Mass at Midnight on Christmas Morning

This Christmas my local parish was something to behold. Midnight Mass began with light only from decorations on the Evergreen trees, the Priest, escorted by the Deacon and members of the local Knights of Columbus, processed through the Pews with an icon of the baby Jesus to be laid in the Manger. The entire Church was silent and it was beautiful.

As is typical of Christmas and to a lesser extent Easter Masses, the Church was full. This is an unusual circumstance for my parish, as on any typical Sunday the Church is probably half empty. In New England, people who don’t usually come to Church come to Church on Christmas. This is a disheartening aspect of Catholic life in America. Is there anything that can or should be done about it?

Faithful Catholics try to have the mind of Christ. They care about these people that show up in a Catholic Church once a year. Once a year, after all, is not good enough. If they are Catholic and they are not attending Mass every Sunday of the year, they are in grave sin and put themselves in danger of eternal separation from God. This is a reality more distressing than the lack of universal health insurance. Indeed, these people are not simply at risk of dying, like everyone else, but they are at risk of dying and being separated from God forever. I think that if this is true something needs to be done about it.

There are lots of factors that contribute to infrequent Mass attendance and poor catechesis is chief among them. Lots of good people, good Catholics, simply do not know that they are obligated to attend Mass on Sundays. If you are reading this you likely know that Mass is not optional for Catholics; if we are to consider ourselves Catholic then we must consider Mass attendance a necessary component of our salvation. Another factor that contributes to poor Mass attendance is simply lack of faith. Many Catholics do not believe in the God of the Bible. Rather they believe in a god of their convenience, one that fits their particular idiosyncrasies and who is conducive to them “being a good person.”

Given that it seems that poor Mass attendance is largely the result of intellectual problems, it is wise to think an intellectual solution will be the most efficacious. So my question is this: why don’t priests say anything about this? Is it wrong to include simple truths about the Faith in Christmas sermons? And I don’t just mean priests who aren’t deeply in love with God – even very holy priests, very orthodox, very prayerful priests would seem to have qualms with discussing the truths of the faith at the pulpit.

I would be the first one to admit that the Sermon cannot be only an exposition of the Church’s teaching on faith and morals. The true proper place for this type of teaching is during Confirmation classes. But another sad fact about Catholic life in America is that catechesis doesn’t happen at Confirmation anymore. At least in my Diocese, we have moved from teaching the truths of the faith to trying to teach the experience of a personal encounter with Christ (this is difficult to teach for a number of reasons). So more often than not, a person’s only encounter with the Church and Her teachings is that once a year experience at Christmas or Easter. This is a holy opportunity to reach out to these wayward souls, and it is being squandered.

My priest, who I believe to be very holy, very orthodox and very much in love with Jesus and the Church (even the teachings) gave a homily that spoke of the obligations imposed on a person in relationship with God. This was good – very good, except that the content of these obligations was left undefined. Yes! The Incarnation means we are in a new and holy relationship with God. Yes! Catholics have obligations to God. But what those obligations exactly are, well, we’re not allowed to talk about? Does a priest have an obligation to define these obligations, especially on Christmas? It would seem to me he does.

Or maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. Maybe the sermon isn’t the place to catechize the Catholic people. Maybe I’m supposed to accept the thousands of Catholics who are being left out of life’s greatest joy, which is the fullness of the Catholic faith. But maybe I’m not.

35 Responses to Mass at Midnight on Christmas Morning

  1. Diane says:

    Sometime during the early 70’s a belief was simply “in the air” that missing mass was no big deal. And if this attitude was refuted the refutation never got “into the air.”

  2. Marshall Fightlin says:

    It seems to me that the normal sequence is 1) evangelize, 2) catechize, 3)give homilies. In other words, a person needs to be converted from this world to the person of Christ, then he needs to be catechized about what this means regarding faith and morals, and finally, at Mass, he needs to be exhorted to live out what he professes. My hunch is that most Catholics who attend Mass only at Christmas and Easter are not only not catechized about obligations, they are basically unconverted.

