As much as I can understand that this is a reality that so many young and not-so-young people face in our churches, I cannot seem to get a firm grip on how either the Church or myself, an individual pastor of souls, can help to address the situation. Here is the main problem that I am reflecting on today – that we are losing our faithful in massive numbers, and a common reason that we hear is that our liturgy is ‘boring’. That they are leaving because of doctrinal divergence or a lifestyle that is at odds with the Catholic faith is another issue altogether. But it is with the issue that they are of the opinion that the Catholic liturgy is ‘boring’ is what concerns me here. In the Singapore archdiocese, the numbers that leave are actually quite high. Apparently, the statistics have shown that only 1 in 3 Catholics in Singapore are regularly going for Mass on Sundays, and that 2 in 3 Catholics are not actively practicing their faith. It is not known however, how many of these are leaving because of the boredom felt at Mass.
Those who have left our ‘boring’ liturgy can often be found in the churches of our separated brethren that feature the latest sound and lighting systems that have been acquired at near extortionate prices. Each Sunday’s session is rightly called a production, with slick singers (sometimes even dancers) and feature vocals that are worthy of recording contracts. In no uncertain terms, those who are labeled as ‘mega’ churches offer a show and an experience that lifts one’s senses in the way that attending a concert would. An added ‘bonus’ is the fact that while being entertained and with the senses so engaged, one is also doing something else – worshipping God. Mary Poppins may be right when she said that with the right amount of sugar, medicine does more easily go down.
The intent of today’s blog is not to question or critique the ways and practices of our separated brethren churches. There are enough webpages and blogs that rant and inveigh heavily on them, many with hardly a scintilla of charity. But if it is really just the fact that the sensorial experience is what has caused the exit from our churches to happen, what is more pertinent is to address what worship is, and what constitutes a massage of the senses.
I will be the first to agree that in the modern mind, the Catholic Liturgy is an acquired taste. Any new comer who sees the liturgy for the first time is bound to find himself in a different space, more so if the only experience of being in a sea of people who sing en-masse is at pop concerts or parades in a secular or commercial setting. It would only be natural to compare the liturgy to what one had experienced before and come to the conclusion that the Roman liturgy ‘sucks’ at entertaining and crowd pulling. That’s the main problem – the liturgy has never been about entertainment or engagement of the senses at those levels, and it is certainly not focused on feelings.
If the purpose of the Mass is meant to entertain the people, the Congregation of Divine Worship at the Vatican would need to be renamed the Congregation of Spiritual Entertainment and Audio and Visual Delights. The fact that the Mass is Divine Worship means that it is to God that our attention and purpose is turned to. It is not about us. Not about how we feel, what panders to our senses, what makes us clap our hands in approval of how one singer has sung or how upbeat the choir performance was, or how slick the production was. Those accolades are rightly given to concerts and productions of a worldly nature, and whose purpose is ultimately profit-driven and being popular.
What our faith ultimately seeks is to nurture and grow mature and discerning Christ-centered adults who are committed to all areas of life, and this includes their commitments to marriage, to their families, to their jobs and vocations, and ultimately to God. A very strong foundation of this commitment is grounded in things and activities that build tenacity, discipline and an appreciation for order. None of these are handed on well by novelty, being entertaining, gimmickry or excitement. These may thrill and delight, but are momentary and ephemeral at best.
The Catholic Church has sacred roots that have stood the test of time. To say that it needs to ‘move with the times’ is akin to saying that God too needs to ‘move with the times.’ The unspoken narrative behind this statement is that even God is mutable and needs to change, subjecting God to forces that even He needs to respect.
Often in life, what is of good value and what feeds the soul requires much dedication. Perhaps our modern day culture has compromised too much due to its addiction to efficiency. All addictions are a great challenge to be weaned off from. But if we are taught from a very young age to appreciate the sublime, to be in awe of beauty that is deep and to know the difference between smarts and wisdom, the path is always one that requires much more attention than entertainment. A child who is schooled in books and the discipline of reading will be deeper than one who is surrounded constantly by gadgets, the Internet and the television. I personally know of a very talented chef and his wife who have two lovely children below the age of 10. These delightful girls have adult taste buds, and have never developed a taste for fast food or junk food. This is because their loving parents have always given them the food that they themselves eat, wanting to form their appreciation for taste that is wide and varied, and it is a delight to see them appreciate the complexities of tastes at such tender ages. I can see Mother Church doing this for her flock through the Liturgy that she provides.
The great challenge posed to us as Church is to continue striving to impart to our children the foundational importance of loving God, worshipping God and living under the auspices and aegis of God. How are we building their foundation to truly pray and worship God for his sake and not for ours?
Treats given constantly and ending up as meal replacements will simply ruin the body. Ask any nutritionist.