to experience through the senses is brutal.

    Beauty lifts your mind and heart up. Brutality beats it down to its own level.

    In many places, we’re trying, Father. Not saying that preserving beauty will bring them back, but it won’t drive the remnant away, either.

    Oh..and the bishops need to man up. We know the priests we can trust…and maybe a handful of bishops. The rest? Nah. Prayers for their conversion certainly, like St. Paul, before they lose their seat in the saddle.

  4. jhogan says:

    With the inevitable consolidations and closings of parishes, we will finally address the priest shortage in a backward way. Seriously though, the modernist heresy of universal salvation makes the Church irrelevant in the first place. “If all are saved, why do I need the Church?”
    Fortunately, the traditional parishes will flourish and be the future of the Church. The only question is whether the hierarchy will recognize and accept this.

  5. JonPatrick says:

    Interesting that the drop in baptisms started in 2000 which was roughly when the sex abuse allegations started surfacing. That plus the fruit of the contraceptive mentality may have begun this decline in newly minted Catholics. I do feel the future is in the traditional parishes, eventually they will be about all that is left. Their priests will become bishops and cardinals. Eventually the Church renews itself from the bottom up.

  6. AlanLins says:

    I wonder how many bishops have the mechanisms in place and/or ability to recognize parishes which have a demonstrated track record of success (i.e., mass attendance, baptisms, marriages, finances, etc)? If they do, then what are they doing to support, nourish, and replicate that success throughout their diocese?

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The thing that worries me is how many Catholics have peeled off to attend itsy-bitsy Evangelical churches, mostly for better preaching or for helping the poor/sick with groceries, etc. And if you can’t get the Sacraments… well, there goes one of our primary reasons for churchgoing, in many places, so you can hardly blame them.

    OTOH, a lot of Protestants seem to have managed to get through RCIA in that horrible past year, so we’ve got some high quality, high dedication people coming in!

  8. Jones says:

    Fr. Jackson FSSP in Denver linked to this in a recent parish bulletin.

    [Fr. Jackson is outstanding.]

  9. hilltop says:

    Father Z is right that Eric Sammons is right.
    A near term challenge for those WITHIN the Church and correct about the Church is the unrestrained and unthinking clericalism of Church leadership.
    The Bishops are far more disposed to agree with the thoughtlessness from outside the Church than to even consider thoughtfulness from within.

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    Anita Moore just said it. The bishops are not crying poverty, nor are they likely to.
    They get paid. The Refugee Resettlement Funds don’t dry up, and bishops get millions from it, so as long as they keep importing people from other nations, the bishops are okay. And don’t forget that China reportedly gives the Vatican 2 billion a year. That’s got to go somewhere. They probably don’t really need Catholics to show up and sit in those pews. There are surely other funds coming, because didn’t the bishops and the pope say nothing while America changed hands to the pro-abort Democrats? They sure didn’t say anything. They squeaked a little pro-life notice out once Biden was safely installed, but that squeak is obligatory. So more funds will be coming, because they helped.
    It WILL seem odd and will be hard to justify, once there are 5 Catholics sitting in cathedrals on a Sunday. That may become a little embarrassing for them, but there is no evidence the bishops or the pope are the least bit concerned with actual Catholics and why are they not attending Mass.
    The efforts at “renewal” that have been emitted from diocese over many decades has been lame and brings in only senior citizens. Only Truth and Tradition would bring in the younger set, but since the old bishops don’t recognize that themselves they are incapable of providing it to the people.
    And since babies are the future, we could all ask ourselves, when was the last time you saw a pregnant woman? I see very few expectant mothers around. It’s becoming unusual to see one. Children are always a blessing, but women tend not to want to have children during insecure times, and these times are certainly insecure. But of course this does not apply to all cultural groups, some have lots of babies, so they are the future. A culture without babies is a dead-end, joyless culture. Babies bring all the love and joy.

  11. acardnal says:

    Kathleen10 you are so right about babies! Even Pope Francis mentioned the need for more babies in his Sunday Angelus:

    At Angelus, Pope Francis expresses concern for the “demographic winter” in Italy, lamenting the low birth rates in the country, warning that the “future is in danger”, adding let’s “make sure that this demographic winter ends and a new spring of baby boys and girls blossoms”
    From CatholicSat

  12. Kathleen10 says: And since babies are the future, we could all ask ourselves, when was the last time you saw a pregnant woman? I see very few expectant mothers around. It’s becoming unusual to see one.

    Go to an SSPX chapel or a traditional Mass parish. These are exploding with babies and pregnant mothers.

  13. AlanLins says:

    For Anita Moore:

    In my parish, collections are up about 10% since the pandemic has hit. That said, I know of other parishes (not far from me) where collections are off by about 50%. Those parishes are paying operating expenses by drawing down savings. At some point, that will end.

    It is my opinion that bishops would be well-advised to determine what the differences are between parishes which are vibrant and those which are not.

    In May, the Diocese of Phoenix (and others) announced layoffs of diocesan personnel) as a result of collections decreasing by a significant amount. From what I have seen, many bishops are spending a lot of time talking about money. I am just about convinced that if the lay faithful are being nourished spiritually, the money will follow. Spiritual nourishment can take many forms; rock solid liturgy is one of them.

  14. AA Cunningham says:

    Father James Jackson FSSP mentioned above included the following in this week’s bulletin at his Parish, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Littleton, CO.

