I would like to contrast that with the parish where I usually worship on Sunday mornings (and occasionally on a Saturday evening). This parish is a suburban parish in a well-to do neighborhood in a medium sized east coast metropolitan area. There are two Saturday evening masses—one in English, one in Spanish. There are four English language and one Spanish language mass on Sunday mornings and early afternoon. There is yet another English language mass on Sunday evening. I would estimate there to be three thousand worshippers at the English language masses, and perhaps eight hundred to a thousand at the two Spanish language masses. The liturgies are well prepared but not particularly creative. The readers—at least at the English language masses (I can’t comment on the Spanish language masses) proclaim well. The music as the Spanish language masses is enthusiastic and sound wonderful; at the English language masses I think the music isn’t bad but could be much better. To its enhancement, however, various parishioners often bring a variety of instruments—trumpet, violin, guitar, flute, cello—and play with the pianist/organist. They have a decent organ and I think they could use it more often to the overall betterment of the liturgy. The building itself is late twentieth century. It is aesthetically harmonious but without particular charm. The preaching is consistently good, the various priests who preside there each having his own style, but all well thought of by the parishioners. I have been asking parishioners why they attend mass there. (Parishioners come from a wide area—some coming from forty miles away on a Sunday.)
The strongest response, by far, is that there is a strong sense of community. People say that they feel invested in the relationships that center around the parish. They know one another, are concerned about one another, and feel that they belong to one another. I have noticed that when there is a funeral many parishioners become involved in the various ministries—serving the mass in the various ministries, visiting the family to ascertain their needs at the time, helping with whatever luncheon or reception the family wants after the mass. Coffee and donut socials or pancake breakfasts (provided monthly by the Knights of Columbus) draw a good crowd. People come early and stay afterwards as well as participate in a variety of activities through the week. They seem to be able to tell the difference between “Going to Church” and “going to Mass” and while they are faithful to mass, they see the Mass, not as Church but as the Church at prayer. They know that going to Church is much more than attending Mass. In our next entry we will look at four other reasons why this Church is filled when so many other Catholic churches are emptying.