The Deacon's Bench

If you’re wondering, like a lot of us, why more Catholics don’t go to mass, a priest has just published his thoughts on the subject:

Why do Catholics stop attending Mass?

This question was asked in a recent study conducted by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

More than disagreeing with church doctrines, the sex abuse scandals or busy weekends, Catholics miss Mass because they “no longer feel that being a committed Catholic requires this.” One respondent said, “It may just have been that there aren’t enough reasons to go, and I’m tired of trying to make an effort in so many directions.”

If it’s true that Sunday Mass is no longer seen as an obligation, what are the causes behind this, and what might be some remedies?

One known cause is that our present Catholic school system and the times we live in have changed. In the past, sisters, brothers and priests were the backbone of Catholic schools, and it was taken for granted that Sunday Mass was a serious obligation. Students routinely went to Mass as part of a cherished Catholic tradition.

But we can’t live in the past. We now live in a new era where the obligation of Sunday Mass must be seen in a new light. What might this be?

Perhaps instead of presenting the Mass as a serious obligation (which it is), we should see it as a blessed privilege. Instead of emphasizing its law-binding side, perhaps it would be better to emphasize its power to free us from the tyrannies of daily life.

When Mass is celebrated properly, its strengthening, freeing and soothing powers are awesome. It generates peace where there is anxiety, courage where there is fear, hope where there is despair and love where there is resentment.

In the fourth century, St. Ambrose wrote, “Let your sermons be full of understanding. … Let no word escape your lips in vain or be uttered without depth of meaning.”

If homilies better addressed the unique situation of the people, and if the wisdom of our Catholic tradition were better applied to worldly anxieties, those who no longer attend Mass might just find they have no reason for missing it.

During the feast of St. Cecilia we are reminded of the wholesome depths good music and liturgy can take us to. If our liturgies created a more profound atmosphere of sacred stillness that is the direct antithesis of our frenzied society, those who bypass them just might come in out of the cold and find the warmth they consciously or unconsciously seek.

If those who avoid Mass could experience a faith community concerned for the poor, suffering and weary, they just might be inspired to be an integral part of it.

The author, Fr. Eugene Hemrick, is director of the National Institute for Renewal of the Priesthood.

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