(Ir)relevant Church

A ‘Relevant’ Church.” Course blog. History 489: History of the Roman Catholic Church. February 2011.

One of most exciting aspects of the “History of the Roman Catholic Church” class I was privileged to take was the course blog. This post is a commentary on an article that appeared in The National Catholic Reporter about the “lost” generation of “twenty-something” Catholics. From the opening lines, I didn’t waste any time hiding my feelings about this publication:

I am always extremely skeptical of anything written in The National Catholic Reporter, as the publication is well-known for its dissent from official Catholic teaching on virtually every moral issue. Within faithful Catholic circles, it’s very common to hear it called “The National Catholic Distorter” and “National Catholic Fishwrap.” Jokes abound that its subscribers have an average age of over 70 and an average religion of Episcopalian!

Nevertheless, the article did discuss the very question that defines so much of my writing—what can the Church do to re-attract young Catholics? However, perhaps unsurprisingly, I argued that the measures it purposed were radically inadequate and ultimately misguided.

In a nutshell, the article advocated making the Church appear more “relevant” and in tune with the times. Masses featuring modern music, social events, and special welcoming efforts, it argued, were more likely to appeal to a generation estranged from traditional liturgy. By focusing on the horizontal dimension of worship more than the vertical, young Catholics would be able to better relate to a Mass that is more in touch with the world in which they live.

As a young Catholic myself, however, I know that the problem is exactly the opposite. My generation sleeps in on Sunday precisely because the Mass is so often stripped of its beauty, awe, and transcendence to the point of obscuring the substance, challenge, and attractiveness of the Catholic Faith. The Church is hemorrhaging its youth precisely because the mentality advocated in the article creates the impression that the Mass is merely a social gathering, and not the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary. As the liturgical revolution following Vatican II has demonstrated, “it is precisely when the Church tries to become relevant that it loses all relevance.”

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