When will things get back to normal? It would be nice to receive from the chalice again and it would be great to see everyone’s face again. It would be comforting to be able to relate to each parishioner with a greeting of peace or a handshake after Mass. Yes, it would be great to get back to how things were before the restrictions.
But, getting back to “normal?” I’m not sure I want our Church to go back to the norm of 3o% attendance and 5% of parishioners supporting the remnant. That’s how things were as we entered the pandemic era. If we go back to normal we’ll soon be facing nearly empty churches. Just look at Catholic attendance at Mass in England or Germany or the Czech Republic or France. The churches in Europe are empty for the most part and those who are there are members of the baby-boom generation. These parishioners are dying out. There are few millenials, fewer z-generation Catholics.
The Catholic Church in the West is in crisis. It was declining before the pandemic and we can look forward to a steeper fall now. I don’t think we can expect many to come back to Church post restrictions. No, they are not coming back. They are out of the habit of going, or worse don’t see any need to go. Then, what happens? Some new form of Church?
What if God is calling us to something greater? A renewed Church. The Church resurrected with a new mission and vision? What if God is calling us to write a new story? What if we don’t go back to normal?
Those who have left the Christian Church or were even baptized in the Church but now write “none” when asked their religious preference, are now 20% of the US adult population. “Oh, they’ll be back to receive the sacrament of marriage or to baptize their children.” In the past two decades, marriages are down over 50% cancelling out the desperate answer “they’ll be back.” If they have a child or two, there will be likely no baptism.
What if we have to start over? Church buildings have fallen into ruin once more as they have in the past. What if Catholic Schools — as strong in academics as they are,–what if they are on their way out? There were over a thousand children in my elementary school when I went. My high School was a respected Catholic school with over eight hundred in attendance each day. Both schools are long gone.
I have been a pastor of four elementary schools. Each of these schools were staffed with administrators who had no business managing anything much less a Catholic school. The administrators had long ago separated from the mission of the parish. Each principal developed their own turf-school. It wasn’t pretty. Let’s face it: the majority of our Catholic schools are secular. We are raising up smart citizens to compete in a complex society. We are not inspiring a new way of living in discipleship and in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is not an actively immigrant country anymore. We don’t need parochial schools to save our religion. It’s not working anyway. There are two hundred children in our parochial school and a similar amount in our religious education program. They are not present at the Eucharist on Sundays. The school system of discipleship is over now.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
We have to re-imagine the church. Catholic home-schooling may be closer to the ideal of forming disciples than anything else. It seems to me that we have to renounce secularism and the creed of self. With that basis, parents can actually pass on the basics of the Faith and the entire family develops together. The domestic church may not be the entire answer but it must be a foundation for a re-vitalized church.