The Archdiocese of Boston is polling Catholics in eastern Massachusetts to find out what we think of the Church and its leaders and to help them better serve us, The Boston Globe reported Sunday.
Alas, they have not called me.
But I will tell them anyway.
Only about 16 percent of us attend weekly Mass, down from 70 percent in 1970. Many of us still hanging in are long in the tooth, as the saying goes. The situation is dire.
A couple of thoughts:
First, I often hear that the Church counts time in centuries. But that’s far, far too long to wait for the Church in America to get out of the 18th century. For in America in 2015 to be anti-woman and anti-gay is to be bigoted and reactionary. To be anti-sex (unless everyone’s married and willing to conceive a child during any and all sexual interactions) is to be just plain wrong about the importance of sex in a loving marriage. The Church’s anti-sex preachiness borders on the bizarre juxtaposed with its well-documented conspiracy to cover up and allow criminal sex between priests and children all around the world. See the new movie “Spotlight.” It ends with a list of 200-plus cities and countries where the Church aided and abetted sex crimes — and in some cases, still does.
Then there is the Mass itself. I know — it’s not supposed to be performance art or a Broadway show or even a thrill-a-minute operation. But quality matters. Mass can’t be a cringe-a-thon, either, when it’s supposed to be delivering the good news of salvation from the charismatic man who brought it to us 2,000 years ago. So how come so few of us feel good or inspired or even spiritually uplifted after Sunday Mass?
I’m lucky. I belong to a great parish, St. Ignatius on the campus of Boston College. Why not give it a well-deserved plug? On Sunday, the place is packed, packed. It’s one of many parishes that delivers. But too many parishes don’t. There’s bad preaching, worse music. Predictably, almost no one shows up. What does the Church expect? Once upon a time, pre-Vatican II, the mystery of the Latin Mass and the beauty of ancient chants made up for the some of the Church’s Neanderthal stands. For 45 minutes or an hour, you were uplifted, even transported.
Now we’ve got Neanderthal stands plus too many poor-quality Masses that annoy and disappoint and leave you spiritually dry. Again, what does the Church expect? Even the pope, in “Joy of the Gospel,” urged priests to shape up on the homily front.
There are always opportunities to entice lapsed Catholics back into the pews: funerals, to name just one. But you’re not going to inspire fed-up ex-parishioners when the priest gets into a tiff with the family over eulogy protocol. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. If not, here’s the all-to-familiar deal: The Church doesn’t like lengthy farewells to the deceased from the family at the funeral Mass. They don’t like farewells from the family at all. Catholic guidelines actually spell this out: Only one person should speak on behalf of the family, and the remembrance should be written out and limited to, in most cases, three minutes in length. Three minutes!
Unfortunately, the Church prefers a starring role for the priest, even if he does not know the dead person. Too often, he makes little or no effort to find out about him or her. So the priest gives a long, boilerplate homily about Jane or Joe’s hoped-for salvation. The family member, whose words mean much, is relegated to, as I said, three minutes — though I’ve seen them sneak in five, even 10 or more. But here’s a true story: A few years back I went to a funeral in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. During the son’s eulogy for his dead father, the priest actually interrupted and told him to wrap it up. There was another funeral waiting.
Don’t get me started on the babies I’ve seen refused baptisms because mom or dad or both were not up to snuff.
I could go on. I think you get my point.
These are just a few of the reasons teens or twenty- and thirty-somethings look at parents or grandparents suggesting Sunday Mass or a Catholic wedding and say, “You gotta be kidding me.” And one more time: What else does the Church expect?