Once again, Joe Ecclesia has written a “Letter to a Bishop” (Correspondence, January) that resonates on the other side of the Atlantic. English parishes have been warned that they can no longer assume that they will have a resident priest.
English Catholics have been told to be prepared for the number of Masses cel- ebrated to be reduced, for parishes to be amalgamated, and for churches to be closed. We are, as our cardinal archbishop has told us, in a time of crisis. In his own archdiocese, there were 843 working priests in 1990; a year ago, the number had fallen to 623; and it is projected to fall to 471 by 2015, a reduction of nearly 50 percent in 25 years.
There are, no doubt, any number of reasons that can be put forward to explain how this has come about, and Joe Ecclesia touches on one that has certainly played–and is playing–its part. The culture of too many seminaries has been lax, liberal, and in some cases downright distasteful. But then so have other aspects of Catholic life. Not always, not everywhere, but often and frequently enough to be damaging, a kind of self-satisfied contentment seems to have crept into the institutional Church. The mood at too many Masses is one not of devotion and recollection but of busy external participation. The atmosphere is not one of worship but of mutual admiration. In my own diocese, the bishop has sought to redress the balance in favor of God-centered prayerfulness by stressing the importance of adhering to the officially laid down norms of liturgical celebration, but, at the same time, he has offered examples of good practice that include “youth masses” with Taizé-style music and “drama and mime” during the readings. People whose sensitivities have been formed in the traditional Christian cultural continuum find the atmosphere at such celebrations alien—and I suspect that they would find the atmosphere in the seminaries that Joe Ecclesia satirizes just as unwelcoming and foreign. In too many of them, and in too many churches, there is a cultural barrier that makes even the most radical of traditionalists feel excluded. Those who maintain that barrier most dutifully claim to be asserting a culture of inclusiveness, but the real result of their efforts is that many people who would love to contribute to the active life of the Church are, if one may paraphrase the comedian, included out.
—Michael McMahon Norfolk, England