I wish that I could count on another ten years or so to see if this generation of Catholic parents will do what mine in large part failed to do. I suspect that they will, eventually. What I have in mind has a bearing on the annual Confirmations season that is now coming to an end.
For the past 45 years or so the Confirmations that aimed, with the help of parents, to get young Catholics to be practising adults – at least in terms of going to Sunday Mass – have increasingly failed to get that result. Will that trend continue, slow down or reverse during the next decade? It’s going to be most interesting. Virtual total collapse of Massgoing could happen during that time, as has already happened elsewhere including in Pope Francis’ native Argentina and in Italy where he now resides.
Up to the 1960s few thought of an Irish collapse of that sort or extent. Most presumed that though some youngsters would cease to go they would go in due course. In fact, early on in that period the late Fr. Peter Connolly, a Maynooth Professor of English with whom I used to chat, dissented from that presumption. He said that we Catholic Irish could cease to go to Mass within a generation, and added: “We Irish Catholics are an unsentimental lot. We readily discard what we consider doesn’t have practical value. After all, most of us discarded talking in Irish for that reason. We could do the same with our Mass.”
That is exactly what has happened. Though some may practise in other respects few of our young 2013 Catholics will go to Mass after their Confirmation celebrations. That is now more so than ever as the parents of the majority of them have ceased to go. With an overall absentee rate of close to 90 per cent – it’s over 95 per cent for males – in the Dublin area it is so for the vast majority of that area’s young Catholics.
As a Dublin Catholic parent during those 45 years I saw unsentimental non-attendance grow around me and in our home. I well recall the day when our 16-year-old and youngest son told me that he had ceased to go to Mass though, apparently for that purpose, he used to leave the house on Sunday mornings.
We had delegated his Catholic instruction to a school run by priests who were numerous enough to impart that instruction to all the students. Generally he was a top learner. Partly on that account he asked a question that able mid-teen youngsters of that time had the courage to put to their religion instructors: “What difference does it make whether we go to Mass or heed the other things you say?”
Though some of us in my time had that question in mind, we didn’t ask it. We knew what our Christian-Brother teachers would do. Besides, we believed that deliberate missing of Sunday Mass could land us in Hell. My son’s priest teacher didn’t mention that belief. So my son and his friends quietly concluded that it was a fabrication and that no going wouldn’t make any difference.
I accepted that I couldn’t argue against the priest’s stance. However, in case he would soon resume going (which he hasn’t during the 30 years since), I got him to agree to keep going out on Sundays as usual for the sake of his mother. His integrity quickly got him to dispense with that deception.
Though Fr. Connolly saw that unsentimental not going was possible, like other priests then and since he didn’t exhibit any worry about adverse results for non-Massgoers. Apparently, it didn’t and doesn’t bother the former that the latter might suffer in Hell or otherwise. It’s no wonder that some non-Massgoers have, as a result, said that such as the Christ, Purgatory, Satan, Confession and Eucharist beliefs are, like the Hell one, fabrications peddled by Clergy to have status and power.
Some non-attendees also say that God and the Afterlife are also fabrications. Yet, many of them like to hold on to belief in God and an Afterlife. They like to presume that, regardless of whether they attend Mass, their Afterlife will be painless. By their related silence, our Pope, Papal Nuncios, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, theology professors, religion teachers and priests everywhere – and I mean globally – confirm for non-Massgoers that they can safely so presume.
I recently used the Papal Election to publish a letter in “The Irish Times” to give our Irish Catholic Clergy and “The Irish Catholic” commentators an opening to clarify this situation. It said that, so long as local Clergy continue to answer inadequately the “What risks do we run if we don’t go to Sunday Mass?” question, who was elected Pope wouldn’t matter to us. No one commented. The silence continues.
It so happens that there is at least one risk, but it isn’t for non-Massgoers. Presuming from the silence that it wouldn’t entail any risk for them, shortly many of those who still or would go won’t do so. The risk then is that Parish and Diocesan revenues will be far short – as they are already in Dublin due to the 90 per cent absentee rate – of what is needed to maintain buildings, services, Clergy and staff salaries, expenses and pensions, and publication of “The Irish Catholic”. That will follow quickly if Clergy don’t robustly break their silence.
That said, as I observe what, in relation to all this, happens during the years left to me, I plan to gain via (including through broadcasts and visualization) the third parts of Sunday and Daily Masses. I plan to do so for three practical risks-related reasons to which our Clergy don’t refer. I wish that I had been aware of them during the exchanges with my 16-year-old son. I suspect that awareness of them will eventually get the present generation of Catholic parents to succeed where mine failed.
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