Is Church Shopping a Problem?

Over the course of the past few days, Fr. Dwight Longnecker has posted several times on the question of so-called “church shopping.” He begins with an examination of the phenomenon in Protestant churches, which, as a result of their constant splits and re-foundations have a real problem on their hands:

The only thing that remains, therefore, for non Catholic Christians is to make church attractive to people. If they don’t have to go to church, then they should want to go to church and the only way to make people want to go to church is to offer something they want. So we find that the non-Catholic Churches are extremely competitive. They offer a vast range of services and pastoral care and ‘outreach opportunities’. Now, there’s not problem with that necessarily excepet that what results is the commercialization of Christianity.

The temptation is there to water down the gospel, keep people happy and neve challenge them. The worship becomes more and more entertainment oriented. Sentimentality sweeps over. The people want a ‘feel good’ experience and the pastors do everything they can to provide that lest the consumers get tired of what’s on offer and shop around for something they like better.

This analysis is sensible enough. Father then goes on to take a look at what he sees as a similar problem in Catholic parishes:

So Christianity adapts to the culture. We live in America the big consumer culture reigns so we make religion another product. Of course this is the illness affecting American Catholicism as well. Catholics church shop as much as anyone else does. They travel for the Latin Mass or they travel for the hip hop Mass. It’s the same principle. They swap parishes because Fr Folkmass does a groovy form of liturgy which ‘really appeals to the kids’ or they emigrate to Mgr. Maniple because his solemn high pontifical Missa Magnificant is ‘what our family really needs.’

At face value, the comparison made in this paragraph is patently absurd. It is most certainly not the same principal when a family travels to find a more orthodox, reverent Mass and when another family travels to find an irreverent, pop culture-infused hip hop Mass. In the former case, the faithful are attempting to find worship that is pleasing to God, in the latter, they are trying to find worship that is pleasing to them. 

That’s one of the big areas of misunderstanding about so-called “trads” – the idea that they’re simply looking for emotionally-fulfilling liturgy just like anyone going to a rockathon Mass. Not remotely so. As a member of the Extraordinary Form community, I can tell you that going to the Gregorian Rite presents its own host of challenges that detract greatly from my emotional fulfillment. The times of available masses are often extremely inconvenient, particularly for people with small children. Low masses are quiet and demand your full attention, which is again a problem for people with small children. Often enough, there’s a fair share of grumpy “trads” in any given “trad” parish, diminishing a sense of community. These are just a few examples.

But I do derive emotional fulfillment from attending these Masses, even though my emotions are not directly satisfied. Why? Because I truly believe that the reverence, the structure and beauty of the prayer, the gestures of docility to the divine presence (from the priest’s many genuflections and bows, his ad orientem posture, kneeling to receive communion, etc.) are all pleasing to God and thus pleasing to me. I go to Mass to worship Him. Mass that is about Him, oriented toward Him, and fittingly respectful to Him is a good Mass. I don’t go just because the homilies are better. I’ve been to traditional parishes where the homilies stank up the place, week after week. The assumption that Fr. Longnecker makes is, honestly, somewhat insulting: that people who seek reverent liturgy – whether in the Extraordinary Form or in a reverent, traditionally celebrated Novus Ordo – are just playing another, more socially respectful form of the Me-Church game. 

This equivocation is problematic. Throughout the three posts, Fr. Longnecker continues to assert that Church shoppers have an “I know best” attitude. Again and again, he attributes the motivation to a sort of spiritual selfishness. 

So I’ll ask the question to you that I asked in the comments there, and never saw answered:

As pertains to the variation of liturgical experiences: aren’t there rubrics anymore? How about encyclicals that discuss liturgical deviations like Mediator Dei or Redemptionis Sacramentum, and pontifical directives like Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest? Aren’t those good places to start when determining where one should attend Mass? 

Why is it considered so subjective when the lay faithful take it upon themselves to discern heterodoxy or inappropriate liturgical celebrations? Don’t we have standards set out by Holy Mother Church herself that we should use as our guiding principles?

We, as Catholics, exist at an unprecedented time in the Church when one really considers these questions. We have more access to her teachings than ever before, a higher rate of literacy than ever in history, a higher number of lay Catholics trained in the study of Theology (I, myself, have a BA even though I don’t use it at all in my daily work) and greater mobility than any one who came before us. 

Because of these things, it seems logical that we can:

A) Make some reasonably well-informed decisions – using the mind of the Church as our guide – about what is or is not spiritually nourishing, heterodox, etc.

B) Find reasonable accommodation for worshiping in a parish within a reasonable distance of our home that is most suited to these conclusions.

Granted, not everyone is doing this. Some people are always going to be exceptions, only following their hearts and not the mind of the Church. But doesn’t it at least stand to reason that this change in our behavior, on the whole, might be rooted in some substantive consideration, rather than simple capriciousness? 

In other words, is “church shopping” to find reverent liturgy in a world full of bad liturgy such a bad thing? Would it be better for us to stick it out in the bad parishes just for the sake of trying to be the leaven?


Steve Skojec serves as the Director of Community Relations for a professional association. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a BA in Communications and Theology. His passions include writing, photography, social media, and an avid appreciation of science fiction. Steve lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Jamie and their five children.

  • Steven K.

    Absolute correct. Great article.

  • Ann

    I go back and forth on this issue. Clearly, if someone feels called to attend the TLM, even though I don’t feel the same way, I understand that and hope they can find one nearby. Ideally, every parish would offer the TLM, but I know that is not the case. Using the term “bad parishes” OTOH, is unnecessarily divisive.

    However, I do see a lot of parish-shopping lately, for other reasons and it does bother me. As a rule, I think people should try to make their local parish work for them.

    For example, I know people who have switched parishes because they don’t like the Pastor. Unless the priest has done something really wrong, I don’t think it is best to go to another parish, because the other priest is cooler, or gives a better homily. Or they leave a parish after 20 years because the priest they liked was transferred and they don’t like the new one. Another big thing I see are families shopping around for the easiest Religious Ed program.

