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Posted December 18, 2007

No Longer Church Goers

Eugene Hemrick

[The entire study of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference mentioned here can be accessed on our website.]

Why do Catholics stop attending mass?

The 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 tells us, “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 a obligation, what are the causes behind this, and what might be 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 its backbone, and it was taken for granted that Sunday mass was a serious obligation. This teaching was not only taught in books, but students routinely went to mass as a part of a cherished Catholic tradition.

As effective as was Catholic schooling, we can’t live in the past. We now live in a new era in which the obligation of Sunday mass must be seen in a new light. And what might this new light 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 world anxieties, those without a reason for attending mass might just find they have no reason for missing it.

During the feast of Saint Cecilia, we are reminded of the wholesome depths good music and liturgy can take us. 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 inner 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 more reasonable the mass is, the more unreasonable it is to miss it.