More and More, It Looks Like Tradition is the Future of the Church

Image: Pontifical High Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC. Photo by Steve Skojec.

Last weekend, I got together for dinner with one of my best friends from college. We now live together in the same city, and our kids are as close as cousins. As the children played and our conversation moved to current events in the Church, we discussed a couple of very interesting developments.

For one thing, donations in our diocese are rumored to be down. Significantly down. Diocese-alteringly down. I don’t know if the number I’ve heard is accurate, or public in any way, so I won’t put it out there, but let’s just say that COVID seems to have done some real damage not just to Mass attendance, but revenues.

Assuming this is correct – and I’ve seen other evidence from other areas that points to the likelihood – it confirms a suspicion I’ve had for a while: we’re very likely facing a massive collapse of the institutional structures of the Catholic Church in the coming year.

Why?

Well, we’ve known for many years, based on statistics, that the majority of Catholics aren’t really Catholic anymore. Regular Sunday Mass attendance, according to Pew data, is a measly 22%. Only a third of American Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Some polling data suggests that as many as 98% of Catholic women who have engaged in sexual relations have used contraception, and 87% are using it currently. Polling that was done around the world in advance of the Synod on the Family in 2015 showed that the overwhelming majority of Catholics did, in fact, either use contraception or believe it was morally licit. In one pre-synod survey, it was discovered that 90-100% of Catholic couples in Germany and Switzerland were living together before marriage – based on my own anecdotal experience, I’d be very surprised if the numbers in America were any lower. “Many,” the report said, “consider it irresponsible to marry without living together beforehand.” As for other hot button issues, more polling from Pew says that 65% of American Catholics think employers who have a religious objection to birth control should required to provide it to employees anyway; 54% said businesses that provide wedding services should be required to offer them to same sex couples; and 47% said transgender people should be allowed to use whichever public restroom they most identified with. 67% of Catholics approve of “gay marriage” and 51% approve of abortion.

Imagine holding all those views in contradiction to the Church. Imagine only showing up for Mass when you feel like it anyway, and then disagreeing with anything orthodox from the pulpit if your pastor dares to say it. Imagine thinking the Eucharist is, at best, a symbol. And then imagine being dispensed from your Sunday obligation for the past 6 months, breaking your long-standing culturally-enforced habit of going to Mass at all.

Many, many people who at least came some of the time are never going to darken the doorstep of a church again. They face no social pressure to throw a few bucks in the collection basket. They have moved on to a more immediately satisfying and less demanding Sunday routine.

The Church is being hollowed out. “Butts in seats” — an unofficial metric used by businesses or organizations that look for attendance numbers for funding — are dropping dramatically. And dioceses around the world will be forced to sell off property and re-orient their programs and ministries accordingly.

Meanwhile, traditional parishes are not just growing, but exploding.

I know that the number of Masses at many FSSP parishes are increasing, and I assume the same thing is happening at the ICKSP and SSPX. Our local parish, already too small to hold its growing flock, has seen an influx of new families during the pandemic. I threw out an informal poll on Twitter a couple of weeks ago to get a sense of who had made the shift recently:

Nearly 55% out of 673 respondents say either they or someone they know switched from the Novus Ordo to the TLM during the pandemic. If that proportion scales at all into the larger Church, it’s pretty darn significant. It’s too early to know for sure, but coronavirus may have significantly expedited the Catholic faithful’s already notable drift away from post-conciliar liturgical and theological experimentation and back toward tradition. And while it’s true that many bishops are still hostile to this trend, nobody lives forever. Our traditional parishes are full to the brim with children. They produce vocations. Future bishops, if they are not drawn from these ranks, will nevertheless have to contend with a significant demographic shift. The handwriting is already on the wall. Add more and more recent “tradverts” to our ranks — driven largely by abysmal sacramental practices during the pandemic and tone-deaf bishops who seem to only care about the faithful when they need their money — and the resurgence of traditionally-minded Catholicism may very well be about to get rolling in a much more significant way than any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes.

With an influx of new people, not all of them having “read their way” into Tradition, those of us already on the ground have some work to do to help them find their place. But not to worry – the yoke is easy, the burden light. I find it very exciting to talk to people who are new to the TLM and eager to learn.

In that vein, I wrote a letter to Catholics new to the TLM a couple weeks ago. I want to extend the invitation again. If you haven’t read it, it’s a good place to start.

This weekend, if you’re heading off to a TLM that’s still new to you and you’re trying to figure things out, the resources I linked in the article above will be of assistance.

But there are a couple of resources I forgot about that I’d like to add here. Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, 1P5’s liturgical expert in residence, wrote a two-part series about how to get your kids engaged in the Latin Mass way back in 2014. It occurred to me today that I should reprint them for the new folks, and I’ll be doing so again next week. For now, here are the links where you can read part one and part two. As Peter mentions, these articles have also been incorporated into his most recent book, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass.

If you are already familiar with the TLM and traditionalism in general, and there are other resources you suggest, please add them in the comments. If you are new to the whole thing and have questions, or would like to see us focus on specific aspects in future articles, please also do so in the comments. Making the most of the community we have here to help each other out would be a very fruitful endeavor indeed.

If the numbers discussed here hold true, we’re going to have a huge evangelical task ahead of us in the coming years. All the Catholics who are leaving now are going to become mission territory for those who stay. But like an an airplane suffering from decompression, we need to get the oxygen mask on ourselves first, if we want to be able to help others. We need to be able to stop going to our local parish geared up for an argument. We need to actually move beyond Mosebach’s Paradox and get ourselves and our children on solid ground. Your Sunday Mass is supposed to be the one place you feel safe. The one place you don’t have to worry about heterodoxy and scandal and disrespect for the faith and the sacraments. The place you go to step away from the fray, enter into conversation with God, and recharge your spiritual battery for the week to come. With that in place, most of us will find we have a lot more energy for engaging with a decidedly hostile world.

It is only with this foundation that we can effectively go forth and make disciples of all nations —  including those formerly numbered among our ranks.

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