Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Is it time to go Congregational?

No, I'm not suggesting mass conversion--Mass conversion, maybe.

The problem, as identified by many fellow Catholics, is the general decline in the quality of the liturgy. Many dioceses "canceled" Ascension Thursday--Ascension Thursday!--and celebrated this Holy Day of Obligation on Sunday, so that more people would attend. Announcements during the service; the Cardinal's appeal, scenes from the school play. All these things seem to be happening to and intruding upon the actual prayer at Mass.

My own theory, as someone who has belonged to 4 different parishes in the past 5 years, is that the mobility of our society has removed the local parish from the central place in our lives. I grew up at St. Mary of the Nativity. I had my First Communion, First Penance, and Confirmation there. I was an altar boy in my 4th grade teacher's wedding, and went on to BC High with a bunch of parishioners. Then I grew up, moved away, and started moving a lot.

The Parochial manner in which Catholics approach their Church worked very well in an era when few people moved more than 20 miles from their birthplace. But does it work well now? In a more congregationally-oriented church, when I moved back to the Northeast, I might have belonged to the same congregation the past 4 years. Others might have been there for 25 years. The Church might be a community, and consequently, all the community stuff might have happened outside of Mass. CS Lewis advocated for a parochial rather than a congregational model, especially because it exposed one to people one had not chosen, but merely happened to be proximate to. One thus worshipped with people of many classes. But given the nature of our communities these days, it seems to me choosing one's home (and moving as often as many do) makes many of the choices Lewis objected to.

I'm not actually answering the question here. I have presented an argument, but I've merely constructed it, and have not yet chosen to defend it. I would love to hear a pro-parochial answer for a highly mobile society, especially one that takes on the question of "the community center" aspects of a Church.


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