Where the Battle Was Not Fought

What happens when you concede, without a fight, to the spirit of the age? As riven with strife as the Catholic Church in America has been, I think it is instructive to take a look at a place where there is no strife, because there was no battle. I’m speaking of our good neighbor to the north, that uneasy compromise between America and Europe: Canada.
My family and I enter a smallish church, built during the decades that taste and a sense of the sacramental forgot. If there had once been a marble altar in the sanctuary, it was removed long ago, when officials visited every church in the diocese (for the churches are all diocesan property) with trucks. Now a large screen stands behind the table for Mass. In front of the screen stands a painting of Saint Lawrence, holding what must be a gridiron. It is executed in a bright cartoon-like style. From behind the screen you can see the tray of something that looks like a set of shelves on wheels. A rag hangs over the end of the tray. Otherwise the church is clean, and very spare. Devotional materials, other than a hymnal, are not to be found. A poster on the back wall, however, does outline Catholic social teaching, in bullet points. Not once on the poster do the words “family” or “subsidiarity” or “marriage” appear.
Where is the tabernacle?, you may ask. It is not clear. To the left of the altar area, and left of the pulpit, stands a table with what might be the tabernacle. But on the fa├žade of the table are carved what look like the letters S and M, perhaps for Sancta Maria, and a picture of Mary is hung on the wall above the table. Meanwhile, the chalice and the ciborium are sitting on the small table to the right of the altar, in the sanctuary. There they are being prepared for the Mass by an older gentleman, who will serve as acolyte — for this church, like many others, has long passed from altar boys to altar servers to altar girls to nobody. A well-sculpted crucifix hangs from the ceiling above the altar. Stained glass windows portray the Stations of the Cross in blockish modern style, hard to interpret. Otherwise there is no art in the church.
We take our seats at about the middle. No one is in front of us. Perhaps that is because the people here are used to a miked-up choir, taking their places up front, perpendicular to the people and the priest. The choir consists of a few middle-aged ladies, only one of whom can be heard — a well-intended soprano with a powerful and errant voice, standing next to the microphone. Music is provided by a gentleman on a guitar, strumming chords in syncopated cowboy fashion. Next to the choir is a projector, to flash the song lyrics onto the wall. The songs themselves fall into two categories: precious moments with Jesus, and “How Great Thou Art.” There are hymnals in the pews, seldom used. The Canadian book of worship is not approved for use in the United States. I wish I could say that the American bishops had judged that the book was unsuitable for use, given its autoimmune disorder whenever the threat of a masculine pronoun arises. God only knows what grammatical and theological gyrations God’s bishops must make when they pray to God to give them God’s wisdom in guiding God’s Church.
No bell rings at the start of Mass, as no bell will ring at the consecration. Praise the Lord, the choir is absent today, so the priest asks the people to sing a genuine hymn from the hymnal, though the words are neutered for feminism and altered for contemporary idiom and banality. The priest himself is an excellent man, and that is why we drive 30 miles to Saint Lawrence. We know he will not do what one of his colleagues did on Trinity Sunday, which was to announce to the congregation that we have no idea what the Trinity is all about, but it’s part of our faith anyway. He gives a long yet straightforward homily on Christ’s curing of Jairus’s daughter, and of the woman with the hemorrhage, speaking of the Hebrew respect for blood, and instructing the congregation on the incomparable worth of human life.
Otherwise the Mass is as stripped down as is the church. Canadians, for some reason I cannot fathom, avoid the majestic and theologically complex Nicene Creed, saying the Apostles’ Creed instead. They kneel only until the elevation of the chalice. I am told that it has been decades since Latin prayers were heard in most of the churches, or since incense was burned (indeed, one church council has outlawed it, on account of its making some people sneeze), or since the Blessed Sacrament was adored in the rite of benediction.
In a playground near the Church, four young men are playing basketball, shirts-skins. They would be four more than are at Mass; indeed, four more than all the males at Mass between the ages of 15 and 50. Like most “community events” these days, the churches are for old ladies and little children. What programs, you may well ask, has the diocese instituted to attract young men not only to the priesthood but to the faith itself? Easy to answer: none at all. There is a summer leadership program for teenage girls, held at the cathedral, but as far as the diocese is concerned, the boys can go hang. The result is what the diocese hails as a shortage of priests (ours covers Mass at three churches, and they are not particularly close to each other). I use the word “hails” advisedly, for the diocese is cheerfully bringing on the day when lay administrators, after a quick course in theological nostrums of the leftist variety, will take over the churches, the priest reduced to a sacerdotal stud-horse to consecrate wafers and move on. The people in line for lay administration are, by a large margin, middle-aged women. This is called curing the foot you have been shooting by cutting it clean off.
The Church in Canada enjoys some accidental and wholly undeserved advantages. The people, for better or for worse, are friendly and compliant. They actually will believe what bishops will tell them. In our neck of the woods, Catholics who haven’t been to Mass in years still consider themselves Catholic, and feel a bit guilty about their straying. Priests still command some genuine respect. People remain in their pews until the last verse of the recessional is finished. But unless God works a miracle here, the Church will die.
More about this, and about what Americans can learn from it, in my next installment.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • R.C.

    Good Lord. That description is like a kick in the gut.

    I have a Question about this….

    You’re obviously trying to convey the notion that this is a typical example of the Catholic Church in Canada.

    I’ll take you at your word on that (that it is typical) unless someone raises plausible objections, but…how much variation is there from this typical example, in either direction? Are they all pretty consistently like this, or is there some variety? What kind of variety?

    And, a follow up question: Is Quebec the same, or does its cultural separateness generate a different vibe in Catholic Churches? (I’m operating under the assumption that the particular church you describe wasn’t in Quebec; I don’t think you mentioned where it was.)

