QUAERITUR: survey at sermon time

From a reader:

Today at Mass, instead of a homily the priest invited a member of the
Parish Council to the podium to inform us that it would be helpful to
them if we’d fill out a survey regarding the parish finances.

Then the ushers proceeded to distribute the survey throughout the
church, fully expecting folks to fill it out right then and there. The
priest sat patiently while people filled out the surveys.

I was astonished and felt almost violated. This is a time of worship
and we’re going to stop to fill out a survey?

Was this really as great an afront as I take it to be or am I
overreacting here? I wanted to walk out of the church then and there
but my dear wife counseled more patience.

I think that sermon time should be for the sermon.

Yet, there are announcements during Mass also.  There are times when news must be given, simple or important.  Collections are taken up at Mass, sometimes more than once.

The sermon time should be for the sermon.  But there are rare, hopefully, rare occasions when other business must be conducted.  Parish finances are important, … at least if you want to continue to have a parish where you can worship.

But I agree… a survey would be a bit of a mood killer.

It would be a different matter if people would remain in large numbers after Mass for some of this stuff… but they don’t.

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46 Responses to QUAERITUR: survey at sermon time

  1. Margo says:

    Unfortunately, this sort of thing is pretty common in the suburban parishes in Central NY, where I reside. When I lived in New York City, however, not once did the sermon time turn into a survey regarding parish finances. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the smaller suburban parishes vs. the larger city parishes; this has just been my own personal experience with the matter. But I have found myself feeling the same way as the reader when this sort of thing occurs. And Fr. Z, regarding what you said about people remaining in large numbers after Mass – not only do they NOT tend to stick around in my parish, but they are often heading out the door before the priest has even left!

  2. Kerry says:

    “Who do men say that I am? Please fill out this survey….”

  3. Phil_NL says:

    While I appreciate that there may be circumstances where this is necessary, I believe that with a bit of creativity the problem can be solved with more decorum.

    For starters, make sure that a copy of the survey is on each chair / place in the pews. Then, at the time Mass should start, have the treasurer announce that Father is slightly delayed (e.g. cause he’s checking if his Mystic Monk Coffee supply will hold for another week, or trying to find a maniple or some other WDTPRS-approved excuse) [Speaking of which... everyone... buy some Mystic Monk Coffee. It's swell!]
    and that it would be really helpful if the assembled faithful would take this time to fill out the survey. (so prior to Mass, as to cause minimal disturbance). Announce the questionnaires will be collected at the back after Mass.

    Start Mass 3-5 minutes late. (who cares about that?) Father can remind his flock again during the announcements (please fill this in after Mass).

    Then have several people (the whole parish council, or the ushers if you have them and want them to do something useful) collect the survey at the exit after Mass. [they should take the back pews, so they're in place immediately]. If Father has the habit to wish his parishoners a good Sunday, let him do that after the survey-collection line. He can remind anyone who tried to wiggle his/her way past the line without handing in the survey. Maintain positions for at least 10 minutes after Mass, depending on the disposition of the parishioners for additional prayer after Mass.

    I’m pretty sure you’d get a response rate well over 90% this way. Without distracting from Mass.

  4. cblanch says:

    We had something similar to this on Sunday, too. I also noticed we skipped the Creed this week… maybe because the parish business part when on too long? Irritating.

  5. pberginjr says:

    People don’t even stay to say prayers of Thanksgiving after mass (although they’ll stand around and talk in the church for ten minutes), certainly they’ll not fill out a survey.

    cblanch, I agree, why is it that pastors feel they should skip the creed if they’ve gone on too long? I know that it’s not necessary at weekday masses, but I want to profess my faith on Sundays, isn’t that kind of a right Father?

  6. tobiasmurphy says:

    Prudence would suggest holding surveys/elections/decision-polling after Mass has been concluded. All those who leave early would be excluded de facto, as well as those in a hurry to leave right after, as well as those who don’t care about such decisions. The people who remain to vote would most likely be the people such decisions should be entrusted to anyway.

