Is Your Parish Dying?
Richard Salbato 5-1-2007
I just published Get Ready
for the Tridentine Mass and voiced my opinion that this would not only help
bring back true devotion, reverence, and respect for the Eucharist but it would
also improve the Novus Ordo Mass throughout the world. Bishops throughout the
world have bombarded
I have been analyzing this complaint for several weeks and have found it unfounded if done properly. Divisions are always bad and this should be thought out carefully; however, look around at any parish today. We have special Masses in parishes that have different ethnic groups: Spanish Masses and English Masses. In some parishes I know we have children’s Masses, where they have music that more appeals to Teens and young people. We have Life-Teen Masses that are more geared to Charismatic groups who are more into sensualism and spiritualism. We have started Saturday Evening Masses for those who do not like Sunday Morning Masses. Everywhere we have catered to the desires of the people with the exception of the more conservative Catholics.
One thing all of these parishes have in
common is that they are dying. Each year fewer and fewer people are going
I understand why Vatican II wanted some change to the Liturgy and (as most mistakes) it had good motives. During the sessions of Vatican II, Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out the goals of Liturgy change:
(1) the dialogical nature of the whole liturgical celebration and its essence as the common service of the People of God;
(2) stronger emphasis on the Word;
(3) more active participation of the laity;
(4) the decentralization of liturgical legislation, which represents a fundamental innovation.
Conferences of bishops now will have responsibility for liturgical laws in their own regions and this, not by delegation from the Holy See, but by virtue of their own independent authority.
“This is to introduce a new element in the Church’s structure - a kind of quasi-synodal agency between individual bishops and the pope. This decision may even have more significance for the theology of the episcopacy and for the long desired strengthening of Episcopal power than anything in the Constitution on the Church.”
(5) the language of the liturgy.
This loosing of
The Council of Trent was a reaction to the
Protestant Reformation and its anti-Papal theme. The main theme of
At the time of Vatican II Cardinal Ratzinger asked:
“Will it be possible to bring contemporary man into new contact with the Church, and through the Church into new contact with God?
“Will it be possible to minimize centralism without losing unity? Will it be possible to make divine worship the starting point of a new understanding among Christians? These three questions represent three hopes, all bound up with liturgical reform, and all in line with the basic intentions of the recent Council."
Now almost a half-century has passed and we can answer this
question. Did these changes bring man closer to the Church and to
God? No! Did we loose unity between bishops and the
The decentralisation of worship has given local bishops almost a free hand
to experiment with the Liturgy even beyond what Vatican II had in mind.
The trend went from a
I want to demonstrate the results of a more human God vs. a mighty God worthy of reverence, adoration and even awe. We can even look at something in the middle and the far extremes.
To understand the difference between a social and a worship church, you
need to understand how to evangelize. If you want to convert someone to
the Catholic Church, what do you say to him or her? What makes the
Catholic Church different from other
Our religion is a religion centred on the Eternal Sacrifice, the
When I taught future evangelists I told them there were three things
important in converting someone to the faith, the Mass, the Mass and the
When I had them convinced to at least see what we were all about it was time for God to do the real converting by taking them into a Catholic Church. There they could see that this is a house of prayer and not a social house. Here they would see our Tabernacle and the great respect we have for it, with gold, candles all around, stained glass windows, a large, high, marble altar for the sacrifice. My convert would see the statues of Angels and Saints all around but not holding the prime position that the Tabernacle does. He would hear the silence and note my reverence for my belief that God is in that Tabernacle. It is in this silence and beauty that God does His work of grace.
What about today? Today I have to find the right church because if I bring them to just any church, I might find a small wooden table at the altar only one step above the floor. Often you have to search the church to find the Tabernacle only to find that it is cheap and unadorned - not worthy of the God who created the Universe.
I might find a couple of old woman talking about their plumbing in one of the pews. I might even find pews with no kneelers. I might find a big King’s Chair where the Tabernacle should be, which makes one think we worship the priest and not Christ in the Eucharist. I understand that this is just perception, but perception is what matters in converting someone to the faith. The convert has to see that we act on what we believe.
