“I don’t go to Mass because…”

His Hermeneuticalness, Fr. Tim Finigan, has a great insight, by means of a reductio ad absurdum:

I am heartily sick of the protest “I don’t go to Mass because my parents forced me to go when I was young.” OK Son, what else did your parents force you to do?

Your parents forced you to wash before you went out in the morning. Those cruel tyrants made sure that you cleaned your teeth before you went to bed. They dragged you kicking and screaming to school so that you could learn to read – and the teachers collaborated by forcing you to learn the alphabet and put the words together.

To top it all, after looking after your physical needs, they had the temerity to exercise their authority by looking after your spiritual needs and taking you to Mass on Sunday.

If they had neglected to see that you were clean, had suitable clothes, eat some sort of nourishing food, get some education and cross the road safely, they would have been visited by social services and given a care plan so that you could be healthy and safe.

And you are complaining because they took responsibility for your eternal life?

In this context, it is relevant to quote again the classic:

Ten reasons why I never wash

  1. I was forced to as a child.
  2. People who wash are hypocrites – they think they are cleaner than everybody else.
  3. There are so many different kinds of soap, I can’t decide which one is best.
  4. I used to wash, but I got bored and stopped.
  5. I wash only on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
  6. None of my friends wash.
  7. I’ll start washing when I get older and dirtier.
  8. I can’t spare the time.
  9. The bathroom is never warm enough in winter or cool enough in summer.
  10. People who make soap are only after your money.

If you aren’t checking Fr. Finigan’s blog each day, you are probably missing some good insights.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. teomatteo says:

    I don’t wash ‘cuz I’m a “Stinker….er…. Seeker”..

  2. AnAmericanMother says:

    King James I & VI never washed, and look what happened to him . . . .

  3. Jack Hughes says:

    because I have a secondary Chest infection and even going to the docs in 20 miniutes is gonna take it out of me

  4. benedetta says:

    What is clean?

  5. Andrew says:

    And your parents baptised you and didn’t wait to ask you if you wanted to be baptised and they also taught you English and didn’t wait to ask you if you wanted to speak Slovak instead.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    I have to admit that I have given up going to daily Mass, as I was coming out of the churches angry or extremely sad 99.9% of the time. There are no daily EFs within 185 miles of here. God forgive me, but either the lack of respect, the messing around with the words of the Mass, the loose-leaf binder translations of the Scriptures, the heretical homilies, the loud talking before and after Mass, the boom-boxes with CDs on the altar, or, more commonly, all of the above, has pushed me out. Also, the multiplication of EMs at the daily Mass, rubbing their hands every time with anti-bacterial cleansers at every daily Mass, (which happened on Sunday as well, when I took someone to a NO), has become a serious distraction . I can no longer retain my peace in that environment. I hope God is merciful, but I do not want to become more uncharitable than I already am….

    Sorry, but the washing analogy reminded me of the anti-bacterial cleanser used in every NO parish in our diocese by both priests and EMs…

  7. Shellynna says:

    On a related topic, we also have parents actually *afraid* to force their children to go to Mass because they don’t want to “alienate” their child, either from affection for them or from the Church. We have a lot of cowed parents in this society, tiptoeing around the perceived frailness of their child’s ego.

  8. EXCHIEF says:

    Cowed parents not wanting to alienate—sort of like the cowed Priests and Bishops who seldom if ever mention sin, seldom if ever mention the necessity of Sunday Mass attendance etc for the same reason–not wanting to alienate. Better to alienate than to indirectly support sin (“but the Priest never talks about missing Mass as being a sin”). Better to alienate than contribute to an eternity in hell.

  9. Elly says:

    Wow, that is one of the funniest things I have read in a long time! Thanks!

  10. Jack Hughes — Hope you feel better soon!

    But I bet your doctor tells you to take showers and breathe in lots of steam, to help you fight the infection…. If you’re too tired to wash, at least run hot water and sit down in the vestibule to breathe it in, so to speak.

  11. Gail F says:

    A couple of years ago I read a book for returning Catholics called “It’s Not the Same Without You.” I thought it was a great approach for many people. One of the main points of the book was to “admit” to the person thinking about coming back that something not nice happened to them in the past (parental pressure, a mean nun, etc.) — and then the next point was to get the person to say that, while this thing wasn’t nice, it was really time to admit that it happened a long time ago and that the Catholic Church is a lot bigger than a mean nun or a nutty priest or a strict parent. Time to get on with life! It was not a particulary theological or contemplative book, but I think it could make a big difference too a lot of people who haven’t thought about the Church in years because of something that seemed like a big deal when they were 8 or 14 or 20 — or even something that really WAS a big deal that happened at one parish or one diocese or one mass.

