There are constant reports about how attendance at Mass continues to fall, and how this is mainly due to the disinterest of men. In one of the churches I attend, Sunday Mass attendance has fallen from over 6,000/Sunday in the 1980’s to about 4,000 today. The purpose of this article is address some of the things that may be causing this decline.
Let’s face it. A lot of sermons given today are boring. Instead of rousing parishioners to their feet, some sermons occasionally put people into a somnambulist trance. The most popular feature of Protestant services, the Sunday sermon, is somehow the least stimulating in the Catholic Mass. This is the one time of the week that priests have their flock present to talk to them about Christ, and it should be the time that the laity is moved in their hearts and minds to give their lives more fully to Christ. Sadly, this is hardly ever the case. Homilies should be inspiring, and should not sound like a monotone college professor lecturing his class on the intricacies of statistics, calculus, or metallurgy.
Priests should give us the unvarnished holy truth, both the good and the bad, and in a stimulating way that it is interesting and moving. Most football coaches seem more inspiring in their talks about winning football games than the average priest sounds about our salvation. Maybe the Catholic Bishops could hire Urban Meyer from Ohio State or Nick Saban from Alabama to come to their seminaries and coach young priests on the art of inspiring their flock. It really is okay for priests in the pulpit to show some masculine emotion and to even get a little emotional while giving sermons. They know exactly what the problems are with their parishioners because they hear their sins in the confessional. After all, even Jesus got angry and cleared the temple. Jesus even once called Herod “a fox,” and the Pharisees a “brood of vipers!” Men respond well to this kind of sermonizing. Being insipid inspires no one; rather, it is only the bland leading the bland. And even if a few people get upset and leave because of an angry sermon, that’s okay, because being an inspiring homilist will definitely bring in more and more new parishioners eventually.
Reading some of the homilies of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, would be helpful for young priests, as well as watching the style (not the content) of Protestant sermons on TV.
Men respond well to other masculine men. Being masculine means sometimes showing real emotions during sermons, in the confessional, and during parish get-togethers. The masculinity of priests should always be front and center. Additionally, a lot of men do not like to hold hands with other men while reciting the Our Father, and this practice (which is not part of the official rubrics of the Mass) should be eliminated in the Mass, not encouraged.
Mysterium Fidei (The Mystery of Faith)
The holiness and the sanctity of the Mass should be the norm, not the exception. In short, the mystery of the faith should be front and center. The wine and bread are changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, and this miracle should be emphasized in the thoughts, words and actions of all present, but especially with the priest. If the priest doesn’t act like transubstantiation is a big deal, then the laity won’t either. Recent surveys show that a large number of Catholics don’t even believe that Jesus IS the Eucharist. Also, please bring back the incense and kneeling to receive Jesus on the tongue. While receiving Jesus in the hand when standing has been approved by the US Bishops, it is more reverent to receive Jesus on the tongue while kneeling.
Going into a church where you can’t find the tabernacle is a huge turnoff. A while back, the tabernacle in some churches was moved (some might say hidden) to a backroom chapel. Jesus Christ should be front and center in the main sanctuary of all Catholic Churches. The tabernacle was in a prominent place in Jewish worship; why it isn’t in the successor to that worship is a mystery.
Jesus’ physical presence in church affects all who are present, whether they know it or not. So does his absence. The same disappearing act happened to a lot of large crucifixes in Church, as well. Mass cannot be said without a crucifix present near the altar, but a small crucifix carried in by the altar servers just doesn’t have the same impact with men that a large, realistic crucifix. Meditating on the Passion during Mass becomes a lot easier when people can actually see Jesus suffering for us on His cross from the pews, rather than having to squint at a small crucifix on a pole that was carried in at the start of Mass. By not having the tabernacle and the huge crucifix in the main sanctuary, chit-chatting before Mass may be encouraged over silent prayer, which used to be the norm.
