Twice-A-Year or Once-A-Month?

mass-at-sta

Overheard, as the tale goes, after church yesterday:

“Now I remember why I hardly ever come to church. Complete lack of variety and imagination.”

“What do you mean?” comes the reply.

“They only seem to know two songs here, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ and ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.’”

Some discussion at my parish over the weekend about the crowds we see at Easter and Christmas. Conventional wisdom has it that the throng appears twice a year and pretty much no more unless there’s a wedding or a death in the family. My pastor agrees. After fifteen years he not only knows practically every parishioner, but all their family connections, jobs, and odd facts. So that’s a testimony I’m inclined to take seriously.

On the other hand, I’ve read one or two places that maybe the Easter-n-Christmas Catholic phenomenon is overstated. Lots of parishioners go to Mass every month or so, but they all make a point of attending on the Big Days. So sure, my pastor saw lots of people unknown to him yesterday. Question is, are they the faces he scans over twice a year or once a month? Whose faces do you see?

I’d say this is an important question. If evangelization is to be fruitful with semi-churched believers we should know how often the message is getting through.

I notice that former blogger Fr Bryce Sibley gets in on the discussion at Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He spends a lot of words burning through the Catholic blogosphere’s favorites: clowns, meals, priest-as-performer. But he glosses over his first idea: Catholics just don’t believe missing Mass is a serious sin. They don’t care about the sobriety, solemnity, or the priest-as-center-of-all-things-holy.

The Salmagundi’s subtitle reads, “The priest must do everything in his power to directly instill an attitude of seriousness and reverence in the faithful.”

Good luck on this one. Last time I checked faith was a matter of God’s grace. The landscape has completely changed over the past fifty years. There’s no way priests are going to scare people back to church on Sunday. It’s a worthy challenge to get people back to church, no question. But we need to diagnose the problem before throwing our favorite solutions at the matter.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to Twice-A-Year or Once-A-Month?

  1. Liam says:

    If one posits that there was a postconciliar erosion of being convinced of obligation, one might also say that there was a failure of the postconciliar effort to convince the faithful that their presence was somehow an essential part of the liturgy as well. Thus, the advocates of preceptual obligation and the advocates of FCAP may be said to be arguing over a group that doesn’t particularly care about either viewpoint….

  2. Gavin says:

    “…effort to convince the faithful that their presence was somehow an essential part of the liturgy as well.”

    Precisely. My main negative emotional reaction to the EF is that it doesn’t matter whether I’m there or not. The OF was supposed to change all that. Musically, we go from a mandate to give the people the propers to “silly songs with father”, which my participation doesn’t matter in anyway since the over-miked cantor bars that. Encourage a REAL FCAP (meaning neither everyone-does-everything nor sit-down-and-shut-up) and people will come. Challenge them.

  3. + Alan says:

    I’m not sure any “mechanical” change will bring anyone in. Fear might, for some, and that’s too bad. If I hear one more time this, “we shouldn’t come to Mass out of some obligation, but out of love for God, to worship Him” or something like that, I may have to stab my eyes out with a pencil.

    OK, I just said that for effect, but seriously, if the big boys are still going to hold that “obligation – missing Mass is a mortal sin” thing out there, then no one should really expect anyone to come to Mass for another reason other than, “I am afraid of losing the salvific Grace of God and going to hell if I don’t.” It’s always lying there under the surface, creeping around, even in the back of the minds of many who do go to Mass every week out of love and not fear. Again, too bad.

  4. Todd says:

    Well … the participation ethic appeared at Mass just as it was fading in the culture at large. Why should, in other words, 70,000 football fans sing the national anthem when Whitney can lip-sync it for us.

    Perhaps back East there was a failure to convince, but in the best places (including, of course, the East) the celebration of the Mass far surpasses what passed for liturgy fifty or a hundred years ago.

    That said, I’m with Gavin, and I’d hope to say I’ve encouraged the ideals he speaks of for more than twenty years.

  5. Sean says:

    I found my current parish after the pastor asked me who I was and welcomed me to come back, and we had a nice conversation.

    I started helping on as a MOHC because someone asked me for help, I then badgered the priest so he could give me and some other new-comers the proper training, and things have gone smoothly so far.

    I may not know all of the proper liturgical vocabulary, but I know when someone is speaking to me directly and inviting me to participate more fully in community life. I would bet many people feel the same way.

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