  • Scott

    While the description given in this article applies in some corners of the Catholic Church in Canada, it is an extreme. However, as a recent convert (I’m a former Anglican priest) I can attest to a profound liturgical deficit. Some of it arises from the frankly godawful architecture of many suburban Catholic parishes. Their design makes it almost impossible to conduct stational liturgies, gospel processions, etc. Being rather “open” with little delineation of space makes it difficult to appreciate the altar as the sacred focal point of the liturgy that it is. The art work is often a mishmash of unintelligible modern abstracts, sentimental realism from the 50s and, thank goodness, classic Christian iconography.
    The liturgy in my parish, aside from struggling against the hostile environment that is the building itself, seems often a battle between my rather traditionalist priest and the innovating laity. All the Sunday masses are accompanied by dreadful acoustic guitars, folksy masses that drain away all sense of mystery in favour of familiar musical tropes from the secular world. The lay readers often address the congregation with a “good morning” which is entirely out of keeping with their role as lectors, but this is typical of the widespread resistance among the many lay leaders to allowing a sense of mystery to pervade the worship. They’d rather everything be “friendly” and as a result, the services come to resemble those of the Lutherans down the street. Funny, of course a lot of these same people look to this as being somehow ecumenical (“see, we all pray the same way, are differences aren’t so great” — the subtext often being that the Protestant-Catholic rift is being perpetuated by the clergy but has no substantive cause anymore.)
    It’s all very discouraging as a convert who appreciates the rich liturgical tradition of Catholicism (I was Anglo-Catholic) to see it cast aside out of some misbegotten notion that dumbed-down worship attracts the unchurched and the lapsed.

  • Nick Milne

    …the diocese is cheerfully bringing on the day when lay administrators, after a quick course in theological nostrums of the leftist variety, will take over the churches, the priest reduced to a sacerdotal stud-horse to consecrate wafers and move on.

    I died a little inside just now, Dr. Esolen. It is a great and dangerous gift you have.

  • Austin

    The author brings up a very good point: when you look at the laity who are involved with the church, Eucharistic Ministers, Administrative people, etc, they are often middle aged women. There are usually very few young men. The Church [and not just the Catholic Church] has a problem with young men.

    There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that often, Christianity comes across as a “woman’s religion” if not properly taught. There was nothing feminine or submissive about the Apostles, but unfortunately, the people encountered in the parish who are involved with the Church are middle aged to elderly women. I think we need to get more young men involved, but how?

  • Ann

    This article takes an overly simplistic view of the Catholic Church in Canada and and completely ignores its history.

    How were Catholics, particularly French-Catholics, oppressed by the Anglican-English government?
    How much of this lack of fervor that you note comes out of a history of attempts to fit in with the Anglican-dominated government?
    No talk of Quebec and their separatist struggles, which are not only religious, but cultural and linguistic in nature?
    No mention of the state-funded Catholic school system in Ontario, which was implemented as a result of this fight on behalf of the French-Catholics living there and is under siege today by such entities as the U.N.?

    And this isn’t ancient history. I am a French-Canadian from Eastern Ontario. My last name was French and was anglicized to suit my grandfather’s Anglican employers, because they couldn’t say the French name. And then I am an Irish-American on the other side, so clearly my families have had their share of English-Anglican oppression.

  • Ann

    To R.C.

    I don’t know where this description takes place either, but I can answer your question. Obviously, Quebec is a French-Catholic culture and I think that we would be impressed with their liturgies, if we could understand them as they all take place in French. [smiley=happy]

    Also, the religion/culture/language are all one and the same. The Catholic schools (government-funded) are French schools, one and the same. Same in Ontario, particularly Eastern Ontario near the Quebec border. Actually, a Catholic in at least those two provinces have more freedom and liberty than a Catholic here when you think about it.

  • workingclass artist

    this saddens me….

  • Ann

    The people in line for lay administration are, by a large margin, middle-aged women. This is called curing the foot you have been shooting by cutting it clean off.

    What does this even mean? So what, the lay admins that are involved are middle-aged women? I’m not sure, is this comment sexist, ageist or both?

    I hope the author comes back to these comments and tells us where he observed this church. It does not resonate with my experience there.

  • Jason

    How to get young men back to Mass? I have a few theories on that.

    First, every priest must exude personal holiness. They’re not our friends. They’re not our buddies. They are our SPIRITUAL FATHERS, so they need to lead by example. They have to man-up and fight the entrenched (and often feminine) culture in the parish office in order to truly get a grip on their own household. I’m not suggesting that they be abrasive or combative, but they must put forth their vision to everyone involved and indicate that this is the way it’s going to be. Anyone who disagrees can leave. St. John Bosco (and other saints) all struggled alone for a time before the Lord’s true work was wrought. After this intial trial in the wilderness, God will send like-minded volunteers to help out. But it’s a hard initial struggle.

    Second, bishops, priests and deacons much preach in a way that men respond to. Most men don’t like generalizations (Jesus loves you. He died for you, so don’t sin), we demand specifics. Tell us WHY he died for us. Tell us WHY we shouldn’t sin. Make references to MORTAL SIN and HELL. Teach us the hard topics of sacrifice, pennance, and sexuality. The early Church Fathers didn’t shy away from these topics for very good reason. They knew that our souls depend on it.

    Third, get rid of “altar girls”. I know that’s not PC nowadays, but it’s true. From my own experience, young boys don’t like to do things they see young girls doing. If a young boy sees a girl serving at the altar, it re-inforces in his mind that it’s a “girly” activity. That is not what we want. We want young boys and teens to see it as a calling they should consider. In fact, there is at least one order I know of that does this. When they are given a parish by the local bishop, the first thing they do is to start an altar guild for girl altar servers and make serving altar an all male activity. The girls are the ones who set up for Mass, while the boys serve. This order has a staggering success rate in promoting vocations to the priesthood.

    This rant is just one man’s opinion.

  • Ender

    I think we need to get more young men involved, but how?

