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Loyal to the faith, unhappy with the Mass

Lauren DiLeo Smith is a 32-year-old New Orleans lawyer, realtor, wife, mother of a 7-month-old, and a Catholic-educated cradle Catholic who’s kept her faith, but struggles to stay in the pews.

“I definitely have some issues with a lot of the doctrines and politics of the Church," she says — particularly how the Church treats gays and women. She doesn’t want her son growing up in a Church that says only straight men are fully worthy.

“And as wonderful as the pope is and as humble as he is, I’m disappointed that he hasn’t made any changes," she says.

Carolyn Gomer Mackinnon is a 35-year-old 5th grade teacher who’s studying for a master’s degree and raising two children, 9 and 3, with her husband in a suburb south of Boston. She, too, is a Catholic-educated cradle Catholic who’s kept her faith and prays regularly. But she goes to Mass irregularly. Her problem is not Church politics. It’s weighing the value of getting “everybody up and out the door" on one of the only days the family can relax vs. the spiritual nourishment she receives from taking the trouble. Too often, that nourishment is missing.

Mass becomes “one more thing I have to do," she says. Even at the family Mass, “it’s stressful trying to control the kids. And if it’s a bad day, it’s really embarrassing. My family Mass does have coffee and donuts, and I can bribe the kids with that," she laughs, “and that helps."

Yet at the end of Mass, even given “the uplift from Communion," Mackinnon says, the experience moves her and deepens her faith only about half the time. And when she thinks of the “spiritually uplifting moments" she’s enjoyed of late, most are not in the pews but in nature, with her husband and kids or when she simply feels gratitude for all she’s received.


Lauren Smith and Carolyn Mackinnon are almost perfectly in sync with what 1,014 other Catholic parents, aged 25 to 45, told the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, affiliated with Georgetown University, in a new study of their worship life. Holy Cross Family Ministries released it just in time for Pope Francis’ family summit in Philadelphia and for this week’s bishops synod on the family in Rome.

Some of its conclusions:

Nearly half (49 percent) of young Catholic parents consider their faith either the most important or one of the most important parts of their lives. Yet nearly two-thirds (63 percent) attend Mass no more than twice a month and nearly a quarter (22 percent) rarely or never attend.
More than 8 in 10 parents say it is “somewhat" or “very" important for their children to celebrate the sacraments of Communion and confirmation. Yet more than two-thirds (68 percent) do not have their children enrolled in formal Catholic religious education.
Still, they’re very likely to believe in their Church, its sacraments, and to pray. Fifty-nine percent say they pray at least once a week, and another 10 percent pray almost every week. And they say prayer is essential to their faith life.
So what does this mean? Apparently, there’s a real hunger for the Catholic faith, an attraction to prayer and the sacraments and the Gospel message. But there’s unhappiness with some Church teachings and major dissatisfaction with the main event of Catholic life, the Mass.

One Catholic, who did not want to trash his parish, says he finds more sustenance these days sneaking off to the old Latin Mass. This isn’t because he’s a traditionalist, but because of its quiet and almost mystical aesthetic: lots of bells, lots of incense, no “awful" hymns badly sung but gorgeous Latin chants instead. Bad music — and bad singers leading the singing — was a frequent young Catholic complaint. One complainer, understanding how superficial that sounds, told me that bad music for him turns what’s supposed to be a sacred time into a cringing endurance test. It’s downright embarrassing when the cringeworthiness takes place at a Catholic funeral and he’s surrounded by non-Catholic friends.

Still other young Catholics complain about what Pope Francis himself cited in “The Joy of the Gospel“: the sometimes-poor quality, unwelcome tone, and irrelevance of too many homilies.

Mackinnon says she has felt uncomfortable listening to homilies “that make me feel guilty about things that I’m doing or not doing."


Two views that Francis was duped
Will we be inspired to respond to Pope Francis’ call?
Pope Francis cited social activist Dorothy Day in his speech to Congress Thursday.
Francis welcomes us back to the fold
This past Sunday’s Gospel was Mark’s on divorce: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." This clearly is a tough one for divorced parishioners and their children. But the happily married Lauren Smith had been hoping for a sermon on the beauty and importance of marriage, or on ways faith can strengthen a marriage. Something inspiring or at least sustaining. Instead, she says, she heard a sermon about excluding from Catholic marriages “people who want the more secular aspects of a Catholic wedding like dancing down the aisle to a certain song or having their wedding outside or wanting pets as ring bearers.

“That’s what the homily was about," she says. “Why?"

This all raises the question of how much any softening or even doctrinal changes coming out of this synod may matter when millennial and Gen-X Catholics say the Mass has become almost an afterthought in their faith life.

The Rev. David Guffey of Holy Family Ministries says he understands there’s an issue here. “We need to be asking if preaching is helping people connect the word of God with their concerns. And are we giving them the spiritual resources that will feed them in difficult times as well as in times they feel more joyful?"

