Fast Food and Holy Mass

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, 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.

He is.

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.

15 thoughts on “Fast Food and Holy Mass”

  1. MacBeth took my questions!!! I'm guessing the car-park-sign-the-card family were "ethnically Catholics" and religiously Catholics? Nothing against anyone here–just it's such a typical way to approach religion today. Be seen obeying the rituals, but live however you want………

  2. Hi Leoni, I enjoy your blog and read it often. I do not often post comments because I am a somewhat private person but I felt compelled to contribute. I have recently returned to the Catholic church after attending protestant and evangelical churches for roughly 20 years with my husband who has a very deep faith life. While I loved the Christian communities we participated in, I could never find silence (Evangelicals, in particular, rarely fall silent). When I went to my protestant church during the week to meditate alone, the church just seemed like a big empty space. When I began stopping by the Catholic church, even though there was nobody in the church, the space felt full. I believe this is because of the mystery of the Real Presence. When asked about my children and my husband who remain protestant, I will usually answer, "we have each other's blessings. I thrive in the Catholic church and my husband thrives in the Protestant church and we love each other enough to give the freedom to thrive. It would be counter-productive for me to force them to come to the Catholic church, they would not find meaning and would resent it." So, I am exposing them to Catholicism and praying. I feel the only meaningful path to the Catholic faith for them will be that they have their own conversion experience. Remember Paul? I believe the type of church you speak of in this blog is the type of church I would call "Commercial Religion" in America. I have experienced it more in protestant and evangelical churches because that is where I have been in attendance in the past 20 years. I have detected it in small ways in the Catholic church. The best way, I have been able to figure out, to move my family (or anyone who is searching) is to simply expose them to this part of my life and to liturgy. This way, when they have reached the end of what "Commercial Religion" can offer, and "Commercial Religion" is finite, they know where they can go to find MORE. Catholicism is a mystical doctrine and is thereby infinite, as God is. So, my children attend daily liturgy (once per week) with me, we go to adoration with their prayer journals (my eleven year old has come home with some beautiful thoughts while sitting in contemplation), I tell them about my reconcilliation process, and we pray the rosary together as a family (Mary was the first chunk I bit off when approching my husband about returning to the Catholic church . . .we went through Luke to find the prayer). Since my husband and I are interested in much more than commercial religion, our children have a deeply formed faith. I know they will continue to search for the most truth, as my husband and I do . . . . no church gimmics necessary. Based on what I have read in your blogs over the past number of months, you are a beautiful example, Leoni, and I am sure you surround yourself with friends who are as well. The folks who have an experience of you, whether at church or in another place will sense your spirit and long for what you have and this is what will bring them to church . . . . your ability to be who you are in their presence as a Catholic christian will be the beginning of their conversion experience. I suspect you already know this, and I pray that the priest at this parish will be able to recognize this as well in order that he can feed those who arrive to meet Christ in that place. He will recognize that when well fed his parishioners will "go forth to love and serve the Lord" and in so doing, his flock will grow. One of the liturgy endings at my local Catholic church goes as follows . . . "The Mass never ends. It must be lived. Go forth to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God. Alleluia." Thank you for your beautiful writing. I look forward to reading it and often find myself at your blog when feeling lonely and needing to connect.

  3. Thank you for such a refreshing post Leonie. Some people may take offense at this but really they have no concept of the Mass or the principles of Sacred Liturgy. Keep up the great work!!

  4. Hi Leonie,I read your post through a link Fr.B.It is excellent and you hit the nail on the head. I think my parish is pretty lucky as we have a fairly large devout crowd turning out each week, that said, at the major liturgical events is where the submarine Catholics resurface.However, I do think you need that sense of community built. You need to be strong in your faith and foster that with others to help it nurture and grow. I don't think you should feel alone in your faith. As a young Catholic I did feel that. I wanted to be more involved, do more and be more. Sometimes that needs a tap on the shoulder, a call to action. I'm grateful I took that call as a 14 year old as the experiences, friends and opportunities I've had and the chance to be stronger in my faith has been innumerable. If your parish is trying to recruit families, you need to get to the children. A youth group, or deanery based functions. I was pretty shocked at the last Confirmation I attended (at another parish) where after the Mass, one family had hired a white stretch Hummer for their son, relatives and two friends (who had received Confirmation) for a ride around the local area. What message does that send the child? I'm pretty sure they soon forgot why they attended Mass that day in the first place.

  5. Wish I could write like that…interesting point sociologically as well as theologically; logical, free from clogging emotional reasoning; and criticising a society-wide belief pattern without being judgemental of anyone operating under its heuristics.If only we had more of this rational debate! 🙂

  6. Just wanted to say I really appreciated this post. I often find myself feeling this way, which is why I was so happy to find a local latin mass. it makes such a difference.

  7. Just wanted to say I really appreciated this post. I often find myself feeling this way, which is why I was so happy to find a local latin mass. it makes such a difference.

  8. Maria, thanks for the comment. I think that sadly that banal sentiment in sloppy liturgy is in many places and experienced by many. Sounds like you are in a reverent parish now!

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