When Attending Mass is Tedious

Even the most devout Catholics have to drag themselves to mass on some days. What should we do when attending mass seems more like a chore than the spiritual delight it should be?

The short answer: go anyway. The supernatural graces we receive from the mass have nothing to do with the euphoria (or lack of it) that we feel while attending. Attending mass when we’d rather be doing something else is a doable, but great way to show our love for God.

At the same time, it would help to ask ourselves why we find the mass tedious. One reason could be that we do not understand it, in the same way that watching a game is tedious when one is unfamiliar with the sport.

During my year in Spain, I could not, at first, share the Spaniards’ passion for soccer. But once I’ve acquired a basic familiarity with the rules, I had fun watching the games, joining the others cheer whenever our team scored goals.

Similarly, understanding what the mass is all about can get us engaged with what goes on at the altar. There are plenty of resources — books, pamphlets, and recorded talks — that could help us understand what the mass is all about. One example is Understanding the Mass by Charles Belmonte, downloadable here and available in html format here (scroll down).

However, sometimes attending mass can still be tedious even if we understand what it is all about. This is usually the case when the sublimity of what occurs at the altar is obscured by the uninspired church architecture and music, the distracting behavior of the other mass-goers, the superficiality of the homily, the weird liturgical innovations introduced in well-meaning attempts to make the mass more “relevant”.

What does one do in this situation? First, one must check if there are ways to be part of the solution. For example, here is an article on how to organize one’s own schola that can volunteer to sing chant and sacred polyphony at mass, and here is an excellent resource for learning to sing sacred music.

Second, it helps to remember that the mass is the same sacrifice as that of Calvary. There, at the first mass, the atmosphere was hardly conducive to a spiritual high either. There were jeering and gambling in the presence of the crucified Lord, as well as demands that He perform a spectacle. But amidst all the public maltreatment of Christ were a handful of people accompanying Him with compassion and solidarity: His mother, John, the holy women. There were people, such as the repentant thief and the Roman soldier who pierced Christ with a lance, who allowed the graces of the event to move them.

Perhaps those of us for whom attending mass is a struggle because of irreverence in many of today’s masses are called to be among those people whose mere presence at Calvary consoled Christ in His sufferings.

Reasons not to go to mass will always be abundant. But none of these reasons weigh more than the one reason to go to Mass: because we will encounter Christ there.

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes, from the Philippines, is a lawyer, writer, amateur astronomer, a gardening enthusiast, a voracious reader, a karate brown belter, an avid traveler, and a lover of birds, fish, rabbits, and horses. She is a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan who reads the entire trilogy once a year. She is the eldest daughter in a large, happy Catholic family.

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9 thoughts on “When Attending Mass is Tedious”

  1. The question though Cristina is this: has man’s increasing isolation in society changed man so that he is intolerant emotionally of the isolation he feels at Mass. His community when beset by trouble all these centuries was other people so that he did not need community at Mass. Now his community is insurance companies, paid therapists, paid teachers whose great pensions raise his taxes… etc. ( the old world is still seen in the Amish and Hutterites who can depend on each other during house burn downs etc.). I suspect many feel isolated at Mass and that this will grow. I believe the Church will change the Mass dramatically in the future which by the way will end this war of Latin versus the NO in one swift act. Here is Aquinas noting how law can cease due to a change in man:
    Aquinas/ Summa Theologica
    First of the second/Quest.97/ art3
    Reply to Objection 2. As stated above (Question 96, Article 6), human laws fail in some cases: wherefore it is possible sometimes to act beside the law; namely, in a case where the law fails; yet the act will not be evil. And when such cases are multiplied, by reason of some change in man, then custom shows that the law is no longer useful: just as it might be declared by the verbal promulgation of a law to the contrary. If, however, the same reason remains, for which the law was useful hitherto, then it is not the custom that prevails against the law, but the law that overcomes the custom: unless perhaps the sole reason for the law seeming useless, be that it is not “possible according to the custom of the country” [95, 3], which has been stated to be one of the conditions of law. For it is not easy to set aside the custom of a whole people.
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Therefore while many who drop out of Mass may be spiritually slothful, others may drop out for deep isolation related reasons and thus go in search of churches that have longer but more interactive services on Sunday. I knew a Holiness church attendee who went to all day services on their sabbath….heardly sloth…that’s like two months of Catholic Sundays in one day.

    1. Cristina Montes

      Thank you for your comment. I have never heard of anyone who dropped out of the mass feeling that it is not interactive enough. But for what it’s worth, one who understands what the mass is would hardly find it isolationist. First, while attending mass, we interact with Christ. The relationship with Christ is the one relationship that matters. Second, the mass — even when said privately by a priest with no congregation present — is the communal prayer of the entire Church, including the Church triumphant and the Church suffering. If one pays attention to the words of the Eucharistic prayer, he or she will note many references to the entire Church. My experience attending mass in several places — sometimes in languages I cannot understand — has always made me feel united with the entire Church, for it has reinforced what I know about the Church being one in worship amidst the diversity of Church members.

      Furthermore, there are many occasions for interpersonal interaction even in the Church. So many parish groups offer opportunities to socialize, one just has to look at the parish bulletin board. It therefore makes no sense to stay out of the mass because one does not find any interaction in it, since there are many other sources for interpersonal interaction if one looks hard enough for them.