    Haven’t we all met people who tell an outrageous tale and then say, “and I haven’t set foot in a church since!” as if that one outrageous thing represented the whole 2000 years of Church history, not to mention Jesus Christ?

  12. I for one, am a convert, and some of my children are Catholic, and some are not. (One converted on her own, one was small when I converted and we raised her Catholic,and three older teens have not converted). Guess who goes to Sunday Mass? Everybody!

  13. templariidvm says:

    Parents should be sure their children are taught reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and religion. How can faith in God and a path to eternal life be considered optional??

  14. Nan says:

    I go to Mass because I want to. And I was Mass-deprived as a child.

  15. Shadow says:

    I go to Mass because I desire to and I was forced to go as a child.

  16. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Well, I go to mass whether I want to or not.

  17. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Incidentally, I was once assisting at Sunday mass at a neighbouring parish where a permanent deacon preached foolishly to the effect that it was nice that we were all present because we wanted to be, and how no one went to mass out of obligation any more. I wish I’d had the nerve to go up to him afterwards and explain how I proved him wrong.

    There’s a lot of this about – religion as a pastime for like-minded people. I think it must be pretty close to the root of the problems of the church in England and, perhaps, elsewhere.

  18. Supertradmum says:

    Oh my goodness. Can we put this on the clerical dress line here today? I have heard the same thing in our diocese. Where is the grace for the Truth? Can we have another line, which states, “I do not go to Communion Services because…”?

  19. Supertradmum says:

    sorry, should be addressed to (X)MCCLXIII

  20. Jack Hughes says:


    Thankyou for your advice;

    I too must confess that I was deprived of the Holy Sacrifice as a child

  21. I realize now that I should have made sure you knew that I meant my advice literally in re: showers and hot water, not figuratively in re: Mass! (When I was sick the other week, I might not have gotten that…. I was so out of it….) Stay home from Mass when you’re contagious!

    Of course, when I’m spiritually sick (and not physically contagious) and can’t face church, it still does me good to go sit in the vestibule at Mass. Often I find something helpful to do for those sitting in the vestibule with restless kids. I’m a great finder of inconvenient pew nooks behind pillars, too. :)

    I have to say that in my family, it never really occurred to me that I had the option not to go to Mass, once I reached the age of reason. I was fairly sure that I could get murdered by my parents that way. :) But seriously, what else would you do on Saturday night or Sunday morning? Even when I went to college and was tired and depressed on Sunday morning, I usually managed to drag myself out. When I didn’t go, I felt like I hadn’t eaten for a week.

  22. Jayna says:

    I wasn’t forced to go to Mass, per se, but my grandmother made sure I went as often as she could get me there. And I went to Catholic school through third grade, so it was kind of a requirement at the time.

    Also, I’m stealing that list. Brilliant.

  23. Shellynna says:

    When I didn’t go, I felt like I hadn’t eaten for a week.

    Funny you should mention that, SB. As someone who is in formation for one of the secular orders (“third orders” as they are more commonly called), I have an obligation to the community to go to daily Mass if possible. So I’ve been doing my best to do so, but I find it difficult when there isn’t a strict obligation like there is on Sundays and holy days (!). But when I have gone nearly every day for a while, I find that missing daily Mass feels strange … like I’ve been away from home for a while or something. I think that feeling can be rather common, and is the main reason I have no problem with forcing recalcitrant children to church. If Mass is just something you do whether you want to or not, then missing Mass may eventually make you feel bereft and that feeling can assist grace in drawing someone “home.”

  24. JaneC says:

    I suppose there were probably times when I didn’t want to go to Mass as a child, but I don’t really remember any. If only I still had that innocent willingness to go to Mass, any Mass! It is much harder now that I am grown.

    I am glad that my mother was not hampered by any thought of damaging my childish ego by taking me to church. In fact, although she had not been going to church herself for some years, she returned in order to raise me Catholic. Eventually my father converted, and I became instrumental in hastening, though not totally bringing about, my own husband’s conversion. You could say that a single turning point in my mother’s life helped bring three more souls to the Church, even though she only intended to bring one. So, raise your kids in the Church! It may do more good than you could have imagined.

  25. Maria says:

    Absolutely BRILLIANT post!

  26. catholicmidwest says:

    You forgot the one my kids used to try (unsuccessfully).

    But mom, I’ll only get dirty again.

  27. JKnott says:

    I think the best reason to go to Mass is because we love God and He loves us more.
    In the “Imitation of Christ” there is a beautiful line that is: “Love knows no burden.”