    I think it would be foolish to insist too narrowly on the definition of homily as “exhortation”. The homilist should slip in some substantial evangelization and catechesis.

    But I think evangelization comes first. There is something wrong with telling someone who has never committed himself Christ that he should attend Mass weekly under pain of mortal sin.

  3. Zach says:


    Thanks for the comments. I think I agree with you about the standard order of operations for the faithful, but I’m not sure that evangelization and catechesis cannot occur in the context of a homily. Would you say there is nothing that priests can do about this, at least in the context of these two Masses?

    “There is something wrong with telling someone who has never committed himself Christ that he should attend Mass weekly under pain of mortal sin.”

    What, exactly? I think it doesn’t have to be said like in those words, per se, and that there are pastoral ways to talk about these things.

  4. Zach says:


    I think that is the sad truth.

  5. Susan says:

    For a few years, we had an awesome young priest at our church who evangelized and catechized in every homily he gave (yes, even daily mass – short, but powerful). It’s definitely a gift of his, but also comes from great formation and a personal love of Christ that he wants to share. I learned something about my faith in every homily of his that I heard, and it made me want to learn more and be closer to Christ. He always started with the gospel or one of the other readings (imagine that!) and tied it into a larger truth of the Church and gave personal examples of ways we could apply these things to our lives. He greatly challenged people to live the faith, and people responded. The Christmas homily may be the only homily someone hears in a year – it is definitely appropriate and important for the priest to charitably impart the truths of the Church at that time for the sake of souls.

  6. Zach says:

    Thanks Susan

    This is one reason why these conversations are helpful – your comment is a shorter, better and more eloquent way of saying what I was trying to say in this post.

  7. American Knight says:

    This is a struggle for me. One one hand it seems prideful to note that I may be a more observant Catholic, more orthodox, than someone else – am I being Pharisiac? On the other hand, if I know my faith because it has been given to me and I know that a brother or sister is in error, do I have the right to be ‘civil’ and ‘tolerant’ by not saying anything, or do I have the duty to correct my brother, with Charity?

    Whenever I assist at a Sunday Novus Ordo Mass I struggle with this through the whole Mass. Daily Masses are a little easier as most of those assisting are more faithful, yet I still see abuses, which are probably a result of poor catechesis.

    I think our priests, even the best of them, are in a quandry. The current mentality of most Americans is that more comfort is desired and less obligation. Being aware of that may render a priest too cautious to be a good disciplinarian, a shepherd if you will.

    At the beginning of Advent I made a committment to our Lord to truly prepare for the joy of Christmas and I was attacked with an old sin and I fell. I immediatly ran to Reconciliation and received a pennance of three Ave Maria’s. I was perplexed and when the priest asked me if there was anything else I stated that I had prayed many more Ave’s on my way to Pennance than he gave me; I felt that my pennance was too light. He told me he doesn’t like to give penance that isn’t kept because it is ‘too hard’. I was confused becuase I know he is a good and orthodox priest. He increased my sentance to 5 decades of the Rosary. Better, but that should be a joy, not a pennance. I am not talking about srupulousity here, I know that I am forgiven – I am referring to obligation. We need more discipline not less. I came back to the Church because she is demanding not becuase she’s fun.

    I didn’t mean to digress but I think it is a good example of this point. The Church needs to demand more, she must demand what God wants. He wants it ALL – He wants us to trustfully surrender everything to Him through Mary in Jesus. Our Church must tell that to the world and suffer persecution for it. That is the command and the promise. If our priests can’t do it, then we must. Or am I being arrogant?

    I am not sure. We need to pray. And have more discussions like this. What does God want us to do? Souls are in jeopardy!

  8. Todd says:

    Christmas and Easter aren’t the most disappointing days. I find Holy Family Sunday and the 2nd Sunday of Easter the real downers.

    I once remarked to a priest that a real Christmas miracle would be if all these people came back on the following Sunday. He dismissed the thought out of hand.

