Two weeks ago I found myself arriving at the last possible minute to the last chance mass in town. Rolling in at 6:59PM, I took my seat on the floor in the lobby with the other standing-room-only mass attendees (I counted over 100 of us lining the back walls, the hallways, and the lobby floor by the time mass was over). It happens.
Listening to the mass without seeing the congregation, I caught myself doing what many of us do during mass—no, not simply day-dreaming, thinking about brunch plans, or spacing out—judging people. And the lobby was ripe with targets—people chit-chatting during the holy sacrifice, some kneeling, some texting, some rolling in at 7:34PM. What is it about coming together to celebrate the Source and the Summit of the Christian Life that turns us all into Judgey McJudgersons?
When we spend a large percentage of our mass time judging the other members of the congregation, we miss out not only on the REALITY of what is happening, but an opportunity to be welcoming, to form a community with our church family, and to be… well… Christian!
No judgment—we’ve all been judgey at one time or another. It usually comes from a place of righteous indignation and deep love for the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Mass… and we’re usually right. But just because we’re right doesn’t mean it is our place to shake our heads and write off this fellow Church attendee as a heathen, miscreant, or troglodyte. Yes, there is room for fraternal correction with some of these offenders, but there is also room for friendship, understanding, and a general attitude of hospitality! Here are the Top Five Judgments we tend to make at Mass:
Top Five Non-Prayer/Non-Food Related Thoughts During Mass
(1) Mass Time Superiority:
Most judged: Vigil attendees, Sunday late night, and “the short mass”
REALITY: People that always attend the Saturday Vigil are not necessarily too lazy to get up on Sunday… they may just want to attend Sunday mass at the first possible opportunity!
Likewise, people that attend the latest possible Sunday night mass are not necessarily too lazy to get up on Sunday or do not make mass a priority… it may be the only time they can go due to work, family obligations, etc. It’s not always because the Saints game was at 3PM.
Further, people that attend a mass that is consistently shorter than an hour are not less Catholic than you. There is nothing more Catholic than finding a short mass (I’m kidding… mostly).
- CHALLENGE #1: Get to know what masses your friends like to go to… ask them why they like to go at that time. What is it about that mass that matches up with the rhythm of their family life?
- CHALLENGE #2: Be grateful for all who attended mass this weekend. Say a special prayer that something in the liturgy will touch their hearts so deeply that they have an even deeper conversion to the truth and beauty of the Eucharist. Ask for the same thing for yourself.
(2) What NOT to Wear:
Mass appropriate clothing… in the summer… in Louisiana… where do we even begin? Shorts? Spaghetti Straps? With a coordinating mantilla? Lampshading? RompHims? Men wearing flip flops… in general? Has he bathed this week? Does she own a mirror? Or have a mother?
The issue runs deeper than modesty… it’s one of cultural informality, lack of self-awareness, and sometimes poor taste. You may as well start praying with your eyes closed, because the issue of appropriate dress is not going to solve itself any time soon… and if we’re being honest, the communion line turns the aisle into a catwalk and those in the pews into Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn.
REALITY: The person whose clothes we find too informal, too barely there, too flashy, too formal, too denim-jumper, too whatever… is a beloved child of God who came to worship. We don’t know why they wore what they wore, or if they have any understanding that within the mass heaven touches earth in a totally unique and unrepeatable way as has been handed down to us from Jesus through the succession of his apostles, but we do know that they came to mass—and that is awesome.
- CHALLENGE OPTIONS: Take a friend shopping—Bring back the phrase “Church Clothes” or “Sunday Best” when describing appropriate attire—Pack a skirt in your booksack to cover up your Nike shorts when you run to noon mass between classes—Be the change you want to see. But really, just close your eyes when you return to your pew after communion. It’ll help.
(3) Dolla Dolla Bill, Y’all
It’s basket-passing time… and we see the well-to-do person in our pew let it pass them by OR we watch them deposit the almighty $1. George Washington has been to more Catholic masses than any of the other presidents combined.
REALITY: We do not know what the other people at mass contribute outside of the collection basket… whether electronically, or by check, or by stock options, planned giving, or major grant underwriting.
- CHALLENGE: Pray for the generosity of everyone in the congregation to overflow as that basket passes you. The reality is that if there is no money, there is no mission… Pope Francis isn’t paying the bills at your local parish—you are. It’s up to us to be generous and support our parish communities. Electricity, particularly air conditioning, ain’t free.
(4) The Communion Line
Some people go to communion that we “know” shouldn’t. Some people don’t go at all… and then we wonder why not—just like how some people are always in line for Confession and we find ourselves wondering why… These particular judgments at the end of the day are none of our beeswax.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—but scandal is very real! It is. Unworthy reception of communion is particularly problematic, as Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians. And the Church takes scandal very seriously because Jesus took it very seriously…
2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.
2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
REALITY: As the toddler says in that viral youtube video, “Worry about yourself.” We don’t know the last time a person in the communion line went to Confession. We also don’t know how contrite they were… or if they are planning to murder someone after Mass today… perhaps someone who is judging them too harshly in the pew behind them. We don’t know. And it is not up to you, a fellow parishioner, to decide.
- CHALLENGE #1: Go to Confession. Set an example.
- CHALLENGE #2: If you have a close friend that is entrenched in sin and you know is far from the sacrament of Confession, pray for the right way to talk to that friend. Prudence must be our guide. Opening with “Hey, you need to go to Confession” may not be an ideal tactic. Evangelizing a friend on the subject of Confession is tricky, but could be a great opportunity to share part of your story. It can begin as subtly as you sharing about your positive experiences with Confession, eventually grow into the sharing of Confession times or an offer to contact a priest you know for spiritual direction, or even an invitation to ride together to Confession one day.
(5) Let the Children Come to Me
We have got to stop judging the mamas and dadas out there… if the kids are running amuck, screaming like demoniacs, or throwing cheerios into your hair—stop your eye rolling and take a minute to reflect on Jesus’ direct request to let them come. It’s also very tempting to judge cry rooms that are treated more like amusement parks than church pews… but he said let them come.
Also… what’s with that row of perfectly behaved children? They must beat their kids. Or the family with a small army of kids? Don’t they know how that works? They are veeeery Catholic. Or the family with just one or two? They are not Catholic enough.
REALITY: Bringing children to mass is a challenge (the understatement of the year—as a Cool Aunt, I know…) But Jesus isn’t just for adults. And mass isn’t just for you.
- CHALLENGE #1: Remember that the hysterical child throwing a tantrum is often what we look like at the feet of the Father—refusing to listen, refusing to just sit and let him love us, refusing to rest. We are all that toddler.
- CHALLENGE #2: Tell a mom or dad you see at Mass how beautiful their kids are… that they’re doing okay… that it is so encouraging to see young families at mass. If your kids are the terrorists—take courage. One day your kids will have their own hellions, and payback is a b…enefit.
I love you. And I love the Mass. And I want to love your people… but they make it really hard sometimes. Help me to love the people I judge so harshly. Help others not to judge me even when I deserve it. Help me to love like you do. Help me to remember the great privilege that it is to live in a country and hometown that offers so many opportunities to go to mass… to receive the Eucharist… as that is not the case everywhere. And help me to keep my eyes shut, my mouth closed, and my heart open when I pray. Amen.