    It seems clear that not only have masculine words been removed from the liturgy but pretty much everything that smacks of masculinity has been jettisoned as well. The modern Church has been feminized. There is certainly nothing wrong with the expression of the feminine – that’s not my point. The problem is not the inclusion of femininity but the exclusion of masculinity.

    Men and women respond to different challenges and there is little today (within the Church) to test a young man’s fortitude, determination, or courage … or that even acknowledges that these are Christian attributes. Today we celebrate only the feminine virtues: kindness, compassion, gentleness (and please, don’t anyone respond with the obvious that there are plenty of gentle men and courageous women). Losing St. George was not a problem but losing St. Michael is.

  • Shan Gill

    Jason’s comments are right on the mark.

    Further, God is a fruitful God, and those things that don’t bear good fruit will be cut off and cast into the fire (as Our Lord put it). This holds for girls as altar servers; there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but no girl will ever become a priest and the current trend of thought to deny that serving is related to being an acolyte must be reversed.

    No woman will ever be ordained a priest, and as Jason notes, we must put value in our young men and pray for them and encourage them to participate. We must be very clear as to the true value of the role of altar server.

    And move the choirs to the back of the church and get rid of the over-amplified sound systems. The whole ‘boom-box’ experience does not lend itself to meditative reflection and connection with the Object of the Mass – the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the focus of the mass, not the community. We are the body of Christ, but the Eucharist is the Body of Christ – body, blood, soul and divinity.

  • Austin

    Jason and Ender: Yes, we need to somehow challenge young men, appeal to their masculinity, appeal to their sense of a challenge. I’m not exactly sure how to do this, but do this, we must.

    The Church is in the strange position of having an all male Priesthood, but a feminized atmosphere. This does not appeal to young men, or even to a degree middle aged men such as myself. I used to belong to a parish where we had a Mens Club. We would meet, drink beer, and play softball. It was great fellowship. Most pastors abhor such a thing, but it really worked.

    Now, I am going to walk through a minefield here, but this needs to be said. A lot of the priests are not exactly “masculine.” Many of them are kind of like the middle aged women of the parish in attitude and sometimes even appearance. When I was a kid, we had a priest in the parish who had been an Army Chaplain in WWII, Father Joe has served in the US Army in WWII and had even seen a fair amount of combat.
    He was compassionate, and also tough as nails. The boys and young men of the parish looked up to him. I think that if we had more priests like him, it would help a lot.

  • Rose

    I visited relatives this weekend and attended Mass in a different diocese from home. I was distressed by the middle of Mass because of the lack of reverence and sense that people have forgotten the Real Presence of Christ. The congregation never knelt at all; the people were just going through the motions. There was a small choir and the music wasn’t inspirational at all, but rather a remnant from the 70’s where the lyrics stopped referring to the glory of God but transferred attention to what the people should be feeling. Altogether a disappointing event when Mass should be a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us and how we should be sacrificing ourselves for Jesus, serving His mission here on earth. I know why parishes are consolidating and closing; families are not supporting the church through understanding the Church’s mission. We have not been taught about our faith by our leaders, so we are losing our way. Families are paying lip service by attending Mass for an hour on Sunday, Masses which resemble Protestant services for the most part, and then going back to the world without carrying something spiritual along with them.
    I’m not saying we need to return to the Church of the 50’s, but what happened in the 60’s and 70’s was so much of the Faith was either altered or discarded during that time period that we as Catholics are losing our way. Just what the evil one ordered!

  • Lorie Carnochan

    I am happy to be part of a very conservative church here in Canada. It is a 150 year old church that is named after the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a move on to restore all of the paintings that were painted there on the ceilings and walls many years ago. Paintings of the apostles, saints, etc. There are beautiful statues of Jesus, Mary and the children from Fatima, angels, etc.

    When I came here there was a great move to bring in very liberal ways. The blessed Sacrament was at the side.

    Some of us formed a small prayer group and our mandate as set out by our priest was to pray for our church.

    Complaints were made to the Bishop and moves of priests were made. A very conservative priest was sent in to make changes and the liberals set out to cause this priest a lot of trouble and to get rid of him. That priest was moved on but then two more conservative priests were sent in again. There was a break-in in which some of the Blessed Sacrament hosts were desecrated. After a alarm system was installed, the Blessed Sacrament was moved back to the middle behind the altar.

    These priests were so quiet in their reform that the liberals had to back off or it would be known that they worked to get rid of the last priest.

    All of the while we kept praying, with faith, that the power of the Holy Spirit come down upon our church to bring about God’s will for it.

    We now have another new priest whose goal is to touch the lives of our young people. He works to get everyone in the church involved. He loves the Lord dearly as did the last two priests that have gone on, but this priest has a way with young people Altar boys are returning to the altar. He works alongside each of them to teach them correctly, all with encouragement to them when they do things right.

    I think that one of the saving features of our church is that it is dedicated to Mary and with our prayers joined with hers how can we lose.

    We have a ways to go and a lot of people have left the church over this but I feel that the prayers of a few can be used by God to change the hearts of many.

    The ones who have stayed are those who love Jesus and Mary dearly and this is the true church anyway.

    If you find yourself in one of these liberal churches please above all pray. This is what will make a difference here in Canada and anywhere these situations exist.

  • Deacon Don Bourgeois (Archdioces

    [smiley=think]Having a daughter who is married to a Canadian and having been to Canada often, this has not been my experience. In Port Perry, Ontario at Immaculate Conception Parish where I have assisted at Mass and preached many times, my experience has been a very positive one. The Pastor is a very devout and conservative and is great in encouraging both boy and girls to serve as altar servers. I have assisted him at a School Mass (2 schools) where he told the students that they need to go to Mass on Sunday and to tell there parents to bring them to Mass. He also told them to tell their parents that if they don’t bring them to Church on Sunday that they will tell him and he will call them to find out why they are not bringing them to Mass. I can’t speak for all parishes in Canada but I have been to Mass at St. Joseph Oratory and Notre Dame in Montreal and I have seen no deviation in the Liturgy that we have in the many parishes here in South Louisiana. [smiley=happy]

  • Rudy Garcia

    Actually I think that the article describes what is going on in many parishes in the U.S. too. I’ve been in masses in several states in the U.S. and other countries but unfortunately this description is the norm in many parishes in the US.

