Priests report Mass attendance significantly below pre-COVID-19 numbers
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August 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – With pastors from areas such as Kentucky and Florida reporting Mass attendance numbers well below now-reduced church capacity, the role of faith – and fear – in the life of American Catholics is becoming increasingly clear.
Father Andrew Chan, pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Miramar, Florida, had been preparing to increase the number of Masses upon church reopening in June in order to prevent crowding. He was surprised to find much emptier pews than expected, and instead had to cut Masses.
He noted, “Normally if people are eager to come to Mass – for example, when a hurricane is coming – they ask, ‘Are you still having Masses?’ Now the question is, ‘Have you canceled the Mass?’”
St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Plantation, Florida, has recorded attendance numbers that have been gradually increasing since church reopenings, but which still remain well below pre-COVID-19 numbers. When they reopened the church for public Masses this past June, they were at 25 percent of their pre-pandemic attendance. That grew to 28 percent of ordinary attendance levels by July 4, and 31 percent by August 2.
Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute, observed that the motivations for staying home are mixed.
“On the most innocent level, the people staying home are the elderly and the sick afraid of contracting COVID-19 because it can be very detrimental to them,” Hichborn told LifeSiteNews.
“That’s fine, there’s a dispensation for them. Aside from that, I think that you have a lot of cultural Catholics who don't think about why they go to Mass. In a lot of ways it feels like Gideon, where God culled the army. It feels very much like a culling. People who are not very strong in their faith are thinking, what’s the point? There’s a dispensation, I don’t have to go.”
“I think a lot of what is happening has directly to do with just how available the priests make themselves to their congregations,” said Hichborn. “Archbishop Wester in New Mexico just announced that priests who go over a five-minute sermon limit are going to have their faculty to preach removed. You have bishops who are actively attacking the priest’s ability to have a connection with his congregants. It’s a psychological problem where the congregation feels a disconnect with their priest, and then they also feel a disconnect with the Church.”
Chan pointed out that without a belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the motivation to attend Mass “isn’t there.”
“A recent Pew survey suggested that only a third of Catholics believe it’s the Body and Blood of Christ. In the early Church the beliefs were much stronger. The early Christians truly believed the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ – therefore they would risk their lives, the loss of their property, endangering their family in order to go church.”
“COVID-19 is not a death sentence. Most people survive. In the Roman Empire, there was no surviving that once they caught you.”
South Florida resident Matthew Gutierrez’s belief in the Real Presence, and in the reality of the Mass as the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary, drive him to make Mass a priority. He goes every Sunday and a few times during the week.
“The coronavirus itself won’t stop me from going to Mass,” he told LifeSiteNews. “I take a practical approach – I’m aware that I could get the virus, so I am a supporter of all the precautions that they use. But as weeks have gone on, I worry less, and I’m more aware that if I get this, it’s going to be permitted through God’s will, no matter what.”
Gutierrez points out that Mass attendance is needed even more now during COVID-19, for ourselves, but also for God.
“God is our life, through the Eucharist. I need to have life. If I’m not taking care of the spiritual aspect of my life, then that will trickle down to everything else,” he said.
“The Mass is the interceding Sacrifice of Christ the Son on Calvary. It offers healing as well. Going to Mass, offering our own sacrifices in union with Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, is going to help people’s spiritual lives in our nation and especially those suffering from COVID-19. COVID-19 is kind of a wake-up call to reorient ourselves back to God, to console Him, and ask for intercession to end this pandemic.”
Healthcare professional who survived coronavirus decries lack of respect for Eucharist
Angie Morales, having worked as a supervisor and clinician for respiratory therapy for 17 years, was wary early on to the threat COVID-19 presented. Even so, she saw it as an opportunity not for fear, but for love.
“I’ve had underlying respiratory problems myself – I’m an asthmatic,” she said. “Back in March, I heard the virus was very dangerous. I remember saying this to our Lord: ‘Lord, this virus doesn’t sound like it’s a very good thing, but if you need me to suffer for souls, I’m willing to do that for you. If you need to take me, that’s [okay] too.’”
After three months of lockdown, Morales came home from work with chills so bad, she had to grab on to household objects for support. “I was shaking so badly. I felt like my bones were coming out of my skin. There was a darkness that came with these chills. I felt like I was going to die that night. I said, ‘Lord, is this the time?’”
“That night I prayed the Latin rosary. The whole rosary I was shaking. By the last bead, my shakes stopped. I thought, I don’t have to call the ambulance.”
“I was sick for the next two weeks, and tested positive for COVID-19. I lost my sense of smell and taste. I find it amazing that during my COVID-19 infection, God spared my lungs, because He knows how bad my lungs get.”
“During this time of COVID-19, my prayer life has increased so much. I believe God has used me for the same purpose that I asked for, to suffer for souls. I had moments when I was ‘clear’ enough to think of that.”
Instead of fear of the coronavirus, it has been the lack of reverence for our Lord in the Eucharist that has disturbed Morales during the past few months.
“Before there was not too much reverence. Now it’s worse. Now with COVID-19, I feel I’m literally entering a clinic,” Morales said.
After being denied Communion on the tongue at her parish of 20 years, a fellow parishioner suggested to Morales that she receive Communion after Mass in a room where nobody could see her.
“I said, I’m not going to do this in hiding. So I left that Church. I left the choir, I left everything. To me that’s a sin, if I receive Him in the hands. There’s no reverence in that.”
“At another parish, when I went to receive, the priest tried to put the Eucharist in my hands,” she explained. “I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘Father, I will receive my Lord on my tongue.’ He hesitated, but gave it to me as I requested. After I did that, a few other people did it too!”
Since then, Morales has carried letters in her purse which explain her right to receive Communion on the tongue, to show to priests. She has included a letter from her local bishop explaining that he is not mandating Communion only in the hand, “as Communion on the tongue if done properly doesn’t involve touching the communicant or his/her tongue.”
She has also carried a 2009 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which affirms the rights of the faithful to receive Communion on the tongue, including during a pandemic.
“It’s been a hassle to go through that every time, so I decided to start going to Latin Mass. I’ve given this a lot of thought. Mother Angelica’s monastery was the first time I had ever seen the Latin Mass. When I was there, I thought, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. My heart was so happy.”
After Morales’ decision, she made her first visit to her local diocesan Latin Mass.
“I was so happy that everyone received on the tongue, and that they had the rail with the kneelers. There are a lot of people coming to Latin Mass. I’m going to continue going there for now,” Morales said.
The full ripple effect of lack of Mass attendance, as well as new church procedures and guidelines, remains to be seen.
Hichborn hinted at the long-term effects of certain restrictions, and of the absence from Mass of much of the faithful: “Sheep require a shepherd. The longer the people are away, the greater the likelihood they’re going to wander. They’re going to forget the sound of their shepherd’s voice.”