It is no secret that in many (if not most) Catholic diocese across the county, attendance for Sunday Mass has been in steep decline for the last 50 years. Some would even say the deadline has been precipitous in the post-conciliar-church.

Faced with this reality, many priests, pastors, and bishops have been confounded as to what can be done to stem this tide. One priest in a small Michigan diocese gave a homily as Advent started that lays out a real actionable plan that looks to the past to find hope for the future.

When Rev. Edwin C. Dwyer, of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan received the report of the annual Diocesan attendance count, the numbers spurred him to give an epic homily.

Here is the full transcript from Father Dwyer’s Homily:

There is always hope in Christ! There is always hope in Christ! Advent is a great season of hope.

Hope, as the philosopher would say, is the desire of something with the expectation of attaining it. Hope is the desire of something with the expectation of attaining it.

So for what do we hope? Life eternal. A life forever, and free from sin in the company of God and his saints. In other words, the object, the point, the goal of our hope is God himself forever. That is the hope of all hopes, and that hope never leaves us. Even amidst the tribulations, Christ warns us about in the Gospel today. . . hope remains. Thus, amidst any tribulations, we face as individuals, as families, and as a parish. . . hope remains.

I want you to remember that. I want you to remember that hope remains as I go into the next part of my homily because it is going to sound quite bleak. It is going to sound as if we are in the midst of a tribulation, and we may very well be. Nevertheless, the call to live as saints remains. The call to bring Christ to others remains. The hope of Christ remains. Remember this.

On the Wednesday prior to this past Thanksgiving, the Diocese of Saginaw sent out the results of its annual October count. Think of this as an annual census that measures how many folks attend Mass on the weekends in every parish in its 11 counties. I am going to share some of these numbers with you today. I do so not to chastise, as you are obviously here. I do so to address the issue, and to let you know what I intend to do about it.

Father Edwin C. Dwyer of the Diocese of Saginaw

The entire diocese of Saginaw saw a 7.3% drop in Mass attendance this past year. Since 2013 (five years ago), the diocese as a whole has seen a drop of 23.7% in Sunday Mass attendance. Since 2005 (13 years ago) the Sunday Mass attendance in the Diocese of Saginaw has dropped by nearly 45%. Roughly 22,700 fewer souls attend Mass in this diocese than did when I graduated from CMU. I’ll say that again: 22,700 fewer souls are being fed by the Word of God, and the Holy Eucharist on Sundays since 2005: a 45% decrease. The raw population has only dropped 10%. Would any business, or political party look at similar numbers and decide to continue with the status quo? I will not do so either. We must make changes.

So, how are we doing at Our Lady of Peace? Well, our numbers are better than the diocese as a whole, and we’re significantly better off than every other parish in Bay City percentage-wise. Nevertheless, we are down a bit over 5.3% from last year. While that may be better than our neighbors, it is still a decline, and it is my responsibility as your shepherd to replenish the pews, and do so with your help.

So how am I going to do that? Well, there will be many steps, and many efforts. I’m sure I will need to adjust along the way, and I have NO intention of playing the blame game: none at all. So let’s not get bogged down with that distraction, but rather let us take steps towards renewing the parish, and diocese.

The first step is to acknowledge where we are suffering the most in terms of demographics. So, look around the pews, and take note at the proportion of old and young. I’m 36 years old. How many folks do you see my age or younger? If we do not have folks my age or younger, who will have the children to be baptized and taught in the faith? Who will be the families at this parish in 15 years? Will we be able to stay open in 15 years without the young? Personally, I don’t see how we can. Again, no business or political party would see how they could.

I want to be clear. I will rejoice in any soul I help bring to Christ. I am in this job for the zeal of souls. So if a 98-year-old man wants to be baptized, I will rejoice just as I would if a college student asked for the same thing. I’m in this to save souls, but I wouldn’t mind if I could save a parish along the way. If we are going to keep this parish afloat into the next generation, the major focus must be on what emboldens younger Catholics, and what attracts younger non-Catholics to the Church.. . . . . So what works?

Believe it or not, tradition works. So-called “old ways” are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, LATIN are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church. Furthermore, when younger non-Catholics experience these traditions they are struck by how different they are from everything else they experience in a noisy, secular culture. These “old ways” are beautiful to them, and beauty is a great place to introduce young folks to Jesus Christ.