One avenue to bring young Catholics home: other opportunities for worship. Retreats, days of prayer, family potlucks, or parish events where children go to one place while parents stay in another to share their experience of faith. This most recent study found that young Catholics are actually interested in learning about Church history and the lives of the saints.

There is other good news in this and other surveys of young Catholics. And that is that many are reluctant to give up and join a different faith.

Lauren Smith says she’s thought about becoming, say, an Episcopalian (though their ranks are shrinking, too). “But I was raised a Catholic in New Orleans, a very Catholic city," she says, home to a world-famous Mardi Gras and a huge observance of Ash Wednesday. But there are also lesser-known cultural Catholic celebrations, like the March 19th observance of St. Joseph’s Day. That’s when homes and parishes construct elaborate altars and decorate them with candles and flowers and figurines. There are special foods and wines and a parade with marching bands, men in tuxedos, kids in costumes.

“It’s all intertwined with my childhood in Catholic school and my family and my traditions," Smith says. “So it’s upsetting to even be considering another religion." Smith says she talks about her difficulties with her Catholic friends, particularly those young mothers who feel as she does. “They do the same thing I’ve done," she says. “They still go to Mass, and they still struggle."

By Margery Eagan



  1. jo Reply

    There are many churches that accept women as priests, deacons, etc. When the Catholic Church starts giving women these rights I and many will leave and pray at home…..This is my opinion only!

  2. OgeGod Reply

    My brothers and sister’s, I once felt withdrawn from the Faith until I decided to get involved and actually learn all I could about this faith that my family and I were professing at mass every week. There are so many ways to get involved with the faith. From teaching bible classes to joining or even forming small social groups with members from your parish, becoming an usher, Eucharistic minister, choir, volunteering to watch the children at an earlier mass , while you enjoy the mass at a different time without distractions.

    At my Parish, we had a woman volunteer to host mass in the room next door for the children, while their parents listened attentively to the homilies. Even the children who get involved with service in their faith, find the mass very fulfilling. They love it so much that they even rush the parents to get to mass on time so that no one else will take their turn from serving.

    My brothers and sister’s my family and I made a decision to stop being part-time Catholics by learn more about our faith and getting involved with the service.
    As far as the chior is concerned, the director at my parish said to join if you want to help praises to the Lord even if you don’t think that you can sing. He says, “if God does not like your voice, he will change it for you.” Remember that the choir is singing praises to the Lord, and if you do not like the way it sound, then get involved and help your brother’s and sister’s in Christ fix it.

    These are just a few suggestions of how one can enrich and grow in their faith life. Get involved, your brother’s and Sister’s need and want you to share your light in Christ!
    May the peace of the Lord be with you and yours.

  3. norma trujillo Reply

    We need to have more things to offer the youth like making plays for Christmas . maybe a reenactment of the nativity, Or the Glory of Easter. we need to show these types of things during the week of Christmas, or the Sunday before Christmas to prep us for the real day, Same goes for Easter. re enactment of the Passion oF Christ. have an all saints trunk o treat at the church with well lit parking lot with fall decorations in the background even if it’s only scarecows and pumpkins. They should sell coffee, donuts , hamburgers , pizza , hot dogs, chips and fresh fruit like grapes, apples , bananas, drinks like water, punch ect.. as an option for food in the hall.simple foods. if people were to see an effort in bringing in the youth they’d want to return. people need to take their kid since they’re young to church as a family this way they enjoy going more.. if dad doesn’t join the family the boys lose interest. then they want to stay home with dad. dad has to set the example and not be lazy to go to church parents need to stay helping out going to bible studies. taking the children to ccd and the edge after masses on sunday. it’s a youth group. it should be a requirement to attend at least twice a month for confirmation classes during their studies of their sacrament of confirmation.Free child care should be provided for young couples who have little children so they can enjoy mass but their food , milk and diapers should be provided by parent.also a waiver should be signed so as to protect the church should the child accidentally hurt themselves being mischevious . kids today are very mischievious so parents need to sign a paper to legally protect the church from over protective parents.
    youth mass should have upbeat modern music that is spirit filled nothing too crazy like rock . hire professionals for music but some regular people with good voices who wish to join should also be allowed to join. youth at youth mass should help with the gifts and readings. if the church has a book store religious items for advent, lent , sacramental things should be sold there too.books on saints and catholic coloring books sold there , rosaries, rosary books and christian movies should be sold . so many ideas to share wish all this could become a reality.

  4. Lorry Davis Reply

    No matter what some people think, the Holy Church can never go against the Teaching and The Word of Jesus Christ.
    The Holy Church has not made rules for us to obey, it is our Lord Who has done this.
    When a Catholic disagrees with any teaching of the Church, it is because they do not understand it. The Church never discriminates against anyone, it is only our sins that it can never accept.
    As far as women becoming Priests, no matter how hard we women try, we can never be fathers. A Priest is our Spiritual leader, it’s why we call him Father. It’s not that a woman isn’t capable of leading others, Spiritually, but she can never be a Father.
    It’s never been as important as it is today, that every Catholic needs to see Theology of the Body by Christopher West. If your Parish doesn’t have it, request it- then, volunteer to facilitate it yourself!
    Don’t be a couch-coach, giving your opinion of how you think the Pope should be running the Church, without being a good Disciple and learning all you can about the teachings and why the Holy Church teaches what it does.

