The following comes from an April 30 Liturgy Guy blog post:
So often these days we read of the ongoing collapse of Catholicism in the west. In diocese after diocese we see parishes and schools closing or consolidating, a decline in priests as older clergy pass away at rates higher than new ordinations, and a widespread loss of the next generation to either the secular left or the evangelical right.
We also read of various plans to counter these trends. Everyone seems to have a program to promote, a new strategy to increase vocations, to increase weekly Mass attendance, to keep teens from fleeing the faith…
However, what’s not as widely known is that we already have a blueprint for success: the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.
According to the Official Catholic Directory and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Lincoln, NE is the only diocese in the United States to place in the Top 20 for the ratio of ordinands to population in every survey conducted from 1993-2012.
Despite having a Catholic population of only 97,000, the Lincoln diocese ordained 22 men from 2010-2012. Only seven dioceses in the entire country ordained more. One of those, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (with a Catholic population over 4.2 million) ordained 34 men during those same three years. In other words, L.A. only ordained four more men per year on average despite having a population 44X greater than Lincoln.
The Lincoln blueprint can be narrowed down to a few foundational elements:
Against all odds and the prevailing winds of the post-conciliar Church, Lincoln has avoided the craziness and irreverence that has afflicted so many other dioceses. This has largely been achieved through the stability and orthodoxy provided over the last fifty years by three men: Bishop Glennon Flavin (1967-1992), Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz (1992-2012), and Bishop James Conley (2012-present). They succeeded despite the occasional scorn of their brother bishops, and by making the Church’s perennial priorities their own.
The National Catholic Reporter (known as the Fishwrap to Fr. Z readers) once bemoaned that it was as if the “reforms” so prevalent in the aftermath of Vatican II had missed Lincoln altogether. Exactly.
The Male Only Sanctuary
To a large extent, Lincoln has preserved a male only sanctuary. In this area the diocese has simply given more weight to tradition and common sense instead of “modern sensibilities” that are more secular minded.
The diocese remains the only one in the country to maintain an altar serving policy of boys only.
Lincoln also utilizes installed acolytes and lectors for the Holy Mass. Since it is an instituted ministry, the role of an acolyte is only open to men. Both of these instituted ministries commenced during Bishop Flavin’s time during the 1970’s.
Those in Lincoln will speak of the lack of Catholic tribalism and the absence of the liturgical wars so prevalent in other dioceses. In large part this is due to the environment established by Lincoln’s bishops. Reverent Novus Ordo liturgies have served the faithful well, preventing the frustration that so many encounter in other dioceses.
However, Lincoln has also avoided the hostility toward tradition that so often defines the traditionalists experience elsewhere. Back in the 1990’s then Bishop Bruskewitz invited the newly established Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) to the diocese to establish a North American seminary, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Denton, NE. The Fraternity exclusively celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form and adheres to the liturgical books in use in 1962.
Presently there are about 7 or so diocesan priests who offer the Traditional Latin Mass; however, more are learning it. The rector at the diocesan seminary (St. Gregory the Great) offers it to the seminarians once a month.
This is probably one of the more interesting sides of Lincoln. The Latin Mass community is not very large in Lincoln. Because the diocese has historically been so conservative there has never been a great battle cry from traditionalists for the exclusive return of the Latin Mass. Many within the community can even be seen at various Novus Ordo parishes participating fully within the liturgy .
As stated previously, the Lincoln diocese has intentionally avoided the modern tendency to clericalize the laity by delegating liturgical roles to the faithful. Thanks to its use of acolytes and lectors, instead of the more common excessive use of readers and extraordinary ministers, the diocese has not blurred the lines between ministers and laity, or between sanctuary and nave. It’s obvious to see how this would reinforce the ministerial priesthood in Lincoln, as well as the continuity between both forms of the Roman Rite.
Proper liturgical orientation has been further reinforced through the manner in which many masses are offered in Lincoln: with the priest facing toward the liturgical east, or Ad Orientem.
A Catholic Education
While I have saved this for last, in many ways education is the primary ingredient to Lincoln’s recipe for success. Bishop Glennon Flavin’s vision for a diocese that allowed its children to go to Catholic school at an affordable cost and to be taught authentic Catholicism by religious sisters and priests is integral to the diocesan mission.
While Lincoln’s Catholic population is less than 100,000, they have provided the faithful with 27 elementary schools and 6 high schools to educate the next generation. More importantly, most diocesan schools have at least 1-2 habited sisters and all Catholic schools are staffed by at least one priest.
Unlike other dioceses which require school masses only once a week, or in some cases once a month, each grade school in the Diocese of Lincoln is required to offer daily mass for the entire school each day.
However, there may be no better example of Lincoln’s commitment to the future than the fact that its diocesan schools have some of the lowest tuition costs in the entire country. As an example, St. Teresa’s Catholic School in town has an annual tuition cost of only $100 per student, and yet it is a thriving school with a habited sister as principal.
Lincoln is a rural diocese. It’s exceptionally high number of religious sisters help to reduce tuition costs for schools. The relatively small size of the Catholic population creates an insulated environment unlike that found in such diverse and populous areas as Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York.
No doubt many bishops, priests, and lay faithful would rather forgo a boom in vocations if it means having to reestablish clear divisions between the nave and the sanctuary, or ending such post-conciliar innovations as altar girls or Extraordinary Ministers. The secular push for egalitarianism has been enthusiastically embraced by most bishops these past few decades. It would seem that either pride, or fear, or an agenda that is not exclusively focused on saving souls, is keeping many from reversing course. Or maybe some dioceses simply don’t want orthodox Catholicism.
We can only hope and pray that more of those within the Church hierarchy humbly and attentively look to Lincoln for some answers. There is a blueprint for rebuilding a vibrant Church, an authentic and thriving Catholicism.