I walked away from a local Catholic parish rather disgruntled that the parish priest has decided to run the Alpha Course and I am quite sure that this stridently Protestant catechetic http://thatthebonesyouhavecrushedmaythrill.blogspot.com.es/ I wonder how it is that the Catholic Church could have dumbed down so much as to accept this course as material suitable for a Catholic or potentially Catholic audience. Why did the Fathers of the Church bother? Why was the Reformation resisted? Why do the Dominicans bother? To me it suggests that the 'great miracle' envisaged by Pope Francis of a no-questions answered, grand unification of various denominations with the Catholic Church, or a lady of ill-repute masquerading as the Catholic Church, is not terribly far off.
The Catholic Church, having shed centuries of 'liturgical baggage' is probably just about ready to unload its 'doctrinal baggage' under Francis and do whatever is necessary or expedient to unite with the various Christian denominations under one fraternal roof of dialogue, but I expect that those Catholic priests who put on Alpha in good faith, seeking to inspire faith do it because 'it works for the Anglicans'.
Why Catholic parishes should not promote the Alpha Course
Priests should be made aware that Alpha has been successful only in creating more Protestants with few ties to bind them to a particular Church, denomination or 'ecclesial community'. Alpha might create more Christians but it won't create more Catholics. Nor will it provide Catholics with a deepening of their Catholic faith or identity. It will not teach Catholics to love the Mass. Content on the Sacraments is negligible. Catholic priests and bishops should be made aware that Alpha is designed from beginning to end to teach those who come to the course as enquirers that there is really no reason to be a Catholic or an Anglican or a Protestant Evangelical either and whatever floats your boat really...its all about you and Jesus (and the speaking in tongues gift-giving Holy Spirit) and that's really more or less it. The Church is those who believe in Christ and you can find that Salvation anywhere in any Christian community. That's why the Alpha course is run by Methodists, Anglicans, Evangelicals etc and now Catholics. This, however, is not the faith of the Catholic Church.
It can be said, too, that this programme of catechesis on the 'essentials' of the Christian faith with a light garnish of Catholicism on the side is not being turned to by Catholic parishes because there is a dearth of catechetical resources in the Catholic world to promote the 'new evangelisation', nor is it implausible that such material can be taught using the successful meal, DVD, group discussion model that Alpha uses.
In the UK, both 'Evangelium' and 'The WHY? Course' are very good DVD based overviews of the Catholic Faith that include very persuasive and sound apologetics with training material for lay leaders. I am sure it wouldn't take too long to find some very high quality US material also. There must be loads of Catholic material out there.
However, we live in a time when love for the True Faith, the Faith of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and the Catholic Faith in general is not promoted at now very high levels of the Catholic Church and I expect that this informs a great deal of the Alpha promotion that is going on. Many priests don't see any problems with a stripped down, Protestantised theology. Indeed, the parish that is promoting it in my region had its Confessional box removed. Nothing replacing it has returned. The use of the bell at the Hanc Igitur and the Consecration have been stopped for no reason. Generally speaking, Catholic worship has become so protestantised even unto the imitation of Evangelical style 'praise and worship' that the Sacrifice of Calvary has become trivialised. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are utilised unneccessarily, Communion in the hand, standing, is the norm, much of the sacred nature of the Mass has been rejected across the World. All the average parish needs now is an Alpha course and the triumph of Protestantism will be nearly complete.
The problem is that many bishops and many priests privately are very worried that Catholicism is in crisis in this country, which it certainly is. They cannot see any areas of growth in the Catholic Church, unless they are looking at an immigrant community who boost numbers in the pews and baptism figures. Presumably, they look at those things which record some kind of tangible success in other 'ecclesial communities' and think they can take good things from that and perhaps the results will be good for the Catholic Church. They need only look at figures in Latin America, however, to see that where Protestantism succeeds, it does so to the Catholic Church's detriment and despite the Catholic Church in Latin America having tried to imitate what Evangelicals and Pentecostals do, it seems to only have seen a compounding and consolidation of the loss of baptised Catholics to those other 'ecclesial communities', because once the Catholic Church apes those other communities, there is only as much reason to go to a Catholic Church as there is to those other communities. That is, as much reason, at best, but certainly not more. Let's face it, if you're into Christian worship music, those Pentecostals probably have superior sound systems anyway, because they have loads of money in the kitty.
There seems to be a circular loop of destruction in process in as much as whenever the Catholic Church tries to ape other denominations, people see even less reason to be Catholic or remain Catholic. Yet this is common sense. Do bishops understand this? Do priests not see this? If what is on offer is the same as what is on offer in other denominations - and the message is more or less the same - 'the so called 'essentials of Christianity' - then why would we attract converts to the Catholic Church or retain those who are members of Her? Why consider the Catholic Church if its the same as the Methodist Church or the Baptist Church with a couple of additional things that 'we can discuss later in the course'? The justification for the Alpha Course seems to be that it explains in simple and reasonable terms the 'essentials' of the Christian faith. However, its employment by Catholic parishes is utterly confusing to me, because unless it is explained quickly why membership of the Catholic Church is essential - rather than an additional feature which you may wish to consider in Alpha Course meeting 11 (if, indeed, at all), then why bother considering the Catholic Church and why bother even doing the course in a Catholic Church?
Something I expect is overlooked by even a 'Catholic' Alpha Course...
Catholic parishes who use Alpha are setting up a bizarre situation, a situation in which Christians who have done the Alpha Course and have realised, like I eventually did, that there must be one Church, one Church established by Christ wherein the fullness of Divine Revelation could be found, will go looking for that One Church having already wandered like a lost sheep around every denomination but the Catholic Church, only to find that the Catholic Church, instead of telling me I have come to the home that God has in His great mercy prepared for me, tells me that, in fact, that search is still ongoing, because the Catholic Church is too embarrassed of Her Lord and Her Faith to tell me that this is the One Church established by Christ for the Salvation of mankind, outside of which Salvation is, at the very least, unlikely, and that all those other ecclesial communities, despite the good that can be found within them, are deficient because they are not the Church founded by Jesus Christ. Anyway, on a lighter note, despite what Bear Grylls says in his advert for the Alpha Course, the curvature of the Earth cannot be seen at the summit of Mount Everest. It cannot be seen either at 121,000 feet. But I don't think either you, or I, are ready for that blogpost yet.
It is heartening to know that the Catholic Evidence Guild are still going, not, I suspect, with the support of many Bishops...