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Why keep the holy days hidden?


Catholic Diocese of Saginaw | CC BY ND 2.0

David Mills - published on 12/13/17

We see what people care about by the energy they put into it. Parishes should take note.

You might well think the parish didn’t want anyone to come to Mass for the Immaculate Conception. I was looking for the Mass times on the parish’s website, because I was away from home and had to go to a parish not our own. I googled the nearest Catholic church. Its website’s front page included a prominent table with the Mass times for Christmas and New Year’s weekend. Its Facebook page included the same table. But of that day’s required Mass, nothing.

The Church tells us we have to go to Mass that day. For all practical purposes, the parish treated a holy day of obligation as if it didn’t exist.

Kind of basic

Putting the Mass times for holy days of obligation on the front page of the parish website and on the parish’s Facebook page is kind of basic. Our little town does it for every public event, because the people who run the town want people to come. They even put up signs for the biggest events. They want people to see the 4th of July fireworks and give blood at the blood drive and show up for the borough council meeting.

A Catholic church ought to do it when they’re inviting people to meet God Himself. Especially when the Church says to each of us, “You’ve got a meeting with God today.”

Of course some parishes do this well and others do it well enough. Having helped run small churches with very limited resources when I was an Episcopalian, I understand how hard it is even to remember the obvious things and how hard it can be to do even the easy things. Pastors have a lot to do.

But we’re talking about a Mass the Church requires her people to attend. We’re talking about an act that deepens faith and builds the church as a fellowship. Both courtesy and a concern for one’s people requires that one make participation as easy as possible. The parish church isn’t a club whose rules and ways the insiders need to know. You make an effort to answer the questions people will be asking, like “What time is the Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception?”

And it’s not hard to do. The parish helps its people make their holiday plans in advance, and good for them too. But why has it not thought about those who want to make their holy day plans in advance? Even, strangers, guests, and visitors who need to make them at the last moment?

The Mass itself

Having finally called the parish to get the time, I went. The Mass was sparsely attended. I don’t think the lack of advertisement was the problem, since almost everyone there probably knew it from the previous Sunday. But I do suspect the problem is at least partly what the lack of advertisement indicated: The feast and holy days of obligation in general just aren’t that important to the pastor and parish.

Not consciously unimportant, but not important enough to drive the concern that makes them think to put the times on the website. Not important enough in the way getting people to the blood drive is important to the people at the borough office. There’s a level of commitment that turns the feeling — the quite genuine feeling — that “This is important” into “Gosh, we better push this and make sure it’s on the website and Facebook page where people can see it.” By their websites you shall know them.

Even people who don’t need the website to know the time for Mass pick up on this relative lack of concern. They’ll see it and feel it in all sorts of ways besides the failure to list one Mass. They will feel the presence of the absence and adjust their own views to fit. They will feel, and maybe even think, that if the pastor doesn’t push it, it must not really be all that important. After all, he really pushes the Lenten fish fry and the special choir concert.

We see what people care about by the energy they put into it. As Chesterton said in talking about educating children, and this applies to leading adults: “It is not the things you say [they] respect. . . . It is the things you assume that really sink into them. It is the things you forget even to teach that they learn.”

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