  • R.C.


    Thanks for your information re: culture, Quebec, et cetera.

    I think you may have mistaken Mr. Esolen’s intent by not attending to context; the quote you questioned did not strike me as being either sexist or ageist. Here’s how I took it:

    What programs, you may well ask, has the diocese instituted to attract young men not only to the priesthood but to the faith itself? Easy to answer: none at all. There is a summer leadership program for teenage girls, held at the cathedral, but as far as the diocese is concerned, the boys can go hang. … The people in line for lay administration are, by a large margin, middle-aged women. This is called curing the foot you have been shooting by cutting it clean off.

    Perhaps I’m giving him too much benefit of the doubt, but it seems to me Mr. Esolen is saying something like this:

    “Here we have a church culture which apparently can keep the women and children, but somehow drives the men, especially the young men, away. But nothing is being done to help; in fact, things are being run in a fashion which can only make the problem worse: The priest, who might be viewed by these young men as a man who chose to make heroic sacrifices for the truth, never shows up and doesn’t seem to be “in charge” even when he is present. As a result, young men see the parish not merely as an organization where women are the glue keeping things together — nothing wrong with that, it’s the truth of most healthy households — but as an organization run exclusively by women for women.

    “A young man also notices that most of the women in question are of an age and disposition that reminds the young men of the least-inspiring and -endearing aspects of their own mothers. At an age where a young man wants challenge, to participate in quests and to fight the system and generally to find a noble outlet for his God-given youthful vigor, he finds it stifling to sit still for something done badly by persons who seem bored with it; but if he’s the only male in a crowd of females, he feels more than stifled; he feels feminized, tied up in apron-strings.

    “And, however nice they might be underneath, the folks running the show on a daily basis remind him of flowery wallpaper. He sees women with disapproving looks and secretary spread, and it makes him remember the experience of being hugged and embarassingly cooed over by his older female relatives at family reunions. Being in church makes him feel very much like he felt when, as an eleven-year-old boy, his mother took him shopping with her and he had to stand around with her in the women’s lingerie department while she bought a bra.

    “By engendering this set of experiences and associations with the church in young men, or at least doing nothing to avoid it, the Canadian Church is curing the foot it has been shooting — its young men and prospective seminarians — by cutting it clean off.”

    I have put a lot of words into Mr. Esolen’s mouth, here! …and somewhat exaggerated the problem (I hope!) in the interests of being picturesque and making a point.

    All the same, if these are the kinds of concerns Mr. Esolen intended to express, then I can’t see it as sexist or ageist against the women in question, unless we either (a.) hold to a zero-sum view of gender and age relations, such that anything that might benefit one gender or age-group is necessarily to the detriment of the complimentary group; or, (b.) hold the view that a young man’s instinct to get out from under his mother’s apron strings and go out nobly to conquer evil things and rescue maidens is somehow a rejection of his mother, or of women in general.

    I don’t believe either (a.) or (b.). So I don’t see the Mr. Esolen’s description of the need for helping young men, by showing them a Christianity which gives them an outlet for their God-given heroism, as sexist.

  • Tony Esolen

    RC, Jason, Rose,

    Thank you for your comments — and, RC, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Recall, everyone, that I had said that our priest served three parishes. That’s two fewer than the five he was serving last year (somebody else is covering those, and at least two of those five churches will be shut down for the winter). In other words, the first thing that all the priests and laity need to do is to ask why there are so few young men inspired to retain their faith and even perhaps consider the priesthood. Instead people talk about a “shortage” of priests, as if priests were resources you could dig up if you found the right priest-site.

    A challenge to everyone here: I’d like you to name one, just one “masculine” hymn you have sung in your church in the last year. Don’t even bother naming one if you are using the Gather hymnal or Glory and Praise. What bothers me about the Mass is not its femininity (for femininity is a holy thing), but a combination of effeminacy (which is to genuine femininity as machismo is to genuine masculinity) and the old-lady fussiness that turns Mass into visiting a particularly prissy grandma. Look, up here in Canada the attack on Christianity is unremitting, and what do we have to counterattack? No armies.

    This may be offensive to some, but you will not win the war against Christianity without enlisting warriors, and those you will get primarily from the young men. That is simply an anthropological fact. I am not taking anything away from the great women saints and witnesses to the faith; in fact, I am sure that such women as Theresa of Avila would agree with me.

  • Frank La Rocca

    Here, in the very belly of the Beast, can be found a Church with a most fervent devotion to Catholicism in all its Tridentine splendor: http://www.stmargmaryoak.org/. And are you aware of the growing influence of this organization:http://www.institute-christ-king.org/ ?

  • Marchmaine

    Yes, the story is anecdotal… but I have been to copies of the very Mass he describes in Denver, Chicago and Washington, DC.

    I cannot tell if the rot he describes is receding or advancing; but rot there is.

  • William H. Phelan

    Please don’t be surprised. We are living tghrough the Third Secret of Fatima-that the entire Church would apostasize. It is a Divine Punishment. Prayer is the only was it will ever end.

  • Marchmaine
  • Marchmaine
  • Criffton

    Faith of our Fathers
    Yesterday, Recessional

    Western SD is a decent diocese, and, thankfully, has a FSSP apostolate.

  • Deacon Ed

    that church is a woman’s ‘thing’ in the eyes of many men. This attitude develops very early. When you have mixed gender altar servers, this continues until the boy hits age 11 or so and you’ll notice they’ll begin to drop out. Church is seen as a girls’ thing.

