I don’t consider myself to be a religious individual. I was raised Catholic, but no longer participate and disagree with the Catholic Church on a lot of issues. But around the holidays – well Christmas – I go to mass. Not for me, but for my (or Em’s) family.
After all these years of attending Christmas Eve mass, I’ve noticed that priests seem to go in one of two directions for their homilies (sermons):
Option 1: Catholic Guilt
“It’s lovely to see all of you made it here to mass this evening…why isn’t the church this packed every week throughout the year?” “It’s your duty/obligation to come, not just today, but every week.” “I certainly hope to see many of you more often.” It’s the one time that priests get a chance to plead with people to come to church more often and so they try to use that infamous “Catholic guilt” to get people to come more often.
Option 2: Church is good and fun
Again, this is priests’ one chance to convince people to come to church more often. Instead of relying on a guilt trip, the priest may try to crack jokes, be extra friendly, relate or be extra relevant. Essentially, they take the “nice” route and try to convince the congregation that church is enjoyable and relevant to the daily lives of people. They also want to convey the message that church will help you be a good person.
Either scenario illustrates the same underlying theme – a lot of people don’t seem to consistently attend church even though they may consider themselves Catholic. It’s those “C and E” Catholics that come out of the woodwork and show up in force on those two days (“Christmas and Easter Catholics”). An interesting statistic that Em’s dad (a devout Catholic) read in a new book on Catholicism stated that only about 7% of Catholics actively participate and contribute to make the church function. That’s a pretty low number, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. And it probably doesn’t surprise anyone who has been to a mass on Christmas Eve. The church and priests know it and know that this is their one chance to reach a lot of these individuals…the question is whether either of these two homily strategies are working.