Thus, we are going to make Sunday beautiful at Our Lady of Peace. That’s not to say it isn’t now. I have nothing but respect for all who help with our worship, but we are going to make it more beautiful with tradition. We are going to look, and sound, and smell vastly different from the rest of the world on Sundays. It will be a religious experience that, at the very least, will be memorable to the young who encounter it. We’ve already taken a few steps with Communion distribution, and the altar server attire. I have not been here long, but folks tell me they’re noticing more young families, and crying babies. And if the church ain’t cryin’, the church is dyin’. My goal is to hear a chorus of crying babies before my time here ends. To do that, however, we need to embrace what works with the young. We need to more greatly embrace timeless traditions. We cannot keep the status quo.

If you want to see a bit of what I mean by tradition, come to the 6 pm Mass at SVSU (Saginaw Valley State University). I’ll happily give you directions. It’s not the pre-Vatican II Mass, but we have restored many lost traditions that Vatican II requires us to practice to the delight of the students.

Christ commands us to watch the signs of the times. The sobering numbers of our October count, and the response of the young to restored traditions are some of those signs. If we are going to be serious about keeping our parish alive for the next generation, and about instilling faith into the young, we must acknowledge that the status quo must change.

Hope is the desire of something with the expectation of attaining it. I have great hope in a healthy future for this parish. I desire it, and I expect to attain it. I have great hope that the young people I see in the shops, and pubs in Bay City will meet Jesus Christ. I desire it, and I expect to attain it. As your pastor, I have great hope that you will get behind me in these efforts. I desire it, and I expect to attain it. God desires every soul in Bay City and beyond to reign with him in heaven after earthly death. By his power and grace, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s get this done.

Amen. Alleluia.

photo credit Beth Erin Photography

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  1. Clueless.

    This “woah is us” routine about Catholicism losing #s is getting old. It’s an institution that’s getting left behind by people who are done with being forced to reject loved ones based on edicts from hypocritical leaders. The same leaders who time and time again protect their own interests before that of the people who support them and even prey on their followers. It’s disgraceful.

    What’s truly flummoxing is how Catholics just can’t seem to learn this lesson.

    • Hmm. Never knew Jesus was a hypocrite.

      If you put your faith in men, anywhere, you will always sadly be disappointed. I don’t stay Catholic, because the Pope is cool, or my Bishop is the best. I stay Catholic, because when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” , I believe Him.

      Be flummoxed no more.

    • Great Article. I pray it goes viral.

      Sadly, the ever present troll and their ignorant tired blathering. They are like bacteria, everywhere and rarely beneficial. I know alot of outside the box Catholics, none them have been shunned by family, friends or our faith.
      Deal in reality or reality deals in you

    • Never let the sins of a few “modern” men distract you from the Truth of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. However bleak matters may look, the Church has survived ugly scandal before.

      • Let’s just stick to Jesus, and the more we get nearer to “holiness” the more we become humane human beings. We need the humanity and humanness of Christ and the rest will follow.

    • You spelled woe wrong. That’s called a homophone. Was that a Freudian slip? You should confess your sins to God himself if you don’t want to confess to a priest.

  2. It’s time that faithful Catholics realize that the enemy has been within all these years. It was the clerical and hierarchical “Taliban” who stripped the churches bare, turned the sacred liturgy into a variety show, turned a sacrament into a snack administered by the non-ordained, saw to it that two generations of Catholics know little about their faith, and killed the vocations. The sex scandals are the icing on the cake and have to be seen in the context of everything else. They gave us a wasteland and called it a “renewal”. Apostasia est, O stupidus! (It’s the apostasy, stupid!).

  3. I’m afraid that for too many religious mysticism simply is a throwback to the pre-Vatican II mantra: “It’s OK for me to be ignorant but in wonder of my faith because the priest on the other side of the communion rail is supposed to know all the spiritual answers. My job is to provide for my family, not bother my neighbors, support my parish and know football scores and such. Hurrah for Latin.”
    Vatican II asks us to be more intentional about taking our love to the world so that the world outside the walls of a building we think of as the church is mystified by our love and will ask Christians “Why do you love me”, thereby leading them to Christ.
    Love, not ignorance of Christ parading as mysticism, is the greatest expression of our faith. Vatican II asks people on the other side of the communion rail to practice their love in a profound simple manner that will draw the world to Christ by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our lives.
    Committed followers need mysticism but it’s a mysticism that causes the world to ask, “Why do you believe in Christ?”
    When people ask me about my faith, I don’t speak to them in Latin.