    I have also noticed in my years of counseling at a few parishes that it is not uncommon for women who are heavily involved in parish ministries to have husbands who are emotionally distant or actually physically absent. Please don’t any one accuse me of proposing a 1:1 correlation here.

    The last comment I’d make is that, in general, men are instrumentalists. They want to do things. They’re not inclined to have their religious experiences wholly relegated to devotionals or discussion groups. My bet is that if the men and boys of the parish actually got involved in missionary activity, you’d see a resurgence of interest in the Church.

  • Zoe Romanowsky

    Interesting article to read since I grew up in – and still visit – my home province of Nova Scotia. The church there is barely limping along, despite the fact that there are signs of hope – particularly among the younger generation. And I can’t forget that I had my own young adult conversion in the midst of all the mess and barrenness. God is still working; He uses everything He can.

    My younger brother – a masculine, attractive, athletic, talented and prayerful man – was the only priest ordained for the largest diocese of Nova Scotia two years ago. There has been no one ordained since. His parish life feels like missionary work, and his liturgies are celebrated in ugly churches. God will use him, though, because he inspires young people to question why someone like him has given everything for the Church.

    Many things have caused the current state of things on the east coast of Canada. The population is small and there was never an enormous Catholic contingent there to begin with; it was mainly Protestant. There were the usual misinterpretations of Vatican II. Nova Scotians are kind and welcoming, and not known for being rebellious or aggressive. So, there was never a great deal of opposition to the changes episcopal and lay leaders brought in. Much of it was even welcomed, since there was some oppression experienced in the pre-Vatican II church. People threw out the baby with the bathwater, vocations dried up, and it became what it is today – mission territory.

    Pray for my awesome brother – Fr. Zach.

  • Val

    I grew up and still often visit the Vancouver archdiocese and it is nothing like that. Our parishes are vibrant, reverent, orthodox and wonderful. We are pumping out vocations to the religious life and young adults frequent Eucharistic adoration. The Cathedral has grand and glorious masses with the communion rail still used. So I don’t know about you, but that description is not how I know Catholic Canada.

  • Aunt Raven

    I have just returned from the 2009 Anglican Use Roman Catholic Convention in Houston Texas. Right now, the Anglican Use obtains only in the USA–however after a quarter century of this experiment, it is dynamic, reverent, and is producing wonderful vocations. I understand that Canadians who know about the Anglican Use are eager to have it in Canada. From reading this essay and comments, I can see why–!

  • denise

    Sadly, this may be true there, but not here in Windsor. Just attended Sunday mass at Cathedral. Absolutely breathtaking and inspirational, very traditional and well attended. And that’s in the city with casinos. Perhaps many sinners are needed for good attendance and inspirational worship!God bless!

  • Roch Cole

    Hi, I am a Canadian and have lived here almost 40 years. This “smallish” Church could be anywhere. After all, you may remember that Canada is quite big! I live in Toronto, and even in a big metropolis that is secular and filled with immorality on about every corner, this Church community is not what the country is like. We have many, many parishes which are filled with devout parishioners, and priests who are faithful to the Pope, the Magisterium and the teachings of the Church (complete with organ and 8-part choir).

  • Ed

    Determining the state of the Church in a whole country by the visit to one parish?

    Imagine if upon my first visit to the United States, which just happened to be downtown Detroit, I had made a similar judgement about the state of the whole country?

    My own diocese of 100,000 is probably like many,with a variety of parishes, some certainly more “traditional” that others. Thankfully my own parish has a wonderful priest, and respectful, singing faithful. In addition most people there are families, Mom, the kids, AND Dad.

    I would also comment that most of the extrordinary ministers etc. may be women, but I would not exactly call them middle aged. (Unless life expectancy has improved considerably)

  • Tony

    A close priest-friend of mine once stated that “when the Mass is “dumbed down” or parts of it are omitted, the power of the graces upon the people are also diminished.
    In order to receive the full sacramental power of the Liturgy, a priest must celebrate that liturgy in full union with the Universal Church.

    Grace is our spiritual food. Without it, our souls wither and die. The answer is so obviously clear, but time and again we have succumbed to the Liberals’ quest for power. Is it any wonder why people fall away from the Church? There is very little left to feed them!

    Let us pray for all priests, but especially those who are brave enough to uphold the true teachings of the Holy Catholic Church, despite the forces which try to dismantle it.
    I implore every reader of this post to pray for the church in Canada, as these are signs of the battle with evil!

  • Maggie

    Why not check out the beautiful churches and Liturgies (Masses) of the Eastern Catholic Churches. The Byzantine Liturgies are exquisite.

  • Rob

    I believe the malaise you have described is not far off the mark, like a blanket of tepid 1970’s reinvention which shrouds the Canadian church. There are many parishes where this blanket has been embraced and held clingingly, yet many where it has been shunned and thrown off. But on the whole, the overall trend is there.

    I lived in two dioceses (Keewatin-The Pas in northern Manitoba, and Nelson in British Columbia) where kneeling during the consecration was optional (you probably didn’t know about this), and the option for all to *stand* was selected. I of course was a trouble-maker and insisted on kneeling. Only one other family (in Flin Flon, Manitoba) knelt, and they were expat doctors from South Africa. I was befriended by a couple in their 80’s who noticed my kneeling and complimented me on it; they would have knelt if their knees were stronger.

    While in Flin Flon, I was asked to be a teacher for fifth grade Catechism. I was given a teacher’s manual, and on about the third page was a paragraph which contained the word “God” seventeen times — yes, seventeen times — in the same awkward attempt to exclude masculine pronouns at all costs as you noted.

    At a Christmas party for us teachers, one of the nuns from The Pas came up and when the topic came to the televised Midnight Mass from Rome, she remarked that she couldn’t follow along because of “all the old men there were, nothing but old men”. I remarked that all I had to do was contemplate the body, and the blood, of Jesus, and I never had any problem with focus. An uncomfortable silence followed my comment.

