This is a sobering read, but one well worth your time, from my friend and former blog neighbor Msgr. Eric Barr. He takes a hard and critical look at the toll the pandemic and lockdown is taking on Catholicism — and offers some ideas about what we can do about it:
The plague we are suffering is unchurching our Catholics, particularly our Mass-going Catholics. Let me explain why this is such bad news, but why it also presents us an opportunity to rethink what being Catholic means.
Sunday Eucharist will become a distant memory for most Mass-going Catholics. The Eucharist has already been basically forgotten by a large majority of Catholics. Yet, there are still millions of practicing Catholics who have found solace in this Sacrament of sacraments. As the pandemic drags on, the parishes have only marginally opened for Mass, and that fact is not going to change soon. The parishes aren’t responding well enough to bring people back in a timely way. Actually participating in the Eucharist is no longer simply showing up for the next Eucharistic celebration. So much has to be done to allow one to attend. There is registration, mask-wearing (try making kids who often don’t like to go to church feel positive about this mask-wearing experience–it is amazing how few children come to the Pandemic Experience of the Mass). Imagine sanitizing and re-sanitizing one’s hands and the pew in which one sits, plus no singing, and no congregating after Mass. Parishes can not accommodate the numbers should everyone wish to return, and many will find it too difficult to attend, or they will pass up the opportunity, allowing more fervent parishioners to have their space. In the end, there will be a gradual falling away, as I spoke of before, but with the added, horrific realization that many of those who choose not to go will forget why they came in the first place. A question will need to be raised. If the Eucharist is not central to Catholic life, what makes me a Catholic?
Catholics, like Jews, will become even more cultural in name than practicing in reality. Already, statistics show that 60% or more of Catholics do not participate in the weekly or even bi-monthly Eucharist. Add another 30% that will absent themselves because of coronavirus complications. The Church could easily see only around 10% of its baptized members in this country participating in Eucharistic celebrations. This statistic is present already in some places in Europe. That reality exists because of the secularization of European culture. The same secularization is happening here, but will be exacerbated and accelerated because of the plague. For the best of intentions, bishops and laity conspire to weaken Eucharistic ties. They lift the obligation to attend Mass in order to help us be good citizens at the same time, by not congregating in large numbers. Bishops and people seem to think this wise.
The Unchurching of Catholics will lead to an absence of personal spirituality. One of the things the institutional Church has been good at is teaching families how to pray and live traditional Catholicism within the home. This was much more effective when families and the institution cooperated. In the last sixty years or so, families have forgotten, and the Church has labored with less success than before to instill such traditions. Praying and living the faith is about to be gone completely from most Catholics’ experience. Without the anchor of Eucharistic celebration, families will drift away and not know how to teach their children to pray or have traditions that will help them live a Catholic life.
There’s much more. Read it all. And see what solutions he is offering.