Before Covid, Sunday Mass attendance within Santa Clara County was about 100,000 people of 600,000 registered Catholics. That’s approximately 17%.
That always struck me as surprisingly low.
The onset of the pandemic in 2020 forced everyone home. While the coronavirus is still raging as we close out 2022, it’s not as acute of a crisis for most, thanks to Omicron being less damaging than Delta and the availability of both vaccines and post infection treatments.
Even so, people are continuing to get infected, hospitalized, and dying. The newest variants are immune-evasive. Many people refused to get boosted. China just changed its approach to the pandemic, cases are skyrocketing and new variants are likely coming.
It’s not over. We just wish that it were.
Mass attendance dispensation and the lifting of it
Our local bishop in the Diocese of San Jose thoughtfully provided a dispensation from the Sunday Mass attendance obligation during the worst days of Covid, but removed it once things improved earlier this year. For those of us who are immunocompromised (and that includes me), we are not obligated to go.
To me, that’s common sense. It’s known that immunocompromised people get sick easier and stay sick longer and have more risks associated. Those living with them must also be extra careful to avoid bringing the virus home.
I can tell you first hand that it’s no fun to say no to indoor family get togethers, let alone Mass in person. I miss both of them. It’s isolating, and it’s made worse by comments of well wishers who think that avoiding these things is going too far.
What about everyone else?
Many or perhaps most Roman Catholics in the Diocese of San Jose and elsewhere have not been returning to the weekly liturgies despite the overall improvement and the dispensation being lifted. Why is that? Does Mass attendance not matter anymore?
First, we must remember that our prior Mass attendance level was just 17%. Any discussion of the problem needs to acknowledge that Covid did not empty the pews. They were largely empty before Covid ever hit.
Of course, now it’s worse.
The invitation to prayer is issues to all of us. It is an invitation to take time for God one on one, to grow in faith, to deepen our relationship with God.
The words are easy to write. Prayer itself isn’t always so easy. There are many reasons why it can be challenging.
- For some it’s hard to spend time with our invisible God.
- Others may feel like they are talking to themselves, or wondering what to say beyond rote prayers, or what to be listening for.
- For many people, the command to do something is easier than the command to love God and to spend time on our relationship with God, unless that puts us back in the ‘doing’ camp.
Some of the holiest people walking the other sometimes struggle in prayer.
If we love God and want to be closer to God, it’s hugely helpful if we slow down and take some time for prayer. Sometimes life is too crazy busy and we may find that, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, our work is our prayer. Perhaps at times we have just moments more than minutes when we can stop and pay attention to the One who has loved us into being.
As with many worthwhile things, getting started can be the hardest part.
Memorized or rote prayers
Rote prayers are so well known that we can gloss over the words and what they mean without letting them sink in. They are useful and beautiful, but it’s best if we can come out of the recitation mode and really think about what we are saying. It’s often helpful to slow down .
I recall being at Mass with an older, retired priest a few years ago, and when he said the Our Father, I distinctly heard him emphasize THY Kingdom come, THY will be done. He was paying attention to every word.
When 5 minutes is all you have for prayer
Got just 5 minutes to pray? A good practice is to be appreciative, and it’s a great starting point:
- Thank you, loving God, for all the blessings of our lives (and think on them for a bit). Maybe you think this alone, at home, at some quiet point in the day. Or maybe you are in nature or in a church. The main thing is not where you are but instead that you appreciate and acknowledge that God is the source of all that is good and beautiful and true.
A good second step is to ask for forgiveness for the times we’ve screwed up or missed the mark, fallen short.
- God, I’m sorry for messing up and not being the best version of myself. I regret that I … or that I didn’t…. Please forgive me and help me to be more like you so that I can help to spread your love and healing in the world.
Many or most of us promise to pray for others. Let’s do that, too. For those who have huge needs or challenges, those we know and those we read about (people in crisis such as war, famine, abuse, addition, mental illness, etc.). Let us ask God to show us where and how we can help. We cannot fix everything, but we can all do something.
Got more time? There are wonderful resources available
If you have more than just a handful of moments, it can be really wonderful to first read some part of scripture or some inspiring, religious writings before turning to God in prayer. There’s a wonderful list of resources on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
Many parishes provide livestreamed Masses now. Please visit the diocesan website and check your parish and others for available virtual viewings. You can find all of the Santa Clara County Masses here: https://www.dsj.org/mass-prayer-services/
Original post from March 2020:
Holy Spirit parish in the Diocese of San Jose provides a livestream Mass for anyone desiring to view or participate remotely. While this has been available for a long time, I thought it would be good to help spread the word so that those impacted by the flu or Covid-19 might benefit.
New public health guidelines
Earlier this week, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department issued new guidelines to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (and influenza). It reminds the public that most people who contract the new coronavirus will have mild cases, but for some it won’t go so well. From the county:
Who is at higher risk?