    We have to be careful to avoid the cult of personality. Again, it’s not about us. The Mass, nor the priest, is not there to entertain us.

  • Melissa

    I think it’s important to qualify what “bad liturgy” is. If bad liturgy is one that doesn’t follow the basic requirements set out by the Vatican, then it doesn’t qualify as a liturgy worthy of the faithful, and should be changed by the US Catholic leadership. If you are defining bad liturgy as Vatican II changes you think are obnoxious, well, as painful as they may be, they are still valid forms of liturgy in the eyes of the Church.
    As to whether those that “shop” are no better than Protestants, well, I think both sides have valid points. While I shudder at the idea of anyone having to sit through a liturgy that is so alien to their inclinations that it keeps them from God, on the other hand, by never testing our comfort zone we run the risk of refusing God’s call to growth. The qualifier, of course, being that the call is from God, and not ourselves.

  • Majordad

    Church shopping is not only wholly acceptable but it should be encouraged.
    The liturgy in some Catholic churches is just so bad there is no reason at all for a practicing Catholic to endure it.
    I know of one parish in the Diocese of Rochester where the laity is told that the leftover Precious Blood may be dumped down the sacrarium. Not the leftover liquid after rinsing the chalice, but the actual Blood.
    Putting aside the fact that the laity MAY not cleanse the vessels, there is clearly something VERY wrong going on there.
    Needless to say I never step foot in that church when I visit.
    We left our local parish because the people in attendance at Mass were wearing the most outrageous clothing that we couldn’t take it anymore. We now attend the TLM in DC almost exclusively. That parish has since really done a turnaround with the new Pastor but we’re pretty sold on the TLM now.

  • Deirdre Mundy

    I think the final word on “Church-shopping” has to come from the Diocese.

    If you’re moving to a diocese where parish boundaries are fixed and you’re expected to go to your residential parish, then you’d better do any ‘Shopping’ BEFORE you buy a house. And as you ‘shop’ you should remember that pastors change and you’re looking at PARISHES not pastors. (This is similar to choosing a school district.) Then, once you’ve moved, you’re sort of locked in.
    On the other hand, in some dioceses, parish boundaries aren’t as important, so you can look for a parish that works for your family. However, I’d still suggest that once you JOIN a parish, you stick with it. (For instance, in our town all the churches are considered ‘ethnic parishes’ because of how they were founded. So when we moved to town, we picked one that suited us. Now we’re locked in — if the parish was suddenly assigned a crazy pastor, we’d stick around, because it is OUR parish.)
    So, in limited cirucmstances, with the permission of the Bishop, parish shopping is fine. BUT we can’t complain about the ‘death’ of American parish life and then loudly proclaim our right to ‘shop.’ Consumer mentality is (ie. I’ll only tithe if I’m happy, I’ll go where the sermons are best, I’ll follow my favorite priest) is what is CONTRIBUTING to the decline of the Parish– if you want a parish with a Altar Rosary guild, don’t leave your parish looking for a new one, START a guild at your parish! If you want a good CCD program, help teach! If you want a better choir, join up and sing!

  • Jason Negri

    Consumer mentality is (ie. I’ll only tithe if I’m happy, I’ll go where the sermons are best, I’ll follow my favorite priest) is what is CONTRIBUTING to the decline of the Parish

    I don’t think I agree, Deirdre. The reality of Catholic life is that the entire parish follows the priest. It is the pastor whose personality, priorities and proclivities inform the entirety of parish life, so any layman or even group of laymen in a parish can only improve parish life so much if the priest is the problem.

    Long-time IC readers know that this issue touches me personally. I have come down on the side that “parish-shopping” is legitimate, but should only be undertaken with great care, prayer and thought.

  • Zoe

    In theory, it’s fine to denounce “Church shopping.” The reality is, however, most of the people doing this in the Catholic world are people who don’t want to lose their faith or leave the Church so they look for faithful priests, decent liturgies, and a community where their faith can be fed.

    While a parish belongs to its people, it’s only as good as its leader — the pastor. This is true for any group whether it’s a church, a club, or a corporation. The leader’s vision sets the priorities and the tone. All the more so in a parish I think.

    I’m a big believer in belonging to the parish closest to your home — for numerous reasons. I discovered first hand, however, that this isn’t always best for your family or faith. In days when the basics were more or less the same everywhere, parishes differed on the ethnic/socio-economic/cultural make-up of their congregations — and the personality of the pastor, too. But this is no longer the case. It’s hard to maintain your faith in this culture, and Catholics should choose parishes that nourish their faith.

    All that said, I think the spirit of Fr. Longnecker’s point should be considered. When you’re looking to join or leave a parish, you should examine our reasons. If you’re constantly seeking your own notion of perfection or using rigid guidelines, you need to check that. Ultimately, however, you should choose a parish where your family can best be fed and where you can contribute what God asks of you. It’s not always possible to do that at the parish nearest you.

  • Peter H.

    He is 100% right. It’s as evident from Mr. Skojec’s response as it is from some of my fellow commenters.

    Say there are two churches, one that is your geographic parish and one that isn’t. “Your” parish has hideous music, way too many Eucharistic ministers , has altar girls, people wear jeans to church – take your pick. The other parish has a Mass that is an incense-laden, polyphonic, Sunday-best vision from Heaven itself.

    Let me go out on a limb and say that these elements (rather than the prayers and devotion of the people participating) render “your” parish’s Mass, in Mr. Skojec’s words, “less pleasing to God” than the other parish’s. (I think that judgment is presumptuous, by the way. I’m only making it for the sake of argument.)

    My point is that other parish’s Mass is happening whether you’re there or not. It’s pleasing God whether you’re there or not. YOU want to go there, on the other hand, because it would please YOU. Would it please God more if you went to the nicer Mass? (I’m skeptical.)

