In general, Mass attendance these days is far from stellar. In our area, calculations seem to be that approximately twenty-five percent of our registered parishioners attend Mass on the average weekend. Some of the sad comments that have resonated over the years include: I don't get anything out of the Mass, Mass is boring, or I'm / we're just too busy. As pastor, I can simply bewail and lament the situation or I can offer some suggestions to help people appreciate the wonderful gift that we have in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Here are some of my thoughts:
- Mass is a ritual and an act of worship. Its general pattern does not change. There is a Liturgy of the Word and a Liturgy of the Eucharist each and every time. Knowing this, it is important I understand that Mass is not meant to be entertainment--like watching a show or performance--but worship. Today's liturgy involves the active participation of the congregation: voicing the responses, singing, listening attentively, praying, making various gestures and movements, etc. Just being present (punching my time card) is not the same as active participation. An act of the will is involved in which I choose (actively) to worship the Living God.
- Not every Mass will appear earth-shattering or every homily be super interesting. Ritual, by its nature, can become somewhat routine. While some things do change in the Mass like the color of vestments, the hymns, the readings, the prayers, etc., the general pattern does not. For a greater awareness and appreciation of the beauty of the Mass, the participant needs to delve more deeply into its rich mystery with all of its symbolism and subtleties. Read a book, take a class, watch a video, or listen to a CD explaining just what is happening during each and every Mass. This should help enhance one's appreciation of what occurs at Mass. Moreover, homilists vary in oratory skills, intelligence, and preparedness. While not every homily will necessarily motivate or impress an individual, one or another might provide particularly good insight and inspiration. Some homilies might actually be life-changing. However, when a person is not present to hear them (does not come to Mass), the possibility of being edified or inspired by them might not even exist.
- Reception of the Holy Eucharist and Mass attendance need to be clearly distinguished. Catholics are required to attend Mass each week and on Holy Days of Obligation. This responsibility has not changed in our time, although it is noticeably disregarded. It doesn't matter what the subjective state of the person is--sinner or saint. For example, a person unable to receive Holy Communion (for whatever reason) is nonetheless still required to attend Mass. Reception of Holy Communion is not a requirement for attending Mass. One needs to be in the state of grace (not conscious of any grave sin) in order to worthily receive Holy Communion. Otherwise, the person first needs to seek out the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession). However, anyone unable to receive Holy Communion can and should make a Spiritual Communion instead while realizing that Christ is also present at Mass through the Sacred Scriptures, in the person of the priest and where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name (the Church or Mystical Body of Christ). The essential point here is that all Catholics need to attend Mass weekly.
- Preparation for Mass and reflection on the Scripture readings can help enhance the experience. Reading the Scriptures for Mass ahead of time is a valuable way to benefit more fully from them. What is God saying to me? As a priest preparing my Sunday homily, I often begin right after the weekend Masses to reflect on the Sacred Scriptures for the following week. Taking the time to pray ahead of time (instead of rushing in late or at the very last minute) also can put one into the right frame of mind. Moreover, the motivational Catholic speaker Matthew Kelly suggests keeping a Mass journal with personal reflections from the Sunday readings. This practice can help one to become a better listener and more reflective. The Mass readings can be found online and in various monthly publications which often include prayers and reflections on the Scriptures.
- Volunteer your services. Becoming a reader, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, altar server, usher or choir member are various ways for a person to get more actively involved at Mass. From my youngest days as an altar server, I preferred serving at the altar to sitting in the pew.
I have personally found that when I give God time in prayer and worship as I am supposed to do, I inevitably find the necessary time that I need to accomplish the many duties I have. However, when I begin to cut corners or make my prayer and worship a lesser priority, my days often become more chaotic and burdensome.
Perhaps there is a connection here?
Fr. Ed Namiotka