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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

An Interesting Dilemma

Well, well, well, I think we will soon discover how strong the convictions against the Extraordinary Form of the Mass really are.

The coming economic collapse means that parish collection plates will dry up. Pastors are going to have interesting times ahead as they try various ways to snag parishioners.

Currently, the most popular format for snagging parishioners is to snag the children and hope the parents' hearts and wallets follow. Even though the Vatican has just announced that the Eucharistic prayer for the Children's Liturgy will be abolished (thank God), the "youth Mass" still reigns supreme as the way to increase the parish population and "stay relevant."

But how long will that last?

Youth Masses are all well and good, but youth don't have any money. The collections at those kinds of Masses - when anyone bothers to try - are pathetic. The pastor who creates these things is counting on parents to stick with the parish their children are being "fed" in. He's also counting on the same mystique Apple computer counted on - if you get them young, they'll stay with you for life.

It isn't clear that either strategy is all that effective.

Consider the second idea first: the idea that getting them young means lifelong loyalty.

IBM harbored no such long term strategy. They went directly for the deep pockets of the corporate executives, the Jesuit strategy that says if you convert the leaders, the rest have to follow because they have no choice. That strategy allowed IBM to kick Apple's assets up and down the block for decades, because IBM targeted a group with money while Apple targeted a group with no money.

Apple is only making money now because they switched their product line to dirt cheap music and cell phones - the two things a teenager will reliably invest in. True, teens aren't buying iPhones in droves yet, but the switch to music is what made the iPhone development possible. It's what drove their sales for the last ten years. Apple finally started marketing the right product to the generation they've been trying to buy all these years.

They could, and probably will, sell off their computer line in the next few years because it's a losing proposition. In fact, you could argue that they already have, as they now put Intel chips in Apple machines.

And, when we consider that between 60% and 80% of evangelical churches are made up of fallen-away Catholics, it's pretty clear that the "get 'em young" strategy doesn't work all that well.

Well, but certainly targeting the kids in order to snag the adults works, doesn't it? Yes and no.
Sure, it gets the adults who don't particularly care about the Mass and don't know much about the Catholic doctrine they claim to espouse, but those are exactly the parents who don't contribute a whole lot to begin with.

We would be much better off to target the parents of young children with a liturgy that appeals to the parents. After all, good parents will want their children to worship the same way they do. Parents who understand the Mass don't send their children out for a "children's liturgy of the word" because they want their children to grow into adults. Children become adults by being treated like adults. Speaking down to them helps no one.

So where is all of this going?

Well, it is no secret (to anyone paying attention) that the population with the highest net worth and disposable income are the elderly. While it is true that many are impoverished, as a rule of thumb, the older the person, the more likely that person is to be (a) a regular Mass goer and (b) well-off enough to tithe, or to at least approach the idea and wave in its general direction.

It's a simple case of non-presence. People who aren't at Mass don't give money at Mass. Conversely, people who attend Mass frequently are more likely to put money in the collection plate, if only because they see it more often.

Now, who attends Mass most religiously (pun intended)?

That would be the men and women who follow the Extraordinary Form.

The Extraordinary Form tends to attract two populations: the elderly and parents with young children. Both groups are very serious about the Faith and will give whatever they can to keep the Extraordinary Form going.

However, most priests are unwilling to offer the Extraordinary Form.

But most priests will also be looking desperately for new revenue streams in the very near future.

So, whichever priest in a region is the first to overcome his scruples, break ranks and actually offer an Extraordinary Form Mass, even on a once-a-month basis, is going to absorb all the EF adherents from the surrounding parishes. His revenues will go up, the orthodoxy of his parish will go up, the average unruliness of the child population will drop - in short, it's a win-win situation for the parish that does it first.

So, an economic crash may turn out to be God's way of spreading the Extraordinary Form throughout the world.

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