Parish life has become insufferably middle-class

(Alessia Giuliani/Vatican Pool-Getty Images)

There are plenty of things for which I thank God: good friends, the health of my children, the glorious tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, the fact that the Detroit Tigers will not be trading their star pitcher Justin Verlander. Another is the fact that my wife and I were never made to attend a Catholic marriage preparation course.

If we had been members of a parish where the mind-numbingly dull half-year of expensive weekend retreats had been required, we would have gone through with it, obviously. Offering up suffering is a gift of the Holy Ghost denied even to the glorious angels in heaven.

I say this because it is only as a kind of purgative trial justly demanded of the pious faithful by Mother Church in the exercise of her disciplinary infallibility that it is possible to make sense of the six-month-long exercise in mandatory tedium known in the US as “Pre-Cana” (the mawkish reference to Our Lord’s first miracle is worthy of Hallmark). The spiritually edifying qualities of these rectory chats on subjects such as “Conflict Resolution Skills” and “Finances” are best summed up by secular interpolators at a website called

You may be wondering, what exactly is Pre-Cana? Don’t worry … you won’t be hearing lectures about going to church every week and going to Confession. It’s more like pre-marital counselling, to help prepare you for marriage.

In our case, marriage counselling meant two 20-minute conversations with our pastor. This is as it should be. When it comes to marriage, Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence is a model shepherd of souls. A good student of St Paul, he knows what marriage is for, which is why his first priority is the avoidance of sin, not the maintenance of community standards. Indeed, I have always found modern-day adaptations of the play implausible, because today’s Romeo and Juliet would have had to spend a considerable portion of their young lives taking quizzes on “Spirituality/Faith” and “Careers” in order to get the go-ahead from their diocese.

The way the post-conciliar Church cordons off the sacraments is a perfect example of how she has become insufferably middle-class. Working-class people and bohemian misfits like me are not community-minded. We loathe the notion of therapy, especially if it involves making small talk with people we don’t know about things that are very dear to our hearts. People with real jobs often work on Saturdays; they haven’t got time or money for couples’ weekend retreats to horse farms with Fr Dialogue.

Meanwhile, middle-class people enjoy being treated like (rather stupid) children. They like play-time and share-time and snack-time and loathe the idea of privacy; they enjoy shaking hands and holding hands, which is why their favourite parts of the new Mass are the Sign of Peace and the standing-up Paternoster. They take positive delight in these things for the same mysterious reasons that they enjoy working for those companies that require semi-annual “team-building exercises” – scavenger hunts and other pre-teen activities between mandatory presentations on LGBTQ sensitivity.

The only thing worse than current Church practice regarding marriage is the preposterous bureaucracy that prevents children from being baptised in a timely fashion. Requiring Catholic parents to take courses on the subject is ludicrous and a deathly waste of time. All that the average layman need know can be gleaned from the old Baltimore Catechism. “Baptism is a Sacrament which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God, and heirs of heaven.” It would be very difficult to stretch that into a four-weekend course.

A friend of mine in Texas has been waiting six months to have his daughter baptised. First he was required to take a class, even though he and his wife are on their third child. Then after wasting time over the course of several successive weekends, he was told that the girl’s prospective godparents also required instruction, despite they themselves being the parents of several Catholic children. Now he finds himself waiting for a ‘‘slot’’; apparently in some dioceses, it is expected that only a predetermined number of children – around four per weekend at most, unless it is done in Spanish; apparently this makes a difference to Our Lord – can be cleansed of original sin and initiated into the Christian faith.

This is nonsense. My older daughter was baptised when she was a week old. All I had to do to secure for Thisbe Perpetua the remission of sin and an heirdom in the Kingdom of Heaven was to call Fr H down at the rectory to let him know that my wife had had the baby (he was expecting my call: good priests know things like which of their parishioners are pregnant): “How does Saturday at eleven sound?”

That, and one piece of paper from her godfather’s parish attesting to his being a communicant, were the only requirements. He supplied the salt and the chrism and a Latin pamphlet with the Exorcízo te and all the other forgotten glories of the Roman Rite; we brought the baby. Afterwards we drank champagne.

To treat matrimony and baptism as if they were bourgeois rites of passage – like finishing secondary school or moving into one’s first apartment – is not only ugly. It is a denial of the efficacy of the sacraments.

Matthew Walther is a national correspondent for The Week and a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow

This article first appeared in the August 4 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here