Is the Mass Boring?

I’ve heard it said a number of times that if it were a denomination of its own, “Lapsed Catholics” would account for either the second or third largest Christian body in the United States. Roughly one out of every ten people in the country were raised Catholic but no longer identify or practice the faith.

This is a staggering statistic that calls for action. But what?

The large statistic does not say very much, tough. All it says is that there is a growing number of people in this category. The real question is why. Over the past two decades, there has been extensive research into this question, and smarter people than I have written books on all the many reasons and what we can do to fix it. I do not pretend to offer any new information or to be an expert on the issue. Rather, I think what is most helpful for me is not knowing all of the individual reasons that someone leaves, but the nature by which someone “leaves.” Was it an abrupt, conscious decision, or did someone gradually fade away over many years until they no longer considered themselves Catholic?

In the former category are those who leave because of trauma, scandal, theological disagreement, or some other event that either destroyed their faith in one fell swoop or was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. They can point to a specific thing in the Church that is keeping them away, and unless that thing is changed, they will not return. For the average Catholic, there is little we can do to remedy this situation because the thing is often well outside of our control. We can’t change the theology, we can’t undo the past, and we can’t take away the pain that they feel, whether imagined or actual. In many ways, the best we can do is to simply live our faith with patience and hospitality for those struggling.

This is quite different from those in the latter category, a group that I believe (although I have no data to prove it) is much larger. These people have no major “issue” with the Church, no traumatic experience or major moral disagreement with its theology. No, those in this group are simply bored and disconnected. They do not feel a part of a community, are either unaware of the activity of the Church or have limited options for getting involved, and frankly, find the liturgical celebration, the main experience of Church for most people, to be dreadfully boring and un-affective. Add a touch of misinformation or poor catechesis, offer them numerous ways to be a good person in the world without going to Church, drop the Catholic guilt that drove them in their younger years, and you’ve got yourself a person that says, “What’s the point in going to that building once a week?” There’s no strong feeling towards the Church, no stumbling block preventing them from coming… there’s just no feeling at all.

That was the backdrop for a conversation I had a few week back with Rob, the mysterious voice that routinely asks me questions from behind the camera. With so many people leaving, and so many people simply disaffected by their experience, we’re forced to evaluate what we do: is there something wrong with the Mass that leaves so many unfulfilled? And if so, what can we do to make it better?

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10 Comments on “Is the Mass Boring?

  1. Humor and love like Fr. Kevin has done for us at St. Francis of Assisi. Humanize the message for us lay people. Lol. Kevin and Pope Francis are the reasons my family and I came back to the church.

    The one thing that I have noticed is the monotone voices during prayers…we need to get people to say the words with true conviction. Say the Lord’s Prayer like you are talking to a friend.

  2. Sadly, many Catholics today do not realize the magnificence of the gift we receive at Mass. Living our faith is not about the priests or the building or even as much about the church community as it is the presence in the tabernacle. We’ve lost some of the respect and awe due the King of kings.
    He is the focus.

  3. Very interesting I was the Roman Catholic the most of my life be due to the scandal in the church Amongst the clergy and I was really ashamed of the Catholic priest so I became a liberal Catholic the liberal Catholic church welcome gay people it has gay Priest And I am a Franciscan brother within the liberal Catholic church and absolutely love it I think the Roman Catholic mass really is boring and lots of ways a liberal Catholic mass Is beautiful Wii we sing them as everybody participates so I can see why Roman Catholic Don’t go to mass anymore none of our Family go to mass. Blessings

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  4. When I speak 2 Roman catholics there often Embarrassed about the church about the scandal Seems to have put them off.Even if there was no scandles I think there would be less people Going to church it doesnt cater for children it doesn’t cater for gay people or divorced people  The evangelical church caters for these people. 

