Monday, April 25, 2011

Empty Pews And How To Fill Them Again

The April 15th issue of the National Catholic Reporter has an article by Father Thomas Reese, SJ, former editor of America magazine. In it he analyzes the data from a Pew Research study concerning why Catholics leave the Church, and why some of them join a Protestant congregation.

Despite what conventional wisdom might be, on either side of the spectrum, the data shows that most Catholics leave because they are not getting the spiritual nourishment they crave. And it is not because they feel the Church has strayed from traditional liturgy. A liturgy, whether traditional or modern, that is not done well, will fail to touch the hearts of the congregation. A homily, which does not explain the Scriptures, leaves the listeners feeling empty.

Among the recommendations Father Reese comes up with from the data, is that there needs to be more emphasis on the Bible. Biblical education programs need to be developed for Catholics. And Catholics need to learn that daily reading and reflecting on the Bible is just as important as memorizing the catechism; maybe even more so.

My feeling is that this is just the starting point; liturgies need to be better planned and celebrated. This requires not just the clergy, but also the laity, those with musical skills, to encourage hymn singing. It requires training lectors to not just read the Scriptures, but to proclaim them. People need to be inspired to, encouraged to, gather together for communal prayer; and to share their prayer experiences. Some of the old devotions should be looked at again, renewed for modern needs.

To encourage people to remain in the Church, will require imagination from all of us, bishops, priests, deacons, and laity. Above all, we will need the aid of the Holy Spirit to guide us and inspire us.

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