From Facebook to Catholic Mass

From Facebook to the Kin-dom of God

Facebook is worried that Facebook may be bad for you.  Well, kinda.

In a corporate blog (Dec. 15), Facebook addresses the question, “Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?”  They then point to research that suggests scrolling through Facebook, and blindly hitting the “like” button, makes people feel like crap. “In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information—reading but not interacting with people—they report feeling worse afterward,” they write.

The key phrase is “passively consuming.” The authors’ solution to this problem is not, as you might think, using Facebook less. Instead, their bold solution is: more Facebook!  Instead of just ‘liking’ things and scrolling through feeds, they suggest that we should be more actively engaged. Send more messages, post more updates, leave more comments, click more reaction buttons. 

The blog reports, “A study we conducted with Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness,”  However, what is key in this result is a strong established sense of belonging between the individuals sending and receiving messages as well as the depth of content and amount of time spent in communication.  On the other hand, participants assigned to browse Facebook for 10 minutes without interacting with friends felt envy and lower affect (Verduyn et al., 2015).

So, Facebook admits there is a downside to using Facebook (somewhat). They suggest: to achieve greater happiness in life and boost your sense of belonging—use more Facebook.

Let’s Extrapolate.
What if we took the information cited above and applied it to liturgy, specifically, to what we Catholics call “mass?” Over the past 15 years, there has been a steady decrease in Sunday mass attendance.  Certainly, factors such as the priest sex scandal, the closing of catholic schools, and a growing rejection of the authority of a patriarchal hierarchy have all had major roles to play in this decline. 

But what if we were to approach the issue from the perspective of individual catholic spirituality? Let us consider the impact “passively consuming” has had on the catholic mass.

In what has been lauded as the finest contribution of the Second Vatican Council, “Sacrosanctum Concilium” (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Dec. 4, 1963), gained fame for recognizing that the catholic liturgy needed reform and renewal.  Even more notable has been its striking emphasis on “the full, active and conscious participation by all the people.”

Attempts at this “full, active and conscious participation” have taken place over the years, e.g., the return of the R.C.I.A., a greater role of the laity in ministry and pastoral leadership, even changing the mass from Latin to the vernacular that made the prayers of the mass accessible in ways they had not been for centuries.

But what would be the response if we asked the average “person in the pew,” “Do you experience the mass as an event that truly represents the full, active and conscious participation by all the people?” 

Researchers like David Roozen (Hartford Seminary) and Dean Hoge (Catholic University), have studied the decline at mass attendance (aka: the “empty pew syndrome”) and have pointed out that, historically, church attendance has typically followed generational lines.  If your parents and grandparents went to church, so did you.   

However, this is no longer the case with generations since the Baby Boomers.  A new “consumer attitude” toward religion has grown.  For Hoge, this means, “you don’t go to church or synagogue out of duty or loyalty. You go to it if you get something out of it,”

So.  If “passively consuming” has proven detrimental for social media outlets like Facebook, what does this tell us about young “consumers” who feel they “get nothing” out of church?

Certainly, “full, active and conscious participation of all people” remains a goal worth accomplishing.  But remember, “all people” includes gays, lesbians, transgender, immigrants, people with addictions, people with mental illness, agnostics, other denominations, and others who have typically not felt welcomed by the catholic church.  

Another concern: since the 2011 implementation of the Roman Missal III, there have been universal complaints regarding this collection of mass prayers.  Research among priests (CARA) found that across dioceses of the United States, 59 percent disliked the Roman Missal III translation and 80 percent said the language was awkward and distracting.  Among parishioners surveyed, the dislike was even greater.

Two Considerations.

Listen and learn.  

What if the catholic church really listened? What if the church listened to ALL people, (this, obviously, includes young people, but also: gays, lesbians, transgender, immigrants, people with addictions, people with mental illness, agnostics, other denominations, and others who have typically not felt welcomed by the catholic church) and asked:

What are we doing that pushes you away? 

What are we doing that does not feed your soul?  What can we do better?  

What do you need?  

How can we participate in your spiritual journey in ways that are loving, beneficial, and that witness the presence of Christ among us?  

Ask these and similar questions and then just LISTEN!

Change and be transformed. 

Is the catholic church able (willing) to change?  If the transformation of souls (from a divided, polarized, egocentric world to a “kin-dom” of peace, justice, and egalitarian cooperation and co-responsible living) required that the church yield it’s power and authority, would it do so?

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