What are we not doing that we should be doing to revive Catholic life?
The first thing is to be realistic, to address the real problems in our society, secularity, instead of trying to be everything to everyone. It’s a great danger just to want to be friendly and liked instead of challenging in a prophetic way the errors of society and caving into them. St. Paul said to Timothy, “Do not be a man-pleaser." This doesn’t mean going around and hitting people over the heads with bibles, but it does mean being Catholic, right across the board…. We’ve had a secularization of religious life. Women’s religious orders are collapsing, have collapsed. Nothing was done a generation ago to discipline the orders, and to truly reform them. The ones that are growing are the ones who are faithful to their founders’ charisms.
And a primary evangelical tool of the Church is the liturgy, and wherever the liturgy is banal, you will not have vocations. In many places it’s not a problem of heresy, it’s just a matter of sloth. People are just stuck in the 1970s. Young people don’t want to go to a church where there’s a septuagenarian playing very bad Jesuit hymns from the 1960s. But many bishops don’t understand that. The liturgy has become just sort of man-focused. One giveaway is liturgies where the bishop or the priest cannot restrain himself from interjecting his own personality. They were taught to do this: greeting people, telling jokes and then thanking everybody for being there, and at the end asking applause for the choir and the ushers and everybody else. We don’t thank people for keeping the commandments! These are commandments, not propositions.
[The liturgy is] people’s main contact [with the Church], and I would say my vocations more than anything else came from young men’s absorption in the liturgy. And I’m not speaking about being fussy or obscurantist. I think there’s a real problem of reaction from evangelization, a real problem of nostalgia rather than tradition on the part of many people as far as the Extraordinary Form is concerned. But that’s to be expected when people have been denied their authentic Catholic roots. The danger then, of course, is…to become enclosed. Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about the danger of Mass facing the people as a kind of enclosure, whereas when the priest leads the people facing East it’s an opening to the kingdom of God. The priest facing the people becomes a kind of circular community lacking in transcendence. But a lot of people who embrace the Extraordinary Form run that risk too.They become ghettoized. It’s rather significant that in so many cases — I can’t cite numbers — but usually it’s been my experience that where the Extraordinary Form is, usually you have a static group of people, and you don’t have outreach for bringing others in.
So just using the Extraordinary Form is not the solution. What is the solution is understanding that the liturgy is God’s call to the people and the people’s response. Then you get vocations.
Another factor is the preaching, which is abysmal. We need catechetical preaching, where people get the basic doctrine of the faith. People should be leaving church having learned something.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.