The Case for a Mass Conversion of Men
Despite the fact the New Evangelization has been an ongoing emphasis by the Catholic Church for over forty years, it has failed to stem the disastrous losses of the faithful in the U.S. Since 2000, 14 million Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education participation of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, baptisms of infants has dropped by 28%, baptism of adults has dropped by 31% and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%. Something is desperately wrong with the Church’s approach to the New Evangelization.
Of Mass and Men
One reason the New Evangelization is faltering is because it is missing men. The New Emangelization Project has documented the serious Catholic “man-crisis” in the United States. 1 in 3 baptized Catholic men have left the faith and of those who remain, 50-60% of them are “Casual Catholics”, men who don’t know and don’t practice the faith. Of those who practice the faith, many are lukewarm, not converted to the point of conviction, a conviction in which they are prepared to make disciples for Christ and His Catholic Church. The New Evangelization has largely ignored men, with no substantial or sustained efforts to directly confront the Catholic “man-crisis”.
The Catholic “man-crisis” matters. The souls of men matter and many are being lost; for example, two thirds of Christian men are looking at porn at least monthly and the numbers are much higher for younger men. The faith of the children matter and huge numbers of young people are leaving the faith because they have followed their fathers out of the Church. Without a New Emangelization in which millions of Catholic men become newly committed to Christ and His Church, there can be no New Evangelization.
While a complex set of forces have driven the Catholic “man-crisis”, including both massive cultural changes outside the Church and serious missteps within the Church, the lack of engagement of men in the Mass is a major contributing factor: men don’t understand the Mass and well-meaning, but misinformed priests in many parishes have de-sacralized the Mass causing many men to simply “drift away.”
Why is the Mass a key driver of the Catholic “man-crisis”? Research shows that almost 9 out of 10 Catholic men don’t participate in a Catholic activity outside of attending Mass; if men aren’t being reached in the Mass, they aren’t being reached. Only about 1/3 of Catholic men are attending Mass on a weekly basis. Only 1 in 50 Catholic men have a monthly practice of Confession, underscoring the fact that many are attending Mass without a proper preparation to receive the Eucharist. 48% of Catholic men are “bored” in the Mass and 55% of Catholic men don’t feel they “get anything out of the Mass.” These statistics confirm what dozens of the New Emangelization Project interviews with top Catholic men’s evangelists know: men don’t understand the Mass. No man can truly understand the Mass and be bored.
A Mass Conversion of Men is Needed
The word “conversion” comes from the Latin convertere, meaning to “turn around” and is related to the Greek word, metanoia, meaning “change of mind” (translated as “repentance” in the New Testament). Catholic men are in serious need of conversion.
A Mass Conversion of Men is needed. Millions of men (masses of men) need to have a conversion (change of mind/repentance) about the Sacrament of the Eucharist (the Mass). When there is a Mass Conversion of Men, a dramatic regeneration of the Church will occur. Men will approach the Mass with a new Grace-hungry mindset that recognizes Christ’s miraculous gift of the Eucharist and their desperate need for it. Men will begin to experience a conversion of heart and sacramentally prepare themselves for meeting Christ by going first to Confession. Men will have a deep understanding of the parts of the Mass and the profound significance of the words and gestures that are made during the Mass. Men will begin to accept a growing fullness of Grace available in the Eucharist and they will increasingly aspire to sainthood. Men will pass along their newfound reverence for Eucharist to their children through their awe, regular acceptance of the Eucharist and fervor to catechize their children.
A man-specific approach is needed. Rather than a gender-neutral catechetical approach, men will be renewed when men are gathered together by their priests and the Mass is presented to them in a masculine way. For example, the Church has a long history of speaking of the Church Militant and spiritual combat; if men have a renewed sense of the life and death spiritual battle, they will see their desperate need for the Mass. Men need to be challenged to fulfill their duty to lead their wives and children to Christ in the Mass. Rather than approaching the Mass as entertainment or self-gratification, men can be convinced about leaving the battlefield to gather with other men to give thanks and get guidance from the Eternal King. Men can recall the powerful men whose words are spoken in the Mass (e.g. John the Baptist, the Centurion, etc.). Men can reconnect with the powerful and manly history in the Liturgy of the Word. Men can be re-taught about the heroic and bloody sacrifice of Christ and the fearsome power of the miraculous transubstantiation of the bread and wine. The Mass is full of powerful elements that can resonate within a man’s heart.
Cardinal Burke and others have spoken about the de-sacralization of the Mass that has occurred in many places; this includes Masses which are priest-focused and not Christ-focused, the horizontal nature of “community” is over-emphasized while the vertical nature of the Divine Presence is de-emphasized, music which is syrupy and sentimental, a general lack of awe for the Eucharist by the priest and lay helpers, parish cultures which accept “going to the grocery store” attire and grabbing the Eucharist like a potato chip, a feminization of the Mass due to an over-representation of women and altar girls in the sanctuary, etc.
Priests are men and large numbers of priests need to have a “conversion” about the Mass. When the Mass becomes “casual”, men become casual about the Mass. The recent New Emangelization Project Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Men Survey demonstrates that men hunger and are moved by the Mass when priests offer the Mass with reverence. Many priests need to be re-evangelized about how to infuse the Mass with greater awe and reverence and about the need to specifically evangelize and catechize men about the Mass.
Bishops and Priests need to lead the Mass Conversion of Men
The Mass Conversion of Men will require a sustained large-scale evangelization and catechesis of men about the Mass and a great movement of the Holy Spirit. This will be a major effort, but not a complex one. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian life” in which the Savior gives men the bread of life. The Mass has transformed the lives of men since the Last Supper and will always transform the lives of men. The Mass is the central focus of daily life in every parish and not an extraneous “evangelization program.” There is no greater diocese or parish priority than to ensure men can engage in the Mass. Now is the time for bishops and priests to ensure that every single man can access the eternal graces of the Eucharist.
After forty years, the New Evangelization has so far failed to reverse the growing losses of Catholics in the West. Rather than a continued parade of programs and events, the Church needs to get back to the basics; the Mass and men. When there is a Mass Conversion of Men in which millions of men and priests are evangelized and catechized to the point of conversion in the Mass, the Church will be renewed and the promise of the New Evangelization will be fulfilled.