The Sacraments Are Strong: 4 Signs of Hope

I mentioned before Bishop Robert Barron’s YouTube video “4 Ways to Grow the Church.” Tired of having to preside over a shrinking Church, he asks every Catholic to invite someone to Mass this year.

We can do this with great trust that we aren’t doing something strange. Here are four reasons to look for hope in the strength of the sacraments in our day.

First: The Church’s strong numbers worldwide show the success of Vatican II.

Last week I shared how statistics support a very different narrative from what the media generally pushes. Bishop Barron says that these are an answer to the question in the title of another video of his: “Was Vatican II a Failure?” It was not, he said.

Vatican II has been a resounding success in many parts of the world. It has only failed in the places where it was resisted by those who wanted more change from it than it offered, or by those who simply didn’t do what it suggested.

“Africa is the great example. Go on YouTube you can see all kinds of images of liturgies and processions and masses and prayers going on in Africa with extraordinary devotion>” He said Africa also shows “The correlation between vibrant faith in God and big families. They’re not celebrating the traditional Latin mass in Africa. They’re celebrating the Novus Ordo Mass.”

Father Dwight Longenecker, a supporter of the Extraordinary Form, recently asked “Are Young People Flocking to the Latin Mass?” He did the math and saw that this is not necessarily the case.

“There may be one traditional parish with 500 families in a town with seven other Catholic parishes with 1,000 families each,” he said. “The traditional parish may be packed with two masses on the weekend in a church building that only seats 750. The seven other parishes may seem empty, but their buildings seat 1,200 and they have four masses with double or triple the total number of worshippers.”

The Novus Ordo has not been the disaster some claim.

Second: The 21st Century has seen almost nonstop renewal of the Mass.

In 2001, St. John Paul II made promoting Sunday Masse a top priority for the New Millennium. In 2002, the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal was promulgated. In 2003, John Paul’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia demanded that the Church remember the rule, still in force, that confession is needed before communion. The Bishops followed that up with their document “Happy Are Those Who are Called to His Supper.” Pope Francis stresses the same rule.

In 2004, the Year of the Eucharist was proclaimed. St. John Paul died and Benedict XVI took over, pledging to love Our Lord in the Eucharist by “the correctness of the celebrations” of the Eucharist. In 2006, the reform of the translation of the Mass began. In 2011, English speaking countries began implementing the new missal.

Benedictine College’s Denis McNamara shared a great message of hope for the Mass in his interview with The Manly Catholic last month. He described how the mistakes in the way we celebrate the Mass after the Second Vatican Council are related to the mistakes in how the low Mass was preferred before the Second Vatican Council.

The Holy Spirit is clearly active right now and  focused on renewing the traditions of the liturgy, he said, and “produced two to three generations of priests who want Latin chant.”

Third: The renewal of confession is a huge sign of hope.

I’m not the only one who has noticed it: Confession lines are a lot longer than they used to be.

Pope Francis’s started promoting confession from the beginning of his pontificate, first by going to confession publicly, in full view of photographers,  and then created the 24 hours of confession events at parishes worldwide.

In 2002, St. John Paul II said the real crisis in the Church was the crisis of the sense of sin, resulting from the crisis of the sacrament of confession. Today, there are still parishes with few or hard-to-find confessions, but it is more rare.

World Youth Days have had a lot to do with that, with their emphasis on confession. Confession is increasingly a “youth thing,” whether it’s the 300 priests who heard thousands of confessions at the Focus’s SEEK23 conference, or the the 29-year-old priest in Spring, Texas who heard confessions for 18 hours straight last month — just like he did last Easter.

The fourth sign of hope is the growth of Eucharistic Adoration.

Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration was rare in the 20th century, and in many cases it was forbidden from a mistaken idea that it was only for priests and religious.

But in the 21st century it has undergone enormous growth.  In 2005, the exhaustive survey that of realpresence.org listed 715 perpetual eucharistic chapels in the United States. In Early 2020 that number had nearly doubled.

Pope Francis has had a lot to do with this, in his emphasis on the devotion. The new Eucharistic Revival, will likely push numbers higher.

Eucharistic Adoration is Drawing New Generations of Catholics,” a recent Aleteia story announced. This is true from Harvard to the aforementioned SEEK23 conference. Catholics are more likely than we have been in years to turn to the Eucharist when facing national crises and national elections.

So you should invite someone to Mass.

I once counted the reasons why. Here’s another: You will be part of a worldwide movement of grace.

A version of this appeared at Aleteia.


Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.