More on Falling Mass Attendance and Liturgy

More on Falling Mass Attendance and Liturgy
Last week I considered some issues associated with liturgy which might contribute to the decline in Mass attendance.
According to the National Church Life Survey, the most recent experience of church worship for the majority of people was a wedding, baptism or funeral. This means that these occasions represent a significant opportunity for contact between the church community and those outside parish life.
Relatively few of these people took part in an ordinary Sunday service the last time they attended church, yet this is where parishes put most of their time and effort. It is unusual for members of the parish community to be present at weddings, baptisms and funerals and the priest is left to carry the burden as sole representative of the parish community.
The harsh reality is that it is on the basis of these rite-of-passage liturgies that some people make judgements about the Catholic Church and what its worship has to offer them.
Christmas and Easter services are also key times for connecting with those who attend church infrequently. Parishes need to make the most of the opportunity these special occasions provide to offer a good experience of liturgy and to issue invitations to other parish activities.
A drop in the numbers of people attending Sunday Mass has a significant effect on the liturgy. It means that fewer people with the necessary skills are available to carry out the tasks of preparing liturgy and performing a variety of liturgical ministries, thus placing an added burden on those who remain.
A drop in parish income will inevitably result cut backs in the budget for liturgical resources, if there is one. It is very difficult to do liturgy well without access to new music and other liturgical resources.
Furthermore, ensuring that the worship space and the vestments and vessels used in liturgy are attractive and worthy requires an outlay of money on a regular basis for renovation, upgrading and replacement.
A decline in Mass attendance (and in the number of active priests) will inevitably lead to a review of the parish Mass timetable. Scheduling fewer Masses is the obvious response but experience shows that this will lead to an even further decline in attendance. Closing worship centres as a means of making more efficient use of use declining human and financial resources also causes pain for the community and results in further disaffiliation by those who are directly affected.
Some people argue that we should not be concerned with Mass attendance figures as it is not the only indicator of faith and that we should be wary of assuming a ‘bums-on-seats’ mentality.
On the other hand, if we believe that liturgy is the summit and source of the Christian life, we know how essential it is to be nourished regularly at the table of the word and the table of the Eucharist. There is evidence too that faith weakens over time without the support of a like-minded faith community and without the pastoral care offered by belonging to a parish.
Worshipping with a community of fellow believers takes us beyond ourselves to become part of something bigger. It enables us to experience Eucharist as participation in a cosmic event celebrated by men and women of faith in every corner of the world for 2000 years.

Elizabeth Harrington