Saturday, November 16, 2013

Of Vestments and Golf Clubs

Yesterday I reviewed this book.  Today, I want to talk about a particular chapter in it.  In that chapter the authors compared vestments and other "stuff" in churches to golf clubs.  They said that while golf clubs are interesting to golfers, and vestments to some churchgoers, golf clubs aren't interesting to non-golfers, and non-churchgoers don't care about vestments and don't start to go to church based on the vestments.  

I've been pondering that idea.  Thinking about golfing, I just checked Academy Sports' website and I can buy a set of nine golf clubs, in a bag, for $99.00.  I also checked Edwin Watt's website.  I found a putter (one club) for $349.99.  Now, to me, a golf club is a golf club, and I'm sure I couldn't tell the difference between the putter in the $99.00 set and the $349.99 version.  I'm sure that if I went to play Putt-Putt (the only golf I play) my score would not improve substantially with the expensive club.  If you were trying to recruit me to play golf, you'd be better off buying me the $99.00 set of clubs and spending the other $250 on golf lessons and green fees, as opposed to giving me the $350 club.  

Does that mean that the people who buy $350 golf clubs are wasting their money?  I'm sure there are some who are, such as those who put them in the closet and never use them or who have absolutely no skill or talent for golf.  However, I'll be willing to bet that professional golfers have clubs that cost a lot closer to $350 each than $99 for a set.  The extra comfort, the extra whatever you get with such a club is worth it to them if it knocks one or two strokes off a game or makes it easier to get through all the holes.

So what does that have to do with vestments?  I agree that vestments and similar "stuff" isn't what is going to convince non-churchgoers to join us, at least in a way they can verbalize.  I don't think any non-churchgoer will walk into a church and say "That priest's vestments are gorgeous and obviously expensive works of art; I'm going to start going to church and will be going here".  However, those vestments aren't an end in and of themselves; rather they lead us to an end.  A priest or parish that values beautiful expensive vestments may just like showing off, or it may be that they see Mass as an expression of their relationship to God and the things used at Mass as an expression of that relationship.  Buying high-quality things for use at Mass means they value it, they see it as something out of the ordinary, something worth dressing up for.  Does that attract or detract potential members?  

In surfing around the Catholic blogosphere, it isn't uncommon to come across a post about a priest in a metro area who is assigned to a dying parish who revives the parish by adding Latin to Masses and even adding a Mass in the Extraordinary Form to the schedule, as well as making the church interior more formal, more fancy.  The post usually includes a statement that the new parishioners include a lot of young families with lots of kids.  When I see such posts I often leave a comment asking if the new parishioners were people who were not attending mass or whether they simply attracted other parish's members.  I have yet to get a reply talking about all the new churchgoers who have found religion because of all the fancy stuff.

I'm sure the pastor who gets all these enthusiastic parishioners who are willing to drive across town to find what they want in a parish will have an easier time balancing his budget and justifying the existence of his parish because of those new parishioners, but has he really accomplished a worthwhile goal?  If the existence of that parish keeps those parishioners from beginning (or finishing) the slide to non-practicing Catholic, then I'd say he has.  Is it more important to serve the people we have, or to reach out to those who don't attend church?  Does that formality attract non-churchgoers?  I don't know.  Does anyone have any comment about that?  Put in golf club terms, if I require you to have $350 clubs to play on my course, and this leads to more people playing my course, I can view that as a win, if I am the golf course owner.  If I sell golf clubs, it is possible that this could hurt me.  I may be able to talk a non-golfer into buying the $99 set; convincing a non-golfer to buy a set of clubs that are $350 each is going to be tougher. Maybe my course is more successful because folks who don't want to get caught being a bunch of kids with $99 sets join it.  If my course becomes "THE" place for serious golfers, that can be good for me, but is it good for the game of golf?


  1. Thank you for hosting us every week. You are the true golfer, so to speak. You put your time and energy into the game. The "stuff" of the game, be it golf clubs or vestments, aren't just for fluff and accouterments. They speak of the game itself, proclaim its value to you the player for whom the game is meant, and even make it possible to play wholeheartedly, just plain do it justice.

