Reader Reflections on EWTN

Several days ago a reader sent me an e-mail about an experience at the EWTN complex in Alabama. Edited for anonymity, it reads:

We’ve never had cable so we weren’t regular watchers of EWTN but whenever I did see it I was always totally impressed by the people they had on. But I have noticed over the years, priests who are above a certain age or generation often seem to have major problems with her. I never really got it because all I could see is the good EWTN has done for the church so I just figured it was some kind of generational thing that I would never understand.

I’ve never lived in a place where the cable system provided it. I’ve surfed their web page very rarely and have seen clips of it from visits to home with satellite tv. I have no opinion on the programming, and most of my exposure has been second-hand through news stories of other outlets.

But I guess after visiting the shrine I might have a bit more understanding of what their problem with it is. I have to admit I didn’t love the feeling there. It didn’t have that “everyone is welcome here” feeling to it but more like this is for a very select and exclusive catholic. We just happened to be there when Mass was going on. There was a pamphlet in every pew that said Vatican II Mass. It was prefaced with quotes from Sacrosanctum Concilium, of course only the ones that talked about chant. It was nicely put together but there was something about the whole presentation of it that seemed to say “This is how the Church wants us to celebrate Mass. Anything different from this is a distortion and a corruption.”

My correspondent is a happy parishioner of an “orthodox” parish. I know this person is far from being a flaming liberal.

It dawned on me that this is EXACTLY the kind of thing that some of our parishioners dream about having. I’ve heard the word “divisive” when referring to her and I think I get it now. You don’t get the feeling that this is their taste and they’re comfortable with everyone else, it’s more of a militant kind of feeling that this is IT and we’re here to teach everyone by example how to do it properly. I’d be curious about your opinion. Is this where the reactionary stuff comes from?

I can’t say I’m surprised. Often the rise of conservative or traditional elements of religion are traced to the “pendulum theory.” Often when an extreme of behavior or policy is achieved, natural social forces swing things back past the medium to another extreme. Are traditionalists offering a steered correction back to the middle? Or are they mostly swinging things past the medium and back to pre-conciliar notions and ideas?

I don’t think we have a simple answer to that. Certainly we have many Catholics so profoundly disaffected by the Church before Vatican II they strongly latch onto anything post-conciliar, sometimes irrationally so. The same is true of many post-conciliar believers. They resent poor music, preaching, catechesis, and moral leadership to the degree they reject everything that came after the Council.

A sensitive and self-aware Catholic will look at such patterns in her or his life. Bringing them to prayer, would the person find preferences driven by reaction rather than action? In the case of the “reacting” Catholics, you’ll find both conservative and liberal. You might surmise that an overreacting person has only scratched the surface of faith and religion. I also know many Catholics who have a very balanced sensibility. Among people you know in St Blog’s, I think Liam or Steve Bogner would be prime examples of people who are quite comfortable integrating aspects of pre- and post-conciliar Catholic sensibility. I know many others in my parish who combine elements of the best of Catholic practices from both before and after Vatican II. They do it in such a smooth and integrated way, it is clear they’re not just following the body ahead of them. They manage a rather catholic blend that is fitting and admirable.

In my experience, militants tend to be young and inexperienced, old and embittered, people who are comfortable with a degree of stasis and find no need to change. I know some of these folks, too, and while often I have no doubt of their holiness, their faith is not particularly attractive.

If EWTN is able to evangelize effectively among all walks of life, then I would say they’ve achieved a certain balance.  I don’t know EWTN, so I can’t offer any more than what I would be looking for to judge their overall effectiveness as an organization.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to Reader Reflections on EWTN

  1. Liam says:

    Thanks, Todd.

    Yes, reactionaries know no ideological or pragmatic boundary. Many (if not most of us) have Church-y things we are reactionary about.

    Yours, for example, may be about certain AGO subtypes, clericalist pastors and gossipy congregants. And for hard-earned reasons that you still may have to struggle with.

