Cardinal Dolan’s Rationale for Dwindling Mass Attendance? Masses are Too Long.

In our preparation for the Synod, here in the Archdiocese of New York, close to 7,000 people accepted our invitation to attend listening sessions or respond online to issues of concern in the life of the church today. One question I always posed was, “How can we get people back to Sunday Mass? Why have so many of our folks stopped coming?”

I was amazed at the high interest this generated. Apart from the predictable carping from both fringes — the far left claiming that the only way to increase Mass attendance was to drop all liturgical guidelines and go back to the “do-your-own-thing” hootenannies of the ’70’s, or the alt-right urging turning the altar around and getting the fiddlebacks out of mothballs — the largest majority replied that the top reasons people were no longer coming to Sunday Mass were — are you ready for this? — one, because they couldn’t understand the priest; two, their parish had been closed; and, three, Mass was too long!

Let’s concentrate on the third reason. At first, I was prone to dismiss this. But, after re-considering the dozens and dozens of such replies — admittedly far from a scientific survey — I concluded that maybe these folks were on to something. It was very clear from the tenor of their responses that these were women and men who loved the Eucharist, who would rarely themselves miss Sunday Mass and were the first ones back after the pandemic restrictions were mercifully lifted; who gladly welcomed the genuine liturgical renewal of the council, who were not asking for a “quickie” Sunday Mass, who knew that a reverent, participative, joyful celebration of the Sunday Eucharist demands a chunk of quality time, but who were still exhausted from “marathon Masses” which they contend are driving the folks away.

Could they be on to something? A liturgical scholar observed to me recently, “The greatest advance of liturgical renewal after the council was the restoration of the prominence and solemnity of the Easter Vigil. But the greatest negative of these last decades has been that every Sunday Mass is now as long as Holy Saturday!”

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