    Conversely– you leaving your geographical parish, because you refuse to let annoyances go, or have a change of heart about them, or try to change them and make THAT parish a place that is more pleasing to God– I don’t know that that pleases Him too much.

    I’m not saying that picking a good Church isn’t sometimes legitimate, especially when someone is moving their house. It could even be that a parish is so intractably, horribly sacrilegious that there is nothing else to do but leave, because otherwise you just couldn’t stand to go to Mass at all. But don’t try to put it on God’s tab.

  • TD

    Here’s some of what I have discerned about parishes and church attendance, based on my somewhat limited knowledge of the Code of Canon Law (1981). As usual, all caveats apply when it comes to taking seriously amateur canonists like me (especially when they are proof-texting!). If my logic is in error or I have left out a key canon, I would appreciate correction from any canonist, Chancellor, or Judicial Vicar reading:

    a parish church consists of all who live within the boundaries of the parish, seemingly whether or not they go to Mass there (see can. 518 );

    the pastor of a parish has responsibility for all those who live within his parish, seemingly whether or not they go to Mass there (see can. 519);

    the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass on Sundays (can. 1247) and this obligation is satisfied when the faithful attend Mass wherever it is celebrated in a Catholic rite (can. 1248 );

    and the faithful are to carry out with great diligence their responsibilities towards both the universal Church and the particular Church to which by law they belong (can. 209 para. 2), which, by inference, includes the parish church to which they belong [the parish church being established within a particular church (can. 515) to carry out the mission of the particular church on a local level (cf. can. 369 and 519)].

    From all of this, I think the Code is saying that the faithful can fulfill their Mass obligation wherever Mass is being celebrated in a Catholic rite, yet they are still responsible for the parish in which they live. In other words, people can go to Mass wherever they need to in order to fulfill the obligation; however, they should still make sure that the needs of their local parish are taken care of so that the pastor, who is tasked with caring for all in his parish–whether they go to church there or not–can maintain the parish and fulfill his ministry.

    To put it somewhat crassly, if you go to a church that is not your parish, you should probably still kick in an envelope by mail every week to your nearby church.

  • Joe H

    I’m with Steve 100% on this.

    The reason I “parish hop” until I find the most objectively reverent and beautifully celebrated traditional Mass is because my conscience will allow me to do nothing less.

    It is because I reject the dictatorship of relativism, and actually do believe that these things can be measured objectively, that I do not simply settle for “any old Mass”. And in the end, I’ll take my stand with centuries of tradition in theological, liturgical, and aesthetic matters rather than the opportunistic and innovative ideas of bureaucratic committees, many of which – as the historical evidence shows – transformed their local parishes without the approval of, and in direct violation of, the clear guidelines established by Rome.

    In resisting unlawful changes and local renegades, we do not become unlawful renegades ourselves.

  • Dale Price

    My point is that other parish’s Mass is happening whether you’re there or not. It’s pleasing God whether you’re there or not. YOU want to go there, on the other hand, because it would please YOU. Would it please God more if you went to the nicer Mass?

    I’m not sure how much I’m pleasing God if I’m grinding my teeth throughout Mass. The “You’ll drink your castor oil and like it!” mentality ignores a couple of facts: (1) there are weaker and stronger brothers in the Catholic faith, as St. Paul tells us, and (2) the Church is Catholic–e.g., there is a diversity of legitimate worship open to the Catholic faithful.

    As to (1), I freely admit that I find it difficult to “gut out” a Mass where there’s gender-neutering, distractingly bad music, laypeople giving the homilies, iconoclasm, distracting architecture and so forth. If others can, bravo. Assuming no other tinkering has been done, it’s a valid Mass. But I need more than bare validity. A Catholic has a right to expect more.

    As to (2), the “Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves” mindset slams the door to the riches of the Catholic tradition, which embraces the Extraordinary Form, the Divine Liturgies of the Eastern Churches, Chant, polyphony, icons as well as statuary and so on. Sorry–I refuse to wear a derogatory label just because someone cares to fire off snap judgments.

  • David L Alexander

    Over a period of years, the people who constitute a territory known as a “parish” will gradually lose control over its destiny, leaving in the hands of an effete and articulate minority, usually one with a lot of time on their hands. The result is less a community of faith than it is a cult of personality. I go to a church, not because it is my home, but because it is where I get what the Church says are my spiritual goods. Thus it is often a necessary act.

    My own territorial parish, one within a short walk of my home, and in an ostensibly “orthodox” diocese, has been fermenting errors against the Faith for years. My bishop won’t do anything about it, so I have to. I am entitled to its goods, but what they put in place of them are an offense to that Faith for which it is established.

    This is how it is. It will change when what it means to be Catholic, and what it means to worship as a Catholic, is clear and unchallenged.

  • Steve Skojec

    Peter H., you wrote:

    Let me go out on a limb and say that these elements (rather than the prayers and devotion of the people participating) render “your” parish’s Mass, in Mr. Skojec’s words, “less pleasing to God” than the other parish’s. (I think that judgment is presumptuous, by the way. I’m only making it for the sake of argument.)

    My point is that other parish’s Mass is happening whether you’re there or not. It’s pleasing God whether you’re there or not. YOU want to go there, on the other hand, because it would please YOU. Would it please God more if you went to the nicer Mass? (I’m skeptical.)

    By following this logic, there’s no reason not to conclude that we need not attend Mass at all. After all, “it’s pleasing to God whether you’re there or not.”

    But then there’s that aspect of Sunday obligation. It must be that even though Mass is about God, it’s beneficial to us. One would therefore logically assume that it’s because something that is spiritually edifying is going on. Something that benefits us.

    Well, if God wants us to go to Mass and not just settle for staying home, wouldn’t it stand to reason that we would derive the most spiritual benefit from those Masses which are most pleasing to Him?