    I know he is a good, hard-working man, but I don’t think many Catholics treat evangelization seriously. The so-called orthodox may be among the worst offenders, with the talk about a smaller, leaner Church.

    When preachers preach Christmas, do they offer any encouragement for people to return the next Sunday? Any encouragement at all? And do parishioners make Christmas enough of a welcoming time that newcomers or inactive believers would *want* to return?

  9. Zach says:

    Yes, American Knight, I agree more discipline is necessary. In America, the Church is too easily understood as just another choice we make – a choice that can be changed. I’m also of the opinion that people like a challenge – expect great things and you’re more likely to get great things than if you hadn’t.

    FWIW I don’t think it’s prideful to care about the exposition of the truth. It’s prideful to pretend or to act as if this truth is your own, because of course, it is not. It is the evangel, the Good News, and you are but a mail carrier.

  10. Zach says:

    Todd, your comment perplexes me. Are you suggesting that the Church should do a better job with its advertising? It sounds like it. What has convinced you that this is the problem? I think I am of the opposite mind. The Church has done plenty of advertising – but the advertising has come with an abandonment of those things which mark us off as being distinctively Catholic Christians: namely, the richness of the Deposit of Faith. I mean, has the Church been anything other than welcoming in the last 50 years?

    Maybe we could do better advertising that was inclusive of the entire faith – not just the emphasis on love as niceness. Love is not always nice. But I think it is fair to say that the Priest could offer some positive encouragement for people to return. Perhaps the best thing the Priest might mention is that Mass is an encounter with God Himself in the Flesh, and if they would like to meet God, Mass is the best place to go.

    I also think there is a psychological battle going on here where people think that if we really tell people the truth about Catholicism they will be afraid and they will run away. I do not think this has to be. It’s true that the truth hurts sometimes, and I think it’s also true that sometimes this hurt is for the better. Also I’m confused with this remark:

    “The so-called orthodox may be among the worst offenders, with the talk about a smaller, leaner Church.”

    Are you talking about the Pope? That idea, I think, is from his book Salt of the Earth. I believe the Pope was referring to the idea that the Church may indeed be smaller in the future and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. This is not to say that the Church is no longer concerned with evangelization. I think it is a simple truth that the zeitgeist has a significant effect on whether or not we can hear the Gospel.

  11. Todd says:

    “I mean, has the Church been anything other than welcoming in the last 50 years?”

    In a word: yes.

    No, I’m not talking about advertising. I’m talking about changing the whole mindset, from the pope on down, if need be.

    I have a deep trust in the liturgy, that if preachers, musicians, and especially parishioners attend to their duties and responsibilities, people will come. I think that Catholics sell ourselves far short. I think demanding more of occasional believers and giving them multiple reasons to come–this is needed.

    The notion that Catholics are somehow stupid or uncatechized for not showing up every week–conservative Catholics shot down Bishop Trautman’s commentary, and rightly so. People don’t come to church because they discern no consequences. My suggestion is that we can and should look at some serious carrots to get people in the door. Once lassoed, I would trust the Holy Spirit to keep them in place.

  12. gb says:

    “CARROTS”??? Please. At the risk of blasphemy, if Jesus-truly-present-in-the-Eucharist isn’t enough of a carrot, don’t know what it’ll take.

    No, this isn’t a marketing question. This is a question of pure laziness…on the part of pewsitters, on the part of homilists…there’s plenty of blame for everybody to share. The old refrain about “I didn’t know..” has been laid to rest with the availability of the CCC, online access. Nevermind the Third Commandment.

    I really really really would like one time to hear the priest/lector/somebody read at Christmas/Easter Masses the Communion Caveat that can now be found in every missalette in the pews. READ IT OUT LOUD FROM THE PODIUM.

    On New Year’s Eve last Thurs night, our parish had an hour of Adoration which began at 11 pm. I was the only Anglo there. Hispanic families & singles filled up the (big) church. Obviously they didn’t think anything about picking up children who were asleep & bringing them into Church to start 2010. The Anglos couldn’t be bothered, I guess. So the RCC USA is being given to the little ones who are open.

