Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Marketing the Mass

In general, I'm of the opinion that those who seek to bring business insight to Christian liturgy should be put in a bag and sat upon like the hedgehog in Alice in Wonderland. However, at the risk of breaking my own rules, I'd like to bring some small business insight to the travesties of liturgical innovation.

Rule #1: Figure out what your product is, and sell that, not something else.

If you're Kia, you can't market your cars a luxury items. You can reassure people that they really are well made even though they're cheap, but the primary reason people are going to buy a Kia is that it is cheap. So they market their affordability. On the other hand, BMW is not going to sell cars because they're cheap, they're going to sell them because they're luxurious and powerful pieces of German engineering. Using the slogan "the ultimate driving machine"works for BMW whereas "only six thousand more than a loaded Honda" would not.

Of course the trick is, Catholics disagree on what the mass is. While the Church clearly teaches that the Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, those who enact the worst liturgical abuses often hold the idea that Christ is primarily made present in the mass because "where two or three are gathered" in His name, there Christ is too, and that the Eucharist is primarily a celebration of the unity of the congregation.

Still, leaving aside dissent over the nature of the mass, the following list of what the mass is not should be helpful:

- The mass is neither a classical music concert (where the "audience" simply sits, listens, then applauds) nor a folk music sing along.
- The mass is not children's theater.
- The mass is not a revival meeting.
- The mass is not performance art of any kind.
- The mass is not a lecture series.
- The mass is not group therapy.

On the positive side:
- During the mass we do hear the word of God proclaimed.
- The priest does take some time to explain the readings we have heard to us in more depth.
- We do offer praise to God through both hymns and spoken responses.
- The priest does stand in persona Christi in offering Christ's suffering and death to God in remission for our sins.
- We do receive the body and blood of Christ.

Implementation is always the tricky part, but clearly, liturgy should be planned to convey what is going on in the mass, not what isn't.

Rule #2: Sell to the people who want your product, not the people who don't.

At first, this might sound backwards. After all, if you want people to buy your product, then you need to find the people who don't yet think they want it and change their minds, right? Well, unless you already have a huge customer base, or you have a really big marketing budget, it's actually dead wrong. The secret to successful marketing for the vast majority of business situations is: Find the people who already want what you have, and let them know that you have it. If you're successful at that, you're successful in business. Few businesses have to go as far as trying to find people who don't want what they sell and changing their minds.

This may at first seem diametrically opposed to our religious obligation to "go out and make disciples of all nations" but let me throw in an anecdote to show what I mean: Some years ago, the priest at my folk's parish had this bad habit of changing the creed as he recited it from "he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man" to "he was born of the Virgin Mary and became flesh".

My mother, not being for any nonsense in the creedal department, asked him about this, and he said, "I don't want to offend any women who may think it's sexist to say that he became man."

Mom replied, "Well, I'm a woman, and I'm offended that you think I'd be offended to here 'became man'."

The priest replied, "Yes, but you're not the sort of woman I'm worried about offending."

Now, at first, this just sounds rude, but what I think he meant was essentially: "Look, you're a good Catholic and you'll go to mass somewhere no matter what, so what I'm trying to do is keep from offending some feminist who won't go to mass at all unless we don't say 'man'."

This, however, is a destructive approach to marketing. If you consistently annoy the people who should be your most loyal customers while winning only marginal toleration from people who don't like what you have to say in the first place, you end up with no loyal customers. Someone who's offended by "and became man" is quite simply not going to be a solid Catholic ever, unless her attitude changes. So embracing her desire to change "and became man" is counter-productive. It annoys your base, and doesn't win any real converts.

Arguably, we got where we are not (forty years into liturgical reform) by assuming that all the church going Catholics we had circa 1968 would keep going to church no matter what, and all we had to do was appeal to those who were are yet un-churched. Now, with the percentage of Catholics who attend mass every week severely reduced and widespread ignorance about what the mass is, sacramentally speaking, it is perhaps time to get back to basics. If we could get to where St. Average of Suburbia had a liturgical life that successfully conveyed what the mass is to those who are already eager for the mass, we would begin to build the evangelizing spirit among the Catholic laity to go out and start turning around the people who don't know what the mass is, or don't yet want it.

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