    Pope St. Pius X wrote an eloquent and succinct expression of what it means to participate in Mass when he said, “Don’t pray at Holy Mass, but pray the Holy Mass.”


    “The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the altar. Further, you must pray with the priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the altar. When acting in this way, you have prayed Holy Mass.”

    The idea of following so closely the actions of the priest as the highest prayer we can offer to God essentially presupposes that what the priest is doing is reverent, holy and pleasing to God. If it’s not, then we’re participating in the same nonsense that’s going on at the altar, whether it’s run-of-the-mill irreverence or outright sacrilege.

  • Zoe

    I also want to add that we don’t simply go to Mass for God, we go to Mass because God knows it is good for US. God doesn’t need us to go to Mass — He’s God. He wants the relationship. Which happens through the Mass and sacraments and prayer, and everything else. So, Mass is not about grinding our teeth and bearing with something “for God” but it is ultimately for our own spiritual welfare, and God has given us brains (and Church guidelines) to help us figure that out.

  • Michael Dudek

    First off, could there be any more negatives in this sentence?

    By following this logic, there’s no reason not to conclude that we need not attend Mass at all. After all, “it’s pleasing to God whether you’re there or not.”

    smilies/wink.gif Sorry, just picking on you a little.

    My wife says stay and be salt and light. Try to change the “bad liturgical experience” that you may be in at your local parish by setting a good example, by getting involved, etc. She’s a bit more optimistic than I am.

    My experience is that this is rarely an option and that those in charge, i.e. the priest, the music director, the liturgical bafoonery brigade, whatever, are so entrenched that such change isn’t likely to happen.

    And besides, I’m not there to change the world. I’m there for Mass. I’m also there b/c as a father to 6 kids, I want to expose my kids, during the few formative years that I have them, to the best possible liturgical experience they can have. I don’t want them growing up with this Carey Landry “God is Butterfly” BS, inclusive language and all the rest.

    Life is too short to attend bad, ugly liturgy.

  • Steve Skojec

    Sorry, just picking on you a little.

    By all means, pick away. That’s what I get for writing stream-of-consciousness. My wife always says I’m too negative… smilies/cheesy.gif

    And besides, I’m not there to change the world. I’m there for Mass. I’m also there b/c as a father to 6 kids, I want to expose my kids, during the few formative years that I have them, to the best possible liturgical experience they can have. I don’t want them growing up with this Carey Landry “God is Butterfly” BS, inclusive language and all the rest.

    I completely agree. We’re assaulted all week long, and Mass is the last place I want to have to fight. I like to think of Sunday Mass as a mini-retreat from all that. I say I “like to” because I have four kids of my own, three of whom are young enough that they squirm or scream pretty much the entire time we make them sit still, leading me to not see much of Mass at all. But that’s another topic.

    And God bless you for using the phrase “God is butterfly.” I thought only my friends said that. Clearly, you were meant to be one of my friends.

  • Natalie

    “…this Carey Landry “God is Butterfly” BS…”

    I laughed out loud when I read that.

    And I’m right there with you. I have little kids that I want to grow up with the most identifiably Catholic Mass and parish environment that I can find. The liturgy was burned into my mind growing up. There’s less room for a grin-and-bear-it approach, or even one that involves trying to stay and influence it for the better. That is an uphill battle that can take many years, during which your kids are forming their impression of the Church, and their attachment to it (or lack thereof).

    I’m currently facing this, as I live in the thick of the Bible Belt, and there seems to be a fear of anything that looks “too Catholic” in our parish (at least among the leadership).

  • Michael Dudek

    God Bless you too, Steve! smilies/smiley.gif

    And you too, Natalie! You have to laugh at this craziness or we’ll just go insane!

  • GBYS

    “Friends are like flowers”…Carey Landry

  • Brennan

    Excellent article Steve. Equating people who go to an objectively superior liturgy (and yes, that can be discerned, believe it or not) with people who travel to a folk rock Mass is ridiculous. It’s like comparing one family who travels to a church that has solid, orthodox catechesis because they want their family to learn and stick with the Faith to a family who deliberately goes to a parish where the catechesis is vague and insubstantial (even if not heretical).

  • Brian

    This has been brought up by several people in Fr. Longenecker’s com box and Steve is one of them, but does the loose interpretation of the rubrics of the Ordinary Form of the Mass not lend itself to church shopping? In my local parish there is the “folk Mass”, the “youth Mass”, the “traditional Mass” (not Extraordinary Form, by the way), etc. What I like about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is that you essentially get 2 forms, one is a High Mass and the other is a Low Mass and what largely distinguishes them is whether the prayers and propers are sung or not, in other words, the distinguishing feature is a characteristic of how the Mass is prayed (spoken or sung) rather than the Mass having some quality that makes it appealing to a group of people.

    When all is said and done, if the rubrics were more faithfully adhered to, and if we would throw out “spiritual” and “Christian pop” music for true sacred liturgical music and (for heaven’s sake) restore the Propers which were written for the Mass, there would be very little difference between the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form. I think the revised translation of the Mass which goes into effect in Advent will have a positive effect, but what really really needs to be done is composers need to set the propers in the vernacular to Gregorian tones or polyphony and use them. That’s not to say that we cannot use hymns, etc, but the Propers should be primary since they are usually verses of scripture, mostly Psalms, which are chosen to reflect the theme of the Mass of the day.

  • Kathryn

    A couple of years ago, we decided to go to one parish nearer to our home rather than our usual parish. The reason? Mother’s Day, and we were taking my sister out to a nice restaurant we used to frequent as children on Easter.

    We went to the early Mass so as to get a good start so we could make brunch. And everyone else had the same thoughts. It ended up being standing room only. We were “fortunate” enough to find seats. . .right behind the band, complete with electric bass and all the trimmings.

    The band was very enthused; my children less so, and upon leaving, it was they, not me, who stated “We aren’t coming here again.”