  13. Joe Hargrave says:

    For Zach and all,

    I must say that most of what I know about Catholicism, I researched on my own. For a while I had the privilege of attending some of the most well-researched and informative sermons I have ever heard at my traditional parish, but our deacon left to become ordained and our priest was transfered,.

    Perhaps I am a unique case. But I think sometimes we make excuses for people. I learn more about Catholicism because I WANT to know more about it. I WANT to know whether or not, for instance, I need to be in Mass every Sunday. And when I am informed even by a lay person that I ought to be doing X or Y, I research that claim as well.

    This is not about intelligence, education, or literacy beyond what any high school graduate ought to possess. In our culture and especially with the Internet, there is no excuse for ignorance. We might be excused for confusion on a point on which there are more than one seemingly reasonable positions, but on this question the teaching is absolutely clear.

    People don’t have the desire to learn more about their faith because, in many parishes, systematized liturgical abuse makes the faith a joke. Google “Barney Mass” and then tell me that the people in that parish will have a profound respect for the faith, a healthy fear of the Lord (yes, it is still a virtue).

    This “lean church” v. “big church” debate reminds me of the endless and futile debates that took place among warring communist sects about “sectarianism” v. “opportunism.” A sectarian wants purity for his small sect and absolute control over doctrinal matters at the price of expanding and running the risk of introducing corrosive elements. An opportunist wants expansion at the price of elementary principles and in some cases, recognition of objective truth and logical validity (they will literally cease to speak or think about issues that can lead to a split).

    As in all things, the answer lies in a middle ground. I am a traditionalist because I do believe in the importance of objective truth, because I reject with all of the scorn and contempt I can must the cultural relativism, born of hedonism, individualism, and consumerism, that says the value of brand A depends only upon its utility to the customer.

    The Mass is not a brand. It costs nothing but it is of infinite value. And because we live in a consumerist society, everyone knows an advertising gimmick when they see one. They know that the Church, at least under the local authorities, is trying to appeal to them. And yet they come in fewer numbers. Why?

    Because in the marketplace of religions, a Catholic “Mass” rife with liturgical abuse and silly gimmicks will always be second-rate to Protestant and “non denominational” services that go all the way with these sort of things. It will always be an inferior product on the shelves, the mass produced (no pun intended) “brand X” of religious experience.

    There are reasons why the Churches used to be so beautiful, why the music was so beautiful, why the people were dressed beautifully – because when outsiders come for the first time, they are impressed. They see the seriousness with which we take our religious worship, they see that we have set aside the best, that we have reserved the best, that we have MADE SACRED the best we have for God. They don’t see some damned fool in a Barney costume prancing around.

    My view is that a return to an acknowledgement of objective truth in aesthetic and liturgical development would result in more, not less people attending Mass. Why? Because this is how God ordered the universe. We are designed to find certain things beautiful, which inspire more reverence and devotion, and to find certain things ugly or mundane, which inspires only mockery and contempt.

    Perhaps we did have to experience how terrible things are under a regime of relativism and subjectivist to appreciate it more. But there can be no question about it now. So I hope Benedict’s liturgical counter-reform happens sooner rather than later.

  14. Joe Hargrave says:

    Also, please read this, and skip ahead to modern developments if you like:

    Click to access chron.pdf

  15. Joe Hargrave says:

    I mean, wouldn’t you rather hear THIS when Mass begins?

  16. Marshall Fightlin says:


    My point was that the homilist CAN introduce evangelizing and catechizing into the homily, and that it would be a mistake to define the homily so narrowly as to exclude this.

    As to your other question, what I was trying to say was that, if the homilist only catechizes, and never evangelizes, he is in danger of instructing in the duties of faith people who have never consciously accepted the faith in the first place. My point was that homilists should not only catechize. They should also evangelize.

  17. American Knight says:


    I see your point about evangelizing; however, do you really think the ‘visitors’ to a Mass would have ears to hear? It seems more practical to confirm the brethren then evangelize ‘visitors’.

