A few years ago various people were surveyed in the Archdiocese of Washington to inquire why Mass attendance had dropped. Many of us had talked about this crisis for years as one of faith. One critic suggested that this sudden heightened awareness of a problem in the halls of power was fueled by a concern that fewer bodies in the pews would mean less money in the basket. This reaction came from a priest, and so it is no wonder that a dangerous cynicism has infected the laity. A folded sheet entitled MASS CALL that was prepared by one of the parishes was passed out to the priests in the Presbyteral Council. It was an effort to bring fallen-away Catholics back into the fold. Readers were encouraged to call one of the parish priests: Fr. Mike Wilson, Fr. John Ming or Fr. Larry Young.
It began by describing why Mass attendance was important:
Worshipping God fulfills something deep within the human heart. The most perfect worship is given when the entire Body of Christ, Jesus as our head, and we as his members, give praise and thanks to our Heavenly Father, in the Holy Spirit, at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Mass is more than just an obligation. It is a privilege. It is a source of strength, hope, light and peace. It is a strong support and anchor for our lives in the shifting currents of this world.
The language is a bit convoluted, but the meaning is true and the effort quite noble.
The document goes on to give “some reasons often given for not going to Mass regularly, followed by brief responses.” I will allow the document to speak for itself from here:
1. A priest yelled at me in the confessional. No one from my Church visited me when I was in the hospital. I am disgusted with the recent scandals in the Church. They aren’t very welcoming at my local parish. The Church is full of hypocrites.
It is very upsetting when anyone is hurt or scandalized by a member of the Church. However, we cannot afford to allow these injuries or frustrations to become an obstacle to our availing ourselves of the spiritual riches of Christ, given to us through the instrumentality of His Church. The Lord may be calling you to become part of the solution.
2. I do not believe in organized religious institutions anymore, and I do not feel like I need to go to church to be a spiritual person.
As Catholics, we have been joined to the organized religious institution of God’s family, the Church that Jesus founded. The Christian religion is not merely the personal pursuit of God. It is not simply Jesus and I. We have been incorporated into the Son of God through baptism, have received the Holy Spirit, and therefore have become the adopted children of our Heavenly Father. Christian spirituality is ultimately a family affair. At the Last Supper, Jesus instructed his followers to “do this in memory of me.” Each Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the Church gathers to fulfill this command of the Lord.
3. I am not allowed to come to Mass because I am divorced.
Being divorced does not ostracize someone from the Church. In the eyes of God, the marriage still exists, and the couple is simply separated. There could be a reason for this, in which case one has not committed a grave sin, and one is therefore able to worthily receive Holy Communion. Those who remarry place themselves in a state of serious sin, since their vows hold them bound to the previous marriage. This would make one unable to receive Holy Communion. In either case the Church encourages a person to come to Mass. We are also nourished by the Word of God, and we offer prayer and worship with the family of God. Divorced and separated people ought to meet with their priest to discuss the possibility of applying for an annulment.
4. I do not get anything out of it. It has been so long since I have been a regular church-goer and I just do not feel like going anymore.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is principally the worship of the Divine Majesty. It is first and foremost something that we give of ourselves to, before we expect to get anything out of it. Once the habit of going is in place, it becomes a fulfilling part of the rhythm of our lives. Many people who have been away come back to regular Mass attendance again. Going to Confession is the best way to make a fresh beginning. Registering in a Parish is strongly suggested and helps give one a concrete sense of membership.
5. I often work on Sundays, and I have just been so busy lately.
Sometimes we need to be a little creative to keep the Lord’s Day holy. This may mean finding a Saturday or Sunday evening Mass, or adjusting our work schedule to allow for Mass. God will bless you for making whatever sacrifice is necessary to permanently build this into your plan of life. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (Jas 4:8).
6. They are just after my money.
The Parish is not subsidized by its Diocese. The funds for the operation and upkeep of the facility, employee wages, all the various programs, and the assistance of the poor come from the donations of parishioners. The practice of taking up a collection is traceable to the earliest days of the Church (cf. Catechism, 2043, 1351; Canon Law, 222).
7. My spouse will not go.
This is a difficult challenge for many spouses. It would be ideal if they attended Mass with you, but ultimately it still remains your own personal responsibility to be a faithful witness to this commitment.
8. The Mass changed so much after the Second Vatican Council. When I grew up the Mass was in Latin. There is so little beauty and reverence anymore. I do not like the music nowadays.
The Mass we celebrate now is essentially the same as it was before the last Council, as well as in the early days of the Church. While it is certainly understandable that someone might lament the changes in structure, style and the manner in which the Mass is celebrated, the substance has ever remained the same.
9. I thought it was not an obligation anymore after the Second Vatican Council.
Many people feel allergic to the word ‘obligation.’ It is ultimately better to conceive of our regular Mass attendance as a loving response to our Lord. However, we all know it can be difficult to always respond lovingly to the Lord’s invitation to come to Mass. Therefore, the Church in her wisdom does still hold us bound to the foundational obligation of regular Mass attendance on Sundays and certain holy days. For more on this subject see the Catechism, paragraphs 2180-83.