Feb 15, 2003

Lack of Reverence at Mass Tops Concerns

Online Edition

– Vol. VIII, No. 10: February 2003

Adoremus Survey Report –

Lack of Reverence at Mass Tops Concerns

by Hilary Hitchcock

In October the Adoremus Bulletin surveyed readers about the liturgy — part of our continuing effort to present clearly and accurately the information that is most important to faithful Catholics. Nearly 1,100 readers responded to the survey — about 4% of our total readership — the vast majority of whom were laity. 8.5% of respondents identified themselves as priests or religious.

Most respondents had multiple concerns about the liturgy — particularly in their home parishes. We asked about readers’ greatest concerns among the following topics: music, homilies, church architecture, reverence at Mass, catechesis on liturgical rules, homilies (as catechesis on basic Catholic doctrines), translation of Mass and Scripture texts, roles of laity and clergy in the celebration of the Mass, and innovations.

The most serious concerns identified by survey respondents were reverence at Mass (74%), music (61%), catechesis on liturgy rules (54%), and roles of laity & clergy at Mass (54%). About half listed catechesis on Church doctrine, innovations and translation as serious problems; 46% listed church architecture; and 39% listed homilies. 13% specified other problems.

One reader noted: "All of the above matters are in a terrible distress due to the failure of the bishops to teach and obey. I don’t know what to do but pray." — Jerry Patterson, Torrance, California (Los Angeles) [NB: Arch/dioceses are in parentheses.]

Reverence at Mass worries most

By far the largest number of respondents (801) listed reverence as a prime concern, and "reverence scale" rankings of their home parishes averaged a weak 4.96 on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the "most reverent". Specific concerns about reverence included the manner in which the Mass is celebrated by the priest, music at Mass, and the congregation’s behavior before, during and after Mass.

Representative comments on the lack of reverence at Mass:

"I am a 71 year-old cradle Catholic. Sometimes I wish in my life I had never been a part of good liturgy, good music, the sense of God present at Mass, at adoration. The ‘Ah!’ is gone. It hurts so bad to see what is offered to us now." — Name withheld, Shawnee, Oklahoma (Oklahoma City)

"Recent actions of the US bishops seem to reduce acts of reverence (e.g. genuflecting and kneeling) and other connections with Catholic tradition (e.g. moving the Ascension to Sunday)." — Name withheld, Alexandria, Virginia (Arlington)

"The general tone of Sunday Mass at my parish is primarily one of affirmation for the participants in the pews. The tone is secondarily one of worshipping God. We gather more to remind and reassure ourselves that we are loved than to offer worship and praise to God, who is Love." — Janet L. Deken, Saint Louis, Missouri (Saint Louis)

Many commented on the attire and conduct of the congregation. One reader noted:

"As you would go before earthly royalty, so go before the King of Heaven at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Levi would be welcome, but not his apparel!" — Name withheld, Omaha, Nebraska (Omaha)

Others were concerned that the congregation was not showing proper respect for the Real Presence before and after Mass, and for the Sacrifice during the Mass:

"Lack of reverence is certainly a national phenomenon. I’m not sure which constitutes the cart or the horse: the permissible options of the liturgy itself, or the decline in belief in the Real Presence. I was brought up short by comments of some Protestant friends several years ago. If, they asked, Catholics believe that Christ is actually present in the Eucharist, why didn’t we crawl to the altar to receive Communion?" — Glenn M. Ricketts, Flemington, New Jersey (Metuchen)

"It is nearly impossible to make a proper thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion. As soon as the final hymn ends it sounds like a sporting event has just ended. It’s like the people think Jesus leaves with the priest." — Mary Ann Oelker, Dillsboro, Indiana (Indianapolis)

"The lack of silence and the cavalier attitude in the house of God is that of a social gathering at a local theater." — Ronald G. Trahan, Gales Ferry, Connecticut (Norwich)

Music was also a great concern, with many lamenting the spiritual emptiness (or simple lack of beauty) in modern liturgical music. Typical responses were:

"So-called ‘music’ and second-grade-level songs degrade the celebration of the most sublime act of worship (i.e., the Mass) that we could offer to God." — Name withheld, Columbia, South Carolina (Charleston)

"As a musician I find many of the newer Catholics hymns to be deficient. Difficult for group singing, with odd meter, hard-to-follow tunes, and poor breathing. They were obviously written by/for musicians, not congregations!" –Mr. & Mrs. Stanley Martin, Flower Mound, Texas (Dallas)

