ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
61. Thus, for well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed
toward the sanctification of men [sic] and the praise of God.
There is one sacramental or symbolic act that literally jumps off the bulletin page in many places: money, or more precisely, the absence of it. If critics of the Church accuse us of too much talk of sex and guilt, the silence about money is one of the American Church’s greatest secrets, specifically its absence from collection plates. Throughout much of my adult life the research on church giving has remained remarkably consistent: Catholic households donate 1.1% of income to their churches; mainstream Protestants 2.2%. Researchers frequently comment that if Catholics simply raised giving to the level of their Protestant confreres [and 2.2% is neither stellar nor particularly Biblical], the financial crisis of the Catholic Church in the U.S. would virtually disappear.
Hard data on the condition of Church finances is hard to come by, possibly because those knowledgeable within the Church understand that the numbers are a sacramental or symbolic metaphor of the health of the Church. It was the Wall Street Journal which first published the upcoming financial shortfall of the retirement and health needs of America’s Catholic religious women and men back in 1986, citing the research of the Arthur Anderson Company. I can recall my own shock at hearing a figure of $2 billion reported on national news services. Neither the WSJ nor very few others could know then that this number would be dwarfed by the settlements of thousands of cases of child abuse by clerics, though the first mega-settlements began, ironically, in 1986 as well, in Louisiana.
Even where there is good news, the shadow of finances follows. I was encouraged to read in The Wichita Eagle a May 27 news story on the ordination of ten new priests for the Wichita Diocese. However, the paper’s coverage noted that “adding a second priest to a parish does come with an additional funding challenge. According to a December issue of The Catholic Advance, the diocesan newspaper, a parochial vicar (the second priest) creates a need for about $40,400 in salary and health benefits. Because of this, the diocese created the Parochial Vicar Assistance Appeal to help four parishes, including St. Patrick, pay part of that salary for three years.” To put that another way, the diocese was not able to guarantee that its newly ordained priests can be supported by the parishes they will serve, and a capital campaign would be necessary for such purposes.
While the financial woes of parishes are a general concern, those involved in ministry—particularly catechetics—and diocesan administration may not fully understand how underfunding undermines the basic ministries of a diocese. With so many dioceses and parishes in financial squeeze, there are fewer and fewer parish and diocesan hires of competent, well qualified educational personnel to operate faith formation programs. As the waters of fiscal support dry up, there is a direct proportion to the “dumbing down” of ministerial hires. For most of my professional life the standard qualification for a parish faith formation director or director of religious education is a master’s degree in theology or religious education from a well-established Catholic university, such as Dayton University or Boston College. In the State of Florida, the only institution to offer this caliber of professional training is Barry University near Miami, about 250 miles from my home parish; you can browse through the program handbook here. Graduate costs at Barry run to about $1000 per credit hour.
The attainment of a master’s degree is a major investment of time and money; for some years after Vatican II religious orders provided such qualified personnel for salary, but with the drastic decline of religious in the United States, the limited number of certified professionals decreased, and the last generation has seen an attempt to fill the void with on-line master’s programs, such as my own diocese’s working relationship with Loyola of New Orleans. Still, the investment of time and money for lay persons in on-line studies is considerable; I tutor or encourage several present or recent students in the Loyola program, and what they tell me is that the parishes don’t quite know what to do with them once they have graduated.
The problem makes sense if you consider that most of these students are successful in their current careers outside of church settings, and there is a reasonable expectation on their parts for appropriate compensation when they approach parishes for employment. It is much cheaper for a pastor to promote a volunteer whose main strength may be years in the parish ministry than to take on a university educated theological professional, though the drop-off in quality and vision is very significant. Earlier this year CARA research found that the number of lay persons seeking masters-equivalent certification has dropped 10% in the past year. The best and the brightest are concluding that there is no future in Catholic ministry, particularly if one is raising a family.
Since we’re about salaries, I checked to see what the national norm for Catholic parish faith formation directors might be; nationally, the career guidance sites place the position in the $40,000-$50,000 median. To confirm this, I sought out a position in a parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, listed twelve days ago. Please click here and read the entire description, because it stumbles over itself in peculiarities. The prospective director of faith formation has a hefty list of responsibilities and is expected to be at the parish every Sunday and at many other times during the week. The parish is clear that it wants an M.A. qualification. But here’s the rub: it is clearly stated that this position is part-time, twenty-hours! Obviously, this hourly limitation has implications on benefits, to be sure, but the demands of the job preclude secondary employment, a likely necessity for most employees in these circumstances. This is a major gripe of church musicians, too: “We want you part-time, but definitely on the weekend.”
And so, we’ve come full circle to the reality that fiscal poor health is accelerating the dismemberment of anything resembling a strong Catholic educational establishment. [Even my alma mater, Catholic University, has fallen on hard time, even with the Koch Brothers in tow.] And while we expect our sacramentals—signs of spiritual realities—to bear pictures of the saints and the angels, the green pictures of Ben Franklin, Ulysses Grant, and Grover Cleveland are a spiritual metaphor, too, particularly when they are absent.