The Amazing Parish Model Needs Some Work.

When it comes to running a parish, every actively involved Catholic seems to have an opinion on how it should be run. Recently, in Denver, Colorado, the Amazing Parish Conference happened, where many Catholics came together to discuss the big question of how to revitalize parish life. I know a few people who recently went and they seemed to really enjoy what they received. I have read a bunch of their resources, and although many of the points they make are extremely valid, I believe that what is being presented by this conference furthers the currently widespread misunderstanding that the Mass in itself is an evangelization tool. Therefore, the below video sums up what they want their “Sunday Experience” to be:

Music, Message, and Ministers. These three factors are what they believe a good “Sunday Experience” requires. At face value, these three ideals are necessary (although they could lose the protestant-sounding jargon). Yet, if we recognize truly what the Mass is – the unbloody once-for-all  sacrifice of Jesus to the Father on our behalf, made present on the altar through the hands of the priest – the liturgical focus becomes Christocentric (centred on Christ) and not homocentric (centered on the people).

For centuries, the Church has looked externally to evangelize and internally, has sought to bring God the highest possible worship, by enhancing the Liturgy for God’s glory alone. Liturgical music was created to bring this reality to life. The Classical greats like Beethoven and Bach all wrote music to serve the Liturgy. The supreme worship of God was the focus, not the evangelization of the people. It was when this general understanding was had that the great cathedrals and basilicas of the past were built. These beautiful temples were created and ordered to the liturgy. The parishioners of that time took pride in their parishes and ensured that they made the upkeep and enhancing of the churches their priority. Every pew was filled every Sunday. Now, what differentiated these “Amazing Parishes” of the past from the parishes of our day that are in dire need of renewal? It is a solemn recognition of what the parish’s primary objective is in the world.

Our parishes are in the midst of an identity crisis.

online-identity-crisis-300x243The biggest reason why parishes are currently struggling is because, on a whole, the entire church in the West has lost a sense of their identity and what they are intended to do. The reason our parishes are dying at an astonishing rate is because parishes have lost a sense of vision. The Amazing Parish model focuses on this fact, however, I would say, they do not do it with both eyes open. They have their one eye open and looking at the people, but they do not see God and the Liturgy as an act ordered to Him. This is why you will find when visiting their website, that they do not really articulate with any clear understanding what a complete and holy liturgy should look like. I think what this reveals is simply what happens when the emphasis becomes homocentric.

Growing up in a charismatic but orthodox Catholic background, I have seen what happens when the people become the focus of liturgies. Now, as a grown man, who attends the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Tridentine Rite) on a weekly basis whether at home or while travelling, I have also seen what happens when Catholics become too focused on the liturgy and lose sight even of the people who fill their pews every Sunday. A priest I knew once termed this as being “too heavenly holy to do no earthly good.” While I believe it is impossible to be truly holy without truly doing good, this priest spoke of a false holiness of a person that loses sight of the very people they are supposed to be loving. This is also not what we want. Orthodoxy (right teaching) and orthopraxy (right practice) is what we need in the local church today.

Polarization happens. Whether on the right or the left, it happens. As human beings, most of us love to camp out where it is safe. If you polarize, there will be people in either camp to stand with you on whatever thing you find yourself passionate about. Yet, it is impossible to be a well balanced Catholic while camping out. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy is what brings balance to the Catholic, and it is these things that land you right in the middle of the extremes. Everything requires balance. Personally, we need it. Family life also requires balance. If the family is at the core of the church, then parish life needs balance too. I believe wholeheartedly that it is possible to have an orthodox parish that is filled with vision and missionary zeal. I know it is possible for traditional Catholic parishes to get actively involved in the work of the new evangelization without losing their gorgeous liturgies. I think it is also possible for parishes that are more evangelistic to be equally reverent and to offer solemn and sacred liturgies.