"When I asked our ‘liturgist of music’ about Gregorian chant having a place of pride in Mass, she said the recent theologians are wiser and so smart that the Church hasn’t caught up with them yet. She wasn’t kidding!" — Mr. & Mrs. James Albrecht, Solon, Ohio (Cleveland)

"Lyrics are sometimes less than religious in nature. Church music should glorify God or call us to His mercy." — Mary Rodgers, Sun City, Arizona (Phoenix)

"I have formed a small schola in my parish, with the warm support of the pastor. We are slowly working up a repertoire of ‘classic’ music, within the capabilities of competent amateurs. Elsewhere, it remains trite, juvenile and indescribably bad." — Glenn M. Ricketts, Flemington, New Jersey (Metuchen)

Catechesis on liturgical rules is another topic that troubles many readers. We heard loud and clear that many find catechetical instruction lacking. Survey respondents told us that they long to learn about Church teaching on a variety of subjects — and they want the celebration of Mass to reinforce these teachings. Among comments that represent many readers’ views on catechesis are:

"As a recent convert coming in through the RCIA, I’d say catechesis — at least in some parishes — is deplorable." — Charlie Grove, Vandalia, Ohio (Cincinnati)

"If we aren’t told (truthfully) what the rules are (and why they are as such), it makes it difficult to know what’s wrong from right! I think most Catholics have no problem with the rules when explained properly (including reasons — it makes it so ‘sensical’)." — Christopher Frebis, Indian Springs, Ohio (Cincinnati)

"The entire Liturgy is catechesis — the homily may be the only time some Catholics receive instruction in Scripture, Tradition, or moral instruction relevant to current events. Instead, my experience is that we’re given stories, ‘loving, caring, sharing’ talks that speak of abstractions, or simple reiteration of the most obvious message of the Word. What the laity is missing — and what we thirst for! — is concrete instruction in the Faith and the significance of the Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the ten commandments, the latest writings of the pope, how to respond to the current sex abuse scandals among our clergy, and of course the perennial issues of contraception, homosexuality, abortion, and the marriage covenant … just to name a few topics. The homily or sermon is probably the single-most effective way to significantly boost the laity’s understanding of and love for our Faith." — JF, Willoughby, Ohio (Cleveland)

Roles of Laity & Clergy in the celebration of Mass

Many lamented what seems to be widespread confusion and/or disinformation about the roles of laity and clergy in the celebration of Mass:

"My limited knowledge informs me that a pastor or priest, when physically and otherwise able, must act as Eucharistic Minister in lieu of laity. Our pastor may be seen regularly after Mass saying goodbyes, when he was nowhere to be seen during [distribution of Communion]." — Name withheld

"How did we ever get along in those packed churches before the advent of the Eucharistic Ministers? They are at the heart of what is wrong with the Liturgy today — performance, flash over substance, the Mass as a special participatory ‘event’. We do not attend Mass to take in some type of ‘recital’; instead we go for the Real Presence. If not, there is nothing really special about going to a Catholic service. We may as well go anywhere for our ‘spiritual fix’. Only proper participation should be valued." — Scott D. Polski, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

"I do not see the necessity of having Extraordinary Ministers distribute Holy Communion at most Masses, even if there is only one priest. I grew up in a parish where there was only one priest. It can be done. It will do none of us any harm, may even do us some good, to have to remain in church a little longer because Communion takes longer." — Mrs. Patricia M. Durel, Arlington, Virginia (Arlington)

"Populating the sanctuary with laity obscures the difference between sacred and secular space. It is a mistake to think that we can uplift a secular society by becoming more like it." — John Weems Murray, Belvidere, New Jersey (Metuchen)

Homilies (catechesis on basic Catholic doctrines)

"We should hear from the pulpit the things we need to hear, even if we don’t like to hear them, without fear of losing people." — Name withheld, Alexandria, Virginia (Arlington)

"Some people seem to have the erroneous impression that Vatican II erased all that went before it. They don’t seem to have a sense of the uniqueness of the Catholic Church and totally misunderstand ecumenism. An emphasis on the truth and beauty of Catholic doctrine and tradition is needed." — Name withheld, Arlington, Virginia (Arlington)

"Pope John Paul II is effective in his preaching because he has the ability to apply Scripture, tradition and doctrine to the real life experience of his audience or congregation. Despite his age our Holy Father still touches hearts and engages minds of both the young and the old. That takes much personal prayer, tremendous work and untiring commitment and conviction to the Word and the Sacraments." — Reverend Richard M. Myhalyk, SSE, Colchester, Vermont (Burlington)

Homilies (general)

