by Steve Raml, Director of Liturgy & Music
Why Go to Church?
I’ve noticed a gradual increase in the number of people coming to Mass. Sure, we lose numbers in the summer due to the “snowbird” factor, but overall, it seems more people are coming to Church. Or perhaps that should be coming BACK to Church.
The COVID 19 pandemic a few years ago threw the entire world into disarray, and the Church was not immune from the fears that spread as fast as the virus itself. That fear of being around other people led all churches to the phenomenon of livestreamed Masses, where people could just watch a Mass on their computer, tablet or cell phone. No need to be with others when everything was there on a screen. Everything, that is, except the Eucharist itself.
But was there something else that was missing? I firmly believe that you can’t really have Communion (the Eucharist) without Community (other people). That belief is supported by a pre-pandemic survey that asked WHY people come to Church.
In 2011, the Archdiocese of Chicago commissioned the American Catholic Laity Survey which asked the question “Why do you go to Church?” The number one answer was Community. 38% of those polled answered with statements like “I feel supported, connected, encouraged” or “I have a sense of belonging” or “to share fellowship with others like me.”
Close behind, with 35% was the answer “To Reflect/Pray”, with answers like “to maintain a relationship with God” or “experience God’s love” or “I find clarity or purpose in life”, “it helps me cope” or finally “it gives me strength.”
Surprisingly, only 14% answered “the Eucharist” or “to receive the Real Presence of Jesus in Communion”. Finally, 11% mentioned “Spirituality” with answers like “it feeds my hunger for Spiritual things” or “I want to grow Spiritually”.
We’re In This Together
I can imagine a similar post-pandemic survey may find something along the same lines. “Community” is drawing people back to Church, and that fits perfectly with what the Mass is all about. The Church teaches that Mass is our communal prayer. Listen carefully to the words used throughout the Mass, and you’ll find that even when the priest is saying the prayers, the pronouns are “we”, “us” and “our”. Only occasionally are we saying anything in the singular, such as “I confess…” or “I believe in God….” or “that you come under my roof”.
The Lord’s Prayer is the best example of communal prayer:
“Our Father,…. Give us this day our daily bread…”
Every time we pray at mass, we pray together. Mass is not a time for personal prayer. The Church tells us this very clearly in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the very first document from Vatican II:
Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations belonging to the Church, which is the “sacrament of unity” (CSL #26)
Another Church teaching is that Sacraments bring about or effect what they signify, so our praying and singing together at Mass is not only a sign of unity, but by praying together we experience a deepening and strengthening of that unity.
So, we are not individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time. We are praying together as members of the Body of Christ, united in the sharing of Christ’s body and blood — a meal that is a gift from God.
Director of Liturgy & Music