    Joe pointed out that no one has a valid excuse to claim ignorance of the Catholic faith because the authentic, traditional, orthodox faith is out in the open, it is free and the Holy Spirit will guide any honest seeker to the deposit of faith. Most people are lazy they won’t seek; so if they are at least aware enough of the precepts to come to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days then that is the best time to cathechize them. Properly cathecized Catholics know that evangeliztion is not an option, it is a command.

    Joe, thanks for the sounds of the Mass – beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, unless the beholder is God. We really need to draw sharp contrasts between the sacred and the profane. Grey is the Devil’s favorite color.

  18. American Knight says:

    Whoops- last post addressed to Marshall not Zach. Sorry.

  19. […] was following a St Blog’s discussion on this theme. Zach seems convinced this is a question of knowledge and information. If only people knew their […]

  20. Art Varga says:

    I wish I could tell you that things were different on the Anglo Catholic side. I have been an usher at the last remaining Anglo Catholic parish of the Episcopal church in Colorado for over 25 years. Just 10 years ago, 250 + at the service of Lessons and carols (Bells & Smells ). Same number stayed after Midnight for the High Mass / 20 Min Sermon by Father and more Bells & Smells.
    This year a number of folks ( who I’ve never seen in the last year) walked out at Midnight and more left durring the sermon. At Holy Communion I counted just 119 people including children, the choir and the priests and servers. Given the Apostate state of the national Episcopal Church I look forward to an Anglican Rite under Rome. I just hope more then us Anglos fill the pews next Christmas.

  21. Elaine Krewer says:

    My own husband has refused to attend Mass for at least 5 years now; I told him in no uncertain terms that it was obligatory under pain of mortal sin, but he insists that I am being too “fanatical” about the whole thing and that my “nagging” him to go every Sunday when we were first married is what “ruined” church for him ;-( If he won’t listen to me I doubt that he’d listen to a sermon on that topic.

    I think the difference comes from how you were raised. In my family, one NEVER, ever, missed Sunday or holy day Mass except for a really serious reason — something serious enough to count as a valid excuse for missing work or school (illness, extremely bad snowstorms, etc.) In his family, however, his parents stopped going to Mass when he was just a toddler (I suspect they were disillusioned with Vatican II and the Novus Ordo, though I don’t know for sure; they did come back many years later after all their kids had left home) so he grew up assuming that it was perfectly normal for a “Catholic” family to never go to Mass except on special occasions.

  22. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Parental example can be important. My Mom, God rest her soul, never missed Mass, and she instilled that in me. My wife began attending Mass with me while we were dating. She was a Methodist and converted a few years after we were married. Now I suspect that if I ever wanted to become a “lazy” Catholic, she would make sure that I came nonetheless. She has a convert’s zeal, one of the countless reasons why I love her!

  23. Zach says:

    Whoa lots of thoughtful comments. I am probably not going to be able to respond to all of them, but I will try to address some of the themes.

    Joe – I agree that the faith is out there for people to find if they are so inclined. I think a lot of people don’t know where to look. I also think there is a lot to be said about the departure of beauty from the Mass and the necessity of the recovery of the sense of the numinous, as you hint at in your remark. IF the Faith is beautiful again, people will be drawn to it. It’s easy to fall in love with something beautiful.

    Todd – I don’t really understand what you’re saying in your comment. What do you mean by “carrot?” Also, what was Bishop Trautman’s commentary? I also think it’s false, at least in a loose sense, that “people do not come to Church because they discern no consequences”. Sometimes, I go to Church because I know there are consequences if I don’t. I’m not as holy as I should be, but sometimes I need this motivation.

    Elaine – I sympathize with your situation. I have a similar circumstance in my own life. I agree that the knowledge of basic Catholic moral teachings is not enough to change peoples hearts and minds. I do not think it would be adequate to simply restate the Catholic Church’s teaching about Mass attendance. What I have in mind is more like a proposal. And I would say again that this in no way intended to be a a sure-fire victory for the Church – only more than what is being done now. I have met people who have said to me more or less “if I only knew these things, my life would have been so much different.” Sometimes people just need to hear the truth. This is what I’m trying to get at.