  7. La Sandia says:

    Ugh. My husband and I had to attend our geographical parish a couple weeks ago and they also had everyone filling out a survey. Because I’m sure that the Cure d’Ars drew his parish closer to Christ by having his flock fill out surveys about how “welcoming” and “uplifting” the worship was…

  8. wmeyer says:

    At my parish, we get a survey in place of homily every year. Two weeks ago we had a video from our Archbishop about the Catholics Come Home commercials soon to be aired here. We get appeals for funds for local charities, as well as for our sister parish in Haiti. All these things seem inevitably to displace the homily. Of course, the parish seems dominated by the “spirit of Vatican II” folks, so it’s little wonder. Likewise the archdiocese–there is, to my knowledge, only one parish in the archdiocese where the Latin Mass is to be found, and that is an all Latin FSSP parish.

  9. dans0622 says:

    That’s a fine idea, Phil-NL. I also find it very out of place to go from “The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.” to “Announcements for this week: …” This is something I’ve found more often in “traditional” parishes, interestingly. Granted, they haven’t had “surveys” in these parishes. That’s a plus.

    Dan

  10. Tina in Ashburn says:

    This pledge survey practice has become more common in our Arlington Diocese in the last few years. My guess is that priests hate doing this, but do it because of our bishop’s request. Both times [two diff parishes] we got a short homily too.

    Every pew has an envelope or two with the financial survey [how much are you planning to give this year?] and pencils. At the priests’ direction, the envelope is passed down the pew and each family takes one and fills it out. The collection baskets are passed and we put the surveys in. The priest waits until the whole church has finished and the last basket collected. This survey was done relatively efficiently and quickly, and no part of the Mass was skipped.

    I find even the regular collection annoying during Mass and especially after Communion while I’m trying to shut out distractions and ‘hear’ what Jesus in Holy Communion is whispering to me. One nearby parish does the two separate collections during the Offertory, which I much prefer over Communion time…if it has to be done at all.

    My convert husband tells me that this kind of pledge-garnering is common practice in other denominations. So apparently this egregious practice is borrowed from the Protestants who are creative in getting pledges. There’s a bit of a difference in focus that allows collections during a prayer meeting versus the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Obviously, at homily time, there is a captive audience. Before Mass you miss the late-comers, after Communion you miss the early-deserters.

    Because Catholics generally don’t receive the same tithing pressure as other denominations, many parishioners might not pay much attention to supporting the parish as they should so I can see how bishops might leverage this as a reminder to give. However, we are unused to these kinds of practices and I find it utterly out of place during a Mass.

  11. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    This isn’t just an American phenomenon. I got this sad experience this week at my parish at my mass too. My priest made a few announcements (cause a Bishop is taking residence in my parish on the weekend) and then he has someone from Sharelife speak, a charity that helps finance retired priests and bishops. NO HOMILY. If I hadn’t gone to a COMPASS meeting at my local university Catholic center and don’t read the summaries from the priest on http://www.catholicregister.com, I wouldn’t know what the Gospel message was last week.

    Even sadder was that I expressed my disdain of this to my Catholic mother and she blew me off saying I need to be more flexible. I can see why she’d blow me off though as though I’ve only really started coming back to my faith this past year in a fast and furious pace through a youth grup, re-educating myself on Catholic moral teachings through http://www.catholic.com (This Rock), media sites, and reading books from Peter Kreeft and Josef Pieper (though his Concept of Original Sin book can only be read by academics). It’s been a lot and she’s not use to me being this “true” to my faith.

  12. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    Something similar happened at a Mass that I attended yesterday. After the Homily, a “parish nurse” gave a brief speech about the “Parish Nurses Association.” She and Father then asked all present to fill out a survey asking for names… ages of all family members living in the household… and whether we have health insurance/primary care docs. There was a lengthy list of healthcare “topics,” one of which was “sexuality,” that we were supposed to check off if we were interested in having parish nurses give presentations on those topics…

  13. priests wife says:

    Father- I am surprised that you didn’t give a canon as to the ‘legality’ of this practice. Of course, sometimes business needs to happen- but wouldn’t it be more proper to do the business before the entrance hymn or after the final blessing before the final hymn or even as a very brief addition to the homily.

    I don’t know where I got this- maybe I am mistaken- a priest’s responsibility is primarily to preach the Gospel- even the sacraments are secondary

  14. Supertradmum says:

    This happens all the time in our diocese, with bishop’s appeal forms, tithe forms, and other surveys. It is so irritating. Thankfully, this does not happen at the EF.

