Why Catholics Skip Mass

I recently read an interesting article on the blog of Father Christopher M. Zelonis — another “Fr. Z” — who calls himself a “Catholic Priest, Amateur Musician, Insatiable Verbivore and Dedicated Runner”

The post in question was called “Unpacking the Precepts”: The Lord’s Day Observance and it delved into the reasons that the average Catholic misses Sunday Mass. Among them, the following:

Sabbath Rest. As one CCD student told me when I was a seminarian visiting her class, “Daddy says that he works all week and wants to rest on Sundays.” The response that “God worked, too,” holds no weight because He’s God. Creation was no sweat off His back; only a Word was necessary! He “rested” as an example for us, so that we should not become exceedingly consumed with production, results, and cash flow. Which came first: businesses having Sunday hours or shoppers engaging in Sunday commerce? Even the good people of Alcoholics Anonymous know, “For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded” (“Big Book,” p. 127).

You seriously need to click through and read the others, but especially take note of Fr. Z’s offer:

Let me know if I, as a priest, can do anything to help you. I’ll pray, for starters.

Yesterday, I sat in Mother’s Day Mass and looked around me at all of the beautiful families who’d made a priority of attending Mass together on Mom’s special day. I pondered to myself how many of us moms seated in the Congregation would give just about anything to have this every Sunday, not just once a year on the second Sunday of May.

We know from the most recent CARA numbers that only 24% of US Adult Catholics say they attend Mass at least once per week or more.

Maybe we need to take Father Zelonis up on his prayer offer. And perhaps being a part of the New Evangelization should mean regularly inviting our loved ones to attend Eucharist with us. By extending an open hand and a loving invitation to return to Church on Sunday mornings, we may stem the tide.

A question for you: For those “Catholics” in your life who do not attend Mass on a weekly basis, what is the main reason they do not prioritize Mass attendance?

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  • Jeanie Kenkel

    Wow, and I worry when I can’t find it in me to attend a Mass during the week. I know I can’t throw up my hands and say at least I’m doing better than someone else, though.

  • oldnuke

    If you ask them why they think they have to go to mass in the first place, you’ll find out what they are bypassing in not going. And then you can ask them further and really listen to what they say instead of what you want to hear. It’s a very enlightening exercise. If you really listen, you’ll find out a lot.

  • The liturgy in our Sunday services is often silly or childish, and it’s too long. As a man, I seek something simple and reverent. Beautiful and short. And it doesn’t seem very Catholic to me. I don’t think I left the Church; it seems like it left me.

  • Mitch smith

    Ididn’t attend mass for years, because whenever I went to Mass it was all about us, and not abour God, grace or tranc=scendence. The music was without any real content, only about feelings, and the Homilies were all about how we should be active in the world by voting for Democrats. Heck–I WAS a democrat, and thought that was stupid. We were told not to pray too much, and all about how the sacraments proceeded from the community. Since I was–and am–poor, and Catholics in my region tend to be affluent, I noticed I was marginalized by the very community that was talking about the poor…in short, the Church stopped celebrating the Mysteries, and celebrated the assembly, while condescending to those of us who were not part of an educational or economic elite. I got tired of being either ignored or a pet.

  • bill bannon

    Don’t know but Rome should ask them by mail.
    From A.D. 1585 when Pope Sixtus V introduced them into the churches til 1878, 29 Popes in a row affirmed the castrati singing in the papal territory’s churches primarily because it kept Mass attendance high. Pope Leo XIII put a stop to it for any new castrati in 1878.. But that 300 year technique shows that there were always some Catholics who were otherwise lazy on Sunday morning. Our time has that too but I think others sincerely left due to the scandal of clerical abuse. Still others find the almost all rote structure impersonal whereas a recent convert commenter mentioned how Protestants often have an hour coffee social after Mass which nurtures community feeling at least after service. In some big city parishes, an elderly Catholic can die and few if any know it….even if that person was active in church groups when they had their health long ago. That anonymity is probably widespread with us and non existent with Amish and Hutterites. And younger people sense it as their ultimate fate in big city parishes.

  • Kim Whelan

    They don’t think it is wrong.

    The one excuse that blows my mind is if we have a function for whatever reason (outside of Mass) that counts to some families as attending since they came to the church building on a Sunday. I do believe that this is one of those things where people talk themselves into it being okay. We/I need to figure out a Christian response that is truthful and helpful. I like the one in your blog – I’ll pray for you.