  24. Ryan Haber says:

    St. Therese of Lisieux wrote a letter to one of her sisters, in which she provides a brief commentary on the text of Songs 1:4, “Draw me and we shall run.” She wrote that as Jesus draws one closer to Himself, that is, as the individual grows in holiness, those associated with him are naturally drawn closer as well, because true holiness exerts a sort of magnetism – we see this phenomenon with our Lord: even his intellectual adversaries couldn’t stop following him around.

    We must start praying more, as individuals. In his address to the second annual meeting of “Young People to Assisi,” Holy Father John Paul II said, “But to enter and remain in contact with God it is indispensable to establish a deep relationship with him in prayer. When it is genuine, prayer spreads divine energy in every context and at every moment of life. It makes us live in a new way.”

    This sort of homily or that isn’t really the key, and I don’t think it is primarily intellectual – although, of course, the intellectual, the moral, and the spiritual are all tightly bound together. We are at spiritual warfare here, and we are getting bulldozed because much of the Church doesn’t realize it, and many of us who realize it are continually looking for material – though in no way unseemly – means. There are too many anecdotes of God working in unlikely ways – like the anecdote about the Messiah being born in a manger. Likewise, converts have been made by the most boring or fluffy homilies conceivable. Things that make one person gag end up nailing another person right between the eyes. Prayer spreads divine energy. We do need our priests to preach better. We do need our pewsitters (that’s you and me, folks!) to act more like we give a crap about our neighbors. We do need to approach the sacred liturgy more like an act of divine worship and less like a polka jamboree. We do need to look out for the poor and lonely. We do need to teach more clearly. We do need to inspire with our lifestyle – mild, peaceful, strong, wise.

    Most of all, we need to connect again with Jesus Christ. The rest will follow. Looking to other things before we look to Jesus is, in essence, the way of the world, a very subtle distraction, and ultimately, the ploy of anti-Christ who is always trying to set up someone or something: a favorite priest, a US President, a particular novena, even a particular true statement, whatever – as the solution to our problem. I’ve heard folks say, “If only everyone knew X, or did Y!” As if that would solve all the world’s spiritual ills. At the annual March for Life in DC, there’s always a group preaching on bullhorns about how all “Novus Ordo Catholics” are going to hell, and how abandonment of the Tridentine liturgy has caused the abortion holocaust. Really. As if the Mass had always been in Latin by some divine command; and I write these words as someone who greatly laments the demise or dormancy of Latin, and considers it essential to Western education and believes, with Vatican II, that it is and is to remain the language of the liturgy. But no president and no particular prayer or way of preaching is the solution to the problem. Jesus Christ is the solution.

    “The LORD is one – there is no other,” (Is 45:5).

  25. Suz says:

    Zach added: “Sometimes, I go to Church because I know there are consequences if I don’t.”
    This is me each Sunday. It is the threat of grave sin that drags me out of the house….to a most reverent, quiet (non-dialog) TLM in a beautiful cathedral, with orthodox priests, a lovely schola, and faithful parishioners. A threat drives me to Communion with God. Without this fear of eternal consequences I too might only attend Mass on Easter Sunday.
    NOT a typical situation, by any means, but it does illustrate that some of us—no matter how pampered and indulged by circumstances—still require “Obedience to Holy Mother Church” (“or else!”) as the impulsion to go to Mass.
    It doesn’t have to be yelled from the pulpit with the heat cranked up to remind parishioners of the reality of Hell, but I agree that the Christmas and Easter sermons are ideal opportunities to insert this particular piece of catechesis. Whether or not it would affect the collection plate, I dare not say.

  26. Joe Hargrave says:

    “At the annual March for Life in DC, there’s always a group preaching on bullhorns about how all “Novus Ordo Catholics” are going to hell, and how abandonment of the Tridentine liturgy has caused the abortion holocaust.”

    That’s pretty terrible. Sounds like the fundies who go to college campuses and scream “WHORE!” at every female student that walks by.