  • Beth

    and to the others in the combox. We are facing this very situation right now.
    Sometimes to be the salt and light, you just leave. That TOO is a statement.

  • John Carriere

    Because I’m such a Vatican Tooey kind of guy, I’m all about active participation. So if I can help it, I’m not about to be actively participating in a falsification of the liturgy. That’s a sin, man. You can keep your lay ministers and pantywaist translation. I’m going to hop in my car and go be an Easter People some place else.

  • Christophe

    Ditto Steve. Fr. Longenecker criticizes in his post the “self righteous know it all attitude” of people who don’t attend Mass at their home parish. I think he’s displaying such an attitude himself. For decades now the Catholic faithful, betrayed by their bishops and priests, have been longing for appropriate worship of God. When they, sorrowful, have to leave their home and look for it elsewhere, they are again betrayed by soi disant conservatives who berate them for something called “church shopping.” I guess I am guilty myself. But I tell you what, I’d give almost anything to be able to stay at my home parish, be part of a true parish community, develop friendships there, etc., instead of being a Wandering Catholic looking for the true Faith. But it’s not meant to be.

  • Beth

    …what is the reason we go to mass in the first place? To make friends? To be part of something? I think that’s how we get ‘cultural Catholicism’in the first place. How many of us were ‘raised’ Catholic which meant belonging to a parish, having friends and family in the same parish, giving time/talent/treasure to the parish but not having much of a relationship with GOD.

    What I think IS meant to be is that we are Wandering Catholics looking for the true Faith–always searching for Christ and wanting to grow closer to Him and being willing to leave behind friends, family, comfort to be with Him.

  • sibyl

    It IS problematic, to find so many Catholics hopping around like Goldilocks (“that parish is too hot, that other one is too cold, but this one is JUST RIGHT…”), but on the other hand it can be a very effective medium of change, in the good sense.

    Parishes were set up to serve their people, many centuries ago when the farthest you could travel depended on your feet and the hours of daylight. It was to make sure that everyone could get to Mass; the parish was an organized effort to make sanctification within everyone’s reach.
    And let’s remember that the liturgy was essentially the same, and only the non-essentials (the building, the richness or poverty of the furnishings, the priest’s talent for preaching, etc) would be different.

    Today of course we know that much more than the non-essentials is different. We know that our local church is the diocese and that our local pastor is the bishop. Thus it is really a service to leave or avoid those parishes that persist in the kind of silliness and abuses that the local pastors unwisely have countenanced. Bishops need to see that the parishes most faithful to the Faith are the ones that grow, give, and serve most heartily. Bishops need to hear that there are a few parishes with such enfeebled and profanized liturgies that anyone truly serious about his/her faith gives them a skip.

  • Eoin Suibhne

    Strongly agree, Steve.

    A related issue that comes to mind are the examples of hordes of faithful flocking to such priests as St. John Vianney or St. Padre Pio, just to name two. Wasn’t that – perish the thought – church-shopping? How self-righteous of them to want to have saintly men hear their confessions and provide them with spiritual counsel. How pompous of them to want to hear the Cure of Ars preach! How selfish to want to confess to Padre Pio!

    Shouldn’t these people have been assisting at Mass and going to confession in their own parishes?

  • Northoftheborder

    Excellent article Steve. The situatuion is beyond one of minor taste in liturgy and personality.

    The two questions one must ask about a parish: is the teaching heretical (often very correlated with fluff) and is the liturgy reverent?

    This situatuion does not compare well to the church shopping phenomena in Protestantism where people are looking to “plug in” to something that feels right and there is often little emphasis on accuracy of doctrine and teaching.

    There is something to be said for attending ones local parish assuming these key components of Faithful teaching and reverent liturgy are in place – but very often (sadly to say) they are not! If someone has to drive a distance to get away from the tamborines, guitars and the song “gather us in” (which is, unfortunately, not in some galaxy light years away, but here in this place…) why should we begrudge them? Though it can be taken to an extreme perhaps, I see it as a sign of virtue one would go to great lengths to worship Almighty God reverently and devoutly.

    It must be said that this issue has many under currents such as the ease of mobility and the loss of local community – but even more fundamental issues like the massive fracturing and hereticism in the church over the last 40 years.

  • Pew Sitter Veteran

    A humble suggestion. Please have the courtesy to read Fr. Dwight Longnecker’s works in their entirety or post your comments about him courteously and to him directly. Perhaps the author could discuss the topic of changing parishes from a theological perspective. For many of us, emotional “my church and my liturgy” arguments go nowhere. Frankly, I would think that a Mass said in Iraq with the soldiers mouthing their responses pleases the Lord as much as a Latin Mass or an English Folk Mass. Our purpose is to adore God not ourselves or our earthly liturgical desires. We are to die to self and hopefully bring OTHERS to Christ —

  • erica

    I am a convert from Protestantism, and endured 10 years in the local parish, bc I want very much to do things the way I am supposed to! What a treasure to have authoritative teaching, canon law, the magisterium. I finally left because I was tired of the priest flirting with the altar boys during mass, and was concerned with the attention he was starting to pay to my son as he approached puberty. I have no objective proof that this man is gay, nor that he would ever do anything to violate celibacy, and for a long time I put my suspicions aside as I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I kept trying to find alternate explanations for his behavior, but the picture is just too clear. When the hair stands up on the back of my neck, its time to go…

  • rcm

    Erica: My mom had a similar experience. I will tell you as a mom, GO with your gut instinct, it is often the Holy Spirit trying to protect you and your child.

    I agree with Fr. I’ve read everyone’s justifications and blah blah blah, but what it boils down to is we want to justify our own comfort level. And before you think I am being critical, I am not. I parish shop just like all the Trads do, I go for the music, though. I just left my parish because the music was becoming more traditional, ie, dour and depressed, so I found a parish with a Gospel choir and JOY! Praise God! Is there a danger in seeking out something in my own image? Yep. But it is right now the best that I can do.