  • Stefanie

    Interesting that Father is teaching the Church’s 5 Precepts (6 if you are married). I discovered the Precepts a few years ago and have not stopped teaching my students about it ever since.
    My RCIA & Adult Confirmation students (and their godparents/sponsors) are often shocked when I tell them that while receiving Holy Communion is optional at Mass (except for once a year during the Easter Season), going to Mass every week is NOT an option. If you believe in God, you publicly worship Him and praise Him. You honor Him. Even Jesus went to synagogue. If you don’t prioritize, it ain’t gonna happen.
    I finally went to confession to confess just that sin — that even though I WORK at the parish and am less than 100 feet away from the sanctuary, I often felt “too busy” to drop what I was doing (setting up classrooms/printing up lessons/getting refreshments ready) to actually go to Mass. I figured I missed one Sunday a month — even though I was right there. Even though I am there all day Sunday. I told myself that I was serving the Lord in other ways — that’s what other parishioners told me anyway — but finally, I realized I needed to confess this and stop the bad habit I was forming.
    For over a year now, I have not missed Mass on Sunday/Saturday. I don’t feel holier — it’s not a legalistic-get-out-of-jail free card type of thing–, but I do feel as though I have not gone back on my promise to honor Him. He has given me much.

  • Joann

    As I drove to Mass on Mother’s Day I passed several diners. The lines outside each of them suggested a long wait for breakfast. Yet attendance at Mass was less than normal. It struck me as odd and quite sad. Living in a very Catholic area I assumed many of the people on line were Catholic. They got up early to take Mom to breakfast (which is not a bad thing. I had to make my own breakfast), but they would not go with Mom to Mass to receive real nourishment from the Eucharist (and a special blessing for mothers as well).

  • zmayhem

    Most of the Catholics in my life are my fellow parishioners, and my parish council has been wrestling with this question and with how to address the answers we get. One of the big ones is parenthood – as the parent of a now-6-year-old who has been a world-class dawdler since she started walking, I’ve made it to Mass on time or early maybe 25% of the time in the last four years. Kid-wrangling is a huge issue — I stuck it out through the tantrum years from sheer grim determination, but my engagement with my faith and with parish life definitely suffered; when you’re in a parish too physically small for a crying room, you end up spending half of every Mass outside accompanying your toddler in his/her timeout because there’s nowhere else to go (and, gaah! Mine had such a perverse gift for launching into snizzles or snarls right before the most spiritually and emotionally nourishing parts of the Mass for me). Now that she’s older, reading, singing and participating, we’re still late but it is 1000% easier just to be there and be truly present and walk out afterward feeling like I actually attended Mass, instead of feeling like I just ran a marathon while wrestling a tiny but very angry octopus. I wish we had space for a crying room, or a big enough schedule for a regular Children’s Mass that could actively engage the very little ones, but given our current restrictions I sympathize with the toddler parents who feel they’re just too weary to make it more often.

    The sexual abuse scandals also have had a huge effect on attendance; a lot of members of my generation are either survivors, the children or friends of survivors, or parents who flat-out don’t trust the Church to make their children’s safety a priority.

    The solutions are going to be very slow in coming – for the first, we’re starting an early-early religious education program, where the kids from toddlerhood through just-before-first-Communion leave Mass right after the opening prayers and a parent volunteer (in turns, everyone doing one week a month) leads them through simple versions of the three readings, answers questions, and works with them on either an indoor art project (in bad weather) or tending to our little yard and garden; then they’ll come back for the Lord’s Prayer, sign of peace and Communion. We’ll get the word out that it’s informal, drop in, always available – the kids get religious education pitched to their level, the parents get a bit of respite and a chance to focus during the sitting/listening/reflecting part of Mass.

    For the second, I don’t know how the greater Church is going to repair the trust lost; on the parish and diocese level, there’s registering all volunteers, making everyone in every ministry a mandated reporter, making sure people know who’s in their parish council and how to reach them, responding clearly and forcefully to every concern raised with survivor safety and justice as the primary concern. These measures have helped keep more people from leaving, and brought back those who were wavering, throughout my diocese. But how to reassure and bring back those who’ve already left altogether? No idea.

    • lisahendey

      zmayhem I don’t have answers, but I did want to thank you for taking the time to share such a thoughtful comment. I’ve been through the “wresting an octopus” phase twice and am currently in the “inspire a young adult” phase, which is sometimes equally as challenging! Let’s pray for one another, and for our Church!

  • Colleen

    Eucharist means thanksgiving. We go to Mass to thank our Lord and praise him. We do not go to Mass to get entertained or fed or nourished. Although, that is usually the end result for me – being nourished. I think I forget the thanksgiving part sometimes though.
    Jeff Cavins has a great talk on just this subject of expecting to be fed. I forget the name of it but is on the ascension press website.

    We do need to pray for all to return. We are not whole when people are missing.

  • Mark and Conne

    I stopped attending a few years ago, until then I never missed and even taught CCD. Though I do believe the Catholic Church holds the true teachings of Christ, I am no longer compelled to attend mass. In our diocese, there is no faith, to much politics, and way to much emphasis on money. As a family we still we have faith, and there seems to be more peace since we stopped attending. I would like to see the Church actually be a church for all the people, not the social elite. Maybe we would return.