holy-mass-jpgThe Amazing Parish model, while offering great ideas, misses the mark when it comes to liturgy. Liturgy, coming from the Greek word for “service”, has been misconstrued, especially in the last 50 years since the Second Vatican Council, as a “service to the people, for the people.” Yet, the Church has understood for centuries, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that Mass is Christ loving us so much as to re-present His entire Passion, Death, and Resurrection on the altar for our sanctification, and to bring honor to the Father. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not, and was never meant to be a tool for evangelization. It was instituted by Christ Himself as a means to pour out His love on the world through the hands of His disciples. Sacrifice has always been the pinnacle of worship. When the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity lays down his life as a propitiation for our sins, it is the HIGHEST form of worship to ever be given to God. Mass, which is the saving love of God made present for us, is Christ offering Himself to the Father on our behalf, and therefore Mass is the greatest act of service for us. It is Jesus who, in the Liturgy, is serving us. As Catholics, we simply need to assent to that fact and respond to that accordingly and obediently, instead of trying to manipulate the liturgy to better suit the tastes of others who may be unfamiliar with Mass. As Catholics, we need to simply work to align ourselves with all of heaven who is present at every Mass and put our liturgical energies into enhancing the worship already being done by Christ through the priest for our salvation.  If you want to have an Amazing Parish, begin by exposing the faithful to the truth about what is so amazing about the Mass and acting in accordance with that reality. Without a proper understanding of the liturgy, any attempt at making an Amazing Parish will not succeed.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What do you think needs to happen to revitalize parish life?


About catholichris

Catholic. Married. Secular Discalced Carmelite. Hipster. Foodie. Board Game Aficionado. Beard.

Posted on September 9, 2014, in Catholic, Catholic Clergy, Catholic Music, Church Corruption and Renewal, Communion, Current Events, Eucharistic Spirituality, Evangelization, Extraordinary Form and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Best line – “If you want to have an Amazing Parish, begin by exposing the faithful to the truth about what is so amazing about the Mass and acting in accordance with that reality.”

    I agree with you that the focus should be on the Eucharist, on Christ’s sacrifice for us but I do think our churches do need to work on those 3 points as well.

    I belong to a thriving parish in NJ but the music is the wishy-washy/feel-good stuff written in the 70’s. Even if the organist chooses a beautiful and worshipful song, it is often played in a Broadway tune-ish way. Our pastor has a real gift in speaking of the love of God and the truth of His Word, but many times I feel like he is almost shouting at us. And yes, we need to be more welcoming as a people. I have read so many times of people who have entered Catholic Churches and only experienced coldness and unhappy faces.

    Obviously, those in the pews need to experience God’s love for them in a personal and real way. And in that way, they/we need to be evangelized anew. Even though I have been blessed with a deep faith, spending that hour at Sunday mass can be very challenging. Often times I have caught myself daydreaming. I imagine that is the way it is for many at Sunday Mass.

    The music, homily (and anything the priest says), and the ministers play a vital part in helping the congregation focus on the what the celebration of the Mass really is. All those components should bring us to the spot where we can experience and receive Christ in the Eucharist with true love and devotion.

    Why are we here? What are we doing here? These questions should lead us to Jesus and then we can ask – How can I prepare my heart to receive him? We need the music, message, and ministers to help us get to Jesus.

    I think the Amazing Parish is a good start. I agree that it does need some work.

  2. I was working as a youth minister at a parish that was trying to follow the Rebuild/Amazing Parish model and was very quickly disillusioned. I find it very sad that so many Catholics have come to believe that their faith and their liturgy, their whole tradition is not strong enough to speak for itself. Vatican II was about tearing down the walls of hegemony that were built around the Church and sharing its glorious tradition with the whole world, not about watering down its tradition so as to follow the whims of fashion. Such an approach is utterly ephemeral and will always fall flat. One of the problems that we face in contemporary western culture is that it is not liturgical, there is no sacrifice or cult involved in bourgeois society. Instead people are insulated and inundated with entertainment. Evangelization therefore is not about appealing to people in their own individualistic sphere. It is about transforming society or creating a counter society that is liturgical. This Amazing Parish approach is completely backwards and will only succeed in perpetuating the cult of self worship.

  3. I would say that they need to be centred on the congregation, and the congregation needs to be centred on the Holy Eucharist; and it needs to centre the people on the Holy Eucharist. So, the liturgy is more for the glorification of God, through His people, rather than directly for God’s glory. Obviously, a relatively poor liturgy that engages the people in true worship beats a better one that doesn’t engage the people.
    I think there is an important evangelistic aspect to the mass (it played an important part in my own conversion), but mainly as a vision of true worship and devotion, whether or not it is understood. Though I guess this could well be called unintentional evangelism, and to make it intentional would actually destroy it.

    Thanks for the great post, and God bless you!

  1. Pingback: A Reflection on Parish Revival | Team Orthodoxy

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