Catholics need to be thumped with a Bible

December 27, 2014
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By Lea Z. Singh |

I have a proposal. Hear me out.
(or scroll down to read it immediately)

Consider this: an important new report by the Austin Institute just revealed that only 58% of self-described "traditional" Catholics attend Mass every Sunday. We already knew that lots of Catholics skipped church on Sundays, but did you know that this included 42% of the most devout group of Catholics? "Traditional" Catholics are those most likely to know and follow the Church's teachings, such as the one about Sunday Mass attendance being mandatory. Among other Catholics, such as self-described liberal Catholics, weekly attendance sits at 21%.

Now let's get the full bad news. It's time to look at self-described "traditional Catholics" in more detail:
Now, let's check out what is happening among Evangelicals:
The conclusion: Evangelicals are spiritually healthier in almost every way when compared to traditional church-going Catholics. Why is that? 

Proposal: 'Evangelical' Catholic Mass

Yesterday I tuned in to our local Christian radio station, 99.1 CHRI, and a preacher came on the air. The first thing he said was: "Open your Bible and turn to..." . He proceeded to give a sermon about a part of Philippians, and occasionally referenced other parts of the Bible, expecting his flock to flip through their Bibles and read alongside him. Nothing unusual here: seeing Protestants flip through their Bibles during sermons is common, as those who watch Christian television have surely noticed. 

But then it hit me: this is a big part of the Catholic weakness. Our institution has made things SO easy and smooth for us that we have become comatose. We never have to crack open a Bible at Mass (or anywhere else). It is all done for us, without any work or involvement required on our part. In fact, Bibles have been eliminated from Catholic churches - instead we have the Sunday Missal, which only contains random scraps of the Bible.

Yes, the Missal is made up of wisely selected excerpts organized into a 4-year cycle. While it is nicely planned out, so that if a parishioner reads the Missal each Sunday for four years straight, he/she will get exposed to a significant portion of the Bible, it doesn't quite work out that way in practice. The actual result is more like this: many church-going Catholics never hold a Bible in their hands, much less open one and read it on a regular basis. They also never pick up the Missal, as I know from many Sundays of observation.

What would happen if Catholic priests got more demanding? Imagine for a moment that your priest tells you one Sunday that he is trying something new. Imagine that he asks his parishioners to bring their own personal Bibles to Mass. Imagine coming to Mass the next Sunday and seeing many people around you pull out (brand new) copies of various Bibles. The rustling of hundreds of Bible pages turning as the priest asks people to turn to a specific section. What, they are actually going to pay attention to the homily? They are actually going to do work?

There are big advantages to the Bible over the Sunday Missal. One of the main ones is that over time, people will become intimately familiar with the founding document of our faith. The fact is, the Bible has proven its power of evangelization for two thousand years. It is a more effective tool of evangelization than the words of any priest. We need to put those Bibles back into our people's hands, and let them experience first-hand the power of that incredible Holy Book.   

What's more, the Sunday Missal is a hodge-podge. When they read directly in the Bible, people can check out what happened before and after every reading. They learn its place in the big picture. They can gain a more complete understanding of our faith.

Bottom Line

Given the present state of our Church, most Catholics will not inform and form themselves unless they are forced to. They won't lift a finger in their free time. They won't do anything on their own. Sadly, I don't expect most Catholics to take advantage of great programs like the Symbolon program that is being offered at St. Leonard's, one of our local parishes, because it has to be done at home or in special evening sessions.

We only get ONE chance: Mass. That is the only place where most Catholics can be trapped into being catechised. And the only part of the Mass where this will happen is the homily. Those few precious minutes are all we get, once a week. They need to be used to the max.

Oh and on that note, here is a sub-proposal: lengthen that 10-15-minute homily and make it 20-30 minutes. Come on, this is your only chance to preach it and bring those stray sheep back to the fold! They can wait a bit longer before they dash to their pre-heated cars and rush off to get their Sunday shopping done. If the Protestants and Orthodox can hang out for most of their morning at their churches, then why can't we? Let's stop being a drive-through church.

Stick a Bible into the hands of the flock. 
Make them open it. 
Take your time.
Speak like Bl. Fulton Sheen. 
See things change.


Photo: stʲuːwɐt (non-rhotic) via photopin cc

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