Leaving Early

Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble lists five reasons to stay till the end of Mass. A friend posted this on facebook, which drew my cynical comment that people leave early because the parish offers them nothing more of value.

The parish, its leadership, and its liturgy may be able to do nothing about a worshiper’s work schedule, short attention span, or fussy children. But let’s click off what happens after the reception of Communion:

  • Quiet time. A lot of Catholics still come early and still enjoy a relatively quiet time to pray before Mass. I would offer a caution against assuming that most people who leave early also come late. Some people find they have even more quiet in their homes, in nature, and at other times in the parish church. If a parish is doing liturgy well, perhaps there is enough calm at other times of the Mass to suffice.
  • “Meditation” or performance music. A lot of music ministries offer a performance piece toward the end of the communion procession or in the period between tabernacle closing and the next prayer. Maybe that offering is well-conceived and rehearsed well. Or not. There’s already been a lot of music at Mass, so maybe early departees think they’ve already had enough. Or, maybe the music played or sung here is played or sung poorly.
  • Post-Communion Prayer. The Mass already has a lot of prayer texts. The new Roman Missal hasn’t made the prayer after Communion any more attractive from an artistic viewpoint. Just more convoluted. How many times at Mass does the priest give a prayer narrative? Is one more really noticed?
  • Announcements. Most of these are already in the bulletin, print or cork board or online. And most parish events are of no interest to nearly all parishioners. Sometimes the announcements aren’t well-read, and most of the time they are not rehearsed. Of the possible moments when lay people speak at Mass, this may be the poorest in terms of quality.
  • Final blessing. One might say the greatest blessing most people experience at Mass is the reception of the Eucharist. That experience is quite personal. The priest’s final blessing is brief, given to everyone at once, and like the post-Communion prayer, not all that attractive as a ritual text (the threefold final blessings get relatively little use).
  • Final song. People have already sung and listened to a lot of music–I’ve already mentioned that. Speaking as a music director, I confess I don’t put much effort into a final song, usually. I prefer good work during the psalm or Communion song.

I don’t think people leaving early is cause for deep worry. Think about Christianity’s chief competitor in the religion department: sport. People leave sporting events before the final whistle all the time. Leaving early is a statement of sorts. The team won easily. The team lost. Not to mention the importance of not being at the end of the final procession out of the parking lot.

I think if a parish or a liturgist or pastor wants to worry about people leaving early, then it would seem incumbent on them to provide something of value after Communion. If this were your parish, where would you start?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Leaving Early

  1. Liam says:

    On the tangent of popular culture on this point, the spirit of Edith Wharton hovers over the void, in the opening passage of The Age of Innocence:

    “On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

    Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan distances “above the Forties,” of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendour with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the “new people” whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music.

    It was Madame Nilsson’s first appearance that winter, and what the daily press had already learned to describe as “an exceptionally brilliant audience” had gathered to hear her, transported through the slippery, snowy streets in private broughams, in the spacious family landau, or in the humbler but more convenient “Brown coupe” To come to the Opera in a Brown coupe was almost as honourable a way of arriving as in one’s own carriage; and departure by the same means had the immense advantage of enabling one (with a playful allusion to democratic principles) to scramble into the first Brown conveyance in the line, instead of waiting till the cold-and-gin congested nose of one’s own coachman gleamed under the portico of the Academy. It was one of the great livery-stableman’s most masterly intuitions to have discovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.”

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