A Thought on “Thick Faith”

David Mills has penned another one of his customarily thoughtful pieces for Aleteia, “Make the Faith Thick and the Church Expensive.” In it, he discusses some recent sociological data on orthodox Jewish birthrates compared to non-orthodox birthrates. (For some reason the piece comes accompanied with a picture of an Eastern Orthodox subdeacon, but whatever.) Not surprisingly, orthodox Jews are “out-birthing” other Jews by a considerable margin, likely because they take the tenets of their religion concerning children seriously. That is to say that orthodox Jews, rather than paring down the Law in the name an inner “spirituality,” following through on the Judaism’s legal prescriptions as an indispensable part of their religious life. Critics, I suppose, will say that this is proof that orthodox Jews are only concerned with “externals” while glibly ignoring even the possibility that adherence to “externals” is reflective of deeply held religious convictions.

Good sophisticated Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) of the 21st C. will have none of this, of course. There is nothing worse in the minds of many than adherence to “externals,” ranging from counting Rosary beads to receiving Communion on the tongue to rejecting contraception. All of these “rules,” all of these “empty rituals,” went out the door 50 years ago, or so they say. Moral prescriptions, while ideal and nice, are difficult; people must be brought to them “gradually” so as not to feel isolated or alienated from God’s mercy. Perhaps, after undergoing a purely internal transformation, a Catholic may be brought, by their own conscience, to think more deeply about “externals” and even follow through on them. If they do, they should, of course, keep it to themselves so as to not come across as “judgmental.” For the rest of the Catholic faithful, however, they are fine where they are at, so long as they don’t deny global warming or harbor any reservations over open-door immigration policies.

As 2016 draws to a close, let me just come out and say that as much as I admire Mills’s call not to present a thin, cheapened form of the Faith, this is all that’s really available to most people today — and it’s the only form that many Catholic priests and bishops know how to deliver. While there are pockets of resistance out there to the liberal and secularizing trends that overtook the Church during the last century and continue to cause chaos today, they remain few and far between, largely marginalized and even openly mocked by the Ordinary of Rome himself. It’s not that people who truly wish to take up their cross and follow Christ are barred absolutely from doing so; it’s just that the Church, at this present and perilous moment in history, is so grotesquely unwilling to help them along the way.

Lord have mercy.

4 comments

  1. I just attended a traditional Latin midnight mass for Christmas. I actually do prefer it, though I am not sufficiently used to it to know what to do without watching other people. The Gregorian chant at high mass is, to me, much preferable to the standard fare. In fact, it is sometimes hard for me to go back to the Novus Ordo after attending a Tridentine high mass, so spiritually elevating is the latter.

    That said, I think it is about the delivery. If you put some of that easy listening music into the Tridentine mass, I think the effect would be about the same. And if someone decided to inject Gregorian chant into the Novus Ordo, along with some of the other Tridentine characteristics, such as the priest facing the altar, I think the Novus Ordo would be just as elevating. And I prefer the newer lectionary, and reception by the laity of both kinds.

    My, perhaps, irrelevant preferences aside, I have yet to see a truly Christian approach to questions of this kind. What I mean by that is that all I see when it comes to this controversy is people vying for their own preferences. But Christians should be trying to please each other. The Christian response to questions of the liturgy is that everyone fall over themselves trying to please other Christians rather than themselves. Whatever the outcome, greater fruit will be borne than the current situation where everybody contends with each other, and refuses to worship with each other.

  2. Both of these articles give the impression that the Faith be made “thick and expensive” simply for the sake of making it challenging and counter-cultural, without explaining why. Tell us how this better speaks to people caught up in the dirt and mire of contemporary life. And if we’re going to compare ourselves to Orthodox Jews then why not orthodox Muslims? Radical Muslims after all are also attracting many young people with hardline living and fundamentalism. Perhaps this is too uncomfortable a case to make though…

    1. I can’t speak for Mills, but what I am driving it is to not intentionally water down or obscure the Faith in some misplaced hope of attracting more adherents. Empirically speaking, we know that it doesn’t work — look at the (liberal) mainline Protestant churches, for instance. Fundamentally speaking, it’s not going to do a lick of good for anyone’s soul if they are not told what it really means to take up their cross and follow Christ.

      Please don’t misunderstand me. I am cognizant of the fact that Church disciplinary practices and the like have shifted over time. I am not calling for a ramping-up of, say, Eucharistic discipline just for the sake of making it harder to receive Communion. But at the same time I am vehemently opposed to making the disciplines so lax as to be practically nonexistent. There’s a reason why a “Eucharist on demand” mentality now exists within the Church and so few people who commune every Sunday avail themselves regularly of the Sacrament of Confession.

      Similarly, let’s be honest: The liturgical discipline of the Church is a mess right now. I am not interested in longer services for the sake of longer services, but rather in worship that is truly befitting of God. Why is it that only 50 years ago we could expect people to be in Church for 90+ minutes on a Sunday and today even an hour seems inordinately long? And if past generations of Christians can service other parts of the divine office in common, such as Vespers, why are we barred from doing so?

      If we make the Faith cheap or, rather, optional and watered-down, then we shouldn’t be surprised when people cease to come to Church or take the steps necessary to save their souls.

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