By Mary DeTurris Poust
I am not (sad to say) a daily Mass-goer, but yesterday I decided to hit the 12:15 p.m. Mass at my parish, in part because I'd promised another Catholic writer I would offer my Communion for her intentions. I pulled on the door. Locked. I went around to the other side. Locked. I went back to my car to call my husband and ask him to look up our parish online and find out what was going on. While I waited, an old man pulled up beside me and looked confused. "I thought they have 12:15 Mass today," he said, adding, "I was here for Friday's 12:15 Mass and it was locked then, too."
Why was our church locked and Mass canceled on January 3, not a holiday on anyone's calendar? Because our diocesan offices were closed and so our parish closed not only its offices but our church as well. I'd like to say this is highly unusual, but the norm here is to cancel Mass on any holidays, especially federal holidays. Martin Luther King Day? No Mass. Columbus Day? No Mass. Memorial Day? No Mass. Since when do priests operate on the same schedule as mail carriers? Or worse. At least I got my mail on January 3.
To me this is a depressing and frustrating example of the secularization of our Church (because this situation, at least in this part of the northeast, is not limited to my parish but is common in many parishes throughout the area). Mass is Mass. It should be available every day where priests and facilities permit. It's not like our parish is priestless. We have a full-time pastor. We have a huge church and a small chapel. I realize the day will come when daily Mass is impossible due to the priest shortage, but in these parts it seems they're artificially creating a situation where we are forced to exist as if the priest shortage is where it will be five years from now.
My parish dropped daily Mass on Thursdays and Saturdays years ago. (It is offered at other parishes in our "cluster," but none of those are very close by so it's not a realistic option.) So, if you are a daily communicant and you wanted to attend as many Masses as possible during Advent and Christmas season, here is how things would have played out for you: No Mass the Thursday before Christmas, no daily Mass the morning of Christmas Eve, no Mass the Monday after Christmas, no Mass Thursday before New Year's, no Mass the morning of New Year's Eve, no Mass the Monday after New Year's. That's a lot of days without Mass or Communion in a parish that is one of the largest in my diocese.
Did anyone consider the possibility that more people might want to attend Mass on federal or other holidays because they don't have to go to work and so can get to daily Mass? Does anyone really have to look very far to see why we're losing numbers at record speed? My goodness, even the people who want to go to Mass can't get in.
To me, there is nothing quite so isolating as a locked church door. I realize in some parts of the country, that's a security issue. Not where I live. Even if I couldn't go to Mass yesterday, it would have been nice to at least go inside and sit in quiet prayer.
I kind of consider the priesthood to be a lot like parenthood. Much as I'd like a lot of days off -- especially on all those holidays when the kids are home and clamoring for snacks and another game of Sorry -- I can't disappear. I can't cancel dinner or lock the front door because this is my vocation. These are my children. And so it is with our parishes. When we have a day off and clamor to our church for nourishment and comfort, we don't want to be pushed away or shut out. Mass shouldn't be canceled on a whim as if the Church is any other business. It is not. And doors shouldn't be locked as if the parish is serving any other customers. We are God's children, and we want somebody to be home when we show up at the door.
Please, tell me how this works in your diocese? Is what's happening in my area happening where you live?