"Homilies should sometimes touch on current events in the world — with admonitions on how to deal with them — e.g. pornography, young people co-habiting outside marriage, abortion, dishonesty!" — Mary Rodgers, Sun City, Arizona (Phoenix)

"Homilies are usually sweet nothings. They do not motivate and inspire anyone to live the life of a saint. They rarely challenge anyone to the radical Catholic life." — Deacon Joseph F. Lennon, Superior Township, Michigan (Lansing)


"Appearances and symbols matter. A gym that looks like a church is still a gym." — Darryl Adams, Front Royal, Virginia (Arlington)

"Iconoclastic ‘worship spaces’ (churches) keep us from transcendence. Our Lady is ignored (as if she’s embarrassing)." – Name withheld

"A barren sanctuary that is stripped down will lead itself to horizontal worship (each other) and not vertical (God). Church architecture will focus us and keep us drawn to the divine, which will lead us to good, proper and reverent Liturgy." — Patrick Zelenak, Lincoln Park, Michigan (Detroit)

"Build churches so that the human voice will again raise itself in prayer and praise." — Name withheld (Saint Augustine)


"The translation of the Mass, and particularly the text of what used to be called the Proper, shows frequent omissions and rewording to de-emphasize penance, suffering and sin." — Paula Bowes, Frederick, Maryland (Baltimore)

"Translations should be readable and proclaimable, but when something is lost in the translation, something eternal is lost." — Don Schenk, Allentown, Pennsylvania (Allentown)

"We should be offering our best to God and stand in awe before Him. I recently attended a Ukranian Catholic Mass, and the contrast was startling. The language of the Book of Common Prayer and of high church Lutheranism show that our worship does not have to be impoverished to be in English." — Name withheld, Mandeville, Lousiana (New Orleans)


"It seems that in an attempt to bring the Liturgy to the people, reformers brought it down (to the people.) Would that they would have brought the people up to the majesty and profound mystery of the Sacred Mass." — Anne Martina, Penobscot, Maine (Portland, Maine)

"Innovations seem to be intended to draw people away from what is really going on at Mass. The simultaneous reception of Communion by priest and extraordinary ministers is one act that subtly gives the idea that they are all on the same level — and so are the folks in the pews." — John A. Burke, Mountaintop, Pennsylvania (Scranton)

Other observations

Many survey forms were submitted with attached pages containing extensive comments and observations concerning the liturgy. Many expressed serious frustration with the current state of the liturgy: some were eloquent. Some of the general observations that seemed to us to be representative of these comments follow:

"We have a right to a Roman Catholic Mass." — J. Patrick Klave, SSF, Grand Forks, North Dakota (Fargo)

"I receive Adoremus so I know what the rules are. No one else knows, not even the priest." — Noella M. Durand, San Diego, California (San Diego)

"Lack of proper formation is the root cause of most of the other problems. Where people have proper formation, you really don’t have many problems!" –Kenneth & Meredith Shane, Peoria, Illinois (Peoria)

"Stop pretending that we did not ‘participate’ before 1962." — Francis J. Kegel, Valley Park, Missouri (Saint Louis)

"I will take my share of the blame in sitting back in the pews in years past, not paying attention to what was going on in the Church. I was quiet while the truths of the Faith were watered down and eroded before our eyes. I was like the frog put into a pot of cold water on the stove — I didn’t realize what was happening until the water began to boil. I thank the Lord that He did guide me to wake up a number of years ago and to begin doing what I could in my small way to stem the tide." –Peggy Olds, Hinsdale, Illinois (Chicago)

"I need my Church back! Where can I be with God and be at peace in my old age?" — Name withheld (Seattle)

"We (laity) don’t know what we are doing. We (clergy) know but don’t seem to believe it." — Name withheld, Manchester, Maine (Portland, Maine)

Children at Mass

Quite a few people mentioned that children — well, being children — are distracting during the Mass. Yet many view the practice of having a separate service for children or removing the children during the "Liturgy of the Word" as an unacceptable solution, because it deprives young children of the experience of true Catholic worship during their most formative years. One mother wrote: "We need to accept young children as full-fledged members of the Church and welcome large families. This involves recognizing the importance of sensual learning in young ones, e.g. need for bells, incense, candles, chant, beautiful vestments and altar clothes, reverent gestures, holy water, etc." — Anna McNamara, Fairview Park, Ohio (Cleveland)

