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Why they don't attend?
FIGURES NOW CONFIRM that which experience has known for some time, that fewer Roman Catholics attend Mass regularly: from 2.4 million in 1975 to 1.7 million in 1995.
In the Observer last Sunday, Fr Ray Lyons, secretary to the National Conference of Priests is quoted as saying that: "The way we teach, and celebrate our liturgy, is not attracting people". Many Herald readers will heartily endorse the latter assessment — the daily mailbag of readers' letters on the subject of liturgy outweighs even that on the wrongs of abortion.
"The way we teach" also comes in for much heavy-weight attack. Despite much excellent work by our dedicated and committed teachers, catechists and producers of educational materials, there is a perception in some quarters that all is not well. All is certainly not as it used to be. Gone are the days of rote learning of doctrinal truths and traditional prayers. This has to be a loss, for how comforting it is to be able to "pull out" prayers from memory at times of emotional distress, and how reassuring to have answers on the tip of the tongue in response to the deepest questions.
Yet is that enough to equip people for the 1990s, with all its secular distractions? The Vatican's new General Directory for Catechesis draws our attention less to the acquisition of knowledge about religious truths, essential as that is, but rather to the value of developing a lasting and deep relationship of love with the Trinitarian God.
Jr requires every believer to engage in active evangelisation and supports the essential value of every form of adult, life-long catechesis. The pressure of this sort of commitment is possibly one of the reasons why some Catholics drop out of regular attendance. It is one of the observable phenomena of our age that all forms of commitment have lost support, from Trade Union membership, attendance at meetings of local clubs and societies, to life-long vows of marriage or the religious life.
Maybe the Church has not been conveying the message sufficiently that, whereas full-hearted discipleship is the goal and brings deep happiness, nevertheless, at whatever stage on their spiritual journey they are, all people are equally beloved by God and are to be warmly welcomed in our churches. A spokesman for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, which met this week, suggested that an opinion poll may be conducted to find out why Catholics are failing to attend Mass. The Herald will be watching developments closely and with much interest.