    At a mass in Trail, BC, the newly-crowned Miss Teen Trail was invited to perform a solo liturgical dance during the mass … with the bishop present. This same church had four white advent candles. We approached the priest after confession one Saturday (okay, during confession, there was nobody behind us in line) to inquire about the symbolism of white, since we had never heard of it and felt we were obviously missing something deep and were eager to learn of this new development. He sighed and replied that “you have to pick your fights”, and in a way, we understood. We surmised he had a long-term plan and would pick off the rot little by little; a stealth response to an activist Parish Council.

    But I found the same sort of problem in the US. I was down in the Minneapolis area last October interviewing for a job in Edina. If we were to relocate, we would prefer to live close to our regular parish. So I checked all the parish websites available, read every on-line parish bulletin that was posted, and drove up to and stopped in four parishes to take a look around, observe the prominence given to the tabernacle, read the titles on the pamphlet rack, scan the list of parish ‘ministries’. There was much, much, much about social justice committees — a wonderful thing. But the words “pro-life”? Voting ‘Catholic’? Cha. As if.

    I went back to my hotel room and was literally getting sick to my stomach from despair at ever finding a faithful parish, when at long last I came across Holy Family Parish in St. Louis Park. Maybe it was the 15 altar boys (no lie) serving at the mass I attended, or maybe it was my chat with Fr. Dufner after mass, but I felt I had found an oasis. And maybe it was a comment I heard at the pancake breakfast after mass that there were perhaps but three “good” parishes in the whole MSP area, but I felt I was at the same time also in a desert.

  • Steve K.

    This also happens in the US. The Diocese of Richmond, VA is currently preparing a scheme to ‘cluster’ parishes and have lay-led services, with priests functioning as ‘sacredotal stud horses.’ Amazing eh how these ideas get around? Of course, the parishes are in most cases already lay-led, and by lay-led I mean in the case at least of my former parish middle aged heretic women-led (the parish firmly under the thumb of “She Who Must Be Obeyed”, no kidding the pastor called her this without irony). So slowly the external is taking on the shape of the internal.

    I now am a member of an FSSP chapel, and less than one fifth the size of my old parish, and 5 vocations in the past 5 years. No one remembers the last vocation the previous place. To make this very simple, where there is Catholic faith, there are vocations. Where not, there are not. There is a massive rebellion under way in the Church, and has been for a long time, but now as long planted seeds and many deeds done in darkness come to fruition at last, the rebels are moving into the open. The Church will survive them, but it will be much smaller and more persecuted by then.

  • Dan

    all these verbose comments?
    Simple. We need to Pray.
    The Church is the mystical body of Christ! We all need to pray for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of men, stir their faith and bring forth the face of Christ shining like the sun through the doors of HIS Church!

  • R.C.

    Mr. Esolen:

    I don’t know that “masculine” and “feminine” are accurate and fair terms to use to distinguish the hymns, but that’s nitpicking. I know what you mean, so for want of better terms, I’ll go along, and reply to your question….

    A challenge to everyone here: I’d like you to name one, just one “masculine” hymn you have sung in your church in the last year.

    Hmm. I suppose it makes your point for you, that the only one I can think of is “A Mighty Fortress.” (Considering the source of the tune, it’s a bit ironic.)

    On the other hand, I myself don’t suffer overmuch; it’s 7AM Mass for me followed by 9:30 worship at the nearby non-denominational evangelical church my wife attends. They know how to do CCM right, there: Most of the time they sound better, frankly, than Chris Tomlin and the like do on the radio. The quality of the singers, players, and engineering are easily broadcast quality…but then I happen to know the bass player and he gets $200 a Sunday, so I suppose they’re paying for quality.

    More to the point, they select songs which, whether quiet and contemplative or powerful and upbeat, never make me feel like I want to roll my eyes. That’s no small thing.

    Not that they do everything right; their sound system can get too loud at times.

    But, in truth, “too loud” is a far more pleasant experience for me than “too quiet,” which is my complaint at Mass. I keep having to quiet down my own singing voice to avoid standing out in a congregation of sotto voce mumble-singers, which is uniformly my experience at Mass. And the parish has a good organist, but if I and the persons on either side of me were ever to sing at comfortable volume levels, I doubt I’d be able to hear the accompaniment at all.

    Anyhow, I suppose most men are like me: We can sing without feeling foolish…if it’s boisterously, amongst an enthusiastic group. In fact, give us a couple of uptempo songs that match that description, and you can slip in a lower-volume, slower tune with more emotional lyrics as the third song without us wincing too much…because you “warmed us up” with the first two louder, more “masculine” numbers.

    But it’s frustrating to sing at those low volumes where any less airflow would cause your pitch to falter or your voice to crack, but using a comfortable amount of air — not shouting, just using comfortable breath support — would cause you to stick out like a sore thumb and drown out the sound of the accompanist in your own ears.

    Combine that with singing all these tunes with floaty-groovy Major 7th chords in them — Lord help us, they did that embarrassing 70’s easy-listening throwback “On Eagles’ Wings” just this past Sunday — and it’s no wonder many men would rather lay off and go fishing.

    Or just go to the non-denominational evangelical church next-door….

  • Eric Giunta

    I would note that all of this happened to Canada under the watchful eye of the late Pope.

    John Paul 2, we love you!


  • Micha Elyi

    The Canadian book of worship is not approved for use in the United States. I wish I could say that the American bishops had judged that the book was unsuitable for use, given its autoimmune disorder whenever the threat of a masculine pronoun arises. God only knows what grammatical and theological gyrations God’s bishops must make when they pray to God to give them God’s wisdom in guiding God’s Church.

    Sacred tradition has always understood our God as masculine.

    By the way, how often do those neutering fetishists give Satan their feminizing treatment?

  • dolores

    The overriding thought that we should remember is that a. where ever there is a void in religion be sure that something will take up that void and you may not like that (Europe) and b. the US should take care not to get into the same language/cultural wars with latin america that the Canadians have as this is ultimately destructive in so many peoples lives.

