Years ago, shortly after Coca-Cola made the ill-fated decision to alter its formula, the Wall Street Journal published a witty column, applying the lessons of that marketing debacle to the Catholic Church. (I can’t find that old WSJ piece now; I’ll be grateful if someone can furnish a link.)
Coca-Cola, you may recall, was forced by public pressure to restore the old product, and market the revised formula as “New Coke” alongside the standard “Coke Classic.” The Journal piece, alluding to the liturgical disputes then raging within the Catholic Church, suggested that maybe the Vatican should offer similar options: “New Catholicism” (or did the Journal call it “New RC”? I forget) would feature guitar music and felt banners and homilies about boycotting non-union grapes; “Classic Catholicism” would promise Gregorian chant and incense and exhortations to avoid sin and practice virtue. The Journal went on to speculate good-naturedly about “Catholicism Lite,” to appeal to folks who didn’t want to spend much time in church on Sunday mornings, and “Catholicism Free” for proponents of liberation theology. It was all good fun.
”New Coke” is no longer available. If you buy a Coke today, you’re getting the “classic” formula. People didn’t buy the new product, and the corporation, recognizing that it was losing a marketing war, changed its strategy.
Unfortunately “New Catholicism”—not to mention “Catholicism Lite”—can still be found in many parish settings. The approach is not popular; the decline in Catholic numbers has been catastrophic. Yet after decades of demonstrable failure, in most parishes the “marketing” of the liturgy has not changed.
Writing for The Catholic Thing , David Warren looks at the exodus from Catholic churches and recalls his own experience with a shrinking Anglican community. He predicts that in time what is now considered “mainstream” Catholicism “will disappear completely,” while smaller, tradition-minded outposts survive.
Perhaps so. But for followers of Christ, heedful of the Great Commission, mere survival is not a suitable goal. We may cling to the faith, but how many others will drift away?
Warren tells the story of a faithful layman in his old Anglican parish, who soldiered on loyally through a series of disruptions and novelties until finally he left, too. Later Warren (who by now was a Catholic) had a chance encounter with his old acquaintance, and asked him whether he had lost his faith. The reply: “I can’t understand the question any more.”
When Catholics lose their faith, do they know what they are losing? If people in your parish stop coming to Mass, do they realize what they’re missing? The answer should be obvious. They don’t. Because if they knew what they were missing, they wouldn’t miss it—or rather, they wouldn’t miss Him.
We’re doing something wrong, my friends, if we can’t get that point across.