E PRAY for vocations quite frequently. We should never despair. There are legions of wonderful men entering the priesthood. But there are many reasons for fewer vocations in years past. The decline began long before the sex abuse scandal that first convulsed Boston in 2002.
There are certainly more than two reasons. Causes are complex, at times self-inflicted, and perhaps outnumber the stars in the sky. Despite increasing numbers in the Catholic Church world-wide (1.2 billion) there are far fewer priests, nuns, religious than historic averages in the mid-twentieth Century.
The goal is not necessarily to revert to historic averages of the past. It is wise and healthy for the faithful to be discerning when considering a possible vocation. (Exploring discernment itself is to be encouraged!) It is wise for seminaries to be more judicious; formation within seminaries is among the current difficulties.
YRIAD CAUSES can be distilled into one: Lost Catholic Identity in our increasingly secularized world. Such secularization has crept its way, in varying degrees, into two critical areas:
1 • Celebration of the Sacred Liturgy
2 • Catholic Schools and Faith Formation of children and adults
This is not a judgment, but a mindfulness to be proud of our Catholic Faith. Catholics are often left on the defensive these days—clergy and religious especially. Furthermore, they are overworked. Young diocesan priests are pushed into being pastors much sooner than in the past — sometimes after merely three years of being a Parochial Vicar. They must be all things to all people from economist to human recourses manager to saving our souls. Just a day at the office!
EGARDING THE MASS: I have frequently written about the transformative power of singing the Mass instead of singing favorite songs at Mass—however beloved. Singing the scriptures, and singing sound Roman Catholic theology is our responsibility, not just another option.
Sadly, many celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy fall short of embracing our traditional music that is replete with rich theology and scripture. Many new pieces possess the same qualities, but far too many do not.
Such decisions on the content of sacred music have been outsourced to publishers who may have economic realities to consider. These worldly considerations may come above souls, above liturgical documents, and above sacred beauty.
Other publishers handle this responsibility quite admirably and seriously and have been of great service to the Church, e.g.: CanticaNOVA Publications, World Library Publications (now a division of G.I.A.), Illuminare Publications, Corpus Christi Watershed, St. Michael Hymnal, Adoremus Hymnal, etc. They are not making much money—if any! These adhere to standards of Roman Catholic theology regardless of musical style or commercial demands. (Full disclosure: I am published with WLP, CanticaNOVA, and Corpus Christi Watershed. I know the editors quite well, their ethos, and production!)
The marketing and commercialization of sacred music has had vastly mixed results, some positive, but some deleterious. Because it is published does not mean it contains solid theology or even correct theology. Because it is popular does not make it suitable for the sacred liturgy. Because it is allowable, popular, or in print does not mean it is inspiring, elevating, or edifying. It can be. Publication is not the determining factor.
While every generation has published its fair share of sub-par music—of every style—the post-Vatican II commercialization of sacred music correlates with an increasingly secularized society. It is in this society that we need our Roman Catholic Faith more than ever.
AS THE marketing and commercialization of sacred music contributed to fewer vocations? It is silly to think it is the sole cause or a direct one. But it is a telltale sign in a larger picture: that that Mass looks, sounds, (and smells) more like the secular world than one that elevates our hearts and minds to higher realms of the ineffable mystery of God. If we offer the world a similar — or subpar — experience of secular society and entertainment, then why bother attending Mass? What is there to offer if just a foggy mirror image of ourselves? We should be focused on Christ, not ourselves. Such self-focus is perhaps a large contributor toward fewer vocations.
Furthermore, all of this impacts not only priestly and religious vocations but also our responsibilities and vocations as parents. It impacts family life, our work, and how we live out our lives as Christians: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi — the law of prayer is the law of belief, and from this flows the law of how Christians must live our lives!
EGARDING EDUCATION in our Catholic schools, an answer to declining enrollment is not to take a cue from the outside secular world, but to embrace ever more tightly our Catholic Faith, our Catholic traditions, Catholic theology, and the Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching. We must reinforce and teach all of these things at all levels of education from Pre-K to high school (and beyond! We never stop learning until we die.) Just as in other circular methods of pedagogy that reinforce the essentials at every level, so too must our Catholic education fortify the tenets of our faith at every age.
Thomas Carroll, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston implores that Catholic Schools embrace their Catholicism as their greatest strength. He writes in the Boston Pilot:
Some Catholic school leaders wrongly believe that they should de-emphasize faith as they seek to market their schools in a broadly secular society. This is a mistake. Given competition from free district schools and free charter schools, a Catholic school will not prevail by positioning itself as a tuition-charging secular (non-religious) school. Our schools can “go further with faith.” What Catholic schools offer is something more transcendent than any secular school can ever offer. This is our strength, not a weakness.
Such can also be said of the celebration of our greatest prayer, the Mass.
AM NOT a priest or religious, but a dad. I recognize this is my highest vocation and not that of a musician. But our children’s religious environment must be something they are familiar with every day of their lives. It is something they will be proud of only if we are too. They will love their faith as they grow only if we show love for our faith too.
We take care with the Sacred Liturgy and with religious education not because of requirement, but because of love. We love God. We love our Catholic Faith. We love our children.
God has blessed us greatly. God has given us all that we have. Perhaps, greater attention to these matters may inspire more vocations. But also, it will transform all of us be better Christians—to fulfill Jesus’ New Commandment, His Mandatum Novum—to “love one another as I have loved you.”