On July 29, 2018 Fox News did a story concerning a Gallop Poll (i.e., https://news.gallup.com/poll/232226/church-attendance-among-catholics-resumes-downward-slide.aspx ) that found Catholic Mass attendance continues to drop. The purpose of this article is to address—to some extent—why this is the case and suggest, in a limited fashion, what the Catholic Church can do address this negative trend. All devout Catholics care about this issue deeply because Jesus said from the cross, “I thirst” (i.e., Jesus thirsts for all of us corporately and us individually). Consequently, we cannot simply care about ourselves, but must also be very concerned with all of those around us to satisfy Jesus’ thirst.
The issue of declining Mass attendance can be broken down into three major categories. These categories are catechesis, apathy/indifference and distraction. This article addresses catechesis.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (i.e., Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) prophesized the shrinkage of the Church. In his book, Faith and the Future, he wrote:
Even the faithful, like travelers on a sinking ship, are becoming widely affected by an uneasy feeling: they are asking if the Christian faith has any future, or if it is not, in fact, more and more obviously being made obsolete by intellectual evolution. Behind such notions is the sense that a great gulf is developing between the world of faith and the world of science, a gulf that seems unbridgeable, so that faith is made very largely impracticable.
The roots of Cardinal Ratzinger’s sentiment can be tracked back to the Enlightenment. The essence of the Enlightenment contends that individual freedoms and knowledge of the truths (e.g., morals and moral behavior) could be reasoned without influence from the Christian faith. Yet, the Enlightenment lacks foundation and resulted in the question: Can there be a coherent truth? Philosophically—with respect to Enlightenment—there are only material and efficient causes without associated formal and final causes that question its foundation. This lack of foundation led to Existentialism which offered no clear meaning because there is no objective order outside of the person and held that individuals define themselves through their choices rather than by their creator. This led to relativism which in turn leads to self-rationalization. The Church has always rejected the Enlightenment and Existentialism.
Cardinal Ratzinger also contends that those who treat the Bible as a natural science text book (i.e., creating an artificial barrier between faith and science [i.e., reason]) results in relativism. He comments:
The curious thing about the time in which we live is this: the moment in which modern thought becomes self-sufficient is the very moment in which its dissatisfaction becomes most apparent, and it inevitably falls prey to relativism.
The dissatisfaction Ratzinger speaks about is not being able to fully define the bridge over the perceived chasm between faith and science (a.k.a., reason). Humans need to define this bridge because, as the Catechism states, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God…”  People—in modern times—are not content without objective understanding even though our faith does require us to use reason with mystery to gain understanding. As St. Augustine famously stated, “I believe in order to understand” (credo ut intelligam).
Saint Pope John Paul II—understood the perceived conflict between faith and science—and taught that there really is no chasm (i.e., conflict) between faith and reason (i.e., science) in his encyclical Fides et Ratio. The encyclical states, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves…” In short, there is no conflict between faith and science and—in fact—natural science needs to be combined with a higher-order form of science (i.e., metaphysics) to gain a full understanding of truth.
The aftermath of Vatican II complicated the situation with respect to the implementation its fruits. Vatican II was unique because it was not called by Pope John XXIII to debate particular dogma or doctrine, but addresses the question of how the Church would enter into the 20th century. One area of complication, with respect to the implementation of its fruits, was the change in direction with respect to Catechesis.
With respect to Vatican II, Nebreda & Moran contended that Catechesis should emphasis the subjective with the objective. Specifically, the faith should be passed on as a summation of personal experiences that appeal to the emotions (i.e., the 3rd power of the soul). Westerhoff and Groome added that shared Christian praxis (i.e., practice and customs) be incorporated into the work of Moran. Mary Boys, Biblical Interpretation of Religious Education: A Study of the Kerygmatic Method Era lead to the demise of the Kerygmatic Method, which is composed of teaching/studying Holy Scripture, Salvation History, the Liturgy and experiences elevated toward God. The early Church had great success in securing and educating believers by use of the Kerygmatic Method because it leverages the intellect and will (i.e., the 1st and 2nd power of the soul where knowledge of the faith and acts of the will with respect to hope and charity truly reside). The new approach to Catechesis—as a fruit of Vatican II—brought down God to a human level rather than elevating the individual toward God. This action of lowering God to a human level brings about anthropomorphism (i.e., attributing human characteristics and behavior to God). Consequently, we don’t see God as God but as another human being composed—principally—of our own feelings and beliefs. Due to this new approach to Catechesis we now have over two generations of Catholics that do not know their faith because Catechesis has been “dummied down” by this approach.