    • That is the typical excuse I’ve heard since a child when what many bishops deceitfully labelled “Vatican II”, took away our traditions. Vat II was NEVER supposed to do that. Read Michael Davies’ books. Inform yourself of what we are discussing.
      Read Bella Dodd’s School of Darkness ( free for further elucidation about what/who is attacking holy Mother Church.
      If you don’t care to read then watch the movie version or snippets on youtube incl the film: The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:

      Truth is all over the internet

    • I support Fr. Dwyer enthusiastically but i like Phil Matous’s reply too. The evangelical kiddos have a lot of power in their faith, and lay people do wonders in actual evangelical action. We can somehow feel so tied up by our diocese structures. The Lord and His love and work isn’t personal to enough of us. The Evangelicals’ very explicitness in their dependence on our Lord Jesus always made a powerful impression on me in college, a devout cradle Catholic — I was like, Why aren’t we all like that? — and i can only imagine what they’d do if they were powered by the Blessed Sacrament! Actually, i don’t need to imagine it, with so many converting to the Catholic fullness all the time. The transcendent “religious experience” is indeed necessary for each one of us…but some of us are launched up and received into His presence during a reverent English Mass quite easily and some of us during a Latin…Look at Eastern rite liturgies, they are hugely transcending but never in Latin. The graces received seem to depend more on the heart of the priest offering the Mass!

  4. A great homily! We all know that Vatican II drove 10’s of 1000’s of families away from the Catholic Church. However, there are only a small number of parishes that are willing to recognize this and do something about it. If you want to see what can be done when the will and the spirit are there, please watch the YouTube video titled, “St Stanislaus Church: the Restoration.” What a miraculous change! I frequently attend a church (St Joan of Arc, in Coeur de Alene, ID) that has stuck with the original Latin and most of the pre-Vatican II liturgy. It still has the alter rail where we kneel for communion. It still has male altar servers. The men and boys dress in suits; the ladies in long dresses and with simple head covers. The tabernacle is not hidden!!!! Unlike the Pius X churches who have disowned our recent Popes, St J of A is still in unity with the Pope. The church is full of young, vibrant families! All the Masses (including many of the daily Masses) fill the church! They are planning a new, larger building! The comments below the video are exactly what Father Dwyer needs to hear! Please watch it! Merry Christmas

  5. Can we please have a concrete list of things this priest is doing? I shared this article and I would share it again and I would love to know exactly what he is doing because I will share that. I have seen this work in my home parish in Missouri, they should have gone farther, but they did some things. They chased out the most faithful and wonderful priest. I guess they are asking for one of the lukewarm and liberal. there are plenty of those to go around.

  6. How great are your words and plans for the future of your Parish and Parish Community!! Hope the Bishops are paying attention to your good works and efforts! Personally, you are the kind of Bishop material so needed in our Church! I wish that PF would “clean house” and get RID of a lot of these ego filled Bishops who don’t appear to care at all for our Catholic Church OR its people. My best to you, Father!!

  7. Bravo Fr. Dwyer! Was at NCRegister and linked to your Advent Homily. I’m a youthful 48 ; ) thanks to my 19,17, and 12 year olds and I sadly see the irreverence at so many Novus Ordu masses. The last 50 years have not worked. Let us bring back reverence to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to celebrate that Jesus has already won the victory. Fear not. I love your mission Fr. Dwyer, I love your Hope.

  8. Left wing politics in the church. I been going to our lady of peace most of my life but I am sorry to say I will be done there on Fr.. Eddie ‘s last day. He tried to give everyone a choice to take part in mass either the new way or to explore the traditional, There is no reason for this except politics, they are always crying their short of priest and they do this to a good one, shame on them. Well Fr. Ed, we stand by you 100% may God be with you and your teaching. We love you.


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