Monday, 7 May 2012

Welcome Back

Yesterday throughout the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in the north-east of England priests read out at Mass a letter from the Bishop about Welcome Back Sunday. This is an initiative across the diocese in which parishioners are asked to gently invite someone who has lapsed to come back to Mass on Pentecost Sunday and be welcomed back 'home'. The Gospel of the Mass yesterday quotes Our Lord saying "Make your home in Me as I make Mine in you"; the parish is also our spiritual home.
Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with any initiative to bring people back to the practice of their faith, the Bishop says that these folk have not lost their faith but have simply got out of the habit of going to church. I wonder.
I think that there are a lot of reasons why people have 'given up' - an argument with a priest, laziness, agnosticism, and in some cases despair at the changes which have taken place in the church since 1970.
I take 1970 as the pivotal year (give or take a few years either way) in the Church's fortunes.
Being ordained in 1959, I lived through all those years, and my memories of the time before 1970 are of a strong and flourishing church.  All the parishes I served in before 1970 had full churches every Sunday; all of them had active societies - Legion of Mary, SVP, and other sodalities.  Many parishes had at least one curate, the Bishop in those days having the enviable problem of finding places to place his many priests. There were plenty of vocations to the priesthood, to the monasteries and to the convents. There was no need in those days for a Welcome Back Sunday, the Church certainly in our diocese, and I believe in most others, was vibrant, growing strongly, and was definitely not moribund, as some who should know better have claimed. Numbers were increasing, new churches were being built and new parishes set up.
Before discussing the aftermath of 1970, I wonder if anyone would like to add anything to these thoughts of mine; I would like to hear others giving their memories of the years before 1970.


  1. Dear Fr. Thank you for this very apposite Post. I cannot add anything to your comments, reference Pre-1970 Masses, Churches and the Roman Catholic Faith. You have said it all.

    Hope to meet up with you again (perhaps at Ushaw, again, for a LMS Training Week). In the meantime, keep up the excellent Blogging. It's a MUST READ.

  2. Father,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. I was a student at Ushaw from 1958 until 1964. My "re infecta" thingy was simply because I felt I didn't possess the necessary self-sacrificing discipline of life needed in a priest. Despite the efforts of Mgr Grant to persuade me to stay until my emotions settled down, I was determined to leave. I never, at any time since had any doubts about doctrine, and in obedience, accepted the changes c.1970. I went on to be a lay reader, parish treasurer, parish councillor and for a brief period an extraordinary minister.

    Whilst my own beliefs never changed, I became increasingly disturbed at the attitude of fellow parishioners and some (unfortunately) clergy specifically re the Real Presence. Mass became more and more a social occasion, with chat and talk before and after, and the increasingly cavalier attitude to the reception of Holy Communion. Far be it for me to question another person's beliefs, but on the face of it, sometimes an impression is created of a non-realisation of what is actually going on at Mass, and what people are receiving at Communion.

    Statistics taken from the Northern Catholic Calendar tells a most graphic and terrifying story....
    Mass Attendance:
    2001 - 52563
    2002 - 50952
    2003 - 48841
    2004 - 47155
    2005 - 45824
    2006 - 44747
    2007 - 43820
    2008 - 40229
    2009 - 39216
    2010 - 38485

    That is a 25% drop in Catholic practice over a 10 year period, in a steady year on year decline.

    This is more than just a case of slackness on the part of the laity. It represents a serious threat to the very life of the Church in this Diocese, and, I suspect, in every other Diocese.

    Catholics need to be given a reason to attend Mass, and a return to a more devout and reverent liturgy would certainly help. And that is where the clergy have the most important role to play.

    God bless you Father.

  3. I wonder whether the 'dumbing down' of the liturgical practices has resulted in an equally worrying 'dumbing down' of belief, especially in the Real Presence. How can we explain the chatter in church both before & after Mass & the lazy acceptance of the Body of Christ in the hand as anything but non belief in the Real Presence?
    You asked for comments pre 1970. Then, as you rightly say, our churches were full but not only 'full' but full of Catholics who had been properly instructed in the Faith. Our schools were staffed by committed Catholic teachers who used every opportunity to reinforce our love & knowledge of the magisterial teaching of the Church - we loved our Faith.
    Reading in the media of the Irish priests arguing about celibacy, the ordination of women makes we very concerned that some Catholics no longer listen to our Holy Father who is CHRIST'S REPRESENTATIVE ON EARTH.
    Thank you for your thoughts Father

  4. Hello Father

    Interesting post, I also heard your sermon at Mass on Sunday. To put my humble opinion forward among the fray, as someone who hasn't lived through the original – Latin - Mass, but was brought up on a 1980s liturgical diet, I think that Welcome Back Sunday seems to be a barely warm attempt to claw back who-knows how many people alienated by the Church's changes, as well as those people who have left the Church since. Maybe secular people or lapsed Catholics feel that Church isn't relevant to them anymore, and if we live in a comfortable society by and large, where advertising and popular culture is centred around people enjoying themselves, most have some sort of disposable income to use on hobbies. Therefore I think some people think that if they feel comfortable in this world why would they necessarily worry about the next?
    The Devil is in the detail so to speak. A quote I like, if I can use Chekhov to back up my point!; “I think human beings must have faith, or must look for faith, otherwise our life is empty, empty."