Catholocism, the Pivotal Players: Bishop Barron and the Word on Fire film crew are halfway through their filming trip. They are currently visiting Flannery O'Connor's hometown and taking in the landscapes that inspired the compelling imagery present throughout her writing. While visiting O’Connor’s childhood parish, Bishop Barron stopped to record a message for everyone following their journey.
Do you know someone who doesn't go to Mass anymore. Of course you know someone who doesn't go to Mass anymore; you probably know dozens of people. Maybe you yourself are a person who doesn't go to Mass
Up until the early 1960s, a full 75-percent of Catholics in America went to Mass on a regular basis. ("Regular basis" being defined as every Sunday plus Holy Days of Obligation.) Nowadays, of those people who identify themselves as Catholic, the figure is more like 25-percent. And that's not counting the people who have left the Church completely, those who no longer identify themselves as Catholic. Don't forget, although the church denomination in the U.S. with the largest membership is the Catholic Church, the second largest religious group in this country are people described as "former Catholics."
If you ask people why they no longer go to Mass, by far the most common answer you will hear is, "Because I don't get anything out of it." Literally millions of American Catholics stay home each and every Sunday because they, quote, "Don't get anything out of Mass." Is going to Mass similar to going to a movie or a ballgame, or going out to a restaurant, where the whole reason for going is to get some personal enjoyment or entertainment? No, of course not.
At the risk of being rude, let me ask a question: "Who the hell ever said you're supposed to GET SOMETHING out of Mass?" (I use the word hell not profanely, but in the theological sense, as the idea that the sole purpose of Mass is to get something out of it surely comes from the Evil One.) Mass is not a show; it's not a party; it's not entertainment. Mass is community worship where believers gather to offer praise and thanksgiving to the God who created them, and to enter into a mystical communion with the Almighty Lord by receiving the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Many people think of Mass as a show. The priest is the performer; God is the prompter, who whispers to the priest what to say; and the people in the pews are the audience, who sit back and expect to be entertained. And if the priest does not entertain the audience, either with inspirational or humorous comments, then the show is a flop. By this standard, virtually every Mass is a flop.
But in reality, here are the correct roles: The people in the pews are the performers; the priest is the prompter who guides the pace of the performance; and the audience is God. When we go to Mass, we're not going as audience members to be entertained. We're going as performers to put on a presentation of prayer and worship and gratitude for our audience of One: God Himself.
When we ask someone, "Why don't you go to Mass?" and they reply, "Because I don't get anything out of it," our next question should be, "What do you put into it?"
In yet another amazing Christian paradox, when we forget about trying to "get something" out of Mass, and instead focus on putting something into Mass, that's when we discover that we truly do get something out of it after all. When we go to Mass determined to give God our best performance of prayer and devotion and thanksgiving, we are filled with His joy and peace and love. We enter into a personal relationship with the Eternal Being who knows us and loves us and has prepared a heavenly dwelling for us. And that is a whole lot better than any Broadway show or ballgame.
Bill Dunn returned to the Catholic Church many years ago after losing his faith in atheism. He works as a freelance writer and his humor column appears weekly in the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, CT. Bill posts a faith essay called “The Merry Catholic” each week on his website and can be heard on WJMJ, the radio station for the Hartford Archdiocese. He also lectors in his parish, sings (if that’s what you want to call it) in the church choir, and leads two different parish Bible study groups. Bill has published the following books: Boomer Trek: One Baby Boomer’s Surprising Journey from Secular Humanism to Faith in God, A Matter of Laugh or Death, Purge the Evil, and The Gospel According to Morty. Bill and his wife Joyce are empty-nesters in Torrington, CT. His websites are http://www.boomertrek.com/ and http://www.merrycatholic.com/.