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  5. I think it was Pope Benedict who said that the difference between belief and non-belief in Christianity is analogous to the difference between the brilliance of stain glass inside a church and its dullness when looked at from the outside. As an atheist (former Catholic), I would to extend the analogy to say that there’s much natural and cultural beauty outside the church that compensates for the dullness of the external view of its stain glass. Your view of “Lapsed Catholics” (which for many is an imposed term of identity that rightly deserves to be put into quotation marks) does not do full justice to the outside perspective, at least not mine. Indeed, I left the Church for reasons that are found in both of your categories and in neither. The latter, perhaps, are only intelligible on the outside.

    Interestingly, your “sensuous” view of the Mass and acknowledgement of its boring potential (in spite of its “objective” reality) is more consistent with my atheism than the relatively rational suggestion of Br. Rob that the Mass is inherently engaging (i.e., that boring experiences of it are in some sense attributable to human error, whether of the priest or the laity). Moreover, I see truth as both immanent in and transcendent to human experience. Your position reminds me of Aristotle’s relative emphasis on the physical over his teacher’s emphasis on the metaphysical. My main point of departure is that I experience the unity of these dimensions of truth outside religious experience. Indeed, as I’ve commented before, there are many instances in which the latter, I find, widens the chasm that it claims to bridge objectively.

    • I’ve read a couple of your comments on here. I suppose my question for you is why are you here asking questions? What is compelling you to search for answers? In my Catechist studies, one is taught that worship is strictly for the glory of God, in fact, we have been created for that purpose, and we’ve been given free will to accept or reject God’s love. For example, you speak about an outside perspective which there is much natural and cultural beauty outside the Church that compensates for the dullness of Church. It is true that there is much beauty outside, but this beauty stems from God’s creation, and the same goes for the celebration of God’s children in the world.

      However, we cannot view the walls of the Church in the same way or the ceremonies that take place inside those walls. These are the action of men, in ceremony, that outside the context of religion would be meaningless. Of course, this is explained by St. Francis De Sales in regards to the Sign of the Cross. St. Francis discusses how an architect may build a cross that has no meaning and it’s nothing more than secular construction, you may claim to view something with the same dimensions of truth; however, without the gift of faith through grace, I would state that it’s impossible. At least, from your standpoint of a non-believer, there’s no way logically to conclude such a thought. Furthermore, you may think you have the ability to pull from your past; however, even talking from a strictly psychological sphere, our past memories and metaphysical interpretations of them are very much products of our present.

      In the context of religion, the Mass, the Church, the priest and the laity who conduct all the ceremony it becomes true beauty because they do so with the purpose of glorifying God. Objections that are centered on “I statements.” “I can’t accept this” or “I found this impossible.” From my studies of Soviet philosophy, is merely the adoption of the metaphysical identity of Prometheanism.

      In the end, faith is a gift, that nothing I can tell you will convince you or Friar Casey here; however, if you truly wish to understand, if truly wish see this beauty and understand what Friar Casey says, I’d point you toward the words of Pope Francis who says to simply ask “God for Grace.”

      • Dear Philip,

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

        Why I am I here asking questions? You appear to be suggesting that I am here, ultimately, because “beauty stems from God’s creation.” This may very well be the case in the sense that you intend. If it is literally true that I am a creature of God (as understood by Catholics), it follows that I am here because I am by nature drawn to the beauty of God’s creation with which I am in commune and as communicated on this blog. As John Dewey has pointed out in Democracy and Education, there’s a biological basis for the etymological link between “community” and “communication.” That is, as human beings, we naturally share certain “common” goals, one of which is knowledge of the common purpose of our existence.

        Obviously, though, I do not share your exact view of our common purpose, otherwise I wouldn’t identify as an atheist. As such, I in a sense agree, I am not in a position to see the full meaning of the Church as it appears on the inside. (That is, from a certain technical perspective, one must consent to a meaning in order to understand it fully, beyond the level of abstraction for example). But I disagree that it is therefore impossible for me to access the Church’s meaning at all from the outside, through logic for instance. (After all, logic, as I understand it, is simply the study of formally true statements — an untrue statement may be logical but all true statements must be logical, just as all illogical statements must be false). I also disagree that my former belief in Catholicism is somehow rendered inauthentic in retrospect on account of my present atheism. My formative experiences did not include formal theological knowledge; but that surely is not a prerequisite for admission into the Catholic community.