So what do I do? I find that one in 50 parishes that have not changed the architecture of the church and where reverence and worship are still the same as it has been for 2000 years. This will be a church where the altar is high up above the floor and have a worthy, large, marble altar. The Tabernacle will be central and beautiful - worthy of Our God and will demonstrate our reverence. It will have an altar rail showing that we consider the altar area holy ground. It will show that we are proud to give Our God the best we have to give. It will have a choir loft in the back so that I can explain that we use music to imitate the Heavens singing from on high. I then can explain to him that we are a prayer and worship Church and our main worship is in the Mass and the Eucharist. We are not a social gathering but a prayer gathering. We come to pray and not to socialize.
The Social Parish
In my own parish we have a very good priest. He is very orthodox in his preaching. He stresses the need for Confession and being active Catholics working to spread the faith. He offers great and reverent Masses and is a good confessor. He offers catechism for the young and adults and the classes are very good. He keeps a side chapel open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM for people to come and pray before the Tabernacle. He has Adoration after the 8:00 AM Mass up to the 10:30 Mass on Sunday with dimmed lights and great music to help in prayer. I cannot complain about anything that my pastor does. But----------------
My parish is dying. Each year there are fewer and fewer people coming to Mass. In fact, the bishop had considered closing the parish this last year but will let it go another year to see what, if anything, can save it. There are good hard working people in the parish but it is obvious that their own children are not coming. If my limited observations are correct, at least half the parishioners are retired.
Why is it dying? It is dying in spite of a good priest and good parishioners because it has become a social parish much more than a worship parish. As stressed in Vatican II, people have become very friendly and want to greet and know everyone else in the Church. A great deal of effort is spent on socializing and there is nothing wrong with this.
However, this socializing is done inside the Church where people should be or are trying to pray and worship God. Maybe this is noticed more by me than others because I spend about 20 minutes in prayer before Mass offering the Mass for all my intentions and then pray a Rosary. While I am trying to pray people are coming in talking and greeting each other. The quoir is on the altar talking and strumming away on their guitars and testing the mikes. Altar boys and others move all over the church to prepare for a procession from the back of the church to the altar as is done today, but all this commotion does not lend itself to prayer.
From the back of the church the pastor gives some instructions on the mike for a few minutes and immediately after Mass there are at least 10 minutes of announcements, again making it impossible to pray. All this is done with good intentions because they are stressing the social aspects of church instead of the worship and prayer aspect.
Considering that Christ is physically united with me after Communion for about 15 minutes, and that Mass ends almost immediately after Communion and then comes the parish announcements and the socialization after Mass, how can anyone pray united with Christ in the Eucharist?
How can I take a convert into this social atmosphere and tell him that we believe in the True Presence and that we are a Church of prayer and worship? It is our actions and not our words that sell our faith.
It is the silence of our churches that lets a convert hear the word of God.
Just a side note to my parish: I try hard to go to daily Mass as I have done for 30 years, but up here where I live now I have a great aversion to it. Before Mass the small group of people in the side chapel talk about everything except God and it is so small you cannot get away from them. After Mass the same happens (all in the presence of Christ in the Tabernacle) making it impossible to pray and in my opinion showing disrespect for Christ’s presence.
The Worship Parish
So, where would I take a prospective convert to the faith? To answer that, I will first tell two stories. None of my grandchildren had ever attended a Tridentine Mass and after my article, GET READY FOR THE TRIDENTINE MASS http://www.unitypublishing.com/liturgy/TridentineInWeek.htm they wanted to see what it was all about. I knew exactly where to take them but first I want to explain this parish and its pastor. I will give him and the parish fictional names so that they do not come up on a search engine. You will see why.
Father Mark had the largest and most successful parish in my diocese
with thousands of families, a large church and a large
In spite of the huge success of this parish, the bishop had enough of Father Mark and sent him out to an old, almost abandoned Indian Mission Parish. It was almost falling down from lack of care and it no longer had geographic parishioners because commercial, industrial and airport buildings replaced the houses. It was about to be closed.
When Father Mark took over this parish he did what he always does.
