St. Norbert College lecture looks at trends in worship

By | April 4, 2012

“We never have the faith tied up really at any point,” he said. “We pass through portals. There is one true way of entry. Jesus is the door.”

Fr. Ciferni, a St. Norbert graduate, who has taught at the college, discussed the imagery of water as both a source of life and destruction. He displayed a photo of a small circular baptismal font from the past at Old St. Joseph Church in comparison to the current font, which allows for the submersion of an adult.

“We are all one people of God through baptism,” said Fr. Ciferni, a former professor of liturgy and homiletics at The Catholic University of America and the Washington Theological Union. “When we went down into the water, we went down into the death of Christ and rose to life.”

Changes at Old St. Joseph have carried on the tradition, yet responded to a deeper vision of church, including serving those in need outside the walls of the worship space, he added.

“It became a space that is serving the body, not where the body is restricted by the space,” he said. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘Does this space empower us to go forth with a deeper reverence for God’s children.'”

Fr. Vosko, a priest from the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., discussed the Catholic Church today. He gave examples of recent art exhibits throughout the country that attract long lines. He pointed out that televangelist Joel Osteen fills basketball arenas and ministers to thousands at a mega-church.

“At the same time, many congregations are dying and churches are empty,” said Fr. Vosko. “What is attracting people?”

Hospitality, high energy music by praise bands and the use of technology are some of the draws to non-denominational community churches, suggested Fr. Vosko, an award-winning liturgical designer and consultant, who designed the renovations at Old St. Joseph in the late 1990s. He also discussed “the emerging church” movement.

“What we are seeing with ‘the emerging church’ is the conversion of a former church into a living room,” he said. “They draw on ancient religions with the use of incense, candles and statues, but it’s leaderless.

“People are also turning away from organized religion for other practices,” added Fr. Vosko. “They are choosing yoga, other forms of exercise, going to retreat centers or praying by oneself. People are not being nourished by their churches on Sundays.”

A trend among those who have remained in the church is a return to the forms of worship of the past. Fr. Vosko said there is an increasing call for the celebration of the Latin Mass. He pointed out that Latin Mass training is included at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, and if a local parish sees a need, the Latin Mass is a new allowance without necessary permission from the bishop in some dioceses.

Fr. Vosko shared the results of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older. Statistics showed that 28 percent have left the faith in which they were raised, 44 percent have switched their religious affiliation and 16 percent do not practice any faith. He added that Mass attendance is down considerably where he serves. Thirty-three parishes in the Diocese of Albany have closed in approximately the last five years.

“How will Christian traditions survive while people turn to spirituality, but turn away from institutional religions?” asked Fr. Vosko. “Joel Osteen recently had 12,000 for $15 per person. In the Diocese of Albany, if we had an event for all Catholics, I don’t think we would draw 12,000.”

The presentation closed with an interactive discussion including comments and questions from those in attendance. Topics discussed ranged from the influx of immigrants masking the declining number of Catholics leaving the church to collegiality — whether the laity are contributing to the conversations in the church. The event was sponsored by St. Norbert College Religious Studies and Master of Theological Studies.

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