Have you ever eaten a meal at McDonalds? Come on, ‘fess up!
I have. Today actually.
And what do I find? Well, at first, I ate the pancakes with Vegemite because I was physically hungry after mass and a workout. And they tasted good. And then I ate the hash brown because I was feeling sad and food helps.
And then, that pleasantly satiated feeling moved to a queasy stomach feeling.
And, later, I felt hungry again. For real food. A piece of fruit. Some pasta. Anything that would fill that emptiness.
That emptiness caused by the fast food…too many calories in too short a time, fast food that fills you up, temporarily. But doesn’t feed you, satisfy you, sustain you…it leaves you wanting more.
Leaves you searching for something else. Something more real.
And it occurred to me that this was an answer to a question I heard yesterday.
The question was asked over morning tea. The others present had been to morning mass in their parish. And talked with surprise at how the innovations to the mass that their new parish priest had instituted had not brought more people to mass.
These ladies had been all in favour of liturgical dance in mass, giving out pens; handing out baptismal certificates as part of mass for all the children baptised that month; having children receiving the sacraments this year wearing a stole so they are noticed and feel important, and having a commitment card signed each Sunday…to get the families to mass.
Yet, no-one turned up to mass to receive their certificates. They had their babies baptised. They had been to mass and to the classes. They weren’t interested in being forced to come to mass again, forced to be part of a false man constructed community just to receive the certificates.
Mass maybe was not that important to them. Or perhaps the false community building and false enforcement irked. (It would irk me).
The co-ordinator (a woman of course – God forbid that we have priests make announcements) apparently read out the myriad of names. Welcomed everyone to the community. Everyone who…was not there. Everyone who did not attend, do not attend mass, that is.
And then , at our discussion, the ladies said they were flabbergasted . ‘You were right”, they said.. “Getting kids to have a commitment card signed doesn’t bring them to weekly mass as we thought. They just tick the box” .
“Why?” I asked, however. ( Why was I suddenly right?)
After mass, one woman said that she saw a family pull into the church car park of their parish. Mum and daughter got out, dad turned the car around in the car park. Daughter was wearing the purple stole, showing she was one of the candidates for first Holy Communion later this year. Mum and daughter ran up to the priest, who was chatting to people after mass …and they had their commitment card signed. To say that daughter had been to weekly Sunday mass. They promptly ran back to the car and left. Without attending mass.
The priest signed the card – how was he to know, in a very large parish,. who had or had not been to mass? Although he was the priest who instituted this signing of cards in the parish, saying it had been a great success in his last parish. A great success in collecting signatures?
And so, these ladies , over a cup of coffee at Gloria Jeans, told me I was right when I said that we don ‘t get people to come to mass by making them tick boxes. They tick their boxes while they have to and then they leave.
The ladies asked – “How do we get these people to mass? How do we make mass more interesting?”
To be honest, I think that question is part of the problem.
We are not fast food purveyors, needing to change and add innovations to our menu and market ourselves. Our parishes are the Church. Christ’s bride.
And sadly, sometimes in these people’s parish, and in many parishes, this fact appears to have been forgotten. Instead, the people are fed junk food, with me-centred liturgies and banal homilies and modern, pop culture hymns ( although we have a hoard of centuries of sacred music from which to pull hymns…but that is another post) …and people leave, barely fed, certainly not sustained, still searching for real food.
The very sad thing is, we have the real food. We have the Eucharist, the Real Presence. Yet, in some parishes , the Eucharist is not the main focus, God is not the main focus of the mass….in many parishes, the homily is no more than an Oprah-style monologue , the focus is the priest and the lay people at the altar, the jokes, the laughter, the schmaltz ( “Wasn’t it lovely when Fr told that story about the baby? There wasn’t a dry eye in the house???”…..I’m sorry, dear, but I can have a good cry over an excellent romantic comedy and I get better music, too).
People come to mass, many times, searching or struggling. Perhaps it was a struggle to get there, to get the baby ready, to rush there before work. Perhaps, in their busy lives they are looking for some solace. They come with their joys. They come with their sorrows. They come with their hassles.
They are looking for something more. They are fulfilling a Sunday obligation.
Astonishingly they come, in spite of the liturgy that, in the parish my friends discussed, is often trivialized and banal…akin to a sad re-run of bad sit-coms. It is stultifying. It is uninspiring.
It is even capable of sapping your faith.
Just as a diet of junk food fails, ultimately, to feed us well, to meet all our nutritional needs, to develop our palates and help us discern flavours and textures..so, a diet of brain zapping, me centred, almost anything goes liturgy fails to satisfy. The focus becomes less on God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist and more on me, on you, the priest, on innovations, on being relevant…and, in trying to catch up with popular culture and in trying to force community, it fails.
Fails us by not creating real community, built on love of God and neighbour and natural bonds. Fails us by not being as good at pop culture as the rest of the world ( I last heard that song, Morning Has Broken, in the 70s and it was played much better then. By Cat Stevens. You know?) .
Fails us by not reminding us of Whom it it that we receive and why He died for us and why we receive Him and why we should go to mass.
Ultimately, the fast food, junk food mentality of many liturgies in this day and age, in our Western culture, leaves us wanting.
And this is why people don t go to mass. Well, one of the reasons. Why drag yourself out of bed to face banalities and a priest in polyester vestments telling the same jokes over and over again ( “I’ve heard the peanut one three times now, Fr” ), why listen to popular music , why hear what Dr Phil has to say from the mouth of that laywoman . Why push yourself to get to mass to hear talk back radio sentiments from the priest…unless we really, truly, believe that Jesus is present on our altars.
But not many know that any more, as that speck of the Eucharist on the altar has become just that..a speck, hardly noticed in the general hoo-ha of the happy, clappy banal liturgy.
So, they don’t come to mass. Unless they have to.
How, then, do we get people to go to mass?
Not by jokes.
Not by making them come to receive certificates.
Not by having cups of tea after every mass, every week ..
Not by making them have commitment cards signed.
Not even by having multicultural processions.
But by prayerful liturgies. By offering something different to that which the world offers – silence, reverence, prayer, good music, adoration of God. Answers. Sacraments.
By following the rubrics carefully, for heaven’s sake. So people know, without a doubt, that Jesus is present under the appearance of bread and wine. That He died for our sins, so we might receive eternal life. That He is there to heal wounds, to love, to forgive sins.
We get people to mass by prayer and education.
By being counter-cultural.
By being what we are..
The Church. Christ’s bride. The Truth. Love.
We get people to church by being the Church and not impressing them with our egos ( me, me, it’s all about me!).
This morning I went to mass. I prayed at mass. A reverent, solemn mass for the feast today, St Francis of Assisi. Careful attention paid to the rubrics. Careful attention paid to the liturgical arts. Gold vestments. Great homily on St Francis, and on his love and obedience. On Christ’s humanity.
With the focus of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, on Jesus coming to us, on the altar, under the appearance of bread and wine.
Reading the words of St Paul to the Galations in my missal, I thought of this mass and the mass described to me yesterday.
One glories in Our Lord; one, sadly, almost glories in man.
But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.
Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen Galations 6:14-18
To my mind, people need masses that speak to the whys of life (glorifying in the cross) and they are tired of more fast food , in their masses..and in their diets.