Most priests will tell you that Sunday Mass attendance has not returned to the level it was before the Covid-19 pandemic. Various reasons have been suggested to explain why that is the case.
They include an ongoing fear of contracting Covid-19; a concern about new variants of the virus; not knowing who is vaccinated and who is not; deciding it is more convenient to watch Mass at home and make a “spiritual communion:” a lack of understanding of the value of participating in Mass; a decline in the sense of the Sunday obligation; and a judgment that one’s life has not been negatively impacted by not attending Mass.
Those reasons may help to explain why Mass attendance has not returned to what it was. There may be an additional reason, one that was present even before Covid-19 appeared on the scene.
It is a reason that Saint Paul references in Sunday’s second reading (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24). In that passage, Paul warned the Christian converts at Ephesus to “no longer live as the Gentiles do.” As people who had “learned Christ,” they should not act like the Gentiles who had not accepted Jesus as their Savior and who had rejected the message of the Gospel.
He told them, “You should put away the old self of your former way of life … and put on the new self, created in God’s ways in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
Paul knew that embracing Christ and the Christian way of life was not a one-time event. It was something that had to be done each day because the Christians at Ephesus were living in a culture whose values were corrupted by sin. If they were not careful, that culture would negatively affect them. It would draw them back into living as they did before they encountered Christ.
Today our culture seems to be as opposed to Christianity as the one that confronted the Ephesians. Our society has gone from embracing faith in God to pushing religion out of the public square and seeking to put it under “house arrest.”
There are no longer commonly accepted codes of moral behavior based on God’s law; what is judged good depends on each individual or on the consensus found in the media.
Our society has moved from being uncomfortable with abortion to professing it to be a human right. Greed, ambition, lust, abuse, pornography, addiction, self-centeredness, and a failure to recognize the value of every person as a unique creation of God have numbed the consciences of many people.
This anti-Gospel culture has affected all persons, including Catholics. That influence became even more pronounced during the current pandemic. With churches closed, Catholics were not able to gather with their fellow believers to be renewed and strengthened in their faith. They were like people who stopped going to the gym, their faith weakened.
Spending more time at home also meant more time spent streaming entertainment, surfing the internet, and being engrossed in social media. It meant more time being influenced by a largely non-Christian culture, often hostile to the Church.
To counteract this, we need, as Jesus tells us in Sunday’s Gospel (John 6:24-35), to do “the work of God.” That work, he explains, is “to believe in the one he sent.”
Believing in Jesus is not primarily accepting certain doctrines, but rather trying to see life as he did. It means gathering with our fellow Catholics to share the bread of life and the truth of the Gospel. That requires an ongoing effort, especially in a society that is constantly pulling us in other directions, and pulling many of our fellow Catholics away from Sunday Mass.
Saint Paul reminds us that each day we have to “put on the new self, created in God’s way of righteousness.” Unless we do that, we may find ourselves numbered among the “no-shows” at Sunday Mass.
© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski