09 February 2011

Telling Statistics from Ireland

Rorate Caeli has a very insightful and sobering post about the consequences of tinkering with the liturgy. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, Ireland, in a recent homily to the Dublin Diocesan Liturgical Resource Center retreat, canvassed the topic of Mass attendance as affected by the quality of worship. The emphases below are those of Rorate Caeli. My comments follow afterwards.

On the basis of annual head-counts in the Churches of the Archdiocese, it would appear that on any normal Sunday about 20% of the Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Dublin is present at Mass. That is significantly lower than in any other diocese in Ireland. In more than one parish the Sunday practice rate is about 3%. The very low level of practice is not primarily, as some have said, in the somewhat depopulated areas of the inner city but in poorer parishes on the outskirts of the city. Attendance is highest in middle class parishes.

Saying that does not mean that only 20% of Catholics practice regularly. Some may attend on one or more occasion each month. Some may wish to attend weekly but for various reasons do not manage to do so. Taken all in all, however, these statistics are to say the least a cause of great concern.

Even more alarming is the fact that these statistics take no account of the age profile of those who attend Mass regularly. The presence of young people is clearly much lower, despite the fact that family Masses account for a not insignificant proportion of Mass attendance in some parishes.

More and more we encounter people who say that they are Catholic but that going to Mass is not very high on their agenda. There is a feeling that going to Church is not a significant dimension of being a Christian.


You do not simply go to Mass. The liturgy is not a performance but an action in which God’s people actively participate. The liturgy is however in the first place the action of God. Active participation is not just about us saying and doing things. There is an active participation which is fostered through silence and reflection and interiorly identifying ourselves with what is taking place.
In today’s world there is anyway a superabundance of words and a fear of silence. The liturgy must always lead people beyond the superficial and fleeting character of much of contemporary culture.

Where the liturgy becomes performance we can very easily end up with banalities and with what some have called the "disneyisation" of the liturgy. Such banality is often linked also with a sense of personal protagonism, at times by the priest or of a musical group or even of guest speakers. Our reading this morning reminds us that “we have nothing to boast about to God”. The liturgy is not our work.


No, the liturgy is not our work, it is something that is handed down. The ancient rites of the Church, East and West, are the products of more than 1 1/2 millenia of handing down. One of the very real problems with the so-called "reform" of the Mass-- leaving for a moment the actual rubrics but instead focusing on the new Mass as it is all-too-often celebrated in actual parishes around the world-- is the fact that it is the work of people. All too often it is the work of "experts", real or imagined, who substitute their judgment for that of the Church. The focus is on what "we" "do", as though we are the stars of some bad Broadway play.

The Archbishop is right to be concerned that only 20% of people in his Archdiocese (in Ireland!) go to Mass. And he is right to note that young people are not well-represented among that number. Go to a Life Teen Mass and you will see the many substantial roadblocks put in the way of a young person who wishes to worship as a Catholic. It is nothing short of appalling. "Youth" Masses of the banal, modernistic variety do not attract Catholic youth. Go to a Mass in the Extraordinary Form and look around you if you want to see where the young people in this Church are. Why? Because the Mass is timeless--ever ancient, ever young. It doesn't need to be made "relevant".

The very effort to modernize the liturgy, instead of making more relevant, had the effect of freezing it in a particular time period. It feels like the early seventies at most Masses.

His Grace also makes an excellent point about actual participation of the faithful not consisting in a multiplicity of words but in silence and interior worship. The average Mass of the average parish abhors silence. You can't meditate, you can't focus. No silence at the consecration. No silence at Communion. No silence after Mass for thanksgiving.

The loss of the sacred in our liturgies has emptied our pews.


doughboy said...

this is why i can only bear to attend the 7am Mass at my parish on sundays. even then, we have the greeters in the vestibule shouting out their 'good morning's to every person that walks in; it echoes throughout the whole church. what astonishes me the most is elder parishioners, in their 60's, 70's, & 80's doing most of the talking & being lax. you know they know better. maybe part of it is that they just can't hear. but i've seen some really behave badly. and our new(ish) associate is very casual with his celebration of the Mass. he actually tosses the fingertowel back to the servers with a chuckle after washing his hands. and i've heard him giggle during the prayers of the Mass, especially if he loses his place. our other associate is very reverent praise God. if he goes this year, i'm following. anyway, makes it very difficult to concentrate. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

There might be some people who stop going because of this - but I suspect a very small percentage.

IF you got to Grace Church or any other non-denominational church, where the majority of attendees are former Catholics and ask them WHY they stopped going, here are the real reasons they give:
* The priest only talks about money.
* The sex abuse crisis.
* The priest couldn't connect with us.
* It's the same, boring thing over and over - and there isn't anything relevant to my life.
(You get the idea. Oh wait, never mind, you probably won't...)

