What will the Catholic Church be like in the year 2115?

By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

The Apostle Paul refers to the Church as “the Body of Christ.”  He does not refer to it as a “Body of Christians.”  He essentially proclaimed that all are one in Christ.   Almost everything we value in civilization can be traced back to the origin of the Catholic Church.  This list includes such institutions as hospitals, universities, museums, grade schools, nursing homes and adoption agencies; it also includes the idea of fighting on behalf of human rights. Suffice it to say, the list is long.    

Much of what we hold as significant to a civilized Western society originated with the establishment of the Catholic Church. 

“But I have prayed for you.”  Jesus said to Peter, “that your own faith may not fail, and once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 32), and again Jesus said to Simon Peter:  “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” He said to him, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-17).  Most importantly, when Christ said to the Apostle, Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:  18).  

The sacraments that we hold so dear to our faith, although having experienced changes in terms of the rites themselves, are still the glue that holds the followers of Christ Jesus in the Catholic Church towards prayer and worship. 

In the year 1915, 100 years ago, which coincidentally happens to be the year my mother was born, our Universal Mother, the Catholic Church, was different in many ways from what we observe today.     For example, prior to Vatican II, the Mass was said in Latin.  The Altar was positioned “ad orientem,” that is, facing the east with the priest leading the congregation in prayer to God as opposed to “ad populum,” facing the people.  There was a rail before the sanctuary where the congregation lined up and then simultaneously kneeled to receive Communion.  The priest would then pass out Communion.  There were Confessionals on either side of the Church.  Fridays were fasting days where Catholics did not eat meat.  Catholics were required during Holy week to fast from meat and abstain from more than one meal a day on First Fridays.   

Most of the Catholic churches had an ornate appearance complete with many stained glass windows.  The kneelers were well used in some cases.  Bells were rung by the Altar boys to start Mass and rung again each time the Host was raised during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.   There was a distinction made between the High Mass and a Low Mass.  The High Mass was said at most funerals with the aid of a Deacon and/or co-celebrants.   During this Mass you always could smell incense.  The music sung was usually by a choir and many of the songs were sung in Latin. 

Girls and women were required to wear a chapel veil or a tissue if you had forgotten to bring it since your head was to be covered when entering the church.  The pulpit was the place to deliver strong sermons and express the need for donations for building projects such as school and church expansions. Pastors and priests were used as the source for many family concerns and were called upon to help wherever they could, not unlike the role of a counselor.  Today this role often times is done one on one during confessions.

I do not mean to suggest Catholics don’t value traditions today.  Clearly Catholics hold their traditions with fondness and respect more so than any other religion.  Many of these same practices continue today.  Nevertheless, some changes were instigated in an effort to bring back many Catholics who had left the Church.  On October 11, 1962 Pope John XXIII opened the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council emphasizing a universal call to holiness.  There were several suggestions for changes such as fewer rules on penances and fasting and other devotional changes. 

Vatican II was frightening for people in my mother’s generation.  They missed the previous traditions because it encouraged a certain spirituality which people like my mother thought had been abandoned when the changes occurred in the Church.   I do think that it’s interesting to note here that my mother not unlike many, eventually became accustomed to the changes and welcomed them.   

Even today, though, many Catholics refer to themselves as traditionalists and still look for a Church that will allow them the option of attending Mass according to the Rite of 1962 – the Mass celebrated prior to the Novus Order, promulgated in 1969.  Mostly, though, you will discover in the majority of Catholic churches today the altar is turned to face the congregations.  The Mass is said in English.  The music was updated.  The rules were changed.  Confessions with the priest were changed.  Lay people had a much larger role in the church; anywhere from doing the readings to becoming extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and delivering Communion to the homebound. 

The election of Pope Francis suggested to many, that more changes could be occurring in the future of the Church.  But what would these changes be and when will they happen?  I suspect the goal will be to bring back many Catholics who have left the Church not unlike what occurred at Vatican II and I think we can expect changes will occur! 

The question is raised then: What will the Catholic Church be like in the year 2115 – 100 years from now?  Most of the priests being ordained today will be the bishops and cardinals of the future.  How will they view the needs of the Church in 2115?  Will the lack of priests being ordained force the Church to allow priests to marry?  Will women have a stronger role in the Church?  Will the family definitions be in conflict with society’s definition of family in 2115? 

I bring this up because whatever changes occur, I think the Catholic Church will remain the force of religion and source of spirituality that it is today and as it was 100 years ago.  As is stated in the Creed, “I believe in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.” 

It is the same Church of 1915, 2015 and 2115. 

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