From a reader:
I recently moved and in my new parish I notice that on a consistent basis approximately 5- 10% of the congregation shows up late to mass. The majority of those that are late generally arrive within the time frame of the First Reading to the Psalm. Of course, this is terribly distracting to those of us that arrived on time, as ushers scatter up and down the aisles directing traffic like a NYC cop at rush hour. Naturally, lateness to Mass is not a new occurence. Perhaps the percentage of those arriving late is not even much different than at my previous parish and I had just grown so accustomed to so as to barely notice. I have three questions based on my observation: [I like one question, but I'll be lenient.]
1) Was this such a common problem pre Vatican II? (My guess is that it was not)
2) Is this a common problem currently in Extraordinary Form parishes? (My guess is that it is not)
3) What practical measures might be taken by conscientious parishioners and or the clergy to reduce the amount of parishioners arriving late?
Thanks for all of your holy, courageous work and I encourage all of your coffee drinking readers to buy some Mystic Monk coffee – it’s the real deal! [And that is why I was lenient.]
Considering the number of authors who have dealt with the question of just how late one could be and still consider that one had fulfilled one’s obligation, it’s safe to say that late arrival for Mass is not exclusively a post-Vatican II problem. I’ll bet it goes back to the earliest days of the Church. That said, however, everyone was on time for the First Mass, but only Judas left early.
I suspect few lukewarm Catholics regularly go to Mass in the Extraordinary Form. An unintended blessing of the Extraordinary Form being, well, extra-ordinary, is that those who attend really want to attend. They often have to make sacrifices to get to Mass which is far away and at a tough time. I know that is the case where I usually say Sunday Mass: it is early in the morning, the parking is awful, many come from a distance and with small children and… quite a few people are late.
A caution needs to be applied here: when nearly everyone who is there comes from devotion rather than mere obligation, some spiritual hubris can set in. We should remember that our brothers and sisters whose devotion or interest in the Holy Mass is less than ours are still our brothers and sisters. Close parenthesis.
Another factor: Perhaps culture of lateness developed in a parish because for years Mass didn’t start on time. Mass should start on time. That is something that the pastor owes to the congregation: be on time.
What can one do to reduce the number of parishioners arrive late?
That’s a difficult question, not knowing the specific congregation and the reasons for the lateness. Is this mere laziness? Are there parking problems? Do many of the people in the parish work in jobs that have odd shifts? The pastor would know.
It would be best to presume the best of people. Perhaps the person is arriving late because the relief nurse, who was hired to watch over dear old dad who suffers with Alzheimer’s, was late. Perhaps he had to stop and help an elderly woman change the tire on her car. Perhaps there was a mixup and decaf coffee was mistakenly substituted for the normal routine of Mystic Monk Midnight Vigils blend.
What can a parish do to lessen the impact of parishioners arriving late? Here we’re on more solid ground.
Yes, Father could address it in the bulletin and in the pulpit, but with great care.
Perhaps more people could sit closer to the front and leave the pews in the back for the latecomers to make as unobtrusive an entrance as possible. Yes, I know. We are talking about a Catholic church: Come early and get a seat in back! So, fill in the pews in the front and center aisle – leaving room on the side aisles for the ushers to escort the later arrivals to their places… discreetly. Indeed, the pastor should tell the ushers not to make a scene every single time someone comes in late.
If you know your always-late-fellow-parishioners well, then perhaps fraternal correction can kick in. Raise the question – still presuming good intentions – and if the answer is mere laziness, then gently challenge, encourage, and even goad a little. Offer to drive.
But do be wary about focusing on this question too much. The Devil constantly strives to distract us from fully putting our hearts and minds into one’s own full, active and conscious participation at Holy Mass.