onsdag 16 augusti 2017

The Journey East #2

The state of the Catholic Church
A few years ago I visited Riga, the capital of Latvia. At 9.30 in the evening, a crowd of young people came streaming out of a Catholic church in the city centre. This speaks of a church in a healthy condition. It is exceptional for Europe. In most of Western Europe, it is in accelerating decline. The picture is better in Poland but there too, it is not what it was, as secularisation takes hold. In France and Germany, and in formerly solid Catholic countries such as Spain and Italy, the Catholic church has seen near-collapse.

It is the same story in the English speaking world: Britain, the USA, Australia; the Irish Republic, formerly a bastion of Catholicism, have experienced a precipitous decline in Mass attendance and vocations to the priesthood.

In other former Catholic strongholds around the world, including South America and the Philippines, the loss has been to the evangelicals, supported from the US with vast financial resources behind them.

The Swedish exception?
There are, indeed, few countries in the world where the Catholic Church is in a healthy condition. Latvia, mentioned above, is one. Sweden is perhaps another. It was boosted by immigration and a stream of converts from the Lutheran State Church. However, even here, things are not looking as bright as they did a decade ago. The immigrant groups keep apart from each other. When parishes have Masses in half-a-dozen different languages, there is less opportunity for social gathering across the national divides. The children of the immigrants have tended to drift away. Given the extent of migration and travel, the switch from Latin to vernacular liturgy could not have happened at a worse time, for Latin was both a sign of the church's Catholicity and a means for maintaining that Catholicity.

Had the Swedish Cardinal and his advisers understood this, they would have acted vigorously to promote the universal use of Latin, and the once universally known music that goes with the Latin, in the Catholic church in Sweden. In particular, the Tridentine Mass is peculiarly suited to this situation, as the priest recites the Mass silently while the congregation follow printed texts which can be in any language as required. After all, a look at the Catholic church elsewhere shows that that tiny minority of parishes and congregations which have held to, or revived, the use of Latin and Gregorian chant have been an exception to the general trend of decline, so this could only have been beneficial in the long run.

In the meantime, at the Rome HQ...

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