Falling Mass attendances and liturgical reform

Falling Mass attendances and liturgical reform

Michael Gilchrist

Many of today's Catholics differ, often passionately, about the merits of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms as well as the reasons for the steep decline in Australian Mass attendances since the Council.

The fact that this decline came on the heels of radical changes to the way Catholics worship has led some to suggest that people in the pews voted with their feet against the changes. But, of course, there are other factors at work.

It is true that regular Mass attendances have fallen - from about 50-60 percent in the 1960s to around 15 percent in 2001. Judging from the rate of decline up to 2001, it is likely the figure for 2006 will have fallen to about 12 percent. Since the attendance rate for young Catholics is about five percent, it is likely the overall rate will gradually approach this figure if nothing is done.

The causes of such a decline - which has occurred in most Western countries over the same period - no doubt include the heavy inroads of secularism and relativism, weakened family life and deficient religious education programs in Catholic schools since the 1970s. These RE programs, among other things, downplayed the Sunday Mass obligation.

Is this decline set to continue, or can the Church do anything to arrest and even reverse it? Some forces are outside the Church's control, but there are areas within its jurisdiction where wise policies might make a difference.

No doubt reforms to Catholic education and efforts at strengthening family life in the parishes would help. Likewise, the so-called "reform of the reform" of the liturgy, bringing it more into line with what John Paul II and Benedict XVI have repeatedly called for, might attract or retain those people who have been repelled by banal, trivialised liturgies.

The radical experiments - both licit and illicit - that have occurred over the past 30 years have clearly not worked. So a return to more beauty, reverence and a sense of the sacred in Catholic worship could do no worse, and might even attract back some of the "lost sheep".

Positive moves in this direction will be an improved English translation of the Missal (see page 3) and a return to more uplifting sacred music (page 6).

There are no easy solutions to what is a major pastoral problem, but getting the liturgy right is a good place to start.

Michael Gilchrist: Editor (email - mtg@netconnect.com.au)

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