Another mother observed: "I recently read in The Autobiography of a Soul by Therese of Lisieux that her family didn’t take her to church, at least before the age of four (it might have been later, but she mentions being home at four years old). If she ended up a great saint and doctor of the Church, then maybe it’s okay to keep kids home or in a ‘cry’ room? I have well-behaved kids, but I am endlessly trying to keep them quiet or behaved. They look at religious books, but still I am focused on them and not on Mass. I am wondering if these issues can be discussed in a serious, open-minded way. Am I simply to ‘offer it up’ month after month? How do you balance time in Mass as a family and time in Mass as an individual needing God’s Holy Word or Sacrifice? How do I balance the appearance of looking anti-child when I’m in fact a dedicated pro-life activist? It’s very confusing. I want children to be exposed to the Mass, but at what cost?" — Claudia & Mark Henrie, Westchester, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)

We recognize the problem (we’ve been there). Parents’ responsibility for the religious formation of their children is primary and irreplaceable, as the Pope has emphasized — and it is also hard work. It is not always possible to give one’s full attention to the central action of the Mass, as one wishes to do, while also being mindful of our children (which we must, both for their benefit and for the benefit of other worshippers). We warmly welcome our reader’s thoughts on this, and plan to address this in a future article in AB.

"If I could ask my bishop for one change…" Adoremus also asked readers to complete the sentence, "If I could ask my bishop for one change in the way Mass is celebrated in my diocese, it would be" …

We found that there were a number of recurrent themes among the responses in this category, with the most frequent being:

  • insisting the rubrics are followed in the celebration of Mass
  • ensuring uniformity among parishes in carrying out the liturgy
  • eliminating hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer
  • eliminating (or moving) the Sign of Peace and
  • restoring at least some Latin to the celebration of the Mass.

Many respondents had multiple requests of bishops. Sadly, however, some said that they thought their bishop would be of no help:

"I would never talk to the local bishop. Bishops are part of the problem, not the solution. I believe the needed corrections will come from the laity up." — Name withheld, Petaluma, California (Santa Rosa)

One of the strongest themes that we noted was that respondents wanted uniformity among celebrations of Mass from parish to parish. Many expressed frustration with inconsistencies:

"Promote unity. At every Mass we pray for the unity of the Catholic Church. Where is it?" — Name withheld, Miles City, Montana (Great Falls-Billings)

Readers had both practical and general suggestions for how their bishops could improve the way Mass is celebrated:

"Please require that all priests be very carefully recalled to their duty to celebrate the Liturgy as it is written, and with the decorum and respect due." — Name withheld

"Direct the priests to know that Mass and the Sacraments are to be celebrated in a uniform manner; that rubrics are not suggestions but rules that are to be faithfully followed by good stewards." — Name withheld (Milwaukee)

"Make mandatory what is mandatory. Make optional what is optional. Explain the difference." — James McGuire, Advance, North Carolina (Charlotte)

"Reinstitute Latin, even [in] the Novus Ordo Mass, because, unless priests have really studied their Latin, it would be hard to ad-lib, tell jokes, and the like. Insist on the use of the Adoremus Hymnal to restore truly devotional and beautiful hymns. Beg a member of the Fraternity of St. Peter [Tridentine] to… start a parish for those of us who are really struggling and are sorely tempted to attend a parish under the auspices of the Society of St. Pius X [Lefebvrist]. The bishop has not been kind to these people, although his face is wreathed in smiles for all Protestants and the like. I have just about had it with Catholicism as practiced here." — Name withheld, Mandan, North Dakota (Bismarck)

"Conformity to the official teaching of the Church. Removal or censure of dissident priests and forced compliance with liturgical rules. If some priests and/or parishioners object, let them leave. Our Church might be smaller, but it would be stronger!" — Peggy S. Olds, Hinsdale, Illinois (Chicago)

"I would ask for every priest to treat the consecration as if he believed in the mystery and miracle. I would ask that every priest be reformed and retaught to handle the Body and Blood as if it were more precious than gold. When the priest models piety and reverence the people will follow." — Name withheld, Frankfort, Illinois (Joliet)

"I would suggest to the bishop that at the next diocesan meeting of priests he celebrates Mass himself and demand that all the priests take notes and do as he requests. No ‘clowning around’, no ad-libbing where not allowed, no priestly innovations." — Name withheld, Marshall, Minnesota (New Ulm)

"As far as I’m concerned, the Masses in our diocese are celebrated correctly. It’s the behaviors of the parishioners that are disconcerting." — Name withheld, Syracuse, New York (Syracuse)

"Send someone to check on compliance of rubrics without prior notice. I know of one parish that simply ‘goes by the rules’ when the bishop comes, but it’s back to ‘normal’ when he leaves." — Name withheld (Seattle)

"Have everyone (priests and laity) use the Church’s words and gestures exactly as given to us. (To paraphrase Mary at Cana: Do exactly what He tells you- and expect a miracle!)" — Name withheld, Laurel, Maryland (Washington, DC)

"I really don’t think liturgy is my bishop’s primary concern – unless there are complaints that might inconvenience him. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis can be somewhat dangerous for some priests. If someone had told me 30-40 years ago that a priest would get in trouble for preaching and doing what the Church wants, I would not have believed him. But now…!" — Name withheld, San Francisco, California (San Francisco)

Things might be looking up?

