Alicia, our 11-year-old, wanted to host a sleepover on a recent Saturday night, so she approached me early Saturday in full bargaining mode.
“If I go to the 4 p.m. Mass at St. Matthias, can Adreanna stay overnight?” she asked, making sure she found a way to cover her Sunday Mass obligation.
I was glad Mass was a priority, or at least in the mix for her that weekend, but I have to admit, that there have been other times when our three girls have grumbled about squeezing in time for Mass, especially when it’s a bit “inconvenient.”
There have certainly been times in my home where at least one of the girls wonders aloud why “we have to go to church,” especially when they’ve gone during the week at school, or served a wedding or funeral on Saturday. “Doesn’t that count?” I’ve been asked. Or there have been other times, when busy sporting or traveling schedules mean that we have to get up extra early for the 7:30 a.m. Mass, of course, accompanied by much grumbling and complaining.
Sunday Mass is a non-negotiable event in our family but, like many other parents, I wonder what our girls will decide once they are no longer living under our roof. I hope they realize that spending an hour a week with God is a small sacrifice, considering the many blessings he showers upon us.
But I worry. Society, friends, even family members send them a conflicting message. We know many people who go to Mass sometimes, or others who don’t go at all. Many of those who don’t attend regularly are living good lives, seemingly sending the message that attending Mass is not necessary nor important. With so many outside sources sending a different message about the importance of Mass attendance, it’s difficult for a parent to know whether their message is being heard and absorbed. And, in reality, only time will tell how well that seed that was planted will take root.
My uncle, Lino, died about 18 months ago, and during his funeral Mass at Lumen Christi Church, Fr. John Hemsing noted that Lino’s faith was always central in his life, to the point that even when he was on vacation, Lino always made a point of finding a Catholic Church so his family could attend Mass. That’s the kind of example with which I was fortunate to grow up. I was surrounded by family members who viewed Sunday Mass as a natural part of the week.
Yet, that’s increasingly rarer as statistics reflect the drop in the value people are placing on regular Mass attendance. In fact, a 1958 Gallup poll reported that 74 percent of Catholics went to Sunday Mass that year. But a 1994 study by the University of Notre Dame found that the weekly attendance rate was 26.6 percent. Another study by Fordham University professor James Lothian concluded that 65 percent of Catholics went to Mass in 1965, while by 2000, that rate had dropped to 25 percent.
Locally, archdiocesan officials generally quote the figure at about 33 percent of Catholics who attend weekly in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
How are we, as parents, to instill the importance of Mass attendance and regular reception of the Eucharist to our children, when so many in society downplay its importance?
That’s the topic tackled by Karen Mahoney this month in our feature, “Why won’t my kids go to church!?!” on Pages 6-7. Dan Scholz, associate professor and chair of the religious studies/philosophy department at Cardinal Stritch University, and a parent himself, reassures parents they are not alone when their children complain or question Mass attendance. But he also offers parents some practical advice on approaching the topic.
Most of all, he encourages parents to hold firm to their beliefs and not be afraid to be countercultural when it comes to matters of faith.