Monday, January 2, 2012

Put Your Money Where Your Mass Is

Despite my hopeful post on “Paving the Way for the EF Mass”, I must admit that priests, in my experience, don’t want to change “what we’ve always done” when the people seem to be entrenched in it. Pastors are afraid people will become offended and leave the Church. Wait…check that: they are afraid people’s money will leave the church.
During the time I worked as a parish secretary, two priests told me they did not want to know whether or how much money individuals were donating each week – they just wanted to know the collection total. Even though they did not know who was giving what, they had a vague sense that “more people” equals “more money”; any hint that people were angry about changes in the liturgy left them anxiously trying to balance liturgical correctness against political correctness.  
While it makes logical sense that collections will be larger when the congregation is larger, this is not always true. Sometimes there are a few families who make large donations that carry the parish financially, with many others making much smaller donations to round out the “big hitters”.  Often, those big donors do not make a show of their contributions - nor do they make threats about withholding their funds. I know that in two parishes I attended, a family who was donating large sums stopped doing so…because they were offended by the liturgical practices of the parish. They voiced their concerns without mentioning money; their concerns were not addressed, and their money found another home.
One priest in our diocese told me that, in his parish, a few people objected to some changes he was making, and they did threaten to withhold their contributions…but then he discovered that the amount they gave was almost inconsequential in the large budget of the parish. And another priest friend has told me that in his parish, the largest share of the financial contributions come from the Mass that has the smallest number of attendees.

I have heard priests explicitly mention that they do not want to offend parishioners because the collections will decline. However, even though a parishioner may give generously, if he (or she) consistently asks for liturgical abuses to be corrected, or for implementation of discarded rubrics, he is considered little more than a nuisance. No one is worried about offending him; no one is worried that he will stop attending Mass. In fact, they hope the "trouble-maker" will move away.
The truth is, any person who makes valid, well-documented arguments against liturgical abuses that are currently accepted and welcomed in a parish is not viewed as one of “the people”, and no one really cares about his money or his other contributions to parish life.
Interestingly, despite this preoccupation with Mass attendance, there seems to be little concern on the part of priests that people who are offended at liturgical abuses – the more traditional parishioners, the ones who want Gregorian chant and Latin, and no guitars or trumpets...the black sheep – have stopped attending Mass. One couple I know, fed up with the abuses at their parish, began traveling almost 2 hours each way most Sundays in order to attend Mass at an SSPX chapel. They did not consider themselves disloyal to the Holy Father; they just wanted a liturgy that followed the rubrics. But if they couldn’t make the two-hour trip due to weather or any other concerns, they simply did not attend Mass. Although that should have concerned their parish priest, the pastor never spoke to them about it .Contrary to the Gospel account of the lost sheep, the shepherd stayed with the 99 who were "comfortable" with "their" liturgy, and let that one "complainer" go on his way.
Sometimes, there’s a parish priest who does want to make changes in the direction of liturgical correctness. He is immediately faced with protests and criticism from the “other side”, and sometimes that includes letters of protest written to the bishop. In my diocese, the priests who have struggled to lead their parishes toward a more orthodox celebration of the liturgy have received little or no support from the bishop. This is just plain wrong. And so, most priests seem not to make the attempt.
And that, my friends, is why I maintain that true liturgical renewal – righting the wrongs that have crept into the liturgy these past 40-50 years – will only be accomplished by firm leadership from our bishops. A priest can only do so much at his parish; if the bishop instead sympathizes with the “happy clappy crowd”, the priest will ultimately be silenced. But if the bishop and his priests are on the same page – an orthodox, liturgically-correct page that helps the people grow in holiness – then much can be accomplished.
Let the liberals and modernists have their tantrums and make their threats, and let them even leave the Church if they do not accept Her teachings. It is no great charity to bend the rules to keep people coming to Mass if they truly do not believe what the Church teaches; in fact, it only encourages them to receive Holy Communion unworthily.

Let them go, and let them take their money with them. Let God deal with the financial fall-out. He will provide. It’s what He does.

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