There were hopeful signs as well:

"Our particular parish has a real love for the Eucharist. Though a parish of 300 families we have Perpetual Adoration 24 hours a day, every day. This obviously has affected Mass reverence — our church is quiet during Mass (despite large families — lots of babies). Communion is received on the tongue by about half of parishioners, and we end every Mass by kneeling and saying, ‘Oh Sacrament most holy, Oh Sacrament Divine, all praise and thanksgiving be every moment thine.’" — Alison Krutzia, Big Lake, Minnesota (Minneapolis-Saint Paul))

"I am a born and raised Catholic (78 years old); when I am present at a celebration of Mass by a humble priest, it is the most beautiful and awe-inspiring experience of my life. I am in tears at the sacred ‘honor and glory’ He receives." — Tony E. Cusma, Eastchester, New York (New York)

"I live in the Peoria diocese and attend our neighborhood church, which has perpetual adoration in a separate chapel. I know how blessed I am to be in Peoria, where the Holy Father is loved and respected and deference is given to Church teachings in Mass rubrics. However, this diocese should not be out-of-the- ordinary — they should all be united with Rome!" — Kenneth & Meredith Shand, Peoria, Illinois (Peoria)

"Three years ago I finally gave up on my parish and transferred to another: the only parish where only priests give Holy Communion, where confession is discussed – and is offered before every Mass and extended hours every Saturday, where altar boys are well trained, where the Tabernacle is the focus of the Church, where exposition of the Blessed Sacrament goes on 24 hours every day (except during Mass), where there is a Communion rail and people receive on their knees, where the Magisterium is held in high regard and rules are followed." — William T. Newkirk, Santa Clara, California (San Jose)

"Our priest is very reverent during Mass and reminds us at the start of Mass that through sacred signs we are standing at the foot of the cross on Calvary." — Joseph and Marge Reinbold, Sheboygan, Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

"I am using the authority I have as a pastor to bring back the reverence in the Mass and in our churches. It was welcomed by many of our parishioners!" — "Faithful Priest"

Continuing work needed

We were reminded by many of those who responded to the survey of the importance of the work of Adoremus and similar efforts to give useful and reliable information to Catholics concerning the Church’s worship:

"The people are not taught about the Liturgy…. Unless they read Adoremus Bulletin or a similar publication, they will never know." — Marie & Emmet Knox, Cody, Wyoming (Cheyenne)

"We are never given full instruction – we have to depend on Adoremus or receiving e-mail from other laity." — Claire Pinsonneault, Grand Haven, Michigan (Grand Rapids)

"There is no instruction regarding liturgy rules. If you do not read about it in the orthodox Catholic periodicals, you don’t know about it." — Michael L. Noonan, Hazelhurst, Wisconsin (Superior)

One of Adoremus’s greatest assets is our readership and its overwhelming commitment to the Faith. While much of the mail that we receive regularly refers to challenges, we are always pleased to hear of what’s working. We encourage readers to continue to share good news and strategies that they have used to combat heterodoxy and liturgical abuse. Thank you, also, for your continued support in this effort. Your voices are being heard! And so are your prayers.

One respondent’s earnest comment spoke for many:

"I pray for the day when truth, obedience and honor return to all in our beloved Church". — Name withheld, Carson, California (Los Angeles)

So do we.

Hilary Hitchcock, Copy Editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, read every survey form and compiled the data. This is her first article for AB.

Summary of Responses to Adoremus Survey

Average rating of parish reverence (on a scale of 1-10, with 10 = the most reverent): 4.96

Respondents: Priests: 75 Religious: 17 Lay: 802

The Most serious problems at Mass:


# of Responses

% of 1086 Respondents

Lack of Reverence 801 73.8
Music 659 60.7
Catechesis on Liturgy Rules 588 54.1
Roles of Laity & Clergy 584 53.8
Catechesis on Doctrine 561 51.7
Innovations 542 49.9
Translations 538 49.5
Church Architecture 494 45.5
Homilies 419 38.6
Other 144 13.3

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Hilary Hitchcock