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.