Catholic weakness

Maggie Gallagher:

Even when you ignore liberal Catholics, and those Catholics in Name Only who never attend church, and you look only at traditional Catholics who attend Mass at least three times a month — the Catholic weakness leaps out.

The thesis is followed by a series of statistics showing how such Catholics believe far fewer points of basic Christian orthodoxy than Evangelicals or other Protestant groups.

But there is a difficulty with the metric involved: Catholic attendance at mass measures a far lower level of dedication one’s religion than Protestant attendance at sermons and services. Even Catholics in very remote regions have multiple opportunities to attend mass, and the mass itself is fourty-five minutes long with a predicable structure which allows one to always know exactly how far we are from the end. The very word “Mass” is from the moment of the celebration where the priest says, in effect, “You can leave, we’re done”. Protestant services simply ask much more of a time investment from those who attend them – Evangelical services are many hours long, and aren’t offered multiple times on Saturday evening and all day Sunday. For example, I’ve spent the last few Saturdays at Christmas parties and late birthday parties and have slept in past my usual 8:30 mass – but I just went to another Church at 9:30. I could have also gone to a hundred different vigil masses on Saturday and many times more than that  that on Sunday, all the way to 10PM. A Protestant under the same circumstances would have to have a lot more dedication to get to his service – a good deal more than I would have, and this is with me believing every point of orthodoxy mentioned in the Gallagher article.

In other words, Mass attendance isn’t designed to be a sufficient indicator of Catholic orthodoxy. This is one reason why being a Catholic in good standing is defined not just by Mass attendance but going to confession. The demand is minimal (once a year) but in my experience those who don’t meet even this minimal burden have no problem disregarding all sorts of Catholic beliefs even when they almost never miss Mass. Gallagher’s survey would only shock me if the numbers stayed the same when we compared Evangelicals to Mass attending Catholics who confessed at least once a year. In fact, I’m actually shocked that her numbers are as high as they are, and my suspicion is that the “traditional” Catholic designation in Gallagher’s survey is just a clumsy and imperfect proxy for a Catholic in good standing.

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