    I don’t think abandoning the traditional liturgy caused abortion – but I do think the same thing caused each of these things. They are related.

  27. gb says:

    Elaine, My spouse (who is a convert) did/said the same thing for years. As long as I was taking responsibility for him not attending Mass regularly on Sunday, he didn’t have to…he could just blame me & my “nagging”, which is so much easier (on him)! At some point, I just said, “Ok, I didn’t make up the 3rd Commandment & I didn’t write the Church’s Catechism. You’re the one who signed up for this. If you decide to live this way, its between you & God.” Then i left it alone. God really gave me total peace about it. Eventually, my husband woke up, thank God.

  28. Zach says:

    “I’ve heard folks say, “If only everyone knew X, or did Y!” As if that would solve all the world’s spiritual ills.”

    I hope I’ve been clear that I do not think this is what I’m proposing here. I think there are things that we can do that help. The first and best thing that helps is prayer. After that, I think there are things like catechesis and evangelization. It’s probably true that will be effective at these things to the extent that we make our lives about prayer.

  29. Todd says:

    Zach, good discussion you’ve generated here. My “carrot,” a slang reference to the alternative, “stick,” is what I think will bring people back to church. What that carrot might be would have to be substantive, and addressing the real needs (not wants) of inactive Catholics.

    When inactive Catholics were surveyed several years ago and asked what would bring you back to church, the most popular response was “an invitation.”

    That would seem to be straight-forward enough and not too mollycoddly.

    Bishop Trautman’s schtick is perceived to be that the average pew Catholics don’t have the vocab for the new Mass translation. The usual conservative shoot-back is that Catholics are smarter than he thinks. I tend to side with my conservative sisters and brothers on that. The notion that inactive Catholics lack something intellectually, or they’re missing something that can be remedied by catechesis–I’d say that position is also all wet. The NCEA surveyed young adult Catholics back in the 90’s I think. Maybe they wished they hadn’t. The key to activity in the church and self-identification as a Catholic depends on one factor: going to church with one’s family growing up. Not Catholic school. Not catechesis. Not politics. In fact, this study found no significant different in knowledge of religion among inactives who attended 13 years of Catholic school and those who didn’t. It all depends on Sunday Mass.

    As for our personal motivations, that’s why family and community are important. They deliver that motivation when it seems preferable to stay in bed and read the paper. That covers those who waver. Now who’s got some good ideas to get people back into the pews on weekends? Something that’s going to work for them, not *you.*

  30. Zach says:

    Hey Todd, I very much like the idea of an invitation. I think that “Catholics Come Home” campaign is great. And the best part is, this is not an either/or. We do not have to divorce the invitation from catechesis. I agree it’s true that the most efficacious form of evangelization is by way of example, and that this is maybe why the factor is going to Church with your parents when you are young. But this is not the case with me or any of my peers. Many of my generation went to Church with their parents and left with no sign that they will be returning. They were never taught about the faith – one of my best friends said no one ever told him Catholics know Jesus to be God. I’m not saying that catechesis is a cure-all – it sure isn’t. But I am saying that the truth is a powerful psychological motivator. People crave the truth. They seek it all their lives, and often they never find it. The Truth lives in the Catholic Church and I think this is something we should talk about. Talk of truth is not popular anymore, but it might be if we reminded people what the Truth is, the truth about their lives, their God, their future and fellow man.

    And maybe it’s a consequence of my location, but catechesis is a huge problem in the Northeast United States. I hope it’s not like it is around here elsewhere. I know plenty of adult Catholics, people who have spent their entire adult lives going to Church every Sunday, who do not know their faith. I do not think it’s always or totally their fault.

    Finally, I do not think the Third Commandment is subjective motivation. I think it motivates all faithful people. It’s not always a negative motivation, a fear of punishment. That fear turns into love and deep gratitude, but I do not think most people start in that place. If they do, they are very holy indeed and thank God for that!