He got up at 3:00 AM to pray; he offered reverent and prayerful Masses and
confessions everyday. The people followed him to this parish and within a
few years everything changed. He had to buy the property next door to him
to put in a large parking lot to accommodate the hundreds of cars for each and
Some of his parishioners (all of whom I know) formed an Evangelist Society that produces hundreds of one-page give away pamphlets for non-Catholics on all faith subjects. Father Mark’s parishioners take these free from the back of the church and pass them out.
Father Mark has six Masses for the Sunday obligation and one of them is the Tridentine and as I said above they are packed to overflowing. He has confessions everyday at 6:00 AM, on Saturday from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM and on Sunday from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM and always with long lines. He has special devotions all week and adoration on Thursday including a special Adoration Mass. This sometimes goes all night long.
Now we must address the image of the church, the architecture, the atmosphere, and the first impression when entering. This is an old and very small Indian Mission church with unpainted plastered walls. It is only about 40 feet wide and about 100 feet long to the altar. It only has one isle in the middle that is very narrow and no side isles. It has a quoir loft and the music comes from the back of the church and above in the heavens. The altar is up several steps higher than the floor and the altar is against the back wall. The Tabernacle is on the centre of the altar surrounded with candles. The altar is large and made of marble. There is an elevated podium putting the preacher high enough to be seen by anyone. No one goes on the altar except altar-boys (no altar-girls) and priests.
In the back of the church confessions are heard all day except during communion time.
Now what about the Mass? Before Mass there is no conversation at all because people are praying. About half of the women have veils on their heads in the church. The priest does not enter the church from the back but from the side altar. He comes in with from six to ten altar boys. The music is soft and reverent with no guitars. No one holds hands during the Our Father; no one shakes hands during the sign of peace. During the consecration and elevation the bells are rung. During Communion only priests distribute Communion and everyone kneels for Communion at the altar rail. Because the church is so small and 20% of the people are forced to be outside; the other priest also distributes Communion in the back of the church. This is also done only kneeling, as two kneelers are moved to the centre isle for the people coming.
Now my grandchildren and I attended the Tridentine Mass but the Novus
Ordo Mass is not much different; the priest faces the altar, the music is soft
and reverent, Communion is received kneeling and not in the hand. In fact,
except for the words and the Latin you cannot see much difference in the two Masses.
No traditionalist would have any complaints about this
The people do socialize but just not in church. They have coffee and donuts outside and in the hall and people hang around to greet each other and share their love. Again I must emphasise that they do not even say “Hi” in the church, only outside.
Why is this parish so successful? Once in
Father Mark does not treat God commonly, bringing Him down to our level. He looks up to God, giving Him love, respect, honour, reverence and true devotion. Father Mark is not a great speaker like Father Paul Weinberger, www.semperficatholic.com but he gives good example in his life and prayer.
Since the Novus Ordo can be vertical and reverent, why then do we need
to bring back the Tridentine? It is very simple, because the local bishop
has too much authority in innovations in the Novus Ordo and not in the
Tridentine. The Tridentine is a
“"The decision to begin with the liturgy schema was not merely a technically correct6 move. Its significance went far deeper. This decision was a profession of faith in what is truly central to the Church–the ever-renewed marriage of the Church with her Lord, actualized in the Eucharistic mystery where the Church, participating in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, fulfills its innermost mission, the adoration of the triune God.”
Social Masses are not adoration Masses and this is why parishes are failing.
The following email regarding my Newsletter on the Tridentine Mass gives the best example to the above:
This is your best article describing exactly the situation of the
Catholic Church today in
I don’t know if this happens to other Catholic people; priests or lay people, perhaps I have a problem? But Our Lord cried too not only in Gethsemane but also when He was informed of the death of Lazar, so if Our Lord cried how could I stay without tears watching the present situation in France and abroad?
