It’s not over ‘til it’s over! - 19 October 2014

My recent columns entitled “Are you being served?” and “The Church is not a convenience store” elicited quite a large number of email and calls from readers, many citing other examples of unfortunate consumerist behaviour with regard to Mass.

A few correspondents mentioned the practice of people joining the communion procession, receiving communion and immediately – or very shortly after – walking out of the church. The impression this gives, said one person, is that these people “got” what they came for so there is no need for them to stay around any longer.

Some Catholics don’t seem to be phased by people leaving early because they are accustomed to it, but visitors and new Catholics find it very disconcerting because it does not happen in other Churches (except perhaps with the Orthodox where the liturgy lasts around three hours!).

The practice is probably a hangover from pre-Vatican II days when one’s Mass obligation was met as long as one was present for the offertory, the consecration and the priest’s communion. Hopefully we have grown out of such legalistic behaviour and have a better understanding of why and how we gather for worship as a community of faith.

It is considered to be totally socially unacceptable for someone to get up and leave a dinner party as soon as they had finished eating without any thank-yous or farewells. Walking out before Mass has ended is no less bad-mannered. For a start, there are jobs to be done when Mass is over – tasks like closing windows and tidying up. Those who leave early shirk their responsibility as members of the parish community.

Besides being socially unacceptable, those who leave immediately after communion absent themselves from the last of the four parts of the Mass – the Concluding Rite. The Concluding Rite is the shortest and simplest part of the Mass. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, it consists of: brief announcements (if necessary), the priest’s greeting and blessing, the dismissal of the people, and the reverencing of the altar by the priest, deacon and other ministers. (#90)

The fact that the term “Mass” is derived from the dismissal (the Latin ite Missa est) suggests that this part of the Mass is very important. The dismissal is not just a way to end the celebration or to say farewell to those who have gathered, although both of these are included.

As the General Instruction puts it, the dismissal of the assembly sends us out so that “each may go back to doing good works, praising and blessing God”. (#90)

The Concluding Rites of the Mass, though brief, remind us that we are all expected to do our part in carrying on Christ’s mission of proclaiming God’s word and of serving others. The announcements following the Prayer after Communion offer the assembly opportunities for living out the commitment which Eucharist entails during the coming week, for example, assisting at the food pantry for the needy, gathering for evening prayer on Wednesday, offering transport for the elderly, visiting the sick and housebound.

Those who leave early walk away from all of this.


Elizabeth Harrington