It is a dark and quiet night, and my family has just finished a rosary in our lonely parish church. Thank God that we have access to the building. As we head to the exit it is impossible to ignore the many little white boxes covering a table near the door, waiting for pick up. The boxes, of course, house the yearly collection envelopes for each family who supposedly attends. Boxes are everywhere, demonstrating what we already know: Catholics are not going to Mass. It follows that they are not paying the parish bills either.
I’ve heard just about every reason explaining away why Mass attendance has dropped to suicidal levels. Some Catholics are scared to go out. Others never believed in the Eucharist anyway. There is no obligation to go anymore. Many Catholics have their churches closed due to government (or diocesan) restrictions. Some elderly parishioners are homebound. The COVID protocols are driving people away… I suppose all of these reasons are true. When Mass attendance drops as low as 5%, many explanations would necessarily apply. It is complex. I know it is. My family and I are currently part of the 95%. We have not been to a Sunday Mass since November.
How do I explain this? When the lockdown first ended in June where I live, the return to Mass was painful. We had initially been locked out of our church, and denied both Mass and Confession. No mention was made of this on our return. No apology was given. Nothing. It was as if it never happened. Meanwhile, the COVID-chatter at Mass was dreadful. Mass was paused if an older person happened to get into the wrong pew. Doors were locked once the quota of parishioners was met. And there was inane talk such as, “Lectors have to sanitize their hands just before they read the reading, and then immediately after as well…” All the COVID-talk was distasteful and distracting.
But still my family and I endured. At times we were fortunate enough to attend a traditional Latin Mass, where the focus was actually on Christ and not COVID, but mostly we hung onto Mass at our local parish. Then in November further restrictions, including mandatory mask wearing, came into effect. This crossed the line. It spelled the end. Oh, we tried! We really did. But wearing a mask at Mass is not the same as wearing it while I teach at school. To kneel down in front of Christ and slowly try to focus on what is unfolding is unsettling. You feel the mask. Every breath goes out to God, but remains in the confines of the cloth on your face. It is not a face-to-face with God, but rather a where are thou? The regulations, the masks, coupled with the already existing liturgical abuses, made us leave each Mass upset, frustrated, and ashamed. We just could not pray. It was like we weren’t even wanted there.
I am sure many are thinking right now that the solution is simply to find a traditional Latin Mass. I have heard of such places in the world where a TLM is readily available, and follows common sense in regards to health and safety. I do not live in such a place. To be honest, I think most Canadians currently do not. No, even our infrequent TLM trips ended in November. As it stands now, the parish is only taking Mass registrations from regular parishioners, given the government’s draconian 30-person limit – God forgive the bitterness in my heart as I write this. But even for our dear “regular” parishioner friends who attend this TLM, it is still a burden. Every policy and practice makes it that much harder to focus and pray, and it frequently divides the congregation into various camps. Many families I know have been brought to tears by the situation. They just want the Mass back, pure and untouched. They starve for it. Sadly, not even the traditional Latin Mass can always escape the perils imposed by a grievously wounded Church and world.
What is a family to do? Initially we decided to take a week off of Sunday Mass and pray from the 1962 missal as a family. Chanting the parts of the Mass while lighting candles, ringing bells, and making a spiritual Communion, felt very peaceful, and was a joy for the children. However, as we all know, feelings can easily betray. Feeling peace from praying at home as a family while knowing Christ’s Holy Mass was being offered at the same moment across town messes with one’s mind. Were we betraying Christ by staying home? Is it simply taking an easy way out by avoiding an unpleasant experience? Most importantly, my wife and I agonized over what we were doing to the faith of our children. To the enjoyment of the devil, we could not run from feelings of guilt.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s childhood, as recounted in Christus Vincit, frequently came to mind at this time. This great man was raised in a communist setting in Kazakhstan, often going a year or more in between Masses. Yet the traditional faith heroically fostered by his family bore great fruit. The story continues that when Bishop Schneider was older, his family moved to Germany. It is in Germany where he met the post-Vatican II destruction of Catholicism. Schneider speaks of the heartbreak of having a Mass readily available for the first time, yet one filled with irreverence and liturgical horror. As he speaks, one can sense a longing for the faith of his childhood where Catholicism, in its purest form, was nurtured. It has made me wonder: What would Bishop Schneider’s family do if they were given the choice between raising children in a communist setting (with only a rare Mass), or in a place with abusive Masses making it near-impossible to pray? In other words, what would they do in our situation?
Well, we have chosen. For now, we have decided to continue to live the fullness of Catholicism by praising God in our home (1962 missal and all), rather than attempt to endure a disingenuous COVID-crazed Mass. Yes, we are part of the 95% who currently do not attend Sunday Mass. I will add, for those waiting to lambaste my decision, that we do go to the odd daily Mass, which is brief, to receive Holy Communion, and we have secured Confession throughout this recent trial – thanks be to God. Nevertheless, we pray this situation ends soon. Until then, we can only place our trust in Christ and Our Lady. To update Romans 8:
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,” – nor masks, nor chatter, nor health-obsession, nor irreverence, nor hand-sanitizer, nor COVID fines, nor Communion in the hand, nor locked churches, nor vaccine, nor failed government leadership, nor failed Church leadership –“shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.