Several times I preferred to stay at home on Sundays because I was afraid to go to church in parishes offering Novus Ordo Mass because I was afraid to find abuses and irreverence to Our Lord! I even watched sometimes Mass on TV when I was ill, but I observed one day that the priest celebrating has changed even the words of the consecration! He changed the word “disciples” by “friends” during consecration. The legal and licit Tridentine Mass being proposed at a distance of about one hour and a half or two hours of my house by car, because of my health problems I am not always able to attend it, especially in winter when night falls quickly! So, in winter the only opportunity I have is to hear Novus Ordo Mass in my parish, but in summer I can go farer in another church to hear the Old Tridentine Mass because the days are longer.
As usual, I went to my parish to confess before Easter and especially for the missed Masses.
I want to stress the fact that in my parish Mass is much better said compared to others of the same type!
The confessor is an old priest who has been ordained with St Pius V Holy Mass, and knows of course Latin. He now helps the Pastor of our parish where St. Paul VI Mass is said as per the French Official Version of the Missal.
For months I wanted to speak to the Pastor about the fact that the group of singers at church sings the consecration, sometimes full and sometimes partially, but I could not do it because I was very much afraid to put him in bad mood, or to make him feel that I judge his decisions while I don’t in fact judge him, and also because I thought perhaps I have had some distraction during Mass so that I did not put really attention at what was said… So I even doubted myself and continued suffering until Easter.
As I have always seen our Pastor kneeling before taking the Hosts from the Tabernacle, I always supposed and I knew he wants to do offer the Holy Mass with much reverence and respect, so I put this error on the account of: the known proverb “error humana est “! Even while we want really to do good in fact we do the opposite unconsciously or consciously (God only knows the real intention of the hearts) and nobody is free of it!
But I am always afraid of listening or participating in a Novus Ordo
Mass where abuses, errors, slight or heavy, are done unconsciously or
consciously, so it makes me suffer a lot! As there are several consecration
formulas I don’t know what I’ll find at each
So, you can easily imagine in what kind of suffering I was bearing during months, and also during my confession to the priest who helps him. The Pastor was absent at the same time.
I told my confessor, pouring tears at the same time, that I was first choked by the manner with which the Mass was held last year in the cathedral of our diocese while assembling together all the children of the diocese who made their first communion.
I also said that I was choked to hear sometimes in our parish the consecration sung by the group of singers of our church! I told him also that I know that if the priest has the intention to do what the Church does, the Mass is valid, so because of this and knowing that our Pastor wants to do his best, I received and ate the Holy Host. I also told him “perhaps I have not heard the words pronounced by the Pastor during the consecration because of my bad ears, but I could not see him pronouncing them as his face was completely bent towards the altar!” Finally I added: “I cannot bear anymore the Paul VI Mass! I am suffering too much! I prefer the St Pius V Mass”
His reply left me quite astonished, he said:
“The St Pius V Mass is a factor of division.” and also “We asked ourselves if we had to teach the children Latin but if the children don’t want to learn it, we don’t teach them Latin. The Pastor has been ordained lately and does not know Latin, how could he hold a Latin Mass?” “I am in the priesthood for 54 years long, I said the Old Mass, of course the New Mass is very different but Jesus is present”.
I replied: “Of course, I believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord, but I cannot bear Novus Ordo Mass, I suffer too much”
He added: “It is better to suffer with Jesus instead of suffering without Him.”
He gave me the absolution. I went to my parish church for Easter.
The Pastor was not there but the confessor held the Mass [Novus Ordo]. The Mass was perfect: the singers did not sing the consecration, the microphone was working very well and I could hear the consecration completely said by the priest! There was not even a procession of sacramentals on the hands of un-consecrated people (hands of children and lay people coming to the altar before consecration)!
But, yes there is a “but”, I received communion in my mouth from a layperson suffering from Parkinson disease. The problem is not in the fact he has a disease, the problem is in the fact that his right hand trembled when giving communion and there was no paten to prevent the Holy Host from falling inadvertently! Thanks to Our Lord, the Host did not fall when he gave it to me! I was really afraid when I saw the Holy Flesh of Our Lord in these trembling hands!
I stress this, to show to what extent it is difficult to get rid of bad habits and of obstacles, which impede having a complete and perfect Mass with perfect communion!
