I have to admit, my first impression on entering a Catholic church to attend mass was how quiet and sedate, almost joyless, it was compared to my old Presbyterian church. That’s saying something; Presbyterians pride themselves on doing everything decently and in order. On being asked, at an evangelical conference held some years ago, what the Presbyterian contribution to evangelism had been, one famous Presbyterian minister said simply, "restraint!"
“In today's world, it does not always seem so. Take, for instance, our liturgies. To be truthful, we would have to admit that a stranger visiting most of our liturgical "celebrations" would wonder about our use of language. We do not look as though we are enjoying ourselves or celebrating anything. How many of us go regularly to the Sunday liturgy because we feel that we have to go-in other words, because we know what pleases God? If we did not "have to" go, would we? In my work as a spiritual director, I have met many people whose prayer brings them no sense of being blessed. When asked why they continue to try to pray, they answer, "Because I have to, because God wants me to."
Yet, as I began attending Mass, I began to pay attention to details. The little old lady who always sat in the back, very old, very poor, with the Rosary in her hands praying to her Mother, one of the holiest people I think I've ever seen. There were middle-aged people, on their knees, on a hard floor, silently in prayer, in preparation for the Mass soon to begin. It was striking because, in all the years I was a Presbyterian I never saw anyone pray, one on one, to God. It struck me how strange that was, how could there be any better place to pray than in God's own house? It seemed too obvious to miss, yet I had.
I concluded that while it’s true people aren’t bounding around most Catholic parishes in joyful abandon, it’s also true that there is present in most Catholic parishes a living spirit and tradition of a sacred place where any of us sinners can meet God.
No one can deny that many things in the Church have gone wrong since Vatican II. At the same time, I’m not sure we should beat ourselves up for things we have that are good, in favor of some imagined ideal. I understand what Fr. Barry is getting at, but I'm grateful for what we have, and are.