Packed pews on Palm Sunday But who are those people?

That’s the question Peggy Steinfels posed in a post-Passion Sunday post over at dotCommonweal. She was casting about for fellow curmudgeons, but found surprisingly few despite her set-up:

Every year I forget that half the church is full of people who don’t otherwise  go to Mass, and every year I forget that they will be there.

Our pastor welcomed them all, as he should have, at the end of Mass encouraging them to come more often…and of course they will on Holy Thursday and Easter… maybe Good Friday and next Christmas.

So what’s the problem? Or what’s my problem? They don’t know what to do or how to behave. Why are they there?


So in a spirit of self-discipline and educating myself, two inquiries.

1. Observations from or about people who only go to church on “high” holydays. Why?

2. Observations from those who go all the time and have figured out what to do about the seldom-comers. Pray for them? Scowl at them when talking, carrying on, sitting so you can’t kneel? ETC.? Admonish them? Welcome them? Go to an unpopulated church? Stay home?

The post generated a number of interesting responses, but relatively few curmudgeons–though the complaints about noisy kids hit home. My daughter is 3-1/2 and I’m astonished at how I’ve become (at least I think) one of “those” parents who has to take their kid out to the vestibule, though not soon enough for many around me. Makes for a helluva mass-going experience.

Your thoughts?  

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Gerard Nadal

posted April 5, 2009 at 11:12 pm

When tempted to scowl at the talkers, etc, I am reminded that Jesus said He will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. If He will not, what right have I to do so? The C&E (Christmas and Easter) people need to be invited back. I make it a point to say a brief hello, nice to see you. Then I usually comment to the dad that it’s god to see more men taking an active leadership role in their families.
I tell them that we have a very young crowd at our Father’s club and the Knights of Columbus, that they’re normal guys and to come have a beer with us. I’ve gotten a number interested and involved over the years.
When the C&E talkers begin attending regular Sunday Masses, they spontaneously conform to the reverential silence and attitude of prayer.
I will confess to one midnight Mass about twelve years ago, we had two women sitting behind us talking NONSTOP during the entire Mass. As the Consecration began and they continued, I turned to my wife, pretending to be non-Catholic and asked, rather loudly, “Is it normal for Catholics to talk straight through services?” They shut up immediately, but if looks could kill….

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Your Name

posted April 6, 2009 at 8:04 am

Brought up in the days of the pre-Vat.II Eucharist, I served my first Mass in 1957, and celebrated my First Mass in 1975. At my ordination I was privileged to have present the Parish Priest who suspended me from the Altar Servers group, but still wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I applied for the minor sem. Some years back I baptized 13 babies on Easter Sunday morning. I told the mother’s to stay in the Church even should the babies begin to cry. An Easter blessing? None of them cried. Also had a little one wander into the sanctuary and sit on the steps of the altar, as I suggested to her, all through the Eucharistic Prayer.She finally went back to her mother at the kiss of peace. Many years later she became a very active member of the parish youth group and after marrying brings her brood to Church every Sunday.

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Brendan Kelleher SVD

posted April 6, 2009 at 8:08 am

Apologies. Name, for the last comment got lost in the ether. I am Divine Word Missionary, working in the educational apostolate here in Japan
Brendan Kelleher svd

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Steve T

posted April 6, 2009 at 8:31 am

My feelings are rejoice they came out to Mass at all, and what was it Jesus said about the little children? Something about…bring them to me? The sound of children in church is the sound of a church that is alive, and not dead. Pity the church where no children even attend.

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posted April 6, 2009 at 9:12 am

Next Friday my girlfriend and I will attend the Good Friday ceremonies at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Sao Paulo. Every year it’s the same thing: if you want to find a seat, arrive 1 hour in advance. However, this Benedictine monastery gets more crowded also because the monks use organ and Gregorian Chant, which has become a tourist attraction.
Maybe priests could use this occasion to teach people about the importance of attending Mass regularly (adding that skipping Sunday Mass is a mortal sin – I believe many people who go to church only when feeling like it don’t know about this rule).
I wonder if the Easter Vigil in my hometown cathedral will be packed. Will people who rarely go to church be able to stand a 2, 3-hour ceremony?

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posted April 6, 2009 at 1:42 pm

The C&E crowd is likely no better and no worse than those attending without fail. Who are we to say? I am well aware of the “holy day of obligation” mindset, but really, no attendance is required at all. “Pray to your Father in secret” I recall. Really basic stuff. Furthermore, writing your name on the “envelope” will nullify your reward in Heaven; you will have received your reward in full. Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.
And it simply isn’t proper to pass judgment on anyone about their attendance. Normally I just roll my eyes anyone whips out scripture, but I think all of Matthew 23 is particularly relevant in addressing this problem, especially if you are a Church functionary.

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posted April 6, 2009 at 5:57 pm

I am always so happy when our traditional Latin Mass is packed to overflowing on Christmas and Easter. I feel that at least these people still have an active conscience and know that they should go to church. Our priests also give fantastic sermons that everyone can relate to so hopefully some of these seasonal people will return. Many are called, but few are chosen!

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posted April 7, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I have been away from the church for 20+ years. I have been reading and praying and feeling the desire and need to return. Two of my biggest fears with returning is one; confession. It has been so very long. I am ashamed and very embarressed. Two, the response from the congregation. Will they roll their eyes at me and pass judgement because Ihave been away so long?

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posted April 7, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Don’t sweat confession, go only if you like, and don’t worry what anyone will think. I would think of the parable of the neighbor that asks for some bread in the middle of the night. Demand your relationship with Jesus and God, dare to be annoying. You will still get what you need if you ask.
Be bold enough to intrude, its your faith, not theirs anyways.

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posted April 7, 2009 at 7:45 pm

dawnspromise –
I did the same thing a few years ago, and have loved being back in the Church. I hope you find a wonderful priest, who has a calling to be in his ministry so that you could get the same kind of experience I had.
Love, love, love. Welcoming, rejoicing, kindness, assistance, guidance, invitations to study, to pray, to learn, to participate.
What a joy!
If that’s not your experience, go to another parish. Go until you find someone who is there to welcome you home.
Good luck – I”ll keep you in my prayers.

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