Information about risk factors for COVID-19 infection is evolving, but the best evidence currently available makes clear that risk of severe illness begins to increase at age 50 for those who contract COVID-19, and increases with age (i.e., an 80-year-old person is at greater risk than a 70-year-old person). The highest risk group are persons age 80 and over.
Persons with underlying medical problems also are likely at higher risk for severe disease, including persons with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD, as well as those who are immunocompromised.
For those who are at higher risk (age 50+ or / and with a number of health issues), the advice from the health department is to avoid “avoid mass gatherings such as parades, sporting events, and concerts where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another.”
That last section – being within arm’s length of one another – seems to be most of our Sunday Masses, at least where my family and I participate.
One of my relatives raised a very good point: if the person who’s at high risk stays in isolation, but other family members are out in public and returning home, it’s possible that the healthy family members could bring the virus home (it is very contagious), and they might never know they were carriers if they had few or no symptoms.
For all of these cases, a live stream Mass might be very helpful, both in helping to prevent the spread of the disease, but also, of course, for spiritually nourishing those who need to either be home or simply stay out of crowds.
I commend Holy Spirit Parish for providing this live stream Mass service, and I would encourage other parishes in other dioceses to follow suit.
There is another site offering Mass view-able on TV, CatholicTV.org.
Finally, I know that many senior or at-risk Catholics will feel uncomfortable missing Mass when they feel fine. I’m not in a position to offer dispensations myself, but I do know that the church does not want us going to Mass when we are sick or contagious, so it seems a small extension that the church would likewise ask us to assess the situation, create an informed conscience, and then decide.
I am hoping that the bishops around the world will make statements so that the faithful do not feel torn between their desire to attend Mass and the obligation to do so on Sundays as opposed to what the health departments are advising for everyone’s safety.
In the meantime, if you are ill or unable to attend Mass in person, I do suggest you check out the live stream Mass from Holy Spirit. Let’s pray that this very contagious coronavirus does not continue to spread and claim lives.
Holy Spirit Parish website
Monday – Friday: 8:30am
Sunday: 8:00am, 9:30am, 11:30am, 6:00pm
Holy Day: 8:30am, 7:00pm
Are you feeling nourished by the Church? There are some wonderful parishes and priests out there. Right now, one of the silver linings to Covid is that we can live stream Mass from anywhere in the world. If your own immediate parish situation is not good for you, I would like to suggest changing parishes or getting nourished by the Church online if nothing else immediate can do the trick.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you may have noticed that one of the central concerns I have is in the area of alienation and belonging with the Church (two sides of the same coin). In other words, what helps people to stay Catholic when the going gets rough? And what motivates people to leave when they just cannot take it anymore?
To me, these are core questions. How can we help to stem the alienation and increase the welcoming and belonging which are central to having a Christian community?
We want to be nourished by the Church and to also be nourishing to others in that setting or community. But not every parish will be a good fit for each of us. (I can hear someone screaming “cafeteria Catholic!”, but please bear with me and keep reading.)
Ecumenism is important. Jesus didn’t want us as Christians to splinter into a million denominations. Just as important, though, is not alienating believers by the harm that we do as individuals, people, or Church leaders. If we cannot change the parish (or perhaps the priest) to stop doing harm, the best thing may be to move on. But hopefully not out of the Catholic Church!
The abuse crisis has caused many Catholics to be scandalized by the Church. The irony is that Catholic leaders hid what was happening precisely because they did not want to scandalize the faithful – among other reasons, of course.
Like many people, I have family and friends who stopped attending Mass or even ceased considering themselves Catholic at all because of the way that bishops and other religious leaders concealed the abuse and protected the abusers. They should have been focusing on the children and vulnerable adults who were hurt. They should have turned the abusers over to law enforcement.
While most of the sexual abuse happened before reforms were instituted 20+ years ago, the stories just keep coming here and around the world. And now there are other scandals involving Catholic boarding schools for indigenous children and mass, unmarked graves in Canada and the U.S.
“They have no business telling me how I should behave”, said one of my relatives recently.
The outrage that we Catholics collectively feel is not aimed at the whole Church, but at the hierarchy and superiors of religious orders who are guilty of the abuse personally, or who covered it up, protected the abusers, and did not care sufficiently about the welfare of the injured.
The hierarchy does not equal the Church, though. We are all the Church.
Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, a prolific theologian, wrote a compelling book entitled “Models of the Church“. (Click on the link to learn more about these models.) When I read it in college, there were five models, or ways of understanding the Church. He later added one more.
They are the Church as:
- Mystical Communion
- Community of Disciples
I found it very useful to think about the Church in a broader way then the top-down version I was taught as a child. Today it may be helpful for the many alienated and hurt Catholics to look beyond just the institution when considering their relationship with the Church. (more…)