        As I mentioned in my first comment, I am interested in Catholic theology as a former Catholic who experienced Catholicism as an imposition but who now sees that the imposition was not intended at the very least. I’m interested in what was intended from the perspective of Catholic theology, which I did not fully understand in my youth (and don’t claim to now either). That’s my immediate reason for commenting. It’s my present view, however, that Catholicism contains elements that are authoritarian in effect. For instance, the belief that salvation is a process that is completed in the afterlife risks abstracting this belief (one that is figuratively true, I would say) from immediate experience. Even if I am wrong, I would think that this perspective would be of interest to practicing Catholics, if only as a challenge to understand their own perspective better. Moreover, I have tried to write in a way that does not waste the time of this blog’s typical reader.

  6. A few amendments and another comment.

    First, the amendments:

    (1) Logic, as I understand it, is simply the study of the formal coherence of statements. (I.e., Truth transcends logic while being manifested in it)

    (2) My formative experiences did not include much direct contact with/studying of formal theological knowledge; but such knowledge obviously permeated much of my quotidian experiences.

    (3) I view overly abstract knowledge as authoritarian to the extent that it puts those who lack formal knowledge in a position of subservience vis-a-vis those who have access to it.

    The comment:

    Marshall McLuhan, a convert to Catholicism, observed that new media tend to be used as if they were old familiar media. Hence the acting in early movies resembles acting that is more at home in theatre, rendering it overly theatrical in appearance. Similarly, internet “communities” are often treated as it they were a reflection of offline, real-life communities. Hence “trolls” are widely condemned even if they are polite because in “real” life most people would (and in many case could not) gain access to inter-communal discussions without being a member of the community. But in (virtual) reality, this is obviously possible. So to my mind, anything on the internet should be open to (polite) discussion from anyone who is interested. The trouble, of course, is that the normal forms of communication between people who hold disparate views (e.g., tone, body language generally) are especially impaired via the one-dimensional nature of online communication. For this reason, it is often necessary to police comments. In sum, this blog opens up possibilities but its form also has impediments to communication that must be creatively overcome by all involved, least intentions be too readily misinterpreted.

  7. No problem, HL, I have just noticed you have had interesting comments without responses so I’ve wanted to provide you some response to intellectually stimulating conversation.

    In regards to your comments, I do not think you entirely follow my assertions. In regards to logic, what I have deemed illogical is you often conclude two positions as the same, when in fact, it rather appears that the two examples are not equivalent, which would make the assertion illogical. For example, As you are an Atheist, there’s simply no way at this point for you to view the beauty of a Church or the ceremony of religious action in the same metaphysical manner as a believer. I would assume you would agree that beauty is a subjective viewpoint; therefore, without the Grace of God, you simply cannot have the perspective to see the difference between stained glass window in a Cathedral created for the glory of God compared to the stained glass window created for a local modern art exhibit. In this regard, it’s simply an impasse that we’ve reached because you state that you can, which I know without faith is impossible, something that you have admitted that you do not possess.

    Let’s break it down: I assert that a ceremony or ceremonial building of a Church is built by the faithful to worship God; therefore, the walls of the Church or the actions conducted as they were created for the purposes of being used in the context of religion can only be appreciated in the same way by those who built or acted in ceremony as those who operate in the same mode of perspective and thought of the religious who built or applied the ceremony, which is the Glory of God.

    In this manner, You may find a secular building and a Church both visually beautiful; however, as you yourself are secular and can no longer fathom the manner in which the Church was built for the purpose to praise the Glory of God, your perception can only be respondent to the material.

