How Can Daily Mass Attendance Become A Reality Beyond Lent?
COMMENTARY: Lenten daily Mass attendance leads to a desire to continue at least occasional participation in weekday Mass.
Bert Ghezzi’s new book, The Power of Daily Mass makes a nine-point case for why Catholics should make daily Mass part of their routine. Its appearance is particularly timely during Lent, when many Catholics resolve to attend Mass more frequently — even daily — during this “season of grace and favor.”
The author writes to lay Catholics, urging them to examine their lives to see if they can incorporate more Masses into their days.
My one problem with his book is: He should address a few words to priests about Mass times.
Ghezzi attends daily morning Mass in Florida. For many American Catholics, morning Mass is typical, with Mass offered in many parishes only in the morning on weekdays; consequently, this poses a problem for a lot of the faithful’s schedules.
Realities of Modern Life
Growing up in a Northeast factory town in the 1960s and ’70s, Mass at 7 and 8am was perhaps available for some men who reported to work at 8 o’clock in the same town in which they lived, for stay-at-home moms like mine and for the kids in parochial school. That reality exists today in few places.
Most people commute to work and are on the road pretty early: My dad had to be at work at 8 and could leave the house by 7:40 if mom was dropping him off. When I worked for a Catholic university in New York, I had to be in the car by 7 for an 8am class.
Commuters also get home pretty late. Dad punched the clock at 4:30pm, and we ate supper between 5 and 5:30pm. I leave work at 5:30pm, and the family eats by 6:30 or 7pm.
With the decline in priests in many parishes, some morning Masses have shifted to 9am. We now have rectories on banker’s hours and Mass scheduled primarily for retirees.
I am not arguing against Mass for senior citizens. But if daily Mass is going to be a reality for more than retirees, the clergy need to take account of the realities of modern life.
In my little New Jersey town, St. Mary’s used to offer a Mass every evening at 5:20.
For most of the folks who lived and worked in Perth Amboy, it was quite convenient and had a fair share of attendees. Even earlier as a kid, I remember attending the Miraculous Medal/St. Jude novena on Monday nights at 7pm at Holy Spirit parish. The novena was joined to Mass, during which another priest heard confessions. Say what you might about popular devotions (I know a certain type of liturgist strains at them), but to get people to go to church on a Monday night at 7pm is a success story that perhaps those liturgists and today’s priests might try to emulate.
I have lived in Poland several times. What always struck me about Polish pastoral care was the flexibility of Mass schedules, which accommodated all of the populations of a given parish. There was always a morning Mass. And there was always an evening Mass, daily, usually around 6pm, sometimes 7pm. And people attended.
Sundays were even more flexible. In addition to the usual morning hours, many Warsaw parishes, for example, had an afternoon Mass around 1 or 2pm and then a variety of Sunday evening Masses, often in the 4-7pm bracket. (The Dominicans were the last to offer Mass, at 8pm, for university students). There are few parishes in Poland as hermetically sealed by noon on Sundays as many parishes in the United States.
We often hear a lot about the Church responding to the signs of the times.
Signs of the Times
One of the signs of the times is an expanded workday that makes daily Mass difficult, if not practically impossible, for many people who might otherwise take Ghezzi’s good advice and start going.
So what to do?
We hear a lot about “consultation” in the Church. When is the last time that your parish clergy consulted parishioners about the Mass schedule? When was there a discussion about what times best fit the various populations in your parish?
With Lent in full swing, I strongly urge parish priests to consider scheduling Mass at least once or twice a week in the evening. What time depends on the makeup of your parish. If people have long commutes, that Mass will need to be later. The best thing to do is ask what works for the faithful.
Another option — more viable in cities where people can reach the church on foot — is a noontime Mass. Again, recognize that people’s time is constrained: pontifical high Mass with five hymn verses is perhaps not best suited for Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent. I understand a certain reply that will say, “There must always be time for Mass.” There must — but there must also be prudential judgment. Praying is obviously more spiritually valuable than eating, but if you don’t do the latter, you will also eventually cease doing the former. That said, lunchtime Mass (leaving some room afterwards for lunch) may be a viable option in some places. (Several Washington and New York parishes as well as churches in other large cities, for example, do this).
What has been said about Mass times can be said in regard to confession times. Does a half hour before Mass on Saturday evening best reflect the significance we want to attach to this sacrament of forgiveness? Does the success of diocesan “Come Home for Advent/Lent” programs, which provide for a designated weekday evening of faith and fellowship, tell us something? Even bolder — how about hearing confessions regularly before Mass?
Lent is an opportunity for people to grow closer to Christ. Hopefully, Lenten Mass attendance leads to a desire to continue at least occasional participation in weekday Mass.
Can we look at the “signs of the times” in our parishes to make that aspiration a reality?
John M. Grondelski, Ph.D., is former
associate dean of the School of Theology
at Seton Hall University.