    This article takes an overly simplistic view of the Catholic Church in Canada and and completely ignores its history.

    How were Catholics, particularly French-Catholics, oppressed by the Anglican-English government?
    How much of this lack of fervor that you note comes out of a history of attempts to fit in with the Anglican-dominated government?
    No talk of Quebec and their separatist struggles, which are not only religious, but cultural and linguistic in nature?
    No mention of the state-funded Catholic school system in Ontario, which was implemented as a result of this fight on behalf of the French-Catholics living there and is under siege today by such entities as the U.N.?

    And this isn’t ancient history. I am a French-Canadian from Eastern Ontario. My last name was French and was anglicized to suit my grandfather’s Anglican employers, because they couldn’t say the French name. And then I am an Irish-American on the other side, so clearly my families have had their share of English-Anglican oppression.

  • Rose

    I commented yesterday about visiting a different diocese, but didn’t say that I live in the US, which may or may not make a difference how the comment is interpreted.
    Also, my home parish is traditional in nature, more so than any of our neighboring parishes where Mass tends to be a bit more casual than our parish.

    I do want to make note that we have two parishioners studying for the priesthood at the moment, and one more young man applying for admission to the seminary. The last priestly vocation we had from this parish was in the 1960’s when I was a child, and it’s wonderful to see these men devoting themselves to the service of God in this world. Incidentally, or perhaps not, we have not had girls serving on the altar since the 1980’s. We have other ministries for our young ladies, and they seem mostly happy with them. But the priest who reinstated ‘boys only on the altar’ met stiff opposition from some mothers, many who eventually left the parish and one even left the faith. I wonder what the fathers in those families thought?

    Still, the tradeoff is that we are producing candidates for the priesthood. I don’t think the boys-only rule is the main reason for that, no, I think the reverence for the Eucharist and following the teachings of Christ are what produces these results.

    Yes, we must continue to pray and to hold fast to authentic Catholic teachings, even if one has to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church alone to learn them when no one else is teaching these things.
    God bless!

  • Madeleine Field

    Like an earlier poster, we too live in Vancouver Archdiocese (Canada) and count ourselves blessed to do so. We have a strong Archbishop (Michael Miller); two Catholic colleges, one of which is now training teachers for the Catholic schools; an orthodox Benedictine Abbey with minor & major seminary; an FSSP parish; a vibrant Opus Dei presence. Our own parish priest is orthodox and very manly, the parish school has been served for 45 years by Maltese missionary sisters, we don’t have lay Eucharistic ministers, we have altar boys (though we call them servers–hmm), and we have weekly hour-long Exposition & Benediction and 24-hour E & B on First Fridays. We’ve lived and visited in enough other parishes, in Canada & the US, to know that we are truly blessed. But even with all this, the parish has produced only one vocation to the priesthood, and that well over 50 years ago.

    I’ve been told that recent episcopal appointments in Canada have been very good–that has to be a major part of strengthening the Faith in any place. And we know that there are some very strong US bishops in key positions. We all need to pray for our Mother, the Church. God bless all.

  • Edward S.

    How only one experience can be based to reflect the Catholic Church in the entire Country? What about many terrible situations with the Catholic Church in United States and around the world? No doubt it is important to mention what is wrong in order to correct the problem. But also it is true to other nations to ask: What can we learn about the absurds that happens in United States?…and I am talking about all areas.

  • Ron

    I concurr with Mr. Esolen regarding the state of the church here in Canada, particularly in the west where I presently reside. As a rather unsettled bachelor, I travel a bit and I’m always looking for a Traditional Catholic community. I’ve found that Traditional Sacred architecture is a really good place to start. The ugliness and banality of modern church architecture in Canada certainly does not lend itself to orthodox liturgy and this no doubt conforms to the will of the Shepherds. An excellent book on this topic in Ugly As Sin by Michael Rose. It describes well the relationship between architecture,faith and liturgy. At any rate, there is a small oasis in this desert in southern Alberta, at St Patrick’s Church in Medicine Hat. It’s a beautiful gothic style church built in 1912 or so and it still has it’s original reredos alter of marble with the tabernacle in the center. We have recently been blessed with a Tridentine Mass on the first and third sunday of the month offered by a wonderful FSSP priest (who drives some 180 miles each way for the celebration). If you’re in the area, come to mass. It’s an evening mass at 6.00 pm.

  • Ron
  • Mary Kay

    Are you seriously generalizing about an entire country based on Mass in ONE church?

    There’s more orthodoxy in Canada than you are aware of.

    If your blog rules say “no personal attacks in the comments,” you might well consider not putting personal attacks, ie Canadians just folded, in your post. Shame on you.

  • Tony Esolen


    Who on earth said that I have visited only one church in Canada? I used that one church as an example of what I have seen generally in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and what I have heard about elsewhere.

  • Mary Kay

    Who on earth said that I have visited only one church in Canada?

    Because that’s all that’s mentioned in your post. There is absolutely no indication that what you described was anything other than a single visit.

    I used that one church as an example of what I have seen generally in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and what I have heard about elsewhere.

    We’re not mindreaders. Until the above comment, there was no way of knowing that.

    I’ve visited Canada numerous times and have met Canadians from Newfoundland to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Yes, there are poor liturgies, but I could show you the same in the US. There is also orthodoxy in Canada and the fact that you have not personally seen it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t it exist. Your smear of Canadian Catholics is insulting, arrogant, and untrue. I know Canadians who would straighten you out in no time flat.

  • Sir Michael

    “Battle Hymn of the Republic”

    Thought the hymnbook titled it, “My Eyes Have Seen the Glory.”

    Now there’s a good Christian warrior song!