Tell Us Who Jesus Is
One of the main problems with getting men into church is that they don’t really know who Jesus IS (not was). If the priests don’t tell us who Jesus is, then the mainstream media, academia, atheists, etc., will only be too happy to tell us that he was just a nice prophet, a fairy tale, a wise preacher, etc. Since Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to heaven, we need to know exactly who He is. For the record, He is our creator, our lover, our loving Father, our brother, our constant companion, our best friend, our help in time of trouble, our sinless redeemer, our suffering servant, our Eucharist, our final judge, and the God-Man who was tortured and who died in our place because He loves us. He even conquered the Roman Empire and set up His Church there in its place, for us. He is the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of Man, who wants us to be one with Him in heaven, forever. He intercedes for us with God the Father to forgive our sins by continually offering His body and blood in heaven (He is a high priest forever, and high priests always offer sacrifice for sin). All of these different aspects of Christ should be emphatically taught to us by our priests, from the pulpit, over time. If not, then the cares of the world, like making money, enjoying life, sports, etc., will occupy the mind of males instead of our eternal destiny. And all of this short term thinking about what this world has to offer, instead of meditating on who Christ really is, is exactly what the devil wants us to think.
Men love their mothers. Mary was given to us by Christ from his cross when He said to us all, “Behold your Mother.” This had to be pretty important for him to do, because he did it while he was in so much pain and was about to die. Mary is not the God of the Temple, like so many Protestants think that Catholics believe. Rather, she is the Temple of God, because she had the Word of God made flesh inside of her for nine months, just like the Jewish Temple had the Word of God in the Ark of the Covenant. The Bible says that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit, at the same time it says that Jesus is the fruit of her womb. So if Jesus is pure and holy, then Mary has to be pure and holy also (although not divine). Thanks to science, we now know that mothers carry around cells of their children in their bodies, and this makes Mary very powerful, as she has Jesus’ living tissue inside of her. In her Magnificat, she says that her soul magnifies the Lord (magnification makes things clearer and larger, and that is a wonderful thing to do to Jesus).
After Pope St. John Paul II lost his earthly mother, he adopted Mary as his new mother. We all know how, as a result of this devotion, he helped to bring down the evil empire of Communism in 1989 (Communism was predicted by Mary at Fatima in 1917). This model of adopting Mary as our spiritual Mother can move men to do great things, including giving up pornography, drugs, carousing, and the love of money. Like all mothers, Mary cleans up her children and feeds them. When we take the Mother of God on as our own mother, it leads us to clean up our souls more often in the sacrament of Confession, as well as getting fed more often with the Bread of Life called the Eucharist. When priests emphasize devotion to Mary from the pulpit, the laity in the pews always increases, a lot. Why? Because Mary leads men and women to her Son faster and better than anyone or anything else. We know this from the lesson learned by St. Dominic.
And by the way, real men do pray the rosary daily, and this should be emphasized all of the time in sermons. Currently, it is hardly ever mentioned. St. Padre Pio called the rosary his weapon (against Satan). Why priests continually ignore this spiritual warfare tactic to protect and increase their flock (and their spiritual fervor as well) is indeed a mystery.
The choir should sing songs that men can sing along with them, and in a key that men can sing in. Vatican II emphasized the participation of the laity in the Mass. Sadly, some choirs discourage this participation by singing unknown songs in a key several octaves higher than an ordinary man can sing.
If the priests and bishops would constantly emphasize the reality of Jesus being the Eucharist, it would be hard to believe that any man, or woman, would ever leave the Catholic Church. What could be better than being invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb?
Fellowship in church is a great thing. In a lot of parishes, however, no one greets strangers and asks about them, or their families, and their willingness to join the parish. A simple coffee and doughnut social after each Mass would really go a long way to fixing this. One shouldn’t have to join a parish organization in order to meet other parishioners.
Some men are just waiting to be asked to fix things in the church, or to help out with CYO, or to lead a Bible Study. If a priest asks a male parishioner for his help with something manly, it seems impossible that he would refuse. Making a man feel needed and wanted, whether in church, at home, or at work, works everytime in increasing his participation. On the other hand, ignoring him and making him feel unnecessary always brings about his lack of interest. This tactic worked with the manly twelve apostles, and will still work today with men of the world.