This situation is exacerbated because we cannot love someone we really don’t know. Therefore, we cannot truly love God if we don’t understand who He is in the context of what has been revealed. For example, many believe the Jesus is simply the nice guy with children on His lap and carrying lost sheep as depicted on Hallmark greeting cards, but He is so much more than that.
Bishop Barron said we must “stop dumbing down the faith.” After the Second Vatican Council, he argued, “a debilitating anti-intellectualism came to hold sway in the Church, at least in the west,” and this has been a “a pastoral disaster, significantly contributing to the mass exodus of two generations from the Church,” because a “childish, intellectually shallow religion simply cannot stand in the face of the trials of life and the questions of a skeptical mind.”
Without use of the Kerygmatic Method the Liturgy becomes a road-block rather than a path toward holiness. The Liturgy of the Church is the wellspring by which the power and authority Christ gave the Apostles becomes manifest, according to Fr. Jean Carbon. However, the Liturgy makes an assumption that the hearer knows the “rest of the story.” For example, the first reading from the fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Times this year (i.e., 2018) is from the Prophet Amos. The reading—in part—states, “Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos, ‘Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.’” The Liturgy assumes that the reader already knows that Amos is from Judea, that he was prophesizing to the northern 10 tribes in Israel who had adopted competing and contrary religious practices and the king bring referenced was a northern king. Without the “rest of the story” it is difficult for the hearer to draw the proper typologies to the Gospel, and see the mystery and elements of salvation history being presented. Additionally, many do not understand that the Responsorial is really an action item for us to pursue. In short, it may be hard for the hearer to fully understand what God is saying to them in the Liturgy if they don’t know the “rest of the story.”
The Church has been working toward a return to the Kerygmatic Method. The most recent version of the General Directory of Catechesis (GDC) attempts to move back toward the Kerygmatic Method. The new version of the GDC advocates going back to the theological-pastoral principles which results in a thrust to have catechesis associated with the Liturgy of the Word. [#9] Also, Saint Pope John Paul II wrote, in Ad Gentes:
…catechumens should be properly instructed in the mystery of salvation and in the practice of Gospel morality, and by sacred rites which are to be held at successive intervals, they should be introduced into the life of faith, of liturgy, and of love, which is led by the People of God. [#14]
Lastly, there are four pillars of formation that needs to be taught and adopted by all and Catechesis plays an important role. These four pillars are (1) Human – Put on the mind of Christ [i.e., see the world through the Gospels] and grow in virtue, (2) Spiritual – Deepening prayer life and appreciation of the public prayers of the Church, (3) Intellectual – increase knowledge of Theology, Catholic Doctrine and Tradition (4) Pastoral – help lead others toward Christ through empathy, concern and respect; develop skills in collaboration and generosity of spirit. These four pillars are not independent of each other nor are they mutually exclusive of each other. In other words, one pillar can and does have an effect on the others. The pillars must be balanced so that one does not significantly out distance the others. For if one pillar takes major prominence over another, then this amounts to a chair with four legs of unequal length. The chair is unsteady to sit upon. To achieve balance and maturity of these four pillars yields “Leading a balanced and solid Catholic life.”
In conclusion, one category that explains the decline in Mass attendance is people not truly knowing their faith—which catechesis largely addresses—and, intellectually, supports the formation of the individual. Simply—as in many cases—education is critical. The implementation of the Kerygmatic method does require substantial education of the catechist, but it is well worth the cost. In spite of the roadblocks, it is advocated that we return to the Kerygmatic method of catechesis that was proven to be so successful in our Church’s history so that the body of Christ can obtain quality knowledge of the Catholic faith.