    “I had a wedding at the Cathedral Basilica last Saturday. You have to go through the gamut of the street denizens wanting money, or the ugliness of the urban America to get into the Cathedral, but the couple was worth it, of course. The sacristan was greatly helpful and welcoming, and we got to use the high altar. I found myself strangely tired from it, beyond the normal strain of the work involved in the celebration, and wondered what it was. I think it was the precautions from the Virus. Tape all over the floor, signs saying don’t sit here, signs all over, big numbers on the pews, a security guard counting the number of people to make sure the limit is not exceeded…it all weighed heavily on me. How I admire our brethren who still go there for their parish, and who will not stop practicing their faith despite the very difficult conditions! It is so hard for the faithful to receive the sacraments these days. While this was never said, still the message went out to the faithful last year that the less people receiving the sacraments, the better. We took a different approach at OLMC.”

  15. Rob83 says:

    Perhaps the better question here is “what have the bishops done to demonstrate that Catholics should return to Mass?”

    The obligation has in many places been dispensed for nearly a year. It remains so here, even though churches have been allowed by the powers that be to be open for about 8 months now, with almost all schools also having been teaching in person since the fall. The mistake of the bishops is that they never put in a substitute obligation to keep Sunday holy. Even though we know watching a Mass is not the same as being there, would it have been so difficult to obligate people with the means to watch Mass on TV or the computer if they did not go in person?

    So now we have a situation where the general preaching atmosphere is that all souls go to heaven, there is no official obligation to do anything, and in a number of cases confession was deemed as unimportant as Mass. Add to that the ongoing train wreck of the bishops’ handling of sex abuse crimes and general unbelief in Real Presence, why would the ordinary Catholic bother driving out to the church to deal with all the social distancing restrictions just for the added bonus of getting a simple host? A Catholic would have to think there is something very important about that host to make the trip.

    In short, the bishops will not succeed in getting people back unless they convince them that it really is Jesus in the host, that salvation is not a given but something that must be worked at, and that being Catholic imposes more obligations than tossing a few dollars in the collection plate.

  16. hwriggles4 says:

    One elephant in the living room that was brought up by a good deacon a few years ago at a Catholic conference was, “The Church in the past 50 years has raised up volunteers, not disciples. ” As a Catholic who was a teenager in the 1980s, I can relate. I was confirmed in the early 1980s and most of my formation was “service hours”, “getting close to God”, “don’t do drugs”, etc.

    In several congregations, the community aspect seems to supersede worship, catechesis, etc. I do realize volunteers are needed, and community is helpful, but there needs to be a balance.

    I helped with an 8th grade confirmation retreat this past weekend. It was one of the better youth retreats I had seen. It was a group of 16 boys (the girls had a separate retreat the week before) and was staffed by all men. The boys got something out of it (I didn’t notice anyone acting like “can I leave”) and since it was all Male and smaller, topics could be covered that were more relevant to boys. Also, the boys weren’t distracted, and they did have an athletic period outside for an hour after lunch. A priest from the CPM arrived early (a parish mission is this week) and he talked for about 15 minutes and the boys were listening. I think this was a successful retreat, and all I did was show up to cook a few meals.

  17. Gab says:

    Good news from the Parish.
    A NO parish had ”moved on elsewhere” a young priest who offered the TLM (who is now still offering the TLM elsewhere). So now our parish has had an influx of young singles (men and women) and young families. Distance between the two parishes is some 40 minutes by car one way, so not to bad. Still, they wanted to attend to TLM.
    Praise be to God.

  18. Quaerens Sapientiam says:

    They’re not crying poverty because 80%+ of the money in Catholic dioceses comes from government grants and contracts. That’s the core business of the Church these days. Parishes are just the legacy business, important for PR and protecting the brand (e.g. not producing bad PR to embarrass a narcissist bishop) but in no way meaningful to bishops in terms of the religion or even (shockingly) financially valuable to them. Parishes are not valuable to them in any of those ways at all and they don’t care about the flock entrusted to them. They can’t get rid of the legacy business entirely but they can only invest in it minimally. They are too busy taking care of the immigrants for the government via Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and so on, that aren’t staffed by Catholics and aren’t serving Catholics.

    What’s worse, most bishops think this is sustainable.

  19. Veronica scriptor velum says:

    @ Jones’ link (Feb 7, 11:16am)

    What a brilliant, informative study by Dr. Joseph Shaw (LMS Chairman) that was… and incredibly revealing! It must have taken him a massive amount of time to complete. (Thanks Jo, fellow Chartres pilgrim!)

    There were many fascinating details discovered by his research.
    One in particular is the gender balance at the EF Mass (even often tipping in favour towards men), as opposed to the vastly higher percentage of women, mostly elderly, at NO Masses. Let’s say it straight: men are overwhelmingly put off by the happy-clappy, feminized liturgies of many (most ?) Novus Ordo parishes. Young men especially just can’t take it.

    The upward trends in attendance for the future of the Traditional Latin Mass (with its appeal to both men and women searching for beauty and transcendence in the liturgy) and the large families to be found there, is one very positive reality that should lift our hopes during this troublesome time for our holy Catholic Church.

  20. ChesterFrank says:

    It used to be that the lapsed Catholics who were the children of the greatest generation pretended to be part of the religion, especially during the big holidays. They don’t do that anymore. Their children vaguely know what a church is, but haven’t actually stepped into one , unless it was converted into an entertainment venue. The following generation simply doesn’t know what a church is. Quaerens Sapientiam is correct in saying the government bought the Church for its own interests(my extrapolation) . The persecution? Why don’t you create a survey?

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