Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Good vacation, bad liturgy: the Catholic dilemma

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 02, 2023

Summertime, and millions of Americans have headed for the shores, the mountains, or the lakes. People need recreation, relaxation, and family time, and the Catholic Church wholly approves of the summer vacations—merely reminding the faithful that they should not take a “vacation” from Sunday Mass.

Unfortunately, for many Catholics, when we are on vacation (or, more generally, when we are traveling), the experience of attending Sunday Mass in an unfamiliar parish church robs us of the serenity that a vacation should provide.

Most of my readers have experienced the problem, I’m sure. You plan your trip. You look online—at, perhaps—to find the Catholic church closest to your destination. You double-check the latest parish bulletin, and you show up on Sunday at the appropriate time. And brace yourself.

Who knows what you will encounter? Maybe the Mass will be very much the same as what you experience at home in your regular parish. But—let’s be honest—probably not, because liturgical practices vary widely from one parish to another, and even more widely from one diocese to another. You may be disturbed by sloppiness and irreverence, by ugly music and insipid preaching, or by more serious liturgical abuses. You may find yourself closing your eyes, gritting your teeth, and wishing you were back home.

Still you can take comfort for two reasons. First, the Mass is still the Mass: the Eucharist remains the source and summit of Catholic spirituality, even if this congregation seems not to notice. (Here I assume that it is a valid Mass, which in the worst cases cannot be taken for granted.) You can chant ex opere operato under your breath to calm your troubled soul. If you make a good Confession at that parish, your sins are forgiven—even if the priest doesn’t seem to understand what sin is. Second, in a week or two you will be back home, and the obligation to attend Sunday Mass will no longer fill you with anxiety. You can console yourself with the knowledge that you will never see the inside of this parish church again.

But what about the people who live year-round in that community, who have no ready alternative to that parish? Some of them are no doubt good and prayerful Catholics, doing their best to live their faith. Can you feel comfortable as you leave them behind in their liturgical wasteland?

Please understand that I am not concerned with merely aesthetic matters. Some Catholic churches are beautiful, and their beauty is an aid to prayer. Some are not beautiful—but a reverent Mass is still possible there. Some parishes feature twangy guitars at Sunday Mass, while others offer polyphonic Tallis and Palestrina. Some pastors deliver brilliant and edifying homilies; others make it very hard to stay awake. I feel sorry for the good Catholics who live with bad architecture and bad music and bad preaching; I think they are being deprived of a priceless heritage. But I do not—quite—feel that the Church has abandoned them.

Yet the Church has betrayed the Catholics who are stuck in parishes where Mass is not reverent, where abuses are commonplace—parishes where the liturgy and the homilies do not reflect the teaching of the Church. This is not a question of taste; it is a matter of justice.

Some Catholics will drive for hours on Sunday to attend Mass at a church where the Mass is celebrated properly. God bless them. My family did something similar, albeit on a more modest scale; for months we literally drove past the front doors of five Catholic parishes every week, to arrive at a church where our children could experience a truly beautiful Mass. But other Catholics do not have the ability to make the long trek every week. Still others, having gone to the same parish church all their lives, have never been made aware of the alternatives.

We as Christians have an obligation to support the work of missionaries, so that people in faraway lands have the opportunity to hear the Gospel message. Shouldn’t we also work to ensure that our fellow Catholics—all of them—have the chance to experience the full beauty of the Eucharistic liturgy?

Most of us who care deeply about the liturgy have found our own safe havens; the parishes where we worship may be models of reverence. But when we travel out “to the peripheries”—to the shores and the mountains—we often experience something quite different. There are some new resources, such as, that offer help in finding a parish where we can worship in peace. But we should not be satisfied simply because we have found a reverent Mass. Every Catholic—and every curious non-Catholic who drops into church on a Sunday morning—deserves the same.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Aug. 04, 2023 9:08 PM ET USA

    Thanks for the link, but I was disappointed by the Reverence meter. You get points for Intinction which I believe is prohibited. You get a point for one procession but nothing for First Fri. every Fri. You lose points for doing what is allowed in the rubrics. Did you look at the Reverence meter?

  • Posted by: Bellarminite1 - Aug. 04, 2023 11:25 AM ET USA

    When we go on vacation, we look for parishes that have Confession often. That's an indication to us that reverence is there.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Aug. 03, 2023 11:17 PM ET USA

    Wow! Is this article ever spot-on! Thanks for teaching me about ReverentCatholicMass, though. I didn't know about that site.

  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Aug. 03, 2023 5:44 AM ET USA

    I spent 1 year in "the peripheries...the mountains" of Missoula, MT, and I "experienc[ed] something quite different." 4 churches there, only 1 is beautiful AND has kneelers, but it isn't even Catholic------it's Jesuit.

  • Posted by: Gramps - Aug. 02, 2023 11:38 PM ET USA

    Hear! Hear!

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Aug. 02, 2023 8:54 PM ET USA

    “Shouldn’t we also work to ensure … fellow Catholics … experience the full beauty of the Eucharistic liturgy?” If the local bishop doesn’t care, then no amount of work by laity will be enough … especially when opposed by diocesan liturgical experts appointed by the bishops. As a leading example, Pope Francis constricted the beautiful traditional liturgy with zero input from the laity …