What regular Mass attendance means for American Catholics

A Reflection for Wednesday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

After leaving the synagogue, Jesus entered Simon’s house. (Luke 4:38)

Over the past year, I have looked at a lot of data on American Catholics: how old they are, their race and ethnicity, what percentage of them live in rural or urban areas, how identify politically, etc. The research is part of a new documentary project by the video team of America which captures the challenges and priorities of Catholic parish life across the United States today. (It’s coming out this fall, so stay tuned!)

One of the most compelling findings for me was the influence of regular Mass attendance on Catholic opinion. For example, two-thirds of Catholics who attend Mass every week or more think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. But for Catholics who attend Mass less often, two-thirds think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Because the church has a very strong stance against abortion, data points like this can influence how we understand (and judge!) our faith and that of our fellow Catholics. We can easily oversimplify complex issues and opinions and consciously or unconsciously draw the conclusion that “good” or “worthy” Catholics attend Mass every week or more and that “bad” or “unworthy” Catholics attend less.

A question each of us must consider is: How do I view Mass attendance in my own life and in the life of the church today?

In today’s gospel, Jesus heals all kinds of ailments, from a high fever inflicting Simon’s mother-in-law to cast out demons. But it is important to note that his healing ministry begins once he leaves the synagogue, not while he is there. The first line of the passage is crucial: “After Jesus left the synagogue…”

The story of Jesus, and of John the Baptist before him, begins by leaving the synagogues and the Temple rather than entering them. John spent his ministry in the desert; Jesus spent it mostly on the road and at the table.

A question each of us must consider is: How do I view Mass attendance in my own life and in the life of the church today? Weekly masses at our local parish church might feel like going to the synagogue in first century Judea. But the Catholic Mass, in essence, is much more like the dinners Jesus shared with sick and marginalized people on the road during his ministry. This is why Pope Francis insists that “the Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and food for the weak”.

With this state of mind and heart, regular attendance at Mass is a beautiful transcendent reality. This is Simon’s house; it is the road; it is the deserted place where the crowds are looking for Jesus. It is also our parish church. I don’t know what percentage of American Catholics view mass attendance in this way, but I’m sure 100% are, like me, in need of Jesus’ healing.

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