    Wanna know what mine is? Yep, I have at least one big one and lots of little ones: the obvious big one is therapist-priests. That’s not a figure of speech: I’m talking about religious order priests whose main non-Church work is therapy or counseling, et cet. Now, I’ve met a wonderful handful of exceptions to my rule of experience, but my rule of experience has been “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!!” when I encounter this type of priest for reasons I will spare your readers since they would be tangential. The point here is that I too can be reactionary on things, too, and I own that.

    And that also helps me to identify when I encounter reactionary impulses in others: that way, I am forced to remember they are not Other to me.

    The key is that our reactivity is merely an emotion: it need not dictate how we choose to react in the moment. Emotions are information; they are not us.

  2. Gavin says:

    EWTN is just plain nuts. I never saw the attraction to their Masses either. There’s slow and then there’s the speed at which their priests say Mass. The congregation looks half comatose and all the music is provided by the same cantor. It really is a channel for angry old Catholics.

    • Bart says:

      Hold up on the cracks about the cantor. I would rather hear him than to hear the choir. He is splendidly trained and is a delight to listen to. Whatever your problem is with the Church, that problem is yours to work out with the Lord. Don’t pick on the cantor. I’m from PA, and what I’ve heard titled as “Cantor” could make you use ear plugs.

      By the way, when the choir is singing, and they are a great choir, don’t you still hear the cantor’s voice above all the rest? Of course you must because I hear him loudly and clearly. What a splendidly wonderful voice he has, and his tonal range is extraordinary. AND, no, I’m not the cantor! I’d like to obtain his name and email to tell him personally how great I think he is. When any person can sway the whole congregation to the proper tune for a capella responses, then he’s really good. Some Orthodox cantors can’t even do that. For those wondering, I am a 50+ male…sometimes that matters to people.

      Someone also attacked the priests and the way they said mass. Are you kidding me? They even had a Fr. Alex from the Diocese of Birmingham whose homily was awe inspiring. It was straight from the heart and extremely touching. I’d like to get in touch with him..all of the priests and monks as well.

      “Life on the Rock” came on after the mass one Sunday morning at 1 a.m. and I finally saw Bro. Matthew’s and Bro. Malachi’s names as they were on the panel. I watch for them every day at mass, the cantor, the organist, and the priests, as each seems to have a special gift and, believe it or not, deliver a message of what i needed to hear that day each time they preach.
      As for the congregation looking “comatose?” They look and are devout to me. If you look at them, they are intense. You can see can even feel it through the cable lines!
      I thank and praise the Lord for this network, the clergy, Mother Angelica and all of EWTN.


      • Jean says:

        Bart – I do agree with you on several points – The Cantor IS MARVELOUS – just hearing him while I have him on T.V. has lured several people into my room just to listen to him – then they start listening to the Mass. That is a GOOD thing!!! The congregation probably looks “comatose” because the Chapel is very small – there are cameras everywhere – AND they are being seen by MILLIONS of people and being heard by millions- perhaps afraid is a better term. I also agree that they look devout and intense – just like the people at my Mass.

  3. michigancatholic says:

    EWTN is fine. I really liked the atmosphere there. Bet you erase this because it doesn’t agree with you. ;)

  4. Talmida says:

    Just out of curiosity — what makes an American TV station the “Global Catholic Network?” Do they broadcast anywhere other than the States?

  5. Todd says:

    mc, sorry; you lose the bet. E-mail me and I’ll send you the address to send a nice six-pack of St Pauli Girl dark.

  6. Kay says:

    This Mass is held at 7 a.m., so it is no wonder that the congregation looks “comatose”. Most of us do at this time of day.

  7. olive says:

    I am based in New Zealand and i get it by satellite. When i was in the Middle East we got it by satellite over there too. It is beautiful too see EWTN everyday and hope to visit there some day

  8. Joe says:

    The EWTN cantor is just plain awful: too loud, too much vibrato, often off- key and grandiose.

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