Monday, April 16, 2018

The importance of showing up in Church each week.

I don’t think it is a sweeping statement to say that every church, no matter what denomination of Christianity, faces the issue of their members not coming regularly to Church.  I am sure that the Roman Catholic church is not unique to face this issue.  Why is this so?  There are a host of reasons that cause this irregularity, and at its core, the issue really boils down to selfishness.  There is something somehow embedded in our human nature that wants to accept things on our terms rather than to submit to laws, authority and order.  Proof of this is right there in the opening chapters of Genesis, symbolized in the way that our first parents reached out to grab the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Theologians and scripture scholars have often called this first sin the sin of pride, and rightly so.  Instead of allowing this ‘fruit’ to be handed to them in God’s own time, the fruit was TAKEN as if it was a right.  We see shades of this in the current generation that is collectively called the ‘millennials’ where the sense of entitlement is often evidenced.

Perhaps the other reason that contributes to irregular or poor church attendance is a poor understanding of ecclesiology.  Ecclesiology is the theology or study of the nature of the Christian church.  A healthy ecclesiology is very much lacking in many Christians, but it is especially necessary in the Roman Catholic Church, principally because of how we understand the term Body of Christ.  This term is very dynamic because it applies to not only the consecrated host at Mass, which is the body, soul, spirit and divinity of Jesus Christ.  It is also a term that refers to the collective group of baptized Catholics in the entire Church, worldwide, past and present.

Understanding this has deep implications because it explains something that seems to be a bugbear to many Catholics – that every Sunday and day of obligation, all Catholics are obliged to be present at the celebration of the Eucharist, also known as the Mass. On the surface of things, it seems to be a fussy, archaic and demanding.  Underlying this obligation is love.  Let me explain.

That I am a member of the Body of Christ has to mean that by my very person and presence, I contribute to the faith, health and vitality of the entire body.  Coming to Church to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow member of the same body does several things which I may not be aware of.  By my very presence, I am giving my brother and sister in the Mass encouragement and strengthening of their faith.  I do this when I pray, stand, kneel and sing together with them. By that same token then, when I am willfully absent from the assembly in the Church, my absence creates a gap in the same Body.  I am also saying quite a few other things, and they are not limited to the following:

1)   This Sunday, you will not be getting any strength and affirmation from my presence because I prefer to be selfish with my time and energy.

2)   You (the person who would be sitting next to me, or across the aisle from me) are on your own, because you will not be benefitting from my prayers and presence.  You will not be getting my love today.

3)   My needs are far more important than yours, which implies that I am more important than you.

4)   I am not concerned with your needs and am showing this by my absence.

5)   My life is about me and my needs.  I am selfish today.

Certainly, this list is not exhaustive nor is it meant to be.  Barring those of us who are physically and bodily unwell to be present at Mass, there is a great necessity for us to show up.  When we see why our presence at Sunday Mass is so important, maybe we can then understand why a willful absence is seen to be so wrong as to call it a mortal or serious sin.  It breaks the Body of Christ on many levels.

Mass regularity and consistency ought not to be predicated on good music, riveting preaching and engaging lectors who read with a broadcaster’s voice, but it will help to make Mass participation appealing if liturgists and celebrants put great love into their celebrations.  

I have wondered many times in the past how I should address this issue to those who are infrequent at Mass attendance.  Speaking about this at the Ambo would be addressing the wrong audience by the fact that they are already there at Mass.  Perhaps this musing on the issue on a blog like this may reach those who haven’t seen it explained this way.  

Dear reader, my hope is that you may want to share this reflection with someone whom you know who could benefit from this, and let them know that the Body of Christ needs them.  Every Sunday.


  1. Thanks Fr Luke for summing up our thoughts n concerns for those who aren't regular. Praise be to God!
    Trust you are keeping well!.... Joanna

  2.  “There are a host of reasons that cause this irregularity, (mass attendance) and at its core, the issue really boils down to selfishness.”
    I laud the points that you raised later on to support your above stand and I do agree with them.

    However, sometimes what seems to be the problem is the over- idealization of what worship or mass-attendance should be. We would like to believe that at every mass we are fully attentive, enthusiastic and emotionally present all the time. So when we can’t sustain this, we experience uncertainty, tension and guilt.

    For instance, there are days when we are tired, distracted , harried by the daily demands made on us so that by Sunday we are deflated and depleted of energy and yet - after getting the family into the pews - the kids start their own percussion band.

    I have heard it happen to young families who decided to forgo this weekly “charade”as they call it. It would thus be welcoming for them to know that sometimes the effort made to be present that seems to be just a weekly routine or a ritual - plays an important part in sustaining faith....for nothing is permanent and the effort is part of the desire to worship and to love God.

    Thanks again Fr for high- lighting current issues of concern.
    God bless you


  3. The Last 2 words edify me most. Always get the feeling of being read a storybook during kindergarten times when all the children sit in front of the class and on the floor, when it is your turn to celebrate mass. What a nice feeling! Thnk you lots for being our Shepherd, Fr LUKE AND A HAPPY GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY TO YOU!