    In regards to your past memories of Catholicism, again as you are now a product of your own current metaphysical biases, which I would surmise are at least somewhat biased against Catholicism as your articulated them to be authoritarian, which usually has a negative context. I think you can research what’s called Mind Hackers on Nova, where the latest trend in psychology is to explain that when one removes a memory or concept from their past it is altered by their current metaphysical states. Therefore, new research suggests that memories are not like removing a book from the library and putting it back on the shelf, it is much more active to our present conditioning. You may reject this, which is your choice to do so, but from this current research, your perception towards past memories of skewed in this manner, which of course you can certainly argue that I have more positive memories of Catholicism, I am not denying that assertion.

    I don’t quite follow your thought process on your current view on Catholicism being authoritarian. If it’s close to what I’ve heard from other Atheists attempting to produce God in malevolent dictator—which I would assert is probably a God more likely created in that particular Atheist’s image— we have to remember that God didn’t create the concept of Hell, what Hell is is the separation from God. God created the world for his glory and he created Angels and Humanity to share in his glory. He also gave them free will to do so. According to this Doctrine of the Catholic Church, Satan, and also man, freely rejected the love of God, which had separated them from the Grace of God. However, God gave the Jews a covenant and later gave the world his Son, who is beget to show humanity the Father. A person of one being, God decided to freely accept the death that man also had freely accepted by rejecting God’s love to bridge away back to Salvation. In this manner, God can only be seen a benevolent.

    If your assertion is in regards to the concept of purgatory, I think it’s an issue of little importance. If a person carries sin into the afterlife, it would only make sense for that person to be cleansed to enter into the Kingdom of God. The Catholic concept of being saved is merely, “I have been saved, I am being saved, I hope to be saved.” In this manner, in accordance to the Doctrine of original sin, again, it’s my choice to choose salvation, after the first sin of the first parents. If one views obeying the commands of God as authoritarian, laws of God, or nature; I’ve known several anarcho-capitialist that would have the same image of God, but again, I might assert this is more likely a god created in their image rather than what has actually been presented or as I believe to be reality.

  8. Dear Philip,

    Thank you for your follow up response. I could tell that your original reply was welcoming but it is nice of you to say so explicitly.

    I see how my position – which sees elements of the truth both in and outside Catholicism – may appear to be illogical, as in a certain respect it is contradictory from the point of view of orthodox Catholicism, at least as I understand it. (That said Catholicism recognizes reason as one avenue to faith, without making faith entirely dependent on reason). But it’s not illogical if you bake my position into a premise or set of first principles and argue from there. Assuming that this position is the case, moreover, it follows that Catholic theology and secular philosophy have something to offer each other beyond the self-referential hope of winning the other over completely.

    I don’t think one needs to do psychological research to accept the fact that our present actively affects our perception of the past. But it does not follow that the present completely determines the latter. To put it another way, I obviously see my past from the standpoint of the present, but that does not mean that my memory of thinking and acting differently is the product of the present. Put simply, I can stop believing in God and still continue to believe that I once believed in him authentically on Catholic grounds.

    I largely accept your critique of the New Atheists, a group that has more of a political ax to grind than a legitimate critique of theism if you ask me. By “authoritarian” I mean any unjustified use of authority (including false claims to it made with good intent). A teacher who knows the truth is nonetheless authoritarian when they impose its abstract form on students instead of inviting students to partake in its concrete dimension, so that they may experience it immediately. In the abstract, much of Catholicism rings true to me. My problem with it overall is that its concrete form (including its insistence on conserving the past on dogmatic and traditional grounds) often gets in the way of its insight. For example, I think “Heaven”
    and “Hell” as taught literally lose the real insight that they convey figuratively, namely that morality and immorality have consequences that transcend the lifetime of individuals. Humanity is still dealing with the “hell” of WWII for instance. By interpreting hell as a literal afterlife, the church risks distracting from the actual reality of “hell” in the here and now. This is why political people of all stripes who wish to change the political status quo see religion as authoritarian, I think. Of course, I don’t therefore dismiss religion in its entirety as authoritarian. It can and has inspire good work in the realm of actual human affairs, but only when its concrete form actually aligns with its abstractions, not simply conforming blindly to them.

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