In his book ” Catholics in America, The Faithful,” ( Harvard University, 2010) James M. O’Toole, writes about Catholic history from Revolutionary times till the present. The church was largely a “priestless” church when our country began in the 18th century, O’Toole writes, “…early American Catholic lay people were very different from those who would come after them. The institutional presence of their church was always thin and uncertain. Priests and parishes were few in number and widely scattered. Catholics’ connection to their church was less than they might have thought ideal.”
So what kept things going in a church “thin and uncertain”? O’Toole offers a lengthy analysis of the devotional and catechetical materials of the time and writes: “What scholars have come to call a ‘print culture,’ grounded in printing and distribution networks, supported the religious practice of Catholic lay people in the priestless age.” (p.33)
Prayerbooks were a large part of their support, it seems.
It looks like we are facing “thin and uncertain” times again as Catholic institutions, parishes, schools, religious groups decline, doesn’t it? What’s our version of a ‘print culture’ to be? What can we give to Catholics whose kids aren’t going to church, whose neighbors are “spiritual but not religious,” who need an anchor themselves in these stormy times? I think we have to think hard about it.
Should we think about prayerbooks again? How about the social media? I find the lectionary, the feasts, and what they offer spiritually day by day a great support. Certainly we will have what we need in these “thin and uncertain” times. God will provide.