  28. bookworm says:

    Sadly, my own husband, who was a practicing Catholic when we met and for the first years of our marriage, now uses the same excuse, only directed at me — he claims I “nagged” him too much about attending Sunday Mass and ruined it for him, and that is why he does not go. This of course makes it extremely difficult to evangelize him or remind him of the seriousness of the Mass obligation in any way lest it be taken as further “nagging.” This is the one issue in my life I pray about most, because I really do not know how to handle it, and I feel as if I have failed miserably at my primary duty as a wife. He’s also fond of pointing to my numerous imperfections as evidence that going to Mass doesn’t do any good. So other than praying for him, trudging off to Sunday Mass with dear daughter by ourselves every week, and trying to hold my tongue and not get angry when he brings this topic up, what else can I do?

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    I don’t see how it can be your fault if he won’t go to mass of his own volition. He’s playing mind games with you.

  30. bookworm says:

    I realize that he is an adult and responsible for his own choices. Still, whenever I read or hear of other Catholic wives who successfully converted or “reverted” their husbands to the faith, I can’t help but wonder what I did wrong or am doing wrong. I try very hard to be as patient as possible, but my faith means a lot to me and I tend to get emotional and agitated when we discuss it — and end up saying something I shouldn’t. But I never, ever, push him in any way to attend Mass, while still trying to make it clear that he’s welcome to come if he wants to.

  31. AnAmericanMother says:

    Sorry for sticking my oar in — just my two cents, from dragging my husband all the way over from the Methodists, through the Episcopalians, to the Catholic Church.
    The only way to drag him is NOT to drag him. Let him alone. It will have to be his idea in the end — “not invented here” was invented by men.
    Have a good time at Mass, in the best sense of the word. Show that it makes you happy without being ostentatious about it. Don’t let him get to you with the snarks, he’s just kicking because he knows you’re right. You don’t need to remind him. And as for imperfections: “But think how awful I would be, honey, if I didn’t have that support!”
    And ask St. Monica for help. It took her . . . what? Thirty years? Lots of prayers to St. Monica. And St. Joseph.

  32. Some people are more amenable to active persuasion than others.

    Don’t give up going to Mass, either. Just living with you is part of his religion class. It may be a very long class. :)

    Don’t feel sad because you can’t do it alone. God can do it, and He is with you. But your husband has free will, and obviously doesn’t wish to cooperate at this time.

  33. New Sister says:

    Oh Supertradmum — so sorry for you; Our LORD has given you a heavy Cross, perhaps to make you hunger even more for Heaven… I hope you make it to D.C. for the Pontifical Mass on 9 April — it should be to a Trad Mum as a spa weekend is to the secular humanist types

  34. New Sister says:

    Bookworm – I will pray for you, invoking Saints Joseph, Monica, Rita, and Odile.

  35. Robbie J says:

    I have children ranging from 14-22 years of age, still living in our family home.
    I insist that we all participate as a family at Sunday mass and of course, other holy days of obligation; and lo and behold, they oblige! I know, I know – I sound like a over-bearing control freak; but that’s one of the “house-rules” where I live.

    You’d think the older ones at least, would rebel; but they don’t (miracle of miracles!). I guess they realize (I hope they do) what a huge debt of gratitude we owe to Him, who suffered and died for us.

    Thank You, Jesus. You make it all possible.

  36. B flat says:

    @ Bookworm,
    You express your heartbreak very well. I feel for you. So does Christ, His Immaculate Mother, and all the saints in Heaven; you should never doubt that. Take heart from that, and from St Paul’s words (in a different context entirely, but still applicable here) that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the faith of the wife(1Cor7:14). Yours is not the first marriage, where the husband in some respects remains like the perpetual dependant child. Your cross is not easy to bear, but you bear it with Christ.

  37. Lili of the fields says:

    Thank you for letting me express my views: it is not charitable to make fun of people who hurt inside and do not have the capacity to express it in terms you would find worthy of serious attention. Maybe it is hard for you righteous people to realize it but sometimes Love Patience and a great dose of trust in the Holy Spirit will do a better job than sarcasm. People dont go to church because of deeper wounds (and sins) than we can fathom and they find fickle reasons to brush us off their shoulders. You are at the end of your patience? I understand, PRAY some more.

  38. irishgirl says:

    That list of Fr. Finigan’s is BRILLIANT! And very funny, too! Good one!

  39. Banjo pickin girl says:

    ‘banshee, I thought I was the only one who sat out in the hallway during Mass sometimes because I just can’t do it.

  40. catholicmidwest says:

    Nope. The ladies’ room has seen me more than once for that reason, Banjo pickin’ girl.

    And of course, on occasion, I’ve run out to see the sign on the front of the church to verify that I really am in the right building.

  41. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Oh you are too funny. I am glad I am not sitting out there alone now. 8-)

  42. cogioia says:

    The protest isn’t against the parents. But nonetheless, people should just be honest and admit they don’t go because they just don’t see any value in it.

