Most people now feel the effects of the amalgamations or clustering of parishes. Even if our own communities have not been affected we will know ones that have been. Parishioners have faced the upheavals of changes in the times of Sunday Masses.
The main focus of many of the discussions surrounding the joining of parishes has been Sunday Mass provision. Obviously this is important and the faithful need to be able to attend Mass on a Sunday. However one area which has often been missing from these considerations has been the midweek worshiping life of the community. Following reorganisation, many parishes now no longer have a daily Mass which also means that many of our church buildings remain shut and unwelcoming during the week.
It is easy to dismiss the practice of a daily Mass. Its demise in many places has been brought about with none of the controversy, letters to the bishop or anger that has been experienced following the loss of Sunday celebrations. We are in danger of completely underestimating the important contribution of daily Mass to our parishes’ life and mission if those making the decisions only focus on Sunday provision. Whilst our midweek Masses may only attract a fraction of the numbers of Sunday congregations they provide a firm foundation of prayer upon which the whole of the communities life is built. These quiet and unassuming daily celebrations are a treasure that we are at risk of losing to the detriment of the whole life of the parish. I think of the words of St Bernard,
“You will gain more from one single Mass than you would from distributing all your goods to the poor or making pilgrimages to all the most holy shrines in Christendom.” (Saint Bernard, 1090-1153).
In my own parish those who attend the daily Mass may be few in number but they are the ones who generally keep the church going. These are the people that I will call when I need something doing. They are the ones who clean the church, run the catechesis programme, plan events and manage the finances. They are also the ones who keep the parish solvent with their financial giving and support. The daily Mass has sustained them and helped them grow in their faith. Daily Mass has also helped them develop in their relationship with the community. Whilst many of the people may not articulate it in this way, the daily Mass has been part of the formation of many parishes leaders and doers. What replaces this opportunity in parishes where the daily celebration has gone or is shared between a number of centres?
People turn up at daily Mass in times of crisis in their lives such as bereavement or loss. Only last week a lady came to Mass because her father had recently died. She is not a normal midweek visitor but arrived because she knew that we would be there and Jesus would be present through the sacrament in her time of need. There is something about the daily Mass which says the church is available for people. It therefore has missional consequences.
When parishes are amalgamated little thought is taken over what should replace the daily Mass. There is no real substitute for ‘doing what he tells us’ but it is sad that parishes have lost this opportunity for the community to gather together. Why when parishes are amalgamated are people not encouraged to gather together to say Morning Prayer or pray before the Blessed Sacrament with times that are regular and consistent?
So many Catholics today treat their faith as a Sunday occupation which they fit in between trips to the supermarket or the children’s rugby games. A daily Mass, advertised on the bulletin, bears quiet testimony to the need to have a faith which spans the whole week and our entire lives. By only having weekend Masses we are reinforcing the view that it is possible to be Sunday Catholics only. The spiritual dimension to all this should also not be underestimated. Daily Mass is like the heartbeat of a parish. Even when we are few in numbers and the heartbeat seems faint the blessings received for the whole community are important.
I hope that the great gift of the Daily Mass can be appreciated before it is too late.