  15. Prof. Basto says:

    If Father has good reason to think that people won’t stay after Mass even if he (speaking before the final blessing) asks them to, then Father could do one of two things:

    (1) do the survey before starting Mass. That would be ideal, so as to completely separate mundane financial affairs from the liturgy of the Mass. Father could wait in the sacristy until the precise moment when Mass is to start, and then he could come into the Church (preferrably wearing only his cassock, and not Mass vestments). Then he could advise people that they have administrative business that needed to be handled, and then the survey by the parish council would take place, while Father, instead of waiting seated, would vest for Mass. Mass would begin late, of course.

    (2) If that is found not to be ideal for some reason, then the Father could invite the members of the parish council to conduct the survey after the postcommunio and before the concluding rites, this being the usual moment for announcements.

    But it is absolutely wrong to conduct a mundane survey during the sermon time, and even worse to totally replace the homily with the survey. Sunday Mass has to have a homily. It is mandated by ecclesiastical law.

  16. Phil_NL says:

    @Prof. Basto
    I see we agree on option 1. ;)

    In fact, a strategically placed member of the parish council (preferably a big bulky person with a glaze that signals authority) collecting the filled out questionaires at the exit can do miracles. Trust me. People would fill them out on the spot if the questions are not too long. No need to do this during Mass.

  17. Prof. Basto says:

    In the abbey where I attend mass, the monks are so respectful that no collection even takes place during Mass. After Mass, some of them stay near the doors of the Church with the velvet purses, so that those who can leave their contribution. But the collection is not done during the liturgy.

    In other parishes, however, I have witnessed the horrible practice of having the collection money brought to the Altar during the offerory. Then, during the “Pray, brethren…”, the altar server will raise the collection basket, giving perhaps the false impression that “this our sacrifice” (in the imprecise translation of meum ac vestrum sacrifficium) meant the monetary offering, and not the bread and wine.

  18. Jerry says:

    Fortunately, my parish has never displaced the homily with a survey. If this were to occur, I’d simply mark the form “No homily – no survey” and turn it in.

  19. mike cliffson says:

    Strewth!

  20. Scott W. says:

    “Who do men say that I am? Please fill out this survey….”

    LOL!

    And I’d say this is yet another example of what I call Exploiting the Captive Audience.

  21. The Egyptian says:

    For three weeks straight our cluster of five parishes was subjected to a diocese wide fund raiser ( our pastor decided to have it done with instead of waiting till spring) 2 minute homily then a dull recitation by one of our parish council members of a prewritten talk about “our treasure, the treasure, protecting our treasure, treasuring our treasure, whatever” no one around here talks like that, it was rather insulting, the first two weeks we were presented pledge cards to look at as we recited the “stewardship prayer” found on the cards in our pews, third week we were asked to sigh pledges and hand in. The actual request was quite reasonable but all this crap was insulting, and the diocese hired a firm for who knows how much to do this because they guarantee results. Three weeks of no sermon and sappy drivel, what a waste.

  22. Will D. says:

    Generally, our parish gets this right. Those parish-business announcements are done prior to mass (and usually unannounced, to make them harder to dodge). But yesterday, at the end of mass they had a lady step to the ambo and announce that she was selling CD’s of piano music to benefit the diocesan seminarians, which is a noble enough cause, but shouldn’t be announced from the ambo during mass. What made it worse, she made this announcement after communion, but before the Prayer after Communion.

  23. MaranathaMaranatha says:

    I fully understand business must be attended to, just not during Mass. What financial or other supposedly equally important (to the Mass) matters or information cannot be discussed or surveyed before or after? And here I believe it is important to distinguish our contribution to the offeratory or other alms as our prayerful ‘sacrifice’ at Mass, rather than simply characterized as some capital or expense driven campaign or fund drive ‘collections’. No. Too often and in my opinion, it is more a marketing ploy than anything else, many times falsely carried out in the name of prudence. In discussions with my prior Pastor, he would often refer to getting a better financial response if you “get them while they’re in the pews,” or “mailers and flyers just don’t get a decent response.” In his defense though, there are too many who contribute little or nothing yet that have the means to do so. However, I still don’t believe the end justifies the means in this situation. The Novus Ordo is already abused enough.

