So here is a bonus think piece for this holiday, one of the most delicate and delightful pieces I have read in quite some time. Thank you to the folks (yes, hello GetReligion co-founder Douglas LeBlanc) who pointed it out.
The concept is rather simple and it's crucial to know that this was not an attempt to dig into religion NEWS, so much as religion CULTURE at the level of parishes and pews. So BBC broadcaster Adrian Chiles -- a convert to Catholicism -- decided to take on a unique Lenten discipline this spring, vowing to attend church for 46 days in a row.
The result: "What I learnt from 46 consecutive days in church." Let's let him pick up the narration near the top, as he explains the rules:
I'm a Catholic, so it would be Mass every day for more than a month. It felt like it would be a real struggle -- a penance. It turned out to be anything but. It was a rich and enriching experience -- spiritually, obviously, but I was also enraptured by the churches themselves, the communities they serve, and the people with whom I shared all those Masses.
I made it extra hard for myself by undertaking to go to a different church every day, so by Easter Sunday I'd been before 46 different priests in 46 different churches in 46 days.
There is no way to summarize this piece, to be honest with you. His observations about art, people, preaching, etc., must be read in context.
However, near the end there was this summary in which I could feel the journalistic instincts kick in a bit for Giles, as he looked for a few larger themes linked to demographics and the state of the modern church in post-Christian England and Europe:
Wherever I went in the country, and most of my Masses were in London, Birmingham, Swansea and Manchester, it was striking how similar the congregations were at weekday Masses. There's no getting away from it: the average age must be somewhere in the seventies. At 48, I spent most of this spring feeling like a spring chicken. But there was also invariably a young family of Asian origin, usually with young children. And at the 7 am Masses in Central London there was the odd go-getter, who strode out after Mass was ended as if they had hedge funds to run. They probably did.
So, a mixed bag, as were the priests. A third of them I found to be great, with a handful quite life-changingly brilliant. Another third were sort of OK. The rest were pretty hopeless, not least because I often couldn't actually hear what they were saying. And a handful were grumpy to the point of malevolence.
Spiritually, if I'm to really "connect" at Mass, I need a good priest to help me. And by good I mean, first and foremost, that they should look pleased to be there and pleased that we're there. Often they speak of great "joy" while looking as bored as swimming pool attendants.
And what about worship? Anyone who knows anything about Catholics in this day and age knows that there are few topics as tense and nasty as discussions about the state of the liturgy (and the priests who lead these rites). Giles is not going to provide comfort for traditional types. However, remember that most of his visitations took place on weekdays.
... With the liturgy -- essentially the same script which they do day in, day out -- the best of them find a way of making it sound fresh. As the inestimable Father Paul Addison of Our Lady of Delours in Kersal put it to me: "The clue's in the word; communion is all about communicating." And the same is obviously true of the sermon. One of the beauties of daily Mass is, frankly, its brevity -- invariably less than half an hour. Sometimes the sermon is dispensed with altogether, but often it just takes the form of a thought or two, which I find much easier to get my head round than one of Sunday's lengthy orations.
Read it all. I would especially be interested in hearing what Protestants think of this article. I mean, what would the low-church version of this essay consist of? Think about it.