Now I ask” “How could a Holy canonised Mass, a St Pius V Mass, that edified many canonised and beatified saints, be a factor of division?” What did the priest exactly mean or think when saying that the mass would cause division? Did he only try to find a way to comfort and fortify my soul?
The Church teaches for centuries that the Demon is the factor of division! We know infested people by false doctrines cause division. But how a Canonised Holy Mass could cause such a division? I am astonished!
This confessor is a good priest, with no doubt, and he suffers too as I suffer otherwise he should not have replied that it is better to suffer with Our Lord than without Him! So, I deduce that Our Lord suffers too of this situation!
To say that a Holy Canonised Mass in perpetuity by a Holy Father engenders division is a non-sense!
To ask children if they want to learn Latin before teaching them is non-sense also!
We teach children mathematics,: history, languages, sport, and other topics etc…so are we waiting for their approval or their wish to send them to school and to teach them at school or at home all the important topics? No! We impose on them these topics in order to give them the capacity to get a good job, to earn money, to make their life moral, to deal with their families… So, why should we ask them if they want to learn Latin? Are we not able to impose them Latin as the other laws to be observed the Catholic Church fixed for centuries? Our Lord said: “Let the little children come to me” so, we should ask ourselves honestly: do we let them really go to Our Lord? Are our priests and we afraid of them or of Our Lord? Who is the King? Who is the Master?
So, I don’t know how the next Masses on Sundays will be in my parish; but I was relieved of a heavy weight in confession, and I will let Our Lord do His job in the Church and let Our Lady do the cleaning and the washing of the behaviours of the Catholics, as we, women, are those who wash and clean dresses and trousers and skirts and T-shirts in laundries generally and not the men. Men have other duties.
The Catholic Church wants to bring back those who are outside her mantle and decided to use kind words to speak to heretics, schismatic people, and believers of false religions. She reached out her hand to all these people but until now she has failed, yes she failed! Why did she fail? Did she fail forever? Of course not! Because Our Lord said “I am with you until the end” and the words of Our Lord remain forever.
Why our Bishops behaved and still behave as if the Tridentine Mass was forbidden in spite of the fact that this Mass was never abolished? Why do we not have better access to it? It is a real Mystery!
I remember and try to understand the triple questioning of Our Lord to Peter: “Peter, do you love me” and Peter replied twice “Of course I love you” but at the third question we can imagine and understand that there was some sound of surprise in his voice while replying: “But Lord, you know that I love you!” and that at the same time in his thoughts Peter questioned: ”but why does He asks me this same question three times?”
I suppose Our Lord questioned Peter with an overview of the generations to come and especially for our generation, living in our modern time, and for all our Holy Fathers who were to come in the future through the centuries.
We know also that Peter means not only the Chief of the Church, that is to say the Holy Father, but also the Apostolic succession, that is to say all the Bishops, all the Magisterial of the Catholic Church. So, in spite of the fact I am not Jesus-Christ and I am not able to speak in His Name, or to judge the Bishops and priests, I dare ask all these Bishops:
“Dear Bishops, do you love really Jesus-Christ? Are we Lay Catholic people the only sinners inside the Church? My dear Bishops, aren’t you sinners also? We lay people are subject to err and to sin but so are you?”
The Holy Father John Paul II asked: “
“What have you done with the sheep Jesus-Christ ordered you to evangelise and to keep pure from sin, teaching them to love Him? Have you really spread His full words, His love, His Holy Sacrifice among them as He asked you to do at His Last Supper so that sacerdotal vocations emerged among them?
“Sheep follow their leader; they observe him and listen to the leader voice so that they know what direction they have to go.
“But, dear bishops and priests, why do you cover up the Voice and let these sheep and lambs to be dispersed? Why have you let Heretics and Schismatics to take power: power in schools, power in hospitals, and power in government?
“Separation of religion and state is a myth! A government cannot be God in the place of GOD and decide what is moral, legal and licit and what is immoral and illegal or illicit! Don’t you remember that in the past centuries you, dear Bishops and priests did the job of educating, evangelising people and saving souls? Where have you gone? Why have you left?”