  • Arturo V.

    Mr. Skojec brings up various liturgical documents and directives. Unfortunately, it is not up to the laity to interpret or make decisions according to those directives by definition. Catholicism is a hierarchical religion, and we often forget that we can’t just sit there and thump an encyclical to a priest or a bishop thinking that we are right to cite “the rules” to those whose obligation it is to enforce the rules. That may seem counter-intuitive to an American, but that is nevertheless the case. Catholicism is not a democracy. If your parish priest says something is okay, and it isn’t tantamount to sacrificing goats to Moloch, the sensus catholicus should automatically assume that deference should be given to the priest.

    Of course, the real problem boils down to what is acceptable and what isn’t, and conflicting directives from the hierarchy do not make this easy to interpret. Are female altar servers acceptable? One can make theological arguments until one is blue in the face, but on the books one has to concede that they are. Are extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist acceptable? Again, one can nitpick about how many are being used, or when they are used, but the answer still has to be yes if you are basing it just on the directives. The problem is, you get some smoke singals coming from the Vatican and other sources, but never firm answers. So those at the local level really can’t be faulted for the wide latitude that they take with some questionable practices. If anything, get mad at those at the top, not those at the bottom trying to interpret what is coming down the liturgical pipeline.

    I church shop, but I don’t consider it a virtue. Yes, there is a lot of “me” involved, and not a lot of God. Otherwise, I would have to be pretty darn certain that the Catholic Mass as employed in 99% of the rest of the world is inherently sinful, and what kind of messed up Catholic would I be if I believed that the Mass even in Rome itself was an abomination before God? At the same time, I have my own very personal reasons for going to the traditional Mass in Latin. But the day that I think that makes me an inherently better Catholic, or that it can make up for the fact that my children will be raised in a hostile and secular society, is the day that I stop going altogther, and check back into the parish down the street.

  • James Findlayson

    …the argument of seeking worship pleasing to God,is merely a convenience, because they’re also people who are cultural snobs.

  • MRA

    I’m late on this, but just a small point: how qualified exactly is Fr. Longenecker to lecture the laity on this? I mean, for him it’s theoretical. For us laity it’s real and concrete. When did he last go to a normal parish Sunday Mass he didn’t say himself?

    I’ve noticed that good,orthodox priests are often rather sanctimonious about parish-hopping, and that they tend to think we’re exaggerating with our stories of liturgical abuses. I think maybe they should cut us a little more slack on deciding what we can and cannot bear without puking, or start doing extensive field research to make sure they know whereof they speak.

  • Bender

    these elements (rather than the prayers and devotion of the people participating) render “your” parish’s Mass, in Mr. Skojec’s words, “less pleasing to God” than the other parish’s. (I think that judgment is presumptuous, by the way.

    To say that any set of external forms of worship are “better” or “objectively” more holy or “more pleasing” to God is a gross error. As indicated in the Psalm for today’s Mass, the only acceptable sacrifice is sacrifice of the human heart, what is most pleasing to God is the internal worship of giving Him and others love. A loving heart — THAT is the worship most pleasing to God.

    As such, the attitude that one set of external rubics is necessarily or more objectively better or more reverent is an attitude that is actually LESS pleasing to God. If God was more pleased by such mindsets and attitudes, so prevelant among trads, unfortunately, then He would have patted the Pharisees on the back and said, “Now, that’s how you do worship!” Instead, He castigated them for being whited-sepulcers, externally beautiful and internally empty and dead.

    The most hippie infested Ordinary Form Mass, if done with love, is, by His own word, more pleasing than the most beautiful Extraordinary Form that is filled with a bunch of proud, holier-than-thou, hypocritical “oh, don’t say this is all about me pleasing me” types.

  • Christophe

    Bender, please give us a cite for your assertion that it is a “gross error” to “say that any set of external forms of worship are ‘better’ or ‘objectively’ more holy or ‘more pleasing’ to God.”

    Pope Benedict clearly disagrees with you. Otherwise, why would he be changing the English translation of the Mass? If it is not “better” for the people to say “I believe” rather than “We believe” when reciting the Credo, why bother to change it? Why change “And also with you” to “And with your Spirit”? Why should the priest say “and for the many” instead of “and for all”? Can’t I give an “internal worship” of a “loving heart,” as you put it, just as well, maybe even moreso if that’s what I feel makes my heart more loving, with the old translation than with the new translation?

    In fact, why have any prescribed words at all for the Mass, if one word is not better than another, if the only thing that matters is whether I have a “loving heart”?

  • Bender

    Bender, please give us a cite for your assertion

    I did. Psalm 51. Today’s Mass.

  • gb

    Steve, you obviously touched a nerve!
    I attend TLM one morning a week bc I like the reverence of it.Since God “looks on our hearts”, He must be more pleased by the sincere worship of any Catholic no matter what flavor of Mass they choose, than a self-righteous one. I’m sure you’d agree.

    That said, my spouse & I had to not attend our parish church for many years bc well, things had gotten so bad that they’d taken down St Joseph’s statue in the front & put up a Butterfly Banner (I can’t make this stuff up!) That’s NOT displaying a “self-righteous know it all attitude” that Father L accuses us of. That is responding to the CCC’s statement that Laity have an “obligation” to call their pastors etc to fidelity to Church teaching. We did that with our feet. After that particular pastor retired, we cheerfully rejoined our geographical parish.

  • Bender

    Bender, please give us a cite for your assertion

    Also, the multiple exchanges Jesus had with Pharisees, who were very good and precise about external things, as well as also being overly legalistic (“please give us a cite . . .”).

    Also, the repeated warnings by Jesus about all the people who are going to go up to Him saying, “Lord, Lord, we served you in all these ways . . .” And Jesus will say to them, “Go away, I never knew you.”

    If we do not have love in our heart — if we do not see that THAT is the MOST important thing, including in the liturgy — then we do not have Him.

