Used to be a time that, when you stepped into a Catholic church, it would be almost like stepping into any other Catholic church. The architecture was generally the same, ultimately directing your eyes to God in the tabernacle.
The noise was minimal — really overcome by the quiet. The Mass was reverential, the music was sacred, the preaching spot on, the confessionals had lines, people knelt before their God before consuming Him as He commanded His followers to do.
In short, the parish was instrumental to the transmission of the Faith — certainly the sacraments. Even social life largely revolved around the parish with other like-minded Catholics. It was a critical and dependable element in the three-legged stool if you will of how the Faith was passed from generation to generation.
Those three elements were parish, home and school, and each was dependent on the other, each one reinforcing and being reinforced by the other two. If one were to fail, it would almost be a guarantee that, shortly thereafter, the other two would be hit hard as well.
We could go back and forth for days over which of these fell apart first, or had the most immediate and devastating effect, and probably never arrive at a single conclusive answer.
But here is what we do know with certainty — not counting the actual sacraments, parishes today across the country are doing a lousy job, actually failing at transmitting the Faith. Of course, there are exceptions here and there, but, like we said, for the most part. This is plainly seen in the overall net loss of parishes in the past 20 years.
About 12 percent of parishes have been shuttered in the past 20 years — but that is nothing compared to what is coming just down the road. There are, in fact, now fewer parishes in the United States then there were in 1965. That is an institution in retreat, not expansion.
This all presents the unfortunate reality that people who come to a parish are oftentimes being hoodwinked. A kind of bait and switch is going on — promised one thing, but given something different. Sure, the sacraments are present — for the most part — although some stories you hear.
But let's assume for a moment that form, matter and intent — the necessary elements for a valid sacrament — are present across the board. Well, there is a lot more to the Catholic life than there just being valid sacraments, there is the actual living out of the sacramental life, the moral life, the devotional life, a life geared to holiness with sanctity as the final end.
This is the purpose of the sacraments — strength to live such a life. If the sacraments are present and that is it, if people receiving the sacraments are receiving them in a state of mortal sin, then the sacraments are useless, and, actually, better that they not be received because then the guilt of sacrilege is added to the soul.
No sanctifying grace which comes with each sacrament is transmitted to the soul and a soul absent sanctifying grace is damned at the moment of death. If your parish is not speaking like this, watch out. If your priest is talking stuff other than this, look out.
You are falling victim to a bait and switch — pretending to be Catholic, but, in reality, not, because there is much much more to being Catholic than just the presence of valid sacraments by a validly ordained priest.
Every heretic in the Church’s history can trace his roots back to an ordained priest. Martin Luther was a priest. When he said the words of institution, the Eucharist was confected. When he said the words of absolution over a soul, that soul was restored to life. Even Judas had his apostleship — until he lost it and was damned.
The problem in Catholic parishes up and down the country today is not the lack of priests or the validity of the sacraments, it's the lack of the Catholic faith, all of it, not some politically correct, cherry-picked version of it being transmitted.
The bishops have and continue to fail in an epic fashion in their duty — their primary role being teacher. When they see themselves as political activists and "changers" or "updaters" of Church teaching, that is a sure sign that the responsibility for transmitting the faith must pass to the laity.
It is the bishops' decades of scheming and political posturing which have reduced parishes to little else than building for the sacraments — and even there, the numbers of those who receive the sacraments is tumbling to new lows every year.
Faithful laity have, in many ways, already begun to take up the slack, with forming their own independent schools and homeschool efforts as well as getting together in groups like Church Militant's Resistance cells and various other devotional and catechetical endeavors.
Many of the faithful have long sensed that the sign out in front of building identifying it as a Catholic parish — or the annoying phrase Catholic Community — are a kind of bait and switch, a sort of con game.
Catholic in the sacraments, absolutely. Catholic in any other meaningful way, not so much.
As Catholic laity in many other times and places throughout our 2000 year sacred history have had to adapt and figure it out amidst persecution, heresy, schism, unfaithful leaders, tyrants, whatever, we will figure this out as well. What is important is that we throw ourselves into it.
While it would be ideal to have the Faith transmitted in a parish setting, that is sadly no longer the case in many, many places. So, we lament that, get our brains around it and then do something about it. We must connect with each other, by whatever means we can and we must sustain the authentic Faith through whatever means we can.
The parish system has failed by and large because those who were appointed to keep vigilance, did not. Much of those buildings will be swept away in a generation or less, so we need to get down to business now and prepare for what's coming.