    As for the Mass, it's about worship and the One to Whom we owe worship, worthwhile in itself whether we draw a crowd or not. The "stuff" is a proclamation in itself. It speaks of what speaks to you and how you feel about the game, how it speaks to you, and even of the hope you have, like that "hole in one" golfers dream to make one day.

    I don't golf but I imagine freshly cut grass can evoke the rapture of wafting incense..

  2. I'm sorry there hasn't been a robust discussion here, because this is a very interesting post. You have a good mind for seeing more than the surface of an issue. We do tend to view any increase in attendance/vocations/volunteerism/fill-in-the-blank as an automatic "win," as if replicating success in other places requires only that, when it is far more likely that, as you say, people are just moving from one place to another.

    You can get a basic flute for $2-300. I play a $4000 flute. But I also have a Master's degree in flute, and frankly for a professional level flute, that's bottom-of-the-line. However, the quality of the instrument definitely makes a difference--there is no question whatsoever. Once you reach a certain point, you have to have a more expensive flute in order to move forward. The mechanism is different, the metal is different, the craftsmanship is different, and all those things create (or remove) a "glass ceiling" for how well you can play.

    All that being said, I'm not quite sure that expensive vestments fit in the same category. Here we get into the perpetual struggle I undergo: is there any justification whatsoever for Beamers, Audi, Lexus, Mercedes, Ritz Carlton, etc. as long as there are starving people in the world? What right do I have to spend $1-200 on a really nice meal when others have nothing at all? And yet, really good meals, an occasional luxurious treat are things that enrich life. Are we compelled to reduce all life to the essentials?

    I do not know the answers. I just keep wrestling with it.

    1. Kate, I've never played the flute, but I've (hypothetically) just developed an urge to learn. I can (again hypothetically) buy any flute I want to, money is no object. Will I be more likely to become a regular flute player or will I (who as far as I know has no real musical talent) play better if I buy your flute rather than the $200 one?

  3. Starting with Kathleen's comment, St. Francis of Assisi said that God's house should have the best - this from the much vaunted patron of the poor and needy.

    As I read everything here, I was struck with the impression that we are on a journey when it comes to our Faith. Maybe an unchurched person doesn't think some things are all that important in the beginning, but as he continues on his journey and discovers more and more about the Faith and how our worship of God is central to it, he grows to appreciate, notice, and understand what he might have overlooked at the beginning.

    I think the authors demean the importance of the things attached to our rituals by comparing them to golf clubs. The fact is, a reverently celebrated sacred liturgy according to whatever Missal the priest is using is pleasing to God and helps us get into the right frame of mind to worship Him, not the community or ourselves.

    That said, I have seen up close and personal the revival of our local parish. The new pastor made this happen by his expert communication skills, his love of Christ, and his open arms. It was dying. Now it is thriving with all sorts of projects and involvement by parishioners. However, lest anyone think it is all activity, this pastor is very desirous of establishing more adoration times and many more confessions. Although it's not my parish, he welcomed my offer of an adoration booklet that I had laid out and published from the public domain at my blog and asked if he could use some of my posts on confession in his bulletin.

    In this very materialistic world, the Catholic Church not only offers the way to a deep relationship with God but also a certain transcendental air that many people are seeking without realizing it. If after every Mass newcomers are welcomed as is done at this parish, it raises the chances that seekers will return. Good preaching and sermons help a lot, too.

    To RAnn, not every TLM parish grows exponentially, and from my experience the many young families with lots of kids were already attending Mass somewhere but looking for something more. The unchurched have stumbled in or have been invited by individuals to attend Mass with the family. I think that many pastors underestimate the power of parish members inviting a friend to Mass. We should all be doing this, or looking for opportunities to do it. Around here in the Bible belt, Catholic kids can invite school friends to Mass and that often opens the door to the parents. But that presumes that the family is really living their Faith and their kids are well instructed. I'm not seeing all that much of it in our diocese.

  4. There was a time when I turned up my nose at the fancy stuff on the altar - vessels, vestments, the whole nine yards - because I thought it was all unnecessary ornamentation. I have learned to appreciate the fact that such "ornamentation" sign of reverence, not ostentation. I've also learned that these things are often made by vowed religious women and men who are spending their lives in prayer and in being artisans for the Lord! How amazing is that? Their work now draws me in instead of driving me away.


View My Stats