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.
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!
Everyone’s a critic. When it comes to preaching and to homilies, it has got to be tough to get up in front of the community and be inspiring and insightful if you’re under-slept, overworked, rushed or maybe even going through a rough time yourself. But this aspect of a priest or deacon’s life is so very important that it can seriously help or hinder the faith life of those present to hear it.
You can’t say that about committee meetings.
We expect so much of our clergy, whether diocesan or religious. There are a thousand important things to do. I would assert, though, that preaching (which comes with its own requirements such as preparing ahead of time and prayer) probably should go pretty high up on the priorities list.
I have been very fortunate to hear some truly exceptionally wonderful homilies. There are some priests who are extremely gifted (and probably work hard at it too) and who manage to crowd the church with people who just want to hear them expound on the readings of the day. At my parish we had a visiting priest, a Jesuit named Fr. John Murphy, SJ, who used to come out to say Mass sometimes. His preaching was so profound and remarkable that you could hear people in church whisper that what they were hearing was amazing. One relative of mine would bring a tape recorder to the church so she could play the homily back later. (How many people in the pews want to hear the same homily a second time?)
Unfortunately, sometimes – albeit very rarely – homilies are not just bad, but they are destructive. Luckily this is very very seldom the case, but if it happens to you it’s not a small deal. It can be a very big deal and it can risk alienating one from the faith. (more…)
For a year or two, I have considered starting a blog about being Catholic in Silicon Valley. We have a rich and diverse Catholic community here, some interesting local church history, a few challenges that aren’t found everywhere else and in general, there’s no shortage of topics. I enjoy writing and blogging and think I can make this a helpful resource – I hope so!
There are enough blogs, books, periodicals and other avenues for people to argue about theology, liturgy, apologetics, ethics, church law, abuse, scandals, church politics and on and on. I won’t promise to entirely avoid topics that could step on toes, but those areas aren’t the point of this blog.
Instead, the primary focus here will be on areas that I hope will help to grow or build faith, community, and a sense of belonging among Catholics who may feel a little disconnected or alienated for whatever reason. (Those reasons will surely come up but again, they won’t be the focus of the blog.) We live in a pluralistic society and many of our friends who are not Catholic may wonder about certain practices or beliefs, and discussing some of them may also be helpful to them as well. (more…)