  43. I started going to Mass when I was 13. I was not baptized yet. When my father found out that I was going to Catholic Mass he hit me so hard that I woke up three days later. It wasn’t long after this that I found myself in foster care and my father was in prison. Apparently there are laws against hitting kids that hard. Ok, really he went to jail for something else but whatever.

    I found myself placed with a “catholic” family as a foster child. I thought that I was lucky. I wasn’t. They were all fine with sending their own son to Catholic school but would never take me to Church. I tried to find the Church myself and they called the police and said that I ran away.

    Then I got moved to another foster family. This family was ok enough, they were Catholic and went to Church on Sunday but they seemed overly concerned about where they parked, who they sat next to and how fast they could get back home after Mass. When I started RCIA, yes that is right, I was 14 but someone decided that I was to go through RCIA, I had to walk the whole way myself, not close. But I was happy they at least let me go. My foster parents were also very kind in that they became my godparents and at 15 I was finally baptized.

    But of course since I was a teenager with little experience with adult supervision before foster care I found that there were a lot of things that I could not tolerate. There were problems. I eventually found that I could not stay at that home anymore and requested to leave. That was a mistake however as I was sent away to a Methodist, a very liberal Methodist, group home. I was only to be there a year as I waited to go to an elite boarding school I had been accepted to. Lots of people ask why I dislike protestants so much. It is really difficult when you are a teenager, no more than 16 years old and not only are you the smartest person in the room but also the most moral. I honestly used to be surprised when I would wake up in the morning and everyone was still alive. I thought for sure that someone would forget to breath during the night and die.

    On top of that I had to threaten to sue the home at least once a month if they didn’t bring me to Mass. They tried to find every excuse they could to keep me from it. They even went so far as to change the time of their own protestant service just so they could force me to attend it after Mass was finished.

    Franciscan Mass vs Methodist service, Light vs Darkness. They actually tried to tell me, by way of sermon that abortion was ok, homosexuality was ok, not really believing that Jesus was God was ok. I remember so vividly how the girls of the home who on most days were having a contest with each other to see who could get pregnant and abort the most times in a year would put on their Sunday best and be in the front pew and try to look holier than thou. I stood in the back and scoffed at the whole thing with a look of pure “I do not want to be here” on my face and in my posture. They had a prayer call and asked if anyone would like to ask for prayers for something. Most of the kids just rolled their eyes, some asked for prayers that they would be returned to their families. I asked for an end to abortion and then was immediately surrounded by looks of intense hate from everyone in the room, especially from the oh so holy teenage girls in the front row. Their pastor explained to everyone that there was more than one way to end abortion, since we all need to help the poor and give women better birth control. Then he directed his sermon to me and said they would not pray for an end to abortion that day but might soon. Yeah, I won’t hold my breath.

    Years later I was dating a protestant girl, a Methodist no less. Her family was uneasy about me since they were white and well … I’m not. Her mom figured the best way them to get to know me was to see how I acted in church on Sunday and invited me to a Methodist service of all things. I almost vomited on the poor dumb woman.

    Ok, maybe I am being too hard on them, but I just have to say that if anyone out there wants to hunt down and kill every Methodist or other protestant in the world, well I am personally opposed and would never do that myself but I will leave the other person free, you know in a pro-choice sort of way. We can’t go stopping people from doing what they want to do now can we.

    I go to Mass because God calls me to it. I don’t go to protestant services because I was forced to as a child. Parents are not always right. Sometimes they are wrong and moral children need to stand up to them. Parents have no right to command a child to sin and going to a protestant service is a sin.

  44. Henk Poley says:

    I suspect that this is just used as an easy answer by people who do not believe in catholic mass (or JHWH at all). The reasoning is a bit as follows: if god knows each one us, why do we need to eat anything special for him to notice each one of us? (is it like a medical tracer molecule?)

    Just saying you have a bad juju about it due to previous experiences, is easier than explaining your whole philosophical framework of why you don’t believe in a certain thing.

  45. LarryD says:

    bookworm – I know where you’re coming from. I take my sons to Mass while my wife stays home – she says it’s my fault she doesn’t go to Mass, or confession, or will pray with me. Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t – but as an adult, it’s ultimately her decision to not go.

    I will pray for you and your husband.

  46. Nolgthorn says:

    Thanks for your writing and happy new year! This article features the argument from authority, speaking that because someone is your parent they can therefore tell you things which when older you should not question. The article also contains the false assertion that we have something called “spiritual needs” when indeed all evidence suggests that the entire universe operates independent of a supernatural, spiritual entity or entities. I appreciate that you are having a difficult time coming to realize the flaws in your rationalization about a deity, but indeed belief in any deity is not founded in actual rationality or reason and is a mental disorder. Hopefully soon it will