    I’m sure there are also plenty of other things we could do to motivate people to go to Church. The best thing we could do would be to become saints, as you have implicitly hinted at in your previous replies. There is nothing more beautiful than a Saint, and nothing motivates a human person like beauty.

    So, in addition to the catechesis and evangelization from the pulpit, the laity – each one of us – ought to work on sanctity. This is and will be the most effective way to communicate the Gospel and to get people to come to Church.

  31. gb says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake, Ryan, Suz & Zach have already given “some good ideas to get people back in the pews on the weekends”, Todd. Like prayer, holiness and, if all else fails, God’s law.

    As I said above, this issue isn’t a matter of marketing or packaging (i.e., exalted music, idyllic surroundings, no crying kids, TLM vs N.O. etc etc) as much as it is a matter of being in love.

    Once we fall in love with God & get a glimpse of his love, personally & physically & completely available only in the Eucharist of the Catholic Church, nothing else matters. We’ll move heaven & hell, reluctant spouses & kids, our backgrounds, our addictions, our laziness, our culture, our laws or whatever to respond to that Love. Anyone who has ever been in love can tell you that.

  32. dymphna says:

    1. I’m not sure when it happened but somehow a lot of Catholics got the idea that you can still be a good Catholic and not go to church except for Ash Wednesday, Easter and Christmas. I quit going to mass unless I felt like it after high school and it was years before anyone told me that was wrong. I genuinely had no idea and I went through 12 years of Catholic education.

    2. We live in a country that is still mainly Protestant and in Protestant denominations you don’t have to go to church every Sunday.

    3. For many Catholics there’s no reason to go. The priest is spouting feel good pap, the parish is run by busy bodies and masculinity seems as rare as a golden marmaset. That’s a huge turn off.

  33. American Knight says:

    1. I’m not sure when it happened but somehow a lot of Catholics got the idea that you can still be a good Catholic and not go to church except for Ash Wednesday, Easter and Christmas. I quit going to mass unless I felt like it after high school and it was years before anyone told me that was wrong. I genuinely had no idea and I went through 12 years of Catholic education.

    I hope you know better now, it is sad that we are doing such a poor job teaching the next generation. I must admit this is somewhat confusing to me because the Decalogue is pretty clear – “Keep Holy the Sabbath” – how does an adult keep the Lord’s Day Holy if you don’t go to Mass?

    2. We live in a country that is still mainly Protestant and in Protestant denominations you don’t have to go to church every Sunday.

    We are living in a neo-pagan culture; does that mean that we should start worshiping trees or elephants? I am sure this may have an influence on the way some people think, especially impressionable young people – I know it did on my young mind, but it is still a poor excuse.

    3. For many Catholics there’s no reason to go. The priest is spouting feel good pap, the parish is run by busy bodies and masculinity seems as rare as a golden marmoset. That’s a huge turn off.

    Jesus is the reason to go – period! The priest is the conduit for valid sacraments even if he is a ‘feel-good’ mess. Homilies are NOT part of the Mass. You go to Mass for Jesus.

    Masculinity? What can be more masculine than Jesus? If you need something more temporal go check out the Knights of Columbus. Our faith is very masculine. It is chivalrous and virtuous to defend and honor Holy Mother Church. We all need to man up and imitate the ultimate man – Jesus the Christ.

  34. Joe Hargrave says:

    Want to get people to come back to Mass? Bring beauty and reverence back into it, have priests that take themselves and their jobs seriously, cleanse the diocese of liturgical abuse, vigorously prosecute child molesters, and make relevant statements about the moral challenges of our day.

    Call it my five point plan. Off to TLM.

  35. Donna V. says:

    A friend at my parish is in the same position as Elaine. In my friend’s case, her husband was born and raised in France – and like many Frenchmen, barely saw the inside of a church after he was baptised. To him, attending Mass with the family at Christmas and Easter is a lot of church. Now that their children are teens, that creates problems. The kids naturally say, why do we have to go to Mass while Dad gets to sleep in?

    So, obviously, it’s not just an American problem. The European churches are so beautiful, I can’t imagine why they’re not packed every week – but they’re not.

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