My last scheduled post was on Christmas Day, which I didn’t come through on, partly because I didn’t have a great Internet connection where I was staying, but partly because I felt an awful lot of pressure, posting on Christmas.
Yet, here I am two weeks later, and it’s Christmas that’s on my mind. In particular, how different Christmas Mass was this year than what I’ve grown used to.
I attended Christmas Mass out near Rapid City, with my husband’s family. I was anxious about leaving with plenty of time, expecting parking lots and pews to be full for the 9 am service. When we arrived, we found quite the opposite — plenty of space in the lot, and lots of gaps in the pews. My family has traditionally gone to the Christmas Eve services, where we try to arrive half an hour early to get a parking spot and a seat, where my mom mutters under her breath about people who “only go to Church on Christmas and Easter,” and where we’ve ended up standing through the service on several occasions. I wondered, was 9 am just too early for people?
But then my husband’s relatives who had gone to service the night before reported the same thing — a relatively empty church, and very little Christmas fanfare. When I celebrated Christmas with my side of the family the following weekend, they reported the same phenomenon for the Masses they had attended. My mom said, “I’d be surprised if there were any more than 30 people there.”
As I wondered aloud what was going on, my mom said, “A lot of people stopped coming to church with the new translation of the Mass.”
I told her I wasn’t thrilled with the new translation either, but that it didn’t seem sufficient reason to leave (similar to outdoor weddings). But she said, “I think there were so many people who were already dissatisfied, and this was the final straw.”
That, I understood.
While empty churches at Christmas saddens me, at the same time I wonder if this might be the wake-up call the Church needs — similarly to how I feel a bit of begrudging satisfaction when gas prices get especially high. Although it inconveniences me, I hope it will be the wake-up call the rest of the culture needs to start agitating for less dependence on oil as a fuel source — and more judicious use of their personal transportation.
Several months ago, I attended a session about the Vatican II council at a local church. The deacon leading the session talked about how parishes wishing to offer the Tridentine Mass had to get special permission from Rome — but that Rome often grants this permission because it wants to “bring back” those who drifted away from the Church due to dissatisfaction with the changes made after Vatican II.
Which leaves me wondering — when will the Church offer alternatives to “bring back” those who have left because of non-inclusive language, because they or their loved ones were not accepted as GLBTQ individuals, because the entire power structure is decided by celibate men, right down to who is allowed to stand on the altar at an individual service? I’m not holding my breath on any of these offerings from the institutional church — but I, like many others, have discovered that Church as the People of God are already providing them. And while none of these alternatives are available where I live (although the Tridentine Mass is), I feel hope in knowing that it’s not just about empty Christmas services — that there are house churches and alternative Catholic churches that are being birthed, growing, and thriving. Every time I’ve visited a radically progressive Catholic Church, the place has been absolutely packed. And until the institutional church opens its doors to those who hunger for a more inclusive spirituality, it might have to accept sparsely populated pews — while the pews in alternative churches become ever-fuller.