It seems I write about this sad phenomenon every year and, guess what, nothing changes. Thousands of “part-time Catholics” drive to attend Mass at their local church not even knowing if it is still open. They parade in wearing their finest and drive the ushers crazy as they attempt to save seats for their Creaster friends who most probably will arrive later and expect immediate seating.
Why does this happen? Why do people attend Mass only twice a year on Christmas and Easter? Maybe it is a subconscious attempt to stay in touch with a religion that they have abandoned? Maybe it is a way of justifying a faith lost years ago by telling themselves that, “Yes, I still go to church.” Maybe someone told them once that you can still be a good Catholic if you attend the two major feasts in the Church year. Apparently, the other 50+ masses are somewhat meaningless.
For whatever reason, most parishes will see an influx of people who have not been in a church for months or maybe years. They stumble at genuflecting; do a poor job of making the Sign of the Cross; never pick up the Mass book; very seldom respond to any participation in the Mass as they have no idea what to say; and, obviously, not being a true member of the parish, fumble with change in their pocket or pick a crisp dollar out of their wallet for their semi-annual support of the parish. But to make matters even worse, they flock to the church exits after communion rushing to get to their cars to beat the traffic. I have also never understood how these part-time Catholics cannot attend Mass for months and then as a family receive Holy Communion. Wasn’t there something in the Baltimore Catechism that mentioned attending Mass every Sunday as an obligation under pain of sin as a Catholic?
Several priests that I knew years ago attempted to address the situation by saying “I invite all those people whom I have not seen since last year to come back in the coming Sundays and be part of our parish community.” Never worked.
I had proposed a seat tax, reserved seating for parish members, separate seating for those who support their parish by showing an envelope to get a seat, on and on; but I suspect that most priests would view this as a form of discrimination. But it does aggravate me when I cannot find a seat in the church that I attend and support every Sunday as a result of this semi-annual influx of part-time Catholics. I walked out years ago when I was told by the ushers that the church was full and there was seating for the “overflow” in the school halls. Arriving twenty minutes early was apparently considered “late” and we were being classified as “overflow.” Never mind that most of the seats were taken by people who were not in church the prior Sunday!
So 2016 will be no different than past years. Masses will be crowded with Christmas falling on a Sunday; seating uncomfortable; standing room only if permitted by the Fire Marshall; and parking miserable. The only consolation is that on the next Sunday most of these part-time Catholics will be gone until Easter.