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?