Of course these kind of questions I ask them I also ask myself while thinking of the education I have given to my children. I don’t accuse the bishops and the priests only. I am a sinner also! I love them! I remember the words of Our Lord to the prostitute: “I don’t condemn you, go and don’t sin anymore!” So, the Mercy of Our Lord applies to all of us!
But, I imagine what Our Lord should have said now to us if He was visiting us now personally as at Emmaus? He could and would have opened our eyes saying with a warm, sweet and merciful voice:
“My dear bishops, you preached to my sheep love, equality and freedom but what love, what equality and what freedom? Did you equality and freedom to my sheep who wanted the holy Tridentine Mass near their houses, in their parishes; your parishes which are also mine? Your actions contradict your preaching!”
“Did you teach my sheep reverence to My Holy Body and My Holy Blood? Why did you offered sacrifices of Cain instead of the sacrifice of Abel? Have you put on My Altar real grapes and real ordinary bread for My sacrifice, and are you aware you should have given My Own Holy Flesh and Holy Blood for your salvation?
“Why have you put pieces of My Holy Body in a corner, somewhere, in a hided place, in My houses, so that people who enter the church think My Church is only a building and go out without even knowing I am there in a dark corner imprisoned alone, starving for your love? Did you sacrifice yourself with Me, on My Cross? Did you pour your blood for your own Redemption? No! I did it for you! Abel offered the first born of his sheep, he offered the best, but he died having being killed by Cain, who was jealous of him out of personal pride.
“So, my beloved Bishops, are you Cains or Abels? Are you so jealous of those who want to offer themselves on the Altar with Me so that you have found the way to make the Most Holy St Pius V Mass, which all my saints were so happy to hear and to pray and to offer, disappear completely from your parishes for 40 years!
“Please think of it, I beg you, for the sake of My Father because My Father and I are very unhappy with this! You have let your souls being invaded by the spirit, spirit with a little “s”, the particular spirit which belongs to lazy civil servants making their life easier to live knowing that working or not the salary will be paid by the government! But, my dear bishops and priests, My Church is not a group of senior civil servants, and the salary for your work and your fidelity you will have only after your death: so, you will benefit of Heavens; Purgatory or Hell in function of how much you have loved Me and My sheep and what you have done for Me and them! So, even there is only one person in each parish who wants to hear the Holy Tridentine Mass you must facilitate this person to hear it! Stop concelebrating and open the closed churches! My sheep are waiting for their opening! Don’t forget there is a Divine Justice! Because of My Divine Mercy I remember you all this with the view to making you change the way you are acting now before it will be too late for you! Who of you or of your priests stand nowadays for hours in a confessional as St Jean-Marie Vianney or like St Padre Pio did? None of you! In the confessional My Divine Mercy works to save souls! But some of you sold my confessionals and sat writing books, making conferences, meeting with different medias but not meeting with the people, not really meeting with my sheep but only superficially. But because of My Divine Mercy I don’t condemn you, so go but don’t sin anymore!”
Of course all these words of exhortation come directly from my thoughts only as if Our Lord was speaking, because I wanted to show and to stress the suffering which is not only mine but also of many conservative/traditional Catholics who starve for Tridentine Mass and cannot have it for multiple reasons beyond their control. Why this Mass could not stand near the New in all parishes at different hours with the view to satisfy all parishioners? Because of the lack of priests? No! This is not a good reason! Perhaps the reason could be because some priests and some bishops have lost the Spirit (Spirit with a big “S”) of Sacrifice, which is the goal, and purpose of their ministerial!
Rick, we must stand still and quiet, as Our Lord stood still and quiet in front of those who wanted to lapidate the prostitute, and keep firmly in our faith with the view to show to these liberals that we know who really they are behind their mask and that we don’t believe in their false truths! If we do that, without fear, perhaps some of them will repent and surrender to Our Lord, but the others who will continue doing badly with no repentance at all will go straight to Hell!
May Our Lord bless you for all the work you are doing for Him for the sake of His Saint Name and Glory!
(Note: People do not have to learn Latin because the missals are in Latin and English and almost no one before Vatican II could read and understand Latin. Many priest have asked me how to learn the Latin Mass and I will address that in a future Newsletter)