Over the course of the past year* many Catholic individuals and groups who have been calling for change in the Church have suggested the idea of the faithful refraining from attending Mass.
Their intention is to show the Church they want change by dropping attendance, which in turn will hurt the Church financially.
I must echo this call. I too ask all Catholics to stop attending Mass. It is my dream that every Catholic in the world would no longer attend Mass. However, my reason for this lofty dream is far removed from the ideology of those now calling for change. The universal Catechism states that the first precept of the Church is that, “the faithful should attend mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation.” I know what this statement means. However, if one specific word is changed there could be a world of difference. The Baltimore Catechism states essentially the same thing except that the word “attend” is replaced with the word “assist”.
There is a world of difference between the words attend and assist. When I attend events I look on patiently waiting to be entertained in some fashion. When I assist I provide a service to others. I can attend concerts, sporting events, graduation ceremonies, and movie previews. I can assist at food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, and charity events. I would never think of attending a food bank nor would I consider assisting at a concert unless I was a musician.
How then can I stop attending Mass and begin assisting? First, I must prepare myself to celebrate this sacred mystery. This preparation involves turning away from sin. Most priests make themselves available for confession on Saturday afternoons for 45 minutes to one hour — with minimal participation. Have I become more holy or have I been blinded to my own sinfulness that I don’t take more advantage of this opportunity? In order to assist at Mass I must cleanse myself inside and out so that I may present myself as the spotless bride, the Church, to Christ.
Second, assisting at Mass involves more than merely hearing the Word of God. Great musicians and athletes do not participate in their respective events without preparation. They prepare so that they might fully participate in the event. I too should prepare for Mass by arriving early to pray and read through the readings. This familiarity frees my mind to delve deeper into what Christ is saying to me. In order to assist at Mass I must be spiritually prepared to fully participate by studying and reading the scriptures and the order of the Mass.
Finally, assisting at Mass means more than warming a bench. The Mass is a sacrifice of praise and I must bring a gift or many gifts to be sacrificed on the altar. I must bring my family, friends, work, joys, sorrows, sufferings, worries, and dreams and lay them before God on the altar. My sacrifices are represented in a small way by the gift of money, bread, and wine. However, as the gifts are being brought forward to the altar my heart should be bringing my entire life before the Lord. As the gifts are handed to the priest I should be handing him spiritually all that I am — good and bad. In order to assist at Mass I must make a conscious, spiritual, emotional, physical gift of myself to God. In return for my full participation God will give me nothing less than Himself.
Contrary to popular opinion the Mass is not a spectator sport. It is not for quotas or to fill pews. The Mass and the Church will continue until the end of time regardless of the number of people in the pews. We are not benchwarmers. We are a chosen people. We are priests, prophets, and kings destined to proclaim the death of the Lord Jesus until He comes in glory.
The Mass is my opportunity to stand at the foot of the Cross, say I am sorry, and unite myself fully to Jesus, His sufferings, and His Church. I plead with all Catholics to stop attending Mass. I ask every Catholic in the world to resolve to never attend Mass again! Let us however start assisting at Mass. Let us get so involved in the Mass that we truly see it for what it is, heaven on earth.
One of the best books available on understanding what is truly going on at the Mass is The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. In this book Dr. Hahn takes us step by step through the book of Revelation and "reveals" to us that what we are truly seeing in Revelation is the Mass. Check it out, you won't regret it! (This is an affiliate link. By clicking on this link I may earn money by your purchase. I do not recommend anything I haven't read or used personally and believe is of value to you the reader. Thank you)
*This is an article I wrote for Catholic Exchange back in 2003. I think it's still relevant today.