  • Tony Esolen

    Dear Mary Kay,

    A generalization is not the same thing as a universal truth. Here in Canada, for example, the abortion battle is lost. It’s over. The gay marriage battle is over. There is no Catholic equivalent to the blandly conservative evangelical show 100 Huntley Street. I am not saying that there are not centers of real Catholic faith, and even Catholic renewal. I am saying that the overwhelming response of Canadian bishops to a cultural free-fall has been noncombative, even in some cases approving. That implies nothing about the performance of American bishops.

  • Mary Kay


    “A generalization is not the same thing as a universal truth.”

    Then why did you make such a broad brush smear against Canadian Catholics? You’ve taken your generalization and based an entire article as if it was a universal truth that Canadians “conceded the fight.”

    In your last post, you say “it’s over” in Canada as if a) there’s a significant difference between Canada and the U.S. and b) as if you’d rather see Canada as a failure than admit the possiblity that you might have been mistaken.

    You introduced yet another factor not in your original article, this time the bishops. Apparently you chose to ignore (if you were aware of him) Bishop Henry of Edmonton and last year when Morganthaler was given the Order of Canada, the huge uproar and previous recipients, plural mind you, who returned the medal. Don’t you dare try to say that Canadians have “conceded the fight.”

    Your phrase “here in Canada” is apparently supposed to give you some sort of right to malign Canadian Catholics. Yet your bio says you teach at Providence College which is in Rhode Island, and your phrase “our good neighbor to the north” pegs you as an American, an Ugly American.

    Badmouthing someone else is beyond bad manners. Look at the Catechism, paragraphs 2475 to 2487. Even IF what you say is true – and it’s not – that’s detraction and since it’s not true, calumny.

    You’ve shown no regard for the reputation of Catholics in Canada. I’m not saying the situation in Canada is all wonderful. It’s not. But it’s not wonderful in the U.S. either. There are bishops here in the U.S. who have been “approving.” You have no right to mar others’ reputation.

  • cnb

    It is possible to find good — or at least not really bad — liturgy and preaching in major cities in Canada. Venture out into the small towns or the countryside, however, and things are pretty terrible. I’ve visited a dozen or so small town parishes in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, and Tony’s observations are on the mark. Guitar masses, middle-aged women serving as “extraordinary” ministers of Communion, terrible vestments, awful music (including, at one parish, drum beats from a synthesizer), and all the rest of it. I’m not sure one wouldn’t find something similar in small towns in the Midwest though. Things are tough all over.

  • Tony Esolen

    Dear Mary Kay,

    I spend three months of the year in Canada, and have done so for the last six years. I say that the abortion battle here is over because not one of your three major parties ever talks about it. I’m aware of Bishop Fred Henry, and I’m glad he is doing what he does. But except when it comes to abortion and gay pseudogamy, he pretty much has bought into the welfare state system that is destroying the Canadian family. (Another thing I didn’t mention in the article; I did not play all my cards! The birth rate in once-Catholic Quebec is suicidally low; and more children there are born out of wedlock than in.) The fact is, the abortion battle in the US is far from over; if it were over, nobody would care who the next Supreme Court justice might be.

    I was glad to see that Cardinal Turcotte renounced his Order of Canada medal when Henry Morgenthaler, the abortionist, received the award. But you know what? There were no mass protests; no real outrage that lasted more than a week or two. There were no calls for the immensely incompetent Beverly McLachlin to resign. Indeed, Cardinal Turcotte himself compromised his outrage by admitting that it could be permissible to procure an abortion in the case of rape or incest. (Why incest, which if it is not statutory rape is voluntary, is included in this exception, I don’t know.)

  • Mary Kay

    Tony, more recipients than Cardinal Turcotte returned their Order of Canada medals.

    Your definition of mass protests as an indication of opposition is a rather secular criterion, n’est pas? That those outraged did not tell you personally, or express it according to YOUR criteria, does not mean that the outrage or fighting against abortion doesn’t exist.

    Visiting for 3 months, even over several years, does not make you a Canadian. Since you are not Canadian, you have no right to besmirch the reputation of Canadian Catholics. That brings the matter back to detraction (and I have good reason that your assetion is not true) or calumny.

  • cnb

    Dissenting opinions from one or more of my countrymen notwithstanding, I’ll reiterate that Tony’s assessment of Canadian Catholicism is quite reasonable. Things aren’t as bad at every parish as at the parish he describes, but it’s not all that rare either, in my experience.

    And he is right that the Church in Canada does not fight with nearly the same vigour and intelligence as it does in the US. He is right that none of our major political parties, not even the alleged “conservatives”, are willing to touch abortion with a ten-foot pole. He is right that same-sex “marriages” were pushed through Parliament without the opposition really having its voice heard. And he is right that the Canadian public, a substantial proportion of whom are Catholics, takes these affronts like a punching bag. We seem to be content to let sleeping dogs lie. The day after the same-sex legislation was passed, the public opinion swung from 60/40 against to 60/40 in favour. All we, like sheep, have gone astray.

    This is not to say that there is nobody who opposes and fights such things; it is only to acknowledge that the number of such people is small, and there are few forums in which their views can he heard by a sizeable audience. It’s a problem of organization, of money, and of will.

    Up here, our one consolation is that we don’t have to read from the New American Bible.

  • Mary Kay

    Oh Canada, if you as a Canadian want to say that your fellow Canadian Catholics are punching bags, you have that prerogative. What I

  • cnb

    Canadians are forever saying insulting things about Americans — it’s practically a national pastime — so I’m not especially concerned that Tony, or any thoughtful American, directs some critical remarks our way. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Proverbs 27:6)

  • Mary Kay

    Now we’re reaching into the school yard argument: others act like school kids so it’s okay for Tony to act like a school kid.

    That simply tells me that the points I raised were valid.

    Does it occur to you that the willingness to flaunt others’ shortcomings sabotages the fight for the moral battle? Friendly fire is just as damaging as enemy fire.

    It’s unfortunate that there are some who posted here who are more interested in “winning” debate points than anything else.

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