First Things First

I first heard of Monday evening "Sunday Masses" from some Canadian friends describing the situation out in their western prairie provinces where too few pastors end up having to serve multiple churches, some of them a hundred or so miles apart. This is the kind of situation you might also expect in the Australian "outback" or in the vast Amazon basin -- but in suburban Detroit?

Yes, believe it or not, there are Catholic Churches in the Detroit area where "Sunday Mass" is offered on Monday evening, not because of driving distances or even a lack of priests, but because either the parishioners have either left town for the weekend and while gone, or even if not gone, are too busy doing other things that they seem to consider more important than worshipping God on the Lord's Day.

After a brief stint as a college chaplain, I think I understand partly how this situation came about. In our well-meant efforts to build a worshipping "community" on campus, we often found ourselves without any students in attendance on Sunday mornings, either because they had fled the campus for the weekend or else (one hopes not) after Friday and Saturday nights of partying were in no shape to worship with the rest of the Christian community by Sunday morning. After all, if the Church introduced Saturday evening (that is "Sunday vigil") services for people's convenience, why not Sunday evenings as well? It also seemed like a good idea at the time, especially because many young people, despite the changes that were supposed to follow Vatican II, still found the average parish liturgy impersonal and uninspiring, and frankly, often pretty dull. Sunday evening liturgies could be specially tailored for them.

Nevertheless, I believe that our well-meant efforts have had unfortunate even if unintended consequences, and this in two serious ways. First, by multiplying the number of services, especially by providing them on both Saturday, and then even Sunday nights, we not only undercut the communal ideal of Sunday morning worship -- the worship of the whole Christian community gathered together in a single act of common worship, but we also gave the impression, especially with the addition of Sunday evenings, that what should be the most important act of the whole weekend (would there be weekends at all in the modern world had not Christianity extended the Jewish observance of the Sabbath?) instead ends up being a kind of afterthought. So we see that logical result or the next step is that the whole thing gets moved out of the weekend picture entirely.

Second, in our attempts to liven things up and be "relevant" to special groups, especially young people, I think we somehow gave the wrong impression, leading people to think they should be entertained when they attended church. This subverts the whole idea of worship, making church-going into something designed primarily to serve our needs or fancies rather than an act of self-offering or sacrifice in the service of God. Yet, how often have you heard, even from adults who should know better, that they quit going to Church "because they no longer got anything out of it" -- as if that is what Church is about.

Not that we shouldn't get something out of Church. But, in the case of worship, the rule of thumb is that we're only going to get out of it to the extent we are willing to give ourselves to it. It is simply a matter of putting first things first -- and in the case of our life, if we claim to be God's people, then it means putting God first.

R W Kropf 10/31/04 FirstThings.doc 04-10-31