What Mass are you going to?

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Across the United States, Catholic dioceses are formulating pastoral plans which often include closing, clustering parishes and merging parishes. The people of the Archdiocese of Boston are no strangers to this painful period in church history.

In the Lansing Diocese in Michigan, Bishop Earl Boyea said that "changes to parish life may be painful, but on the other hand, like the cross of Christ, it leads us to something new, to a resurrection."

At a news conference on Monday, Boyea announced plans that will affect every parish in his diocese, including a decision that all parishes will reduce their number of weekend Masses by at least one service.

That's an interesting move and one I've not heard that other dioceses have made. It makes a good deal of sense for a diocese to be pro-active on this question since it's only a matter of time before Mass schedules (weekend and daily) will be reduced by the impact of the dwindling number of priests available to celebrate the liturgy.

In many parishes Mass on the weekend is celebrated more often than is necessary. By that I mean that the number of Masses actually needed to seat all worshiping parishioners on a weekend is often fewer than the number of Masses now scheduled. That would be the case in my own parish. And this is not just a matter of making a pastor's schedule lighter. Scheduling more Masses than necessary often gives short shrift to priorities much higher on the liturgical scale than the convenience of worshipers.

Fewer Masses in parishes is a reality that U.S. Catholics will face soon if it is not already their experience.

What do you think?



  1. After I read your blog regarding reducing the number of Masses, I went to my 'second' favorite blog: http://quantumtheology.blogspot.com/
    I highly recommend reading the most recent post there: "All Who Hunger", especially when juxtaposed with your article here. Food for thought - no pun intended.

    Falther, could you please elaborate on what you meant when you wrote: "Scheduling more Masses than necessary often gives short shrift to priorities much higher on the liturgical scale than the convenience of worshipers."

    Thank you
    God Bless

  2. I recently went to one of the three meetings Fr. George Evans held to discuss Pastoral Planning for the Archdiocese of Boston. I met a couple of women from Belmont and Watertown. There are now four churches between the two towns in close proximity to each other. The priests are rotating each Saturday so that parishioners will get to know each of them. Also, I believe they said every other month all of the Parish Pastoral Councils meet together. In addition, any social or educational/speaker events are published in all four bulletins. I thought these all sounded like good ideas.

    As for HFP, would it make sense to make the summer mass schedule a year-round mass schedule?


  3. I had some difficulty in publishing this post and I seem to have lost a comment in the process - from Korinthe.

    If Korinthe would resend, I'd be pleased to post.

  4. Re: "Scheduling more Masses than necessary often gives short shrift to priorities much higher on the liturgical scale than the convenience of worshipers."

    We are so accustomed to a schedule of multiple Masses that we may think such a schedule to be ancient or normative. But it's not. The best reason for a parish to celebrate more than one Mass on the Lord's day is a practical one: if you can't fit the whole parish in the church at once, you'll need to provide a second time for people to gather for Mass. Of course, in the days when parishes were large in population and each one counted 2,3,4 or more priests on the staff, each of them wanting to celebrate Mass (in the days before concelebration was restored) multiple Masses were everywhere. And this in times when Catholics took the Sabbath quite seriously: Mass, no unnecessary work, a day of prayer and rest. Up until my own youth in the US, stores and businesses were not open on Sundays. The whole culture supported this.

    The best situation would be one in which the whole parish could gather for the celebration of Eucharist since the Eucharist is heart of the parish community and THE sign of its unity in faith.

    Imagine the music ministry if there were but one liturgy and all with musical gifts (vocal, instrumental) were gathered for one celebration.

    Imagine the impact of the whole Catholic community in town gathering together at one table to break Word and Bread, to share a common Cup.

    Imagine the difference in our approach to Mass if we let the Lord be the Master of the Sabbath and not our own schedules and convenience.

    Unfortunately, the introduction of the anticipated Mass in the late afternoon/early evening on Saturday has served to further deconstruct our understanding of the Sabbath- and to increase our opportunity for worship by convenience.

    Well, that's a start on a response to Anonymous above.