    1. Laurel Reply

      Excellent comment Lorry D. My thoughts exactly.

  5. Ashley Reply

    I love the raw and honesty of this write-up and it saddens my heart so much to think that many of our Catholics feel this way, including my self once (the statistics just break my heart and I see them within my own immediate family). I was born and raised Catholic in the deep South as well and for a long time it was my mom’s faith and not my own. (Thank you, Lord, for her prayers!) It wasn’t until recently (within the past 2 years and I am 28) that I wanted to start experiencing MY faith and not a “b/c my momma said so” faith. I knew I was not interested in leaving my Catholic faith (a grace I can only give God the praise for) but I had to figure out WHY. I had non-dom friends who I saw just on fire for the Lord and I remember thinking, “If I believe I physically receive Jesus weekly Body and Blood, how are these other Christians more faithful and yearning more than me? How are they so engaged and on fire?! I need to find that (not follow that) in my faith, where I am!” Now is good place to say that I was always taught, I believe and I witness that God works outside of our Sacraments and that they are a gift to us as Catholics-I owe a lot of my faith walk to Christians of other denominations and my Catholic faith to my faithful and persevering mom who converted to Catholicism as a young adult (which she’d tell you was just so she could get married but God took it and ran with it).
    I agree with many of the comments from above, we can talk all day long about the issues, scandals, and personal preferences we think they should change within our parish, our diocese, and our church as whole- however it reminds me of a statement Matthew Kelly said (who I HIGHLY recommend his writings and Dynamic Catholic website to any Catholic or non practicing Catholic looking to get re-energized and re-engaged), “We are allowing the media and others to tell our Catholic story instead of diving in and learning it for ourselves and taking it back. It is time for US to tell our story.”The only way this can be done is if we know our real story, the teachings of Christ.

    I think we put a lot of pressure on our parish priest by making them responsible for “feeding” us with a 10-15 minute homily, and let’s be honest, if they went past that the congregation would be lost and unengaged b/c “mass is an hour…” I can only speak on behalf of my experience and I can say that within 2-3 years we have not changed parishes or priest, but my Mass experience has been radically transformed! I started with simple bible/book studies (Catholic and non-catholic books but always standing firm with prayer that my Catholic faith will not be waived and I always made sure they, in the words of my priest, “may not be for us as Catholics but they weren’t against us as Christians.”) This opened my eyes, ears, and heart to a whole new level of engagement during the Liturgy of the Mass. I was reading my bible daily, preparing for the Gospel by reading, studying, and meditating on it along with the other readings. It was amazing, and I also found myself not overly concerned anymore if the priest used his homily to talk about the church finances or if he went off on a completely different note than I hoped for, b/c I had already brought to Mass and my prayer what the Holy Spirit had filled me with during the week. And other times, it was amazing b/c the priest would confirm or do a spin off of what my thoughts and spirit were already feeling from preparing during the week. But as a Catholic, I knew this was not suppose to be the high part of Mass so I took a Women’s Catholic Bible study along with a bible study that is actually used for RCIA and teaches the history and reasonings of our Church and Faith–again this transformed radically how I was engaged during the Consecration and my relationship with the Eucharist. It has been amazing to witness God change me and nothing around me–that to me is a radical conversion of the heart!

    This road is not easy-it is narrow and rocky (says it in scripture so Jesus knew what we were going to be facing). There are things that we are called to believe and stand for/against-but all must be done with LOVE and MERCY. I agree, life would be easier (here at least) if the Catholic church would allow us to agree and believe in some worldly teachings, but it is not by chance that we are in what Pope Francis has called for, the Extraordinary Year of Mercy- in order that ALL OF US (Catholics, non-catholics, practicing faith, never had faith, whatever) can respond to this world with mercy instead of judgement, so we can talk about God’s forgiveness rather than wrath–BUT with the understanding that mercy and forgiveness are granted and understood when we know we are sinners! I pray that this Year of Mercy brings conversions to those who are in our pews, were in our pews, and those who have never been in the pews. May God RADICALLY TRANSFORM OUR CHURCH. And I pray that we can all continue to (as Matthew Kelly says) to BE BOLD. BE CATHOLIC. And may God use us to reenergize our faith and the Catholic Church!

  6. Ann P Reply

    What changes would you have the Pope make?

  7. Dee Caskey Reply

    A personal relationship with God, inspired by the Holy Spirit has changed my life and renewed my love my Catholic faith, Mass, Sacraments and the Bible. Be open to the Spirit prompting you to look deeper. Acknowledge your yearnings and needs to the Lord and I promise you will get the answers you are looking for.

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