  • Christophe

    So, Bender, in other words, you don’t have a cite.

  • Tony Esolen


    I’m of two minds on this issue.

    On the one hand: My family and I were given permission, by our pastor, to follow him when he was transferred to a nearby Italian parish, on the grounds that I am Italian-American and speak Italian. We really followed him because we know there will be good grazing ground there for the sheep that we are. He is an excellent homilist. To say that his Masses are reverent is to understate the case; they are not only reverent, they are delicately and astutely fitted for the Sunday or the feast in question. Father brought his organist along with him, but it’s Father, and not the organist, who chooses all four hymns, each week. We have none of what Father calls “cowboy music.” We don’t have polyphony, but we do enjoy hymns and chants from the long Catholic and Christian tradition of music (today’s hymn-tunes were Newman, St. Theoctistus, St. Peter, and Aberystwyth — I play hymns on the piano, and remember them by the names of the tunes). We chant the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus in Latin, in Advent, Lent, Christmastide, and Eastertide. We sing O Salutaris Hostia and hymns of that sort, in Latin, on great Eucharistic feasts, like Corpus Christi. I could go on for quite a while. Father does all he can to beautify what is really not an auspicious church building (1920’s, stucco, rather squat). The people love him for it.

    I too don’t want to spend my hour at Mass gritting my teeth. I also don’t want to give my kids the impression that religion is silly, effeminate, goopily sentimental, unintellectual, all about ourselves, and so forth. Where we spend the summer in Nova Scotia, the local churches are run by priests who are deliberately denying the laity such things as Eucharistic adoration and novenas, getting them ready for the wonderful time when there will be no priests at all. One of those two priests sometimes refuses to give a homily at all, but instead tells a lame joke and sits down. I can’t in good conscience go there, and certainly I don’t want to give money. Instead we drive 40 minutes to hear a real homily, at least — even though there’s no music (which may be a kind of blessing, now that I think of it). That priest has become a good friend of our family.

    On the other hand: It really is a dreadful loss, that we should be doing these things, or that so many people should feel compelled (lest their teenagers do nothing but roll their eyes in exasperation, and itch for the day when they can leave church along with their dolls and tricycles) to do them. We desperately need to revive a Catholic culture, and that means households, neighborhoods, parishes, and local schools. (We are homeschoolers, too.) The people — many of them laymen — who run the churches should take heed. It should not matter so much whether you go to St. Joe’s or to Sacred Heart. That said — I understand the argument of a good friend of mine, a convert, who says that if Jesus can deign to show up at a Mass where people sing “Gather Us In,” who are we to turn away?

  • Beth

    We too would like to see a Catholic Culture–but one that is Catholic enough to follow the Church and her teachings. We are surrounded by Cultural Catholics who grew up in this church, went to the parish school and worked on every festival for the last 45 years…..yet they cheer for the liturgical abuses that abound—and it’s because they don’t know any better. (Guess they don’t watch EWTN..) And fortunately for them, our diocese has given them a priest to fill their every whim of what ‘church’ should be—the guitars, the holding hands, the banners, the dozens of Eucharistic ministers (while the priest rests), the penance services-(common Act Of Contrition/Penance–say one sin when you get in), and much, much, more….our priest regularly goes to the cantor microphone to sing…..”And isn’t he just WONDERFUL???!!” And these are the really good folks in our parish. They are just not catechized to know any better and thus they are entertained. All of this may well be bringing them closer to Christ—and that is indeed the response we got from our priest when we questioned him on some things. But, it’s not bringing US closer to Christ.
    So….we look for and find Christ in a small, reverent church in the next small town over. And somebody above would call me snobby. I hope I don’t come off that way–I don’t want to. I just want to follow the Church just as Jesus told us to do so.

    Did He mean that we are to follow our local bishop? If so, then I am in error.

  • Another Old Catholic

    Thanks, Steve, for what you have written here and your comments on Fr. Longnecker’s site. It’s a shame that the Traditional Latin Mass has become so politicized. I find the dismissal of those who love the TLM as “Trads” and “self-righteous” to be insulting and painful. How does anyone who has not had exposure to the TLM understand what it means to those of us who grew up with it? My fear is that young Catholics will never get a chance to choose for themselves, partly through the politics and the demonization of those who prefer this form, and mostly because the church hierarchy seems to go out of its way to make access difficult. My last parish required an hour drive over bad road, often in ice and snow, to make an early morning Latin mass. In the city where I now live, I would have to drive THREE hours each way. Our diocese does not have even one TLM.

    I have done a lot of traveling in the past year and have been to many NO masses and a few in the traditional Latin. Some of the NO masses were reverent, but most were unbelievably banal, a few were downright heretical. I’ll take the Latin any time, if only I could get it. I have no desire to keep people from the Novus Ordo if that is what they prefer, why do they seem to be working so hard to deny the Traditional Latin to those of us who want it? Why deny another generation of Catholics a chance to really experience this precious inheritance of their faith?

  • Brian Edward Miles

    First off, bravo Steve! Another gem!


    You said in part: “To say that any set of external forms of worship are “better” or “objectively” more holy or “more pleasing” to God is a gross error.”

    Do you really believe that? If so, why do you suppose that Holy Church painstakingly spells out what external forms of worship are appropriate, and which are not? And why does She tell us that some languages and some forms of music ought to be given “pride of place” in our liturgy over others? She does this because some forms are objectively superior and therefore more in keeping with holiness than others–both of which make them more pleasing to God.

    You are correct that love may certainly cover a multitude of sins, but that does not mean that the sins ceased to be displeasing to God.

    By way of analogy, imagine two young children, of an age, who each love their mothers very much. In order to show this affection one child gets out his paints and canvas to make a picture of him and his mother hugging. His mother is of course delighted. Now imagine that the other child under the same impulse of love instead paints this picture on the dining room wall. In her heart his mother still knows that he acted of love; and yet that does not change the fact that she will be understandably irritated by the mess in her dining room.

