About six months ago, our family switched parishes. It wasn’t some “large” decision or one that was rooted in being unhappy with our old parish. In fact, it was near the opposite. We were attending church at a large parish, with lots of programs and opportunities to be involved. We had a personal relationship with the Pastor. We were friendly with those who we sat around each week. The main problem – the church is 30 minutes away from our home. We had made the decision to attend mass there based on my husband’s job at the Catholic high school across the street from the church… and that we had free tuition at the Catholic school attached to the parish. We wanted to invest in that community since that’s where it seemed our social life would be taking place. But then… God interrupted OUR plans with His own. A job change forced us to reevaluate many aspects of our life. It was during this major life change that we decided it was time to become parishioners at the local parish 7-10 minutes down the road.
For the first two-ish months, I had a really hard time being excited about going to Mass. The church is darker, the music isn’t as joyful, the Pastor didn’t know us (and we didn’t know him), and it was a whole new set of people that we sat around. I would complain and compare our new church to our old church every drive home. Eventually, I forced myself to let go of the idea that the old parish was where we belong, and started to open my heart to the new parish… and new people.
The moment I let myself start to move on, it seemed as if suddenly, the people around us started approaching us after Mass.
It’s here where the point of this article actually comes into play.
Something that has been occurring each Sunday is older parishioners coming up to our family and THANKING us for attending Mass.
“You have such a beautiful family! Thanks for coming to church!”
“You kids sure were good! Keep coming!!”
“Thanks for being here! We need you!”
These phrases and others related to them are what we hear after each Mass. It never fails. It’s usually from the same 4-5 elderly couples, but nevertheless, they walk up to us to thank and encourage us to keep coming. Of course, they have no idea of our story, and the fact that Mass is simply non-negotiable for us. But regardless, they say it week after week.
We are not the only young family at mass. In fact, there may be more young families at our new parish than at our old one. However, a few weeks ago, I brought up to my husband that it almost makes me sad that we are being thanked for attending Mass.
Again, there are other young families attending Mass. I see them. I hear them. But, the majority of people attending the 10:00 AM Mass each week are, well, upwards of 60. An older generation who has seen and witnessed so many different times of the Church. Even as a 31-year-old, I can recognize how much the Church has changed even in just the past 3-5 years. Obviously we had a pandemic, but the attendance at a Sunday Mass is less than I’ve ever experienced. Of course, that’s not the case everywhere, but it is in our area.
Hence being sad when we are thanked for simply attending Mass each week. Even though I appreciate their kind words, it makes me sad that these elderly couples feel the need to keep encouraging us to simply attend Mass. Because it truly is simple! An hour a week? Sure, keeping kids quiet for an hour isn’t “easy”, but it’s also not hard. But for older Catholics, they aren’t seeing as many young families in the pews anymore. It makes me sad knowing that they’ve seen a lively church. In fact, they WERE and sometimes still ARE the lively church. They’re the lectors and Eucharistic ministers. They’re the fish fry volunteers. They’re the ones bringing Communion to the sick. They’re the ones teaching Baptism prep.
So, while it’s nice to hear encouragement and thanks, it also makes me feel like our generation is slacking. Not only are we part of the generation who caused a mass exodus in the Church, but those of us still attending are the ones who have to step up in our parishes. Our family included! Having extra time isn’t all that much of a reality currently – after all, we have a three-week-old! But sooner than later, there will be a time when we have to step into the role of outwardly encouraging others to keep coming to Mass. We will have to fill the shoes of those elderly people who are the volunteers and those ministering to the parish. If we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, then being an active member is the most important responsibility we have.
We hear often about the children being the future of the Church, but the Church needs us now.. It’s time for us to step up. It’s time for us to be more present. It’s time for us to take the encouragement and example of the generation before us and show that we are still – and can be – a lively Church.