    2. Godfrey Buillon

      The drop out in mass, IMHO, is due to several factors. Much of it is poor catechesis, but there are also those who see the mass (and the Catholic church) in general, as some sort of an “assault” to their consciences, in which case, those who are not willing to repent, merely leave. As for young people, poor catechesis combined with over-entertainment is probably the cause. Let’s not forget the role that parents play in this. The increase in separation and divorce has greatly affected the way young people view the liturgy.

  2. Your response below was to minimize each of my points. That works in court and you are a lawyer. The Vatican though can’t follow your example because she must try to solve this and that means interviewing those who left not those who stayed. Some writers project 15% Mass attendance after the seniors die off in the USA which is probably true in some areas and not in others. On top of all this, the Vatican must confront the fact in the USA that weekly Mass attendees support gay marriage 50%.

    http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=20621

    That raises the question whether the readings and the gospel should be replaced by teaching in doctrine because obviously the rare appearance of Romans chapter one in the Mass cycle is not cutting it as an issue clarifier for that half of Mass attendees. What if all these years, the priest had used that readings/gospel time period to ask and answer parishioners on current moral problems. Just a thought but obviously you have 50% of Mass attendees supporting something that was an abomination in Leviticus and reproved in Romans one and in the catechism and that community of believers you say you feel one with during Mass spiritually is not really on board with God on the abomination thing so the community thing is really in some sense a bit delusionary because we don’t talk so as to know where each one’s head is at. The Last Supper had actual community…there were bilateral verbal interchanges there.

  3. I, too, find mass to be more of a penance than a celebration. Some days I wonder if taking my daughters to mass damages their faith more than strengthens it. I know I hated mass at that age.

    A friend of mine is one of those “Chreaster” Catholics, he attends mass maybe once or twice a year—and that’s a good year. Yet he still talks fondly about the GOLD chalices at communion (none of that grape-juice-in-a-plastic-cup nonsense the Baptists have) and the beauty of the old churches.

    Our local parish is a cinder block shell with white-washed walls and plain furniture. The music is contemporary, uninspired, and bland. What is missing is beauty and transcendence. And while perhaps some of us can do without, it’s not a Catholic attitude at all to say it is unnecessary, nor is it Catholic to think lesser of people who do need it.

  4. I have left because as a single adult over 50 – I am tolerated but not wanted in many parishes. Need a seat? move her, she’s alone,,,had parents refuse to allow me pass the sign of piece with their kids and “whisper” she’s alone, there’s something wrong with her. There is no parish in my diocese that has a ministry for adults without kid/mates. Never mind there is never an inclusion for those who go alone in the taking up of the gifts, the prayers of the faithful, or really any acknowledgement of people like me in the mass or parish life. It’s as if we are the forgotten souls. Then we go to mass, and have to listen to more extollations of families, if we are lucky enough to hear at all over the din from the kids who really.don’t.want.to.be.there and are crying, kicking the bench, screaming, ect and ad nauseum – and if we complain that we can’t hear from the front row – we get admonished about how the “church is for children”…so why would people with out kids WANT to be there? If children are what the mass is about and for – then you can expect that as birth rates fall – so will mass attendance. At least until a place at the table is made for those who don’t have kids – which I have no hope will ever happen. We simply have no place at the Eucharist – I doubt we ever did.

    1. Cristina Montes

      I can relate. I am single, childless, and I am a few years short of the upper age limit for writing for Ignitum Today. I actually wrote this article to reflect on my own struggles attending mass and what has helped me in addressing them. You’re right that Church can do a bit more in reaching out to the needs of those who are single and childless. The lack of appreciation for single and childless women — not just in churches, but in society in general — is a topic for an entire article altogether. The Church today faces the challenge of finding a way to affirm the family amidst the attacks against it, without marginalizing celibates. In the meantime, perhaps it might help to look for a sympathetic parish, find a way to give constructive feedback to your parish, or perhaps exert more effort to look for avenues where you can participate. I know many single and childless women who are active in their churches, and many parishes are always short of volunteers to be readers and commentators during mass, for example, or to be part of the choir (and not just by singing; parish choirs need other forms of help like help in organizing.) Like I said, find ways to be part of the solution. Finally, it helps me to unite whatever sufferings I have — including loneliness and feelings of rejection — with the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary, which is being renewed at the mass. We do have a place in the Eucharist — with Christ on the Cross, co-redeeming with him. My prayers for you.

      1. On the topic of dealing with singlehood at Mass via participation, I can understand. I’m the less-common single childless man in my mid-thirties alone at Mass each week, so I can understand from a slightly different perspective. We’re an odd breed, since one assumes that any celibate Catholic guy at that point would be in a religious vocation rather than still holding out for a marriage that looks like it isn’t coming. Likewise, most just assume that you’re secretly some secular chump once you walk off church grounds until they get to know you (then they just suspect, because men…).

        Rather than sit alone, I’ve become a usher & greeter weekly as well as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion on rotation (and filling in as needed, since I’m already on my feet). In fact, this Saturday, I get my diocesan training as a Lector to be a backup for the parish with families’ summer vacations’ coming up. I’ve always been comforted by the regularity and order of Mass, but that’s my conservative nature and my sense of analyzing doctrine studiously.

        (I’ve also found some connections via joining the Knights of Columbus a few years back and becoming various service officer roles — are their any similar sort of social groups in your parishes that either one of you can join to become more acquainted with people, either couples, families, or other singles?)

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