    So in short, the reason we teach children to show their artistic affection by painting on canvas rather than on dining room walls is the same reason that Holy Church teaches her children to worship God in some ways and not in others.

  • Tony Esolen

    I concur with what Brian says above. Nothing of value is ever won by disobedience. I’ve called that the Inverse Martyr Rule. The rule of martyrdom is simple enough. As Tertullian said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. So the rule of martyrdom is: Every apparent defeat suffered by obedience is in fact a victory. The Cross is the pattern and pinnacle. The inverse rule holds true also: Every apparent victory attained by disobedience is in fact a defeat.

    I believe that applies to ALL the liturgical abuses I have seen. An example: When I was a graduate student, the local Newman Center was assigned a new (and young) priest for pastor. He came in, certainly liberal, but also a little bit brash, and wanting to be a real priest, rather than a decoration for the sanctuary. He immediately let it be known that there would be no more homilies given by the laity. That meant that one of the young nuns would no longer be preaching. Well, that set the parish council on fire. Who did he think he was, to breeze in there and order people around? They called the bishop, they hounded the priest, they bitched and bullied, until at last he gave in. He consented, trying to feel cheerful about it, to his own castration. From there they fell further into heterodoxy, and the people were mighty smug about it. I wish I knew what happened to that man — whether he ever managed to revive his vocation to be a shepherd of a flock.

  • Bruce

    To me, it is this simple:

    My street address has nothing to do with where I worship God, for the latter is far more important than the former.

  • Brian Edward Miles

    Dr. Esolen:

    That is very interesting way to approach this subject: whereas obedience unto death releases a torrent of grace upon the Church, disobedience for the sake of disordered desire breeds disease within the Church.

    To carry my analogy of the two boys a bit further, while we may certainly forgive the one who, in his ignorance, painted the dining room–and not fail to recognize his love–we would be remiss to continue to call his actions loving if, after he had been instructed not to paint there, and had moreover been made aware of the hurt it caused his mother, nevertheless continued to do so.

    As such, I have little sympathy for Bender’s allegedly love inspired Hippy Mass because I would be willing to bet that these people are not like the ignorant child–just doing his best, however misguided, to show his affection–but are instead being willfully disobedient for the sake of their own self-indulgence. I do not doubt that they believe–and certainly FEEL–that what they are doing is good and loving and pleasing to God. But the fact remains that so long as they choose to disdain those forms of worship (organ, Latin, Gregorian Chant, which God has said through His Church are most pleasing to Him, no matter what they may feel toward God during worship, their rebellious ACTIONS toward Him cannot be appropraitely called loving.

    Anyone care to guess what happened to the fellow who, upon feeling uncomfortable, constrained, and not at liberty to properly express himself, chose to disregard the rigorous liturgical rubrics prescribed in painstaking detail by the Most High during the first Passover in Egypt?

    You can be assured that he would tell you that God does indeed care about EXTERNAL FORMS–that some in fact bring life and others bring death.

  • Brendan

    I think at the current time the Church is in a state of liturgical transition. There is, currently, a great deal of tolerance for various ways of interpreting, or “doing”, the N.O. Mass running the gamut from so-called “Hippie” Masses to full-on solemn N.O. Masses in Latin, as well as the Extraordinary Form. I think in the context of this diversity, to pooh-pooh “parish hopping” kind of misses the point of having the diversity to begin with.

    In other words, the dioceses make available information as to where the Extraordinary Form is being served. If it is not the intention for this information to be used by persons who are not formal members of the parishes in question (because they do not live within the boundaries, presumably) to seek out an Extraordinary Form Mass to attend, then it’s quite unclear as to why this information is being made available. In other words, if it really is the case that Catholics should grin and bear it rather than become dreaded “church hoppers” in their local parishes regardless of whether they are being fed there, it would be totally unnecessary to even have the Extraordinary Form to begin with, never mind the rest of the liturgical diversity that is tolerated in practice.

    When I was growing up in the 70s, there was another form of “church hopping” in fairly wide use among Catholics at that time. It involved checking the Mass times of the various local parishes within driving distance and then driving to the one that was most convenient time, in light of the family schedule for that weekend. Now *that* is a bit self-focused and problematic, in my view, yet Catholics still do it more frequently than many of us would like to admit. Now, of course, the Church accepted this because of the Mass attendance requirement and the reality that some Catholics had weekend work schedules that required them to know about options and so on, but this was used by many more Catholics who did not work on the weekends simply for convenience. And was/is tolerated by the Church. Surely, a Catholic who seeks out a different parish community for reasons of liturgy, and sticks with that community, is in a totally different situation than someone who hops between parishes A, B and C depending on whether the Mass times are convenient on any given weekend.

    I live in the Arlington diocese, and my local (in boundaries) parish offers a solemn Latin N.O. Mass every Sunday. There are quite a few people who attend that Mass who are from places outside the boundaries. Are they bad church-hoppers? Are they pharisees? I don’t think so. They are simply attending a Mass which they find more spiritually edifying and reverent, but they were simply unlucky enough not to live within the parish boundaries of a parish offering such an option. Surely that happenstance is not determinitive of the propriety of the action. The Arlington Diocese also publishes the parishes, and times, of the Extraordinary Form Masses on its website, and I know that many of the people attending these Masses are not living in the boundaries of the local parishes where they are being celebrated — something which seems at least tacictly encouraged by the Diocese through making this information easily available. Again, the idea is that if people are seeking a more reverent, God-focused experience, the Church is not only not going to stand in their way, but is going to allow these Masses to be celebrated, and make information easily available as to where they are being celebrated so that persons who wish to avail themselves of that “option” have the ability to do so.

    Therefore, I think it’s pretty clear, at least in the case of my local diocese, that the Church does not consider this to be problematic “church hopping”.