Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm fed up.

I’m frustrated and I know I’m not the only one noticing a disturbing trend at one local church. Let’s call it the “Parking Lot Preakness” in honor (sort of) of the Triple Crown. Here’s the deal. I’ve been a cantor since 1979. I’ve sung in a lot of churches, for many things including the regular Mass: funerals, weddings, anniversaries, most holidays including Easter Vigil and Christmas. I’m there most weekends. And whether I’m at the front or the back, I notice what others have noticed, but it seems like I’m the one saying it. Stop leaving early! For heaven’s sake, Mass is what? About an hour? And yet you’re streaking out the front and side doors near Communion time. We’re singing and instead of the bass line of the music, our song is punctuated by the “whump, whump” of the doors slamming shut. Sometimes, in this particular church located in my hometown, nearly a quarter of the members leave during or before Communion. If you look at a watch, there are roughly 5 to 7 minutes from Communion to the recessional hymn. Five to seven minutes. MINUTES. The Early Birds bolt out, jam up the parking lot and are still stuck there when the rest of us leave at the proper time. So what did your early departure get you? A place in line? The theology is pretty simple. The average Catholic attends Mass once a week. Can’t you spare an hour? What is so all-fired important that you cheat God of your time, are disrespectful of your fellow parishioners, and are incredibly ill-mannered toward our priest? Look, I already make the announcement (yes, nearly every Saturday) before Mass to “please turn your cell phones and electronic devices to mute or vibrate” so that we’re not interrupted by chirps, tweets and snatches of melodies in an otherwise spiritual space. Is it too much to ask of you to stick around for Father’s final blessing? I talked to one of our Eucharistic Ministers last Saturday and he remarked, “I went back to give Communion and saw that it was practically empty back there! This must be the worst church for that.” And, according to what I’ve seen in my travels, it is. There are legitimate reasons to leave Mass early. Labor (as in giving birth). Physical ailment along the lines of violent nausea, heart attack, stroke, or other instances of near-fatality. A cranky child who is out of control. Fire in the church. Actual collapse of the building or roof. And that’s about it. At one point, I attended a military chapel. The priest there was so annoyed by people cutting out of Mass early that, for several weeks, we had Marines stationed at the doors. Father said, “Nobody needs to leave before we’re through.” Draconian? Probably. But he made his point. The same priest stopped us in the middle of the Creed and asked, “So how many of you are paying attention to what you’re praying?” I talked with one of our retired priests. He often helped out with Mass, and I mentioned how much this bothers me. He said, “My idea is to have banners placed at the side doors, and have them unfurled before Communion. They’d say: Judas was the first one to leave the Last Supper early.” Where can I write the check to contribute toward those banners?

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