Monday, October 1, 2012

New to the Endangered Catholic Species List: "The Mass of Convenience"

Several years ago, the deanery that I currently serve as priest in conducted a study to look at weekend Masses and attendance.  The study found that there were 44 weekend Masses in the deanery, and, more surprisingly, that the average Mass attendance was LESS THAN HALF of the Church's capacity. 

The Church where I currently serve as pastor has been conducting Mass counts the last month and a half (as part of a deanery-wide effort) just to see if the numbers have changed at all.  At my parish, the largest TOTAL weekend attendance (the sum of the attendance at our two Masses) has been 190, while the Church's capacity is 260.  So, as it stands, if we had only one Mass, then everyone would still fit.  (please note: if you are from the area, we are NOT going to one Mass, I'm simply raising this as a discussion piece). 

Some would argue, again using my parish as an example, "Well, Father, if you took away one of the Masses, some people would just go elsewhere" and that is precisely what I'm writing about. 

In the next 10 years, half of our current priests will be retiring. 

I don't think this will lead to lots of Churches being closed, but it will definitely lead to an Archbishop saying to parishes - "We will have as many Masses at your parish as is warranted by the numbers...but we won't have any more than that either." 

What's the point of raising this topic???  I believe that whereas twenty and thirty years ago (and beyond) the model was basically this - Father comes to your parish for his entire life, and it is Father's job to attract new people to this parish, and I, as a lay person at my Church, don't have to worry too much about going out and evangelizing and trying to draw people in...I don't have to take my Faith to the public square, I don't have to go "door to door" so to speak - it's up to Father.  And if Father's reputation in the community was solid, if his preaching was tolerable, if the music was tolerable, then people came.

The point of my post is that right before our very eyes this model is being replaced with a model that is in many ways the opposite of the old model.  Now, it is the priest who will be going from one parish to another administering the sacraments, while the responsibility for going out and taking the faith to the people will fall largely on the people in the parish. 

I will have 4 or 5 Masses a weekend for the rest of my life.  If I'm at a parish that warrants 5 Masses because each one is full, then I'll be at that parish by itself.  If there a bunch of parishes in an area that only warrant one Mass, then I will have 5 Masses at 5 different Churches every weekend. 

So...in an interesting way there is a temporal benefit for the parish that goes out and evangelizes and draws people to the Church - they will have more Masses, and those that do not will move to one Mass a weekend, and they will close if that one Mass isn't even feasible. 

The days of saying "Well, I'm going to the 5:30 Mass so I can sleep in tomorrow, and then, when 5:00 rolls around and the Notre Dame game is close, deciding to go to the 9 am Mass, and then, when my mom makes sausage at 8:30, I decide to go to the noon Mass, but then, when it gets close to noon, realizing I want to watch the Colts game, and so I decide I can go to the 5:30 Mass at the neighboring parish"...those days are going to quickly be behind us.

And I would end with noting that this isn't a bad thing.  First of all, again, it forces people to go and win converts themselves and to learn more about their faith than if they just went to Church one hour a week.  The other advantage, however, is that people would rather go to Masses in Churches that are full!  My current parish, before I arrived, had three Masses with about 40 people attending each Mass.  I would find that terribly depressing as a parishioner.  Even if it is less convenient, I'd rather go to Mass with the whole community than have 5 pews to myself on a Sunday.