Church and school were only a few hundred yards from my home and I tried to go to mass every morning when I was a teenager. I loved the silence.
Some people read from prayer books, others said the rosary, others simply knelt there. A community of separated prayer – but a community. We knew each other. Smiles, waves, no talking. Off to work, school, home, shopping, bed (after night shifts). We met at the silent mass.
On Sunday we had the 10.30 high mass. Now we could hear and sing the Latin, the only time. But people found it boring and I know other churches had the same problem. The intense nostalgia for the mass in Latin that I have met is romanticised. A parish heard the Latin once a week. The rest was silence.
Church attendance began to be recorded in the late 1940’s to help plan post-World War II renewal. Our parish priest told us that the number at mass each Sunday was disappointing – about 1,100, just over a quarter of the 4,000 in the parish address book. The good old days? Where were the nearly 75% who did not come? We understood his disappointment. Holy Communion was given only at the two early masses on Sunday, 15% of the parish came to Holy Communion. Confessions averaged 150 per week, 4%, many of them regulars.
Was your parish like that: 96% never came to confession, 85% rarely to Holy Communion? These figures were given me by three priests in our church in Cardiff, eight years after Vatican II. The good old days never were. They are the memories of people who want to imagine the best. There are no records to support them: 30% at mass, 15% at Holy Communion, 4% at confession. Those are figures of failure: 70%, 85%, 96% were hardly sharing Catholic life.
Unless we hear of God’s love the teachings of the Church will fail. It has failed miserably in our own lifetime if we measure by numbers. Jesus failed, too. Pontius Pilate had never heard of him; St Paul, a devout Pharisee and only eight years younger than Jesus, had never heard of him. God came and went and seemingly left the world unchanged. Religious men have tried to impose religion by war, conquest, crusade, cruelty, slavery, political alliances, and have failed.
Abuse of peoples in alliance with empire in Western Europe, Africa and the Americas, abuse of women and children by predatory priests, synod meetings straining at gnats like closing churches and changing mass times whilst swallowing camels like the use of nuclear weapons and tribal hatreds and slaughter as in Rwanda and South Sudan and the nominally Christian countries of Europe, 1914- 18 and 1939-45. Did the bishops of the Christian tribes talk to each other or did they kneel before the power of national loyalties? Uninspiring hierarchies wherever we look except for the brave ones who spoke and speak out and were/are condemned.
God’s love is the message. But I remind you of these words of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI “How much filth there is in the Church and even in the priesthood which ought to belong entirely to God.” The world knows. It hears the weeping of children and women and the voices of the Mystical Body, the living saints who speak of God’s love in all that they do. They are the mission and we hear them at home, school, in the parishes, where genuine love is lived.
They give God to us. We thank them.
God blesses us.
(7th May 2023)