It's a sad tale.
Sad, because we fear it's depriving people of nourishment -- spiritual nourishment.
So, this being a Sunday, let's talk for a moment about how (and where) the Catholic Church apparently lost its way.
Yes, to be sure, the priest sex scandal that rocked the Church took an incalculable toll. Damage was done that will take many, many decades to repair.
But there were other moves that the Church took that eroded Church doctrine, custom, meaning and authority.
Here, in no particular order, are ten of them:
1) Ending the systematic veneration of the saints.
There was once a time when every Catholic church featured iconic images of saints -- statues and other edifices that reminded us of Church exemplars and martyrs. Many of those are gone now. And celebratory saint days have largely vanished as well. No, you don't see altars dedicated to saints anymore. Neither do you see processions of saint statues in the streets (or even in the church) very much anymore. Somehow, the Church was stronger and more meaningful when everyone had their favorite saint or, at the very least, a patron saint -- and a place nearby to pray to that saint.
2) Nuns in street clothes.
Somewhere along the line most nuns (especially here in the United States) decided they wanted to look pretty much like everybody else. They didn't seem to want to stand out anymore. They didn't seem to want to be different. That was a bad idea because now, we're hard-pressed to distinguish a nun from most other people. By their outward appearance, they don't seem to be professing quite so much anymore. BTW: This goes for priests as well. A nun should look like a nun and a priest should look like a priest. Period.
While we're on the subject of attire, let's note that the attire of parishioners at weekly mass leaves plenty to be desired: short shorts, flip flops, sleeveless shirts and blouses, sweat shirts and/or sweat pants, yoga gear, tee shirts with inappropriate messages, cutoffs, etc. But, then again, the Church long since seems to have abandoned any sort of dress code for mass.
3) Eliminating meatless Fridays.
It was an outward sacrifice that we made. It was also an inward sacrifice as we deprived ourselves of one particular intake. It reminded us of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It reminded us that we are Catholic. It reminded us, through this weekly deprivation, that together we are all the collective body of the Church remembering the torture and desecration of the physical body of Christ.
4) Downplaying confession.
Confession (now rechristened "reconciliation") once went hand-in-hand with communion. Now, with fewer priests and fewer hours of confession, the act of confession appears to be rare and thus, far less meaningful. The rules of confession and communion don't appear to be quite so clear anymore. The lines are fuzzy and the ritual of confession seems to have faded somewhere along the way.
5) Folk mass (and other liberties).
Increasingly, liberties have been taken with the sound of the mass. We've got nothing against folk music. But the music that accompanies mass and other Church ceremonies now varies widely. For the most part, the choir loft is gone. And we're never quite sure if we're going to hear so much as an organ in church since we seem just as likely to hear a piano, guitar, mandolin, tambourine, maracas or even trumpet, bass, clarinet or trombone. Whatever . . .
6) Communion by hand.
OK, we admit it was a bit weird to have someone place a wafer directly on your tongue. But, if done properly, there was really no harm done. And, it reminded us that extra care must be taken as this really is the body and blood of Christ. And can anyone say that it was actually a whole lot less sanitary than hand-to-hand? And now, the faithful don't even kneel for communion. We're sorry, but to us hand-to-hand, standup communion seems terminally Protestant.
7) Minimalist church buildings.
You know what we're talking about. Bare churches. Stark churches. Churches devoid of imagery. Churches that barely have a place to light candles. Vacant brick and mortar churches, often without stained glass windows which sometimes even lack a large crucifix over the main altar. Churches with the tabernacle off to the side.
Yes, we understand that fewer priests meant someone had to take up the slack. But, think about it. The Church went ahead and introduced deacons without explaining what it was doing and why and how it was doing it. Then, before we knew it, deacons were giving sermons and appeared to be almost celebrating mass. We scratched our heads and wondered: "What the heck is this all about, anyway? How far does this go?" Nobody answered.
9) The advent of social justice.
Yeah, you hear it frequently now, don't you? Social justice. Indeed, under Pope Francis it seems to have reached a kind of apex. Understand this: the Church generally runs about 30 to 60 years behind trends. That's not necessarily a bad thing because, as we've already made clear, we always look to the Church more for constancy than change. But in recent years the Church caught up with the 1960s. And now, what the Church calls "social justice" is mostly just a code term for liberal activism. Yes, in it's own way, we fear the Church has now sanctioned liberal political activism. Be forewarned!
10) Diminution of mass public prayer.
Some of us can remember when Catholics openly, publicly, proudly prayed en masse. Now, it only seems to occur if the Pope happens to visit. It should happen a lot more. We need it. We need it to strengthen our faith and our spirituality. Our country needs it. Our society needs it. Those who would challenge us or undermine us need to see it. They need to know of our resolve.
And one more for good measure: The disappearance of the devil.
Be sure of this: the devil is still about his business. Yeah, there is such a thing, such a demon. He's very much in the mix. But you don't hear clergy talking quite so much about the devil anymore. Nor do you hear quite as much talk about right and wrong and sin or gradations of sin and (perish the thought!) shame. Remember good and evil? Huh? The devil is the agent of EVIL!
Symbolism is powerful. Imagery makes a difference. Ritual is essential. Rules have no meaning if they are forgotten and/or routinely broken.
Sights, sounds, scents, habits and boundaries -- all contribute to the majesty and authority of the Church.
If and when they go, what's left?