To say it is purely because the Mass isn't celebrated at a point stuck in time 800 years ago is like saying the Titanic sank because the silverware wasn't properly set in the dining room.

The bottom line is that people are thirsting for finding meaning and purpose in their life. Culture is telling us that they cann find it in materialistic consumption, and we have a society that favors wealthy winners and discards the poor. We have people coming into church who are struggling to find acceptance, who see suffering and violence and greed, who feel the hurt from losing friends, and who sometimes are reflective enough to question what life is all about.

Churches that are thriving are those that actually address the meaning of life, and who point out that Christianity is far different from our culture.

Your site consistently says that 'through rubrics, you will be saved.' So sad. Non-denominational churches are filling up because they bring Jesus's message to life and address things that matter. If a priest and community cannot make the association that what we do during the Consecration should challenge us in very real, practical and relevant ways ... we're just going through the motions.

Tridentine Jimmy said...

Poor doughboy. Mass isn't just about you and your own notion of how liturgy ought to be "performed." Didn't you learn anything from Vatican II?

thetimman said...


I can't disagree more. The sex-abuse crisis came to light in the late nineties (at the earliest). What accounted for the depopulation of the pews for the thirty year period prior to that? Well, perhaps it is the largest coincidence in human history, but it just happens that the Mass was suppressed and replaced by the banal, on-the-spot fabrication that is the vernacular N.O.

And you mention culture without realizing what that means. Culture is a word derived from cult-- culture is the offspring of worship, true culture springs from the true faith. The Church is the guardian of culture, and her Mass is the wellspring. The destruction of the Mass has marked the destruction of culture. Look around you.

Not through rubrics, but through Christ are we saved. The rubrics guard the worship we owe Christ. Ignoring the proper liturgy is to ignore Christ or, what is worse, to disobey Him. No amount of psycho-babbly group therapy substitutes for proper worship.

The traditional Mass centers are growing, and are demographically young.

Phil said...

"psycho-babbly group therapy" - Love it. Great column, I've forwarded it on to many in my own family today.

Doctor, Doctor said...

I would like to stand up for timman in disagreeing with Anonymous. When people attempt to make the mass relevant to young people, it always ends up cheesy, and they can tell (this is why they choose to stay home and just be "spiritual," and who can blame them?). We go to church and believe in our faith in order to move beyond the secular world--why on earth should the mass, then, resemble it? Besides, the mass in its true form--reverent, quiet, beautiful, mysterious--speaks to the deep wonder and questions we all have, therefore making it ultimately more relevant than anything else. With all the conversation and applause and (usually awful) singing that now accompanies the N.O. mass, how are we supposed to feel the proper awe and respect needed in order to find relevance? Young people do not need anything else to tie them back to this "real world." They need something to move them beyond it.

StGuyFawkes said...


Your comments and the Archbishop’s analysis are dead right. There is little doubt that a return to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass would help Ireland with her problem of "laxity"

However, I suspect that much of the religious problem in Ireland is extra-liturgical.

Ireland, like most European countries, has had the Roman Church as the official, or semi-official state religion before since the 1918 rebellion. Ireland’s religion suffers from a r historical trend where the identification of the Church with the State always results in decreased enthusiasm for the church. This stems from the tendency of a democratic people to always view the State Church with the same dose of cynicism that they attach to any form of "officialdom".

Ireland’s problem also stems from a much more dangerous trend. Where there is the history of an official state religion there is there is a tendancy for the citizenry to feel, “of course I'm Catholic, I'm Irish, or of course I’m Catholic, I’m Italian, or Spanish." The religious identification comes with a national, or ethnic identity and requires no faith or deeds. Thus a kind of easy going laxity follows.

You'd be interested to know that one of the biggest problems in Israel is the fact that despite the ferocity of the Orthoodox in secular affairs, the majority of Israelis are not very religious. Why? One Israeli put it to me this way: "I live in a Jewish State, I don't need the religion any more to prove I'm Jewish. I did my IDF (army) service and I have shed my blood, I don't need religion be a Jew by being an Israeli.”

Many traditionalists would like to accompany Archbishop Lefebvre, and insist on confessional states having Catholicism as the official religion. I reluctantly agree. I happen to think with Chesterton, that separation of Church and State always ends with the church being persecuted by the state.

However the confessional state comes with a price. The price is laxity and low church attendance. The historic role of the Catholic Church in an official Irish identity is not the only reason for low Mass attendance, or even the biggest one, but it is a factor.

St. Guy