Wednesday 26 November 2014

Empty chairs in empty churches

Mark Lambert has picked up on Fr Dwight Lonenecker's piece about why church attendance is, for the most part, in decline in the Western world.  

Conclusion: many people just don't really understand what church is for.

This is certainly true whenever we now interact with those who don't usually darken the doors of the Church - at times of marriages, funerals, baptisms and first Communions.  What they are looking for is not what the Church actually offers but all too often we cave in and give them the watered down, insipid, secularised version that they come seeking and so those that come to such events experience very little of the true content of the Faith.

What they experience is just not powerful enough or different enough from what they might get in other arenas to make people make the effort on a Sunday morning. 

I think he's hit on something there.  

Once we present church as entertainment, we can't compete with the professional entertainers in film, stage and TV.  

Once we present it as a commodity (everyone "getting Communion") we can't compete with teh professional emporiums of commerce.

Once we present church as a party we can't compete with a good restaurant or a noisy bar.

Once we present church as a crèche we can't compete with the professional child carers and educators in our schools and nurseries.

The only Unique Selling Point we have is salvation, redemption from sin, warfare with the forces of darkness, the reality of the spiritual world -  but these are things we have so often lost confidence in talking about, so we try to compete on other people's turf and come off looking second rate, boring and irrelevant.

A loss in confidence in its core message is bound to reflect rather poorly in any organisation - human or divine.  We do indeed have a unique "product" but it's hidden away in the back room (or the back sacristy).  It takes confidence to bring it out.

The wonder is that so often we hear of great "celebrations" taking place in regard to the way the Church has moved in recent decades.  The "celebration" to close the church / convent / seminary / monastery or "celebration" some other aspect of Church life that is, in anyone's reality, so obviously in decline.  A real bit or Orwellian doublespeak.

I'm reminded of the lyrics sung by Marius in Les Miserables - the empty chairs and empty tables being the empty pews and empty altars:
There's a grief that can't be spoken.
There's a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.
Here they talked of revolution.
Here it was they lit the flame.
Here they sang about `tomorrow'
And tomorrow never came.
From the table in the corner
They could see a world reborn
And they rose with voices ringing
I can hear them now!
The very words that they had sung
Became their last communion


David O'Neill said...

Don't you think Fr Simon that one of the main reasons for people not going to church (other than - in some cases - Sunday Mass) is the lack of belief in the Real Presence? One only needs look at the disrespect shown by laity (& some priests & religious) as the pass the tabernacle (allowing that it hasn't been moved to some corner) by their cursory bow or dip as they pass. If people REALLY believed in the Real Presence churches would need to be open 24/7

Matthew M said...

Is there any book that you know of that talks about and explains what the Catholic Church is about and for? I mean a traditional explanation not some 'New Age' modernist interpretation. So many books are just psychobabel in semi-religious terms.
I know the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the healing medicine of Body and Soul but no one seems to believe in it any more (or I should say very few do).

RJ said...

One other possible aspect is that western man has, at least temporarily, lost the sense of his natural law obligation/need to worship God. Consumerism has something to do with this (he's too busy trying to fill the God-shaped hole with 'stuff'), as has an intellectual climate which tells him that 'science' has 'disproven' God.