    Anonymous comment 2: With occasional exceptions, a Saturday afternoon Mass and two Masses on Sunday morning (or no Saturday Mass and three Masses on Sunday) would accommodate our parish community. That is not a proposal I'm making, just offering a response to your inquiry.

    In any case, the day will come sooner than we imagine when fewer Masses in each parish will be what the Church can provide.

  5. Thought provoking post and I love what you have offered us in the comments.

    I have not been in my diocese for too long, but got involved in my parish right away. As a result, I was involved at the tail end of a big diocesan pastoral planning project.

    We are in a suburban area and we are a huge parish, clustered with a really big parish and a big parish. As a result, we are not looking at closing.

    That said, we have about 3000, the really big parish has about 2300 and the big parish has about 1200- families that is.

    And we each have one priest.

    None of our mass schedules have changed too much, other than a slight time shift. At the end of summer 2007, it was decided to eliminate one mass however and keep the "summer" schedule. We have a Saturday vigil and 3 on Sunday.

    What you say makes sense about the entire community being together if possible... which is not possible in our big parish.

    The thing is that ultimately- and I do not have to tell you this, people are so resistant to change around church matters.

    I get it, I am simply in a different position because I have only been here less than 2 years.

    One other note - sorry this is so long - I do know people who get really put out because they want mass at their convenience. I understand at one level, but at another.

    At the heart of this is what I think is a big misunderstanding about what liturgy is. It is not a linear obligation - you go, you say your words, sing maybe, put your dollar in and take your communion and go.

    It is much more dynamic than that, but we- we meaning the RC church - often have trouble establishing that. I think it is due to hierarcal history and just having so many churches and choices if you were Catholic.

    I love what our pastor always reminds us of - we come to join together at table and it is about what we give, not what we get.


  6. A good thing is that fewer Masses being scheduled lets Mass take its own time. I grew up in suburban parish. For decades, there was a tight Mass schedule, simultaneous Masses in the church and the high school gym, short intervals between Masses, anything much past 45 minutes was 'running over' because time was needed to empty the bumper-to-bumpeer parking lot before the next Mass came in, etc... After much angst, a new church was built, large enough that only 6 Masses are needed (not 11, like when I was a kid). There's enough time and space to process, meditate, sing that extra verse, make the homily 2 minutes longer this week.

    Another practical benefit of reducing the number of scheduled Masses (and tweaking schedules) is that it allows coordination between parishes. With fewer and fewer priests expected to be available in the immediate future, sharing priests between parishes is one of the emerging realities we must face. It also makes provision for emergency 'coverage' between cooperating priests.

    It's tough to encourage cooperation (or encourage change of almost any sort)among the parishes in my current city neighborhood. Too many think it's still the 'glory days' - when they had a moat around their parish and could pull up the drawbridge and have nothing to do with the next parish a few blocks away. Too many are resistant to change: "This is the way the Mass schedule was when we had 4000 families, and that's the way it'll stay now that we have 40 families, and it'll only change when you pry the bulletin out of my cold, dead, hands!" Too many have enough money (for now) and political clout (for now) and people (for now) to believe that the need for cooperation doesn't apply to them.

    People stare at me blankly when I tell them of an area I visited in upstate NY. 4 parishes share 1 pastor. He covers all 4 each week. They rotate the schedule each week so each parish takes equal turns at having the Saturday vigil and the early, middle, and late Masses on Sunday.

    There's easily a dozen parishes within 3 miles of my house. At least 10 of them have a vigil Mass on Saturday - all at 4 pm! All twelve parishes have 9 or 9:30 AM Masses on Sunday!

    The sad thing is that some people won't have anything to do with change until they see the need for it or someone in authority forces it on them.

  7. ..."People stare at me blankly when I tell them of an area I visited in upstate NY. 4 parishes share 1 pastor."

    That could well be in my diocese. As I said - in our suburban area we face different challenges, but there are plenty of parishes places that are rural and that are in that situation here.

    Deep sigh - we are always invited into something by our loving God... Ah to enter into that with trust and flexibility and not fear- there is the key.

    Note- I can write about such trust, living it - not so much.

    Pax all.



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