11 July 2013

How well does restoration work?

This is a thought that has crossed my mind of late. I thought I would kick it around for a bit, and see if I can get any feedback from any of you.

Here's how it goes: I was watching the video "Restoring the Sacred" which tells the story of the miraculous transformation of St John Cantius in Chicago, and how the church went from teetering on the edge of closure to true excellence. I highly recommend the video, found here.

The gist of the video is that Father Phillips took control of the old church at a time when, in his own words, the choir and the altar servers outnumbered the congregation. He began a two pronged approach to turn things around: restore the sacred, and restore the building. His efforts were wildly successful, to the point that he has even started an order- The Canons Regular of St John Cantius- which has experienced dramatic growth at a time when vocations are sinking across the board almost everywhere else, including his own diocese.

So, on the one hand, undeniably, restoration works. Restoring churches works. restoring Latin works. Restoring the Extraordinary Form works. The proof is right there. Fr. Phillips himself denies that what he has done is particularly special or magical. "This can be done anywhere," he says. And here is the crux. My questions are these: Can it really? Should it?

The reason why I ask comes from something Fr. Phillips says at another point in his video: namely, that there are people in his congregation who drive up to two hours and perhaps more with their families to come to Mass at St John Cantius. So, is he bringing people back into the church, or is he bringing them over from other churches? If. as father says, what he has done were to be done anywhere, say about an hour and a half closer to these people's homes, then would they not go there, instead of making the long drive to Chicago? I suspect, to a certain extent- how large, I cannot say- that an immediate result of mass adoption of Fr Phillips' methods would be a loss of parishioners in Father Phillips' own church.

And yet, what seems to be happening is that people are responding to a longing for beauty and truth. Father Phillips is providing that to them. It seems his congregation is made up of a mix of people who have been brought over, with people who have been brought back, with people who never left. Mass adoption of Fr Phillips' methods may mean larger congregations, but it could also mean parishes struggling against each other to keep the parishioners they have.

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