    I would like to hear exactly as we ‘pray’ the Mass how exactly completing financial surveys and financial commitment forms in the middle of our ‘prayer’ (which is what I was instructed to fill out just after the homily – I know, at least we had a homily!) fit the “lex orandi, lex credendi” maxim. Justify that, and I have no argument that it should not be done at all. But in doing so, I wonder if that maxim is destroyed or at least largely weakened.

    Or maybe, as some believe, money really does make the world go round? I don’t believe that for a second! I would like to quote scripture here, but I’ll refrain.

    And one more item… Proper worship can continue without a formal Parish but can a Parish continue without proper worship? I think we know these answers. We would all do well to just try to keep our priorities straight, Pastor, Priest, Parish and parishioner alike. God first then everything else.

  24. Cricket says:

    My (former) pastor makes a regular practice of this habit. I believe it’s licit, according to Canon Law, but not very sensitive from a pastoral point of view. It was degrading! I walked out of church in the middle of the survey-taking, & never attended that particular Mass again.

  25. I’m actually shocked, not only by the practice but by the fact that even a few readers find it acceptable.

    In Lutheran churches, where the rubrics are few and all but uniformly permissive, we do some strange things. This time of year, many of those strange things revolve around money, and ways to ask for it. Opinions differ on whether this is best done by the pastor in a sermon, by a lay person in a “temple talk” — look, I’ve already admitted we do bad stuff, so let the name pass — or by some other means. And mercy knows that I have asked plenty of people to fill out surveys.

    But not at the expense of the sermon!

    That’s what coffee hour is for. Or direct mail. Or polite ushers handing out golf pencisl before the Mass. But the readings, and the time that follows them, are meant to be something specific — a proclamation of the Gospel. A brief homily, a weak homily, even — if the celebrant simply cannot muster words — silent refection can, in theory, serve this purpose. But there is no way that a survey on finances can qualify without doing violence to words like “proclamation” and “Gospel.”

    I would have filled out the form, supplemented it with some choice theological commentary, and scheduled a meeting with my pastor for Monday morning. Early, because we obviously would have a lot to talk about.

  26. I’m actually shocked, not only by the practice but by the fact that even a few readers find it acceptable.

    In Lutheran churches, where the rubrics are few and all but uniformly permissive, we do some strange things. This time of year, many of those strange things revolve around money, and ways to ask for it. Opinions differ on whether this is best done by the pastor in a sermon, by a lay person in a “temple talk” — look, I’ve already admitted we do bad stuff, so let the name pass — or by some other means. And mercy knows that I have asked plenty of people to fill out surveys.

    But not at the expense of the sermon!

    That’s what coffee hour is for. Or direct mail. Or polite ushers handing out golf pencil before the Mass. But the readings, and the time that follows them, are meant to be something specific — a proclamation of the Gospel. A brief homily, a weak homily, even — if the celebrant simply cannot muster words — silent refection can, in theory, serve this purpose. But there is no way that a survey on finances can qualify without doing violence to words like “proclamation” and “Gospel.”

    I would have filled out the form, supplemented it with some choice theological commentary, and scheduled a meeting with my pastor for Monday morning. Early, because we obviously would have a lot to talk about.

  27. robtbrown says:

    Such stories as the above remind me of a comment made by our spiritual director in Rome (a German prof of moral theology and contemporary of JRatzinger). He said that in the US pastors tend to become bureaucrats. When I think how often I’ve heard of parish centers being built, renovation of churches (often not needed), consolidation of schools, he seems to have a point.

  28. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    Everything about this story is shocking. The spirit of the problem it describes is summed up in the words quoted: “invited a member of the Parish Council to the podium…” Podium? Podium? Since when did a Catholic church have a podium? This is the Sacrifice of the Mass, not some debating chamber! And ushers… It tells you all you need to know.

    Boy! (as you say so eloquently over the pond), this priest has a lot of explaining to do. How I pray for these poor people in his ‘care’; and how lucky we are, the many of us who read this blog regularly, and who have been formed by holy priests who have encouraged us to take these sacred things seriously.

