Leaving Right After Communion

And More on Mass Outside a Sacred Space

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ROME, JULY 21, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Unfortunately some in the parish have developed the poor habit of leaving Mass immediately after Communion. I estimate around 30%, or approximately 225 people, leave early. Our church holds 750, so the disappearance is definitely noticeable. Could you provide a theological discourse on why this is not appropriate behavior? -- D.S., Port Charlotte, Florida

A: This is a perennial problem, but one which must be faced with patience, insisting, as St. Paul would say, "Opportune et inopportune" (in season and out of season), until the message reaches home.

This question reminded me of the story of a saintly priest who had the same problem with one of his devout parishioners who attended daily Mass but left immediately after Communion. He solved the problem by ordering two altar boys with lighted tapers to walk on either side of him as soon as he started to leave the church and accompany him all the way to his carriage.

When, after three days repeating this action, the somewhat flustered and embarrassed gentleman asked the priest for an explanation, he was told that since Christ was still present in him as he left the church, his presence had to be honored by lighted candles. Needless to say, he never left early again.

This anecdote could serve as a starting point for the priest to reflect with the people on the importance of giving thanks for the gift of Mass, of being spiritually nurtured by God's word, of participating in his unique sacrifice, and by receiving Communion.

This also requires that there is effectively a period of silence after the Communion song and that the priest, deacon and other ministers lead by example, dedicating two or three minutes to silent reflection at the chair.

On occasion the priest may assist the people by directing a brief meditative prayer of thanksgiving. This is especially effective at so-called children's Masses for, while the prayer is ostensibly directed toward the children, it often serves adults just as much.

Another point to be emphasized is the importance of assisting at the entire Mass. There are many plastic images to illustrate this, but most can grasp that if their boss, or the local mayor, summons them to a meeting, they would not dare leave before their host has formally brought it to a close. Even more is this true when a beloved parent, sibling or lifelong friend invites us to spend time with them.

If we behave thus before mere human authority and relationships, then how much more should it be true when our host is the Father who created us, the Son who died and rose for us, and the Spirit who gives us life.

Let us leave courtesy aside for a moment and return to thanksgiving. The Mass is something we celebrate together as Church and as a worshipping assembly united to Christ through the priest. It is not just something we do as individual Christians.

In the same manner, our thanksgiving for Mass cannot be reduced to the individual sphere and must be carried out as Church. This collective thanksgiving is done through the priest at the closing prayer to which all respond "Amen."

Finally, the Mass is intimately united to Christian life and mission. The final blessing and dismissal send us forth to transmit what we have received to our brothers and sisters. If we leave directly after Communion, then we lose this important component of our spiritual life.

From a very material standpoint one could also see if there is some tangible motivation that leads so many of the faithful to leave early. Is there a bottleneck in the parking lot? Are Mass schedules too close together? If there are real practical inconveniences involved, then theology alone will be ineffective in changing people's habits until these are resolved.

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Follow-up: Using Classrooms for Mass

A question related to our July 8 column on classroom Masses was on file from a Filipino correspondent. He asked: "Here in the Philippines, some of the shopping malls have a practice of having the Eucharist celebrated in them, most especially during Sundays. Coming to Mass in malls has been a practice of some of the families who frequent them, especially during Sundays. Some of these Masses are even televised. Could you comment on this? Is it really allowed?"

As with all habitual Masses outside of sacred spaces, such celebrations would have to be authorized by the bishop.

There are several things to be taken into account. There is no particular difficulty in having a chapel within a mall, just as they are found in other places with large conglomerations of people, such as airports, where people may take a spiritual break before the Blessed Sacrament and employees with irregular work shifts can attend Mass.

There is at least one religious congregation that specializes in setting up chapels in busy city areas so that Mass, confession, and adoration are available close to where people spend most of their time.

If this is the case with a mall Mass, then it is something worthwhile.

But herein lies the difficulty. Making Mass available at a mall on a Sunday could easily be seen as cooperating with a prevailing cultural trend that empties the Lord's Day of its sacredness and converts it into just another shopping day.

One could argue that it is best to offer the Mass where people are to be found, but the question remains if this is best for the common good. Sunday has a social as well as a religious function in predominantly Christian societies: It permits as many families as possible to be together for prayer and social interaction.

Although it will always be necessary for some people to work on Sundays, the commercialization of those days ties down an ever-growing number of families and thus weakens already fragile social bonds.

Another difficulty is the venue. If Mass is held in some public part of the mall, as seems to be implied by our correspondent, then the necessary separation from the profane cannot be achieved. It is hard to imagine serenely attending or celebrating Mass while people carry on business as usual all around you. This would hardly be a situation worthy of the Lord.

Things might be seen under a different light if commercial activities are suspended during the Mass. But the problem of respecting the integrity of Sunday as the Lord's Day still remains.