In the almost three years I’ve been going to church, I have sat nearly every Sunday in about the same place: in or close to the fifth pew from the front on Mary’s side and at the end of the pew next to the outside aisle. Why there, you ask? Well, because that’s where my wife, who is a cradle Catholic, always sits. And, I suspect, she sits there because that’s where her mother always sat, and her mother before her, and so on. Some habits are hard to break, I suppose.
But, last Sunday was an exception. My wife was out of town for the weekend which allowed me to sit wherever I wanted. I chose to sit next to my friend, Joe, in the last pew in the back, still on Mary’s side, and still next to the outside aisle. I couldn’t sit at the very end of the pew. That is Joe’s spot. He always sits there and gets to Mass early to make sure he gets it. He’s as habitual as my wife. It drives me crazy. I accused him of sitting there because it ensures he’s the last one to take communion and, thus, he gets to finish the wine. He gave me a lame denial, claiming that’s where his mother always sat.
Sitting at the back of the church was an entirely new experience. There’s a lot that goes on behind you that you can’t see when you’re sitting up near the front. For example, it appears that parents with young children prefer row eight and back. I always knew they were back there somewhere but when you sit in the front you don’t want to crane your neck around to see where the commotion is coming from. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about crying babies, I’m happy they are there. They are the future of our Church. But, I do wonder how my wife got away with it all those years when she toted our three diaper-clad daughters to church alone, without me, and still managed to sit in the fifth pew.
I noticed that many children eat their dry Cheerios and Froot Loops for breakfast while in church although I’m pretty sure our priest has spoken about not doing exactly that. Since I’ve never been in their shoes I can’t be judgmental of the parents but I expect they have weighed the risk of getting caught with the peace that goes along with keeping their kids occupied and quiet. I imagine my wife pulled the same covert maneuvers when our girls were young.
Another observation: there appeared to be a big void in the middle of all the pews from about the seventh or eighth row back. The pews were occupied and crowded at each end but only a couple people sat randomly in the middle. I couldn’t help but wonder why the first people to church don’t move to the middle of the pew so that those coming after them don’t have to pardon themselves as they squeeze past just so they can get to a seat. But, then, with some embarrassment, I realized that my wife and I are two of those people who regularly occupy the end of a pew. On the other hand, we never get to church early. Maybe that’s something we can work on.
I made two other significant observations. The first was how reverent the congregation was as a whole. Based on what I see from my normal perch, I have always been impressed by the reverence exhibited and my observation from the back pew simply reinforced that notion.
On the other hand, the second of those final two observations was a striking realization that nearly blew me away. Kneeling there, singing the Communion song and waiting, with Joe, to be the next to last soul to walk up to the altar for Holy Communion, I couldn’t believe how many people, upon receiving Holy Communion, simply walk out of church without waiting for the Mass to be over, without waiting for the final blessing, or to hear any announcements that might be made. When you sit near the front, you just don’t know this is going on. And, then, I couldn’t help but put myself in our priest’s position – he sees all of this! How discouraging for him!
Now, again, trying not to be judgmental, I am sure some of those departing early have a legitimate reason. I won’t try to guess what those reasons are but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But, they can’t all have urgencies that are more important than finishing the business at hand!
As I walked out of church I remembered an article I had read just a few days before about people leaving Mass before it was over. I found the article and I feel obliged to include it below. It is written by Andrew Werkheiser in the January 20, 2015 edition of IntegratedCatholicLife.org, and is entitled Leaving Early? Really? .
You have been invited to a wonderful dinner by one of your friends and/or family. You had no worries about cooking the meal or going out that night, and were just able to relax and enjoy a nice home cooked-meal. As your host is walking in with the dessert that he/she spent an hour preparing, you get up, put your head down, cautiously never making eye contact, and quickly shuffle your way to the door and leave…Well that was rude. If you do that to my fiancé or me, I think I would say something along the lines of, “What the hell?” I mean it’s nice to leave all the dessert for the rest of us, but sometimes that one piece was really meant for just you or that kid that you’re dragging out by the hand. By the way, you forgot the most important thing of all, helping with the dishes. What a way to say thank you!
Where on Earth am I going with this?
I’m talking about Mass people! I’m talking about leaving before the final blessing, and dare I take it one step further, before the final hymn is over. I know, I know, that horribly long one to two minute song that is just oh so painfully cutting into YOUR SUNDAY. I want to relate it to something that should hit home, and explain why I feel the way I do about it.
You would never in a million years so rudely leave your friend or family’s house before dessert, and more than likely you would help with the dishes as well. I see the final blessing as our dessert. I see it as that final step to fulfill a weeklong void, which we have only been asked to fill once a week for one hour. Now, for you sly corporate smart alecks out there, you probably think, “Well, I would like to add about 30 minutes to that clock spent on drive time, thank you.” I don’t want to hear it, you’ll survive. You see, our priests and pastors spend an hour preparing our meal and then so graciously offer us a little extra, a blessing at the end. Something that helps us get through the week… and something that is meant for us to hear, and meant to nurture us. Just as you may have had a piece of pie for yourself and everyone else gathered at the table, maybe last week when you walked out, you missed out on that slice that was just for you. That one little line or phrase that was maybe solely for your ears, but you’ll never know. I don’t know about you, but if the big man upstairs has some Holy Spirit, or wisdom for me, I’m going to take every slice of that I can.
Now, as for helping with those dishes I was talking about earlier. After your amazing church staff has so graciously provided you with “dinner and dessert,” you should say thank you. They took even more time out of their day to serve you than you did to just show up. That choir singing their heart out every Sunday, remember them? How about you say “thank you” by hanging around for, never more than, 120 extra seconds of your life. Just be there, just remain and whether you sing or do the dishes or not, at least hanging around is a much better gesture than just high-tailing it out of there.
And for those that need proof, here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
CCC ¶ 2180 – The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”
This, to me, is a straightforward explanation that states that we are to attend and participate in the “Mass.” Not half the Mass, not almost the whole Mass. “THE MASS.”
Oh, and if you still feel like it’s okay, this may change your mind – Judas was the first to leave the Last Supper right after our Lord presented the bread and wine, body and blood. The other apostles, they hung around the whole time, they showed a thankful appreciation, to He who prepared the meal.
Sorry for the rant… sometimes I just can’t help but feel sad with so many folks leaving early.
As I said, I’m sure there are people who certainly have, on occasion, a reason to leave Mass early, but as it applies to most folks who habitually rush out, I think Mr. Werkheiser hits the nail on the head.
One final thought before I leave you. These observations from the back pew in the church make me wonder how much life and vitality we could each infuse into our community if we took it upon ourselves to get out of our habits, to consciously choose to sit in a different location each Sunday, to meet a new person and shake their hand at the Sign of Peace, then to take the time to talk to them and get to know them as we walk out into the gathering space together after Mass is over. Perhaps that would be all it takes to encourage those who leave early to stick around and extend their reverence another couple minutes….for dessert. That might be an idea for Lent. Who’s going to join me?
God Bless You All.
(A View from the Back Pew was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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