  29. CCOblate says:

    Yes, that happened in the Tulsa Diocese last year. It was some crazy appeal from our otherwise good bishop. All parishes got to hear a recorded message from the Bishop and then be led step-by-step through the donation form. It was disgusting. Not at the EF parish though.

  30. PhilipNeri says:

    No, no, no. . .a thousand times NO! Catholic preaching is bad enough w/o using homily time for parish business.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  31. Ef-lover says:

    Margo says:
    15 November 2010 at 8:40 am
    Unfortunately, this sort of thing is pretty common in the suburban parishes in Central NY, where I reside. When I lived in New York City, however, not once did the sermon time turn into a survey regarding parish finances. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the smaller suburban parishes vs. the larger city parishes; this has just been my own personal experience with the matter. But I have found myself feeling the same way as the reader when this sort of thing occurs. And Fr. Z, regarding what you said about people remaining in large numbers after Mass – not only do they NOT tend to stick around in my parish, but they are often heading out the door before the priest has even left!

    In my parish most of the people head out the door right after Holy Communion — the place where I attend the EF mass the majority of people hang around for almost an hour –it’s las if they don’t want to go home.

  32. frjim4321 says:

    We are required to lead the annual Catholic Charities pledge appeal processs from the pulpit during homily time, following a recorded “homilette” by the bishop. It is rather grating. This includes reading a script telling people exactly how to fill out their envelopes. Yuck.
    For each hundred surveys that people are asked to fill out in church, I wonder how many succeed in providing helpful information that is later put to good use?

  33. keithp says:

    We had the “Annual Financial Briefing” during Mass yesterday. This occurred right after a very abbreviated Homily. There was no Gloria and no Creed. There were, however, two colored pie charts showing “$ in” and “$ out” from the parish. The pastor gave the briefing. He was also the celebrant. I know he gave the same financial brief for each Mass.

    At other times, the cantor sings a different responsorial Psalm other than what is in the Missal. That happened yesterday, too Sometimes words are changed in the Psalms to the point where I cannot recognize the original intent or meaning. Why is “handmaid” a word that needs to be changed to servant?

    There are several other issues I could mention not but won’t. I won’t say anything about the teen Mass.

    I don’t want to leave this Parish. I just want a reverent Mass.

  34. AnnAsher says:

    Seriously?!
    The Mass is serious business.
    The Mass is the sacrifice of our redemption.
    The prayer of the Mass should not be interrupted.
    Brief announcements are…brief. A survey passing out and filling out and turning back in is NOT even a brief or small interruption. Mood killer?! It’s nearly sacrilege IMHO, Christ has a message for money changers in the temple….
    This is an abomination and a serious offense even to common decency and decorum as regards a personal as well as communal issue.
    Let’s wake up and smell the Mystic Monk coffee shall we?

  35. ncstevem says:

    I now split assisting at Mass between a diocesan parish and a chapel staffed by the SSPX since my marriage 2 years ago ( I used to go to the SSPX chapel 100% prior to the wedding). Whenever the diocesan priest has a layman speak to the parishoners at Mass, I leave the pews and wait in the vestibule of the church until whatever they have to say is finished. I’m really uninterested in whatever any layman has to say during the celebration of the Mass.

  36. It is always interesting to read the comments on any topic. As a priest, my Bishop is the head canonist of the Diocese, and even though I don’t like it, I read a transcript once a year (rather than play a CD) of his appeal for funds. I am pastor of two independant parishes, and have considered a short to the point homily and then have a registration form to be filled out because numbers have a large impact on priestly staffing decisions. The priest north of my parish left the parish, and is seeking to leave the priesthood. The moment I heard the rumors I called the Bishop and inquired if he intended to ask me to take on another parish due to the low number of registered parishioners in each of my two parishes. Thankfully the answer was ‘no’. I know that some of my brother priests take things for granted and to the limit, but sometimes sitting in the pew you don’t have the full picture. Pray for all of us as we seek to serve our Lord.

  37. amont says:

    I attended another parish this past weekend, having endured yet again, the usual round of noise, clap- happy singing , glass chalices etc. Seeking some Spiritual sustenance elsewhere , I landed at the parish of another member of my family. Here, we endured a lecture from the Deacon about how bad bottled water is ; as it compromises the lives of people in Third World Counties. Following this, the Parish Priest – and not for the first time – offered-up the Host and Chalice together at the same time – perhaps he was trying to save time ! I might as well have stayed put !

  38. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    AMONT,

    See this: http://www.socon.ca/or_bust/?p=10920

    There’s also a blue highlited link above where Pacheco of the blog also experienced the same unfortunate experience as you on bottled water.

  39. catholicmidwest says:

    Catholic churches have a horrible problem with people paying attention. As soon as the mass is over (and sometimes before) people start bugging out the exits, and they really don’t expect to come back for at least a week. Seriously.

    So if you want a survey filled out you have to do it with a captive audience. This is about the only time you have them and they’ll tolerate anything like this. Not to say it’s right. Not to say you’ll get a valid survey. Not to say people will even fill anything out. Not to say they’ll tell you what they really think because they most certainly won’t. Probably it’s a lost cause. But there you have it.

    PS. Most adult Catholics desperately need adult Catholic education. Most Catholics don’t know who anyone is in scripture or even that half of it exists. But you can’t get them in the building unless it’s for their scant 45 minutes of Sunday mass. And some you can’t even get then. It’s a dismal state of affairs.

  40. catholicmidwest says:

    Southernpriest,

    We know more than you think. Lay people manage tough things too. Get a grip.

  41. chloesmom says:

    Completely off-topic, Phil, are you from Newfoundland and Labrador? I grew up in St. John’s.

    Slightly more on-topic: We don’t generally have surveys such as the one described here, but this weekend one of the collectors carried his granddaughter in his left arm, while carrying the collection basket in his right hand. After Mass, one of the Ladies’ Auxiliary sold tickets on a quilt in front of the altar (instead of at the back of the church, which is the usual venue for such things). Also, our Sunday school group is again sponsoring the Samaritan’s Purse charity (IIRC, this is an initiative of the Billy Graham Organization) — for the third year. Once I wondered out loud how it was that they weren’t sponsoring a Catholic charity such as Food for the Poor or Aid to the Church in Need, and was given a look normally reserved for ten-headed aliens. Our parish is a poster group for Orwellian group-think.

  42. To catholicmidwest – thank the good Lord, and His Mother, that many of the laity do know their faith.

  43. Phil_NL says:

    @Chloesmom,

    Nope, the Netherlands. (I once appended the _NL as there was another Phil commenting on the same thread, sadly with some disagreeable points).

    You point to another issue regarding decorum that occasionally annoys me: selling stuff in Church. Even for a charity, even for the noblest of purposes, there’s no need to do it inside the church. It’s as redundant as a survey during the homily, and can just as easily be moved to a location outside the actual consecrated area, just about every church has some form of porch or hall with enough room to put up a table. It only requires a bit of creativity in finding a solution.

  44. pappy says:

    This happens every spring at our parish.

    That’s not nearly as bad as “Stewardship Month”. Every September a member of the parish is asked to speak at the sermon. This past fall we were treated to a 15 year old girl, a 30 year old man juggling, and two other people that I happily cannot even remember now.

    I usually pull out my LOH and read a sermon from the back.

  45. Jayna says:

    I’ve experienced that too. And there was some “lovely” elevator music being played as well.

  46. St. Rafael says:

    @priests wife,
    It is not a priest’s main responsibility to preach the Gospel. The main responsibility of a priest is to sacrifice for sin. The whole vocation of a priest, is sacrifice and admnistering the sacraments.
    Preaching the Gospel is the job of the laity. It is the responsibility of the laity who live in the world, to go out into the world and preach the Gospel. To transform the world.

    @everybody else,
    Whether or not giving a survey during the sermon is the right choice or not, I must take issue with many of the complaints made that they don’t want this to disrupt the Mass or have it during the Mass. In actuality, the sermon is actually a break in the Mass. The time used for the sermon according to the rubrics, is not part of the Mass. It is a sort of break used by the priest to speak on a topic and the Mass continues officially after this. It is for this reason that some priests remove their maniples at this time, because the liturgy is suspended. That is why some parishes actually have their bulletin announcements read before the priest starts his sermon. I personally, would rather have bulletin announcements before Mass, but during the sermon is also perfectly acceptable. Bulletin announcements after Mass should really be avoided at all.