We Believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: Why Every Head Needs a Body – Survey Series #7

Corresponds to Question 27 of the survey.

We just returned from our annual visit to see my wife’s family in Spain. As she does every year, my mother-in-law brought the whole family together for lunch. (By “lunch,” I mean a feast lasting an entire Sunday afternoon.) Everyone had already visited with us individually; but make no mistake: they were all obliged to attend.

Why do we do that? Why do we mark significant occasions like visits from faraway relatives with obligatory family gatherings? After all, if we don’t show up, do we suddenly cease being individual members of the family? Nope. But we have lost – or are losing – what it really means to be a member of a family.

The question of Sunday Mass attendance is similar, but even more profound. It begs the questions: what does it mean to be Catholic? To be Christian? What is the Church and what does it mean to be a member of the Church?

The simple answer, of course, is that to be a Christian is to actually be a member of Christ’s Body in communion. And by definition, we can’t be members of a body in isolation, but only together, in the most profound unity. And we can’t do that unless we show up. But how does this happen in the Church? Pope Saint John Paul II puts it well:

“The Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist sacramentalizes this communion, that is, it is a sign and actually brings about the intimate bonds of communion among all the faithful in the Body of Christ which is the Church (1 Cor 10:16)”. (Christifideles Laici, 19)

This is what lies behind the Church’s consistent teaching on the obligation to attend Sunday Eucharist: the Catechism clearly states that those who, without good reason, fail in the obligation to attend Sunday Eucharist and other days of obligation are committing “a grave sin” (#2181).

Less than 20 percent of Catholics attend Sunday Eucharist regularly. We’re losing something fundamental in our identity as Catholic Christians. This is a matter of belief – that’s why “we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” is in the Creed. If it’s a matter of faith, it’s a challenge for evangelization.

Turning to the Parish Survey results, we can see two groups of people, broadly speaking:

  1. Those who come regularly, or who would come regularly if they possibly could, and
  2. Those who are not coming, and have lost, or are losing, this essential connection between Christian faith and being a member of the Church.

Those Who Need Our Help

It’s helpful to simply go down through the list of options in Q. 27 and ask the question: how might we as a parish remove these obstacles? This is especially relevant to three options that scored high across the Archdiocese:

  • 34% say they can’t attend because they’re working or in school; this number jumps to 55% for African American Catholics, and 54% for Hispanic Catholics
  • 30% say they can’t attend because of health problems or disability; this number goes up to 44% for African Americans, and 32% for Hispanics
  • 18% say it’s because of divorce or marriage outside the Church (although that number drops to single digits in the African American and Hispanic communities).

These are our brothers and sisters who most likely would like to be with us on Sunday, but cannot and need our help to remove the obstacles, to go out to them, to journey with them and help them find the way back.

Our Mission Field

And then there are the members of the family who don’t show up because they have better things to do, or because they’re not so interested in being part of the family any more:

  • 37% say they don’t attend because of “sports and other activities”
  • 30% because they don’t “feel they need to come to church every week,” and
  • 19% because “church is becoming less relevant in my life”

Considering these daunting numbers, it’s helpful to keep in mind that most of our brothers and sisters simply don’t get the whole Sunday Mass obligation and grave sin thing. They might think it’s faded into the past. Or they might have never even heard tell of it. Many have little, if any, culpability.

That’s why the onus is on us to go out to them, and to accompany, invite, and welcome them. If a good society is one that makes it “easier” to be good, then a good parish today is one that makes it “easier” to attend and participate at Sunday Eucharist. Here it’s impossible to overemphasize the important of making sure the “three H’s” are everything they ought to be:

  1. Hospitality
  2. Hymns
  3. Homilies

We can’t compete head-to-head with sports. We can’t just confront folks with paragraph #2181 of the Catechism. But we can make changes so that when we go out and invite a brother or sister to Mass, and they accept that invitation, their experience of Sunday Eucharist, and the parish community, will make them want to come back the next Sunday. And the next.

2 replies
  1. JimLeddy
    JimLeddy says:

    You make a good point that many these days don’t appreciate the Sunday Mass obligation. No, it hasn’t gone the way of “meatless” Fridays.
    As a Catechist, I have had my teacher’s hand trumped many a time by the “sports” card.
    Yes, the children have games and practices on Sunday mornings and weekday evenings, prime time for Religious Education. However, I don’t see the “sports” card trumping Mass.
    Many parishes, including mine, have a Sunday evening Mass. Do local schools have practice or a game on Sunday evenings? I don’t think so. In fact, our LifeTeen Mass and LifeNite program is well-represented by young athletes. They may attend Mass in softball or soccer shorts or the swimmers arrive with their schedules written on their arms, but they are able to do sports and LifeTeen Mass.
    Perhaps, we should promote Sunday evening Mass as the “Sports Mass” and beat them at their own game.
    Jim Leddy

  2. John Romanowsky
    John Romanowsky says:

    Great comment Jim. The idea of a “Sports Mass” is a good one, although that would probably vary parish to parish. Some parishes see a lot of young adults at their Sunday evening Mass. Nothing to do with sports; more to do with socializing the night before … Regarding the survey, I’m guessing that the “sports and other activities” was broadly interpreted. But it is telling that this was one of the highest reasons given. Keeping the Sabbath holy used to be baked in to our culture; now in many ways it’s counter-cultural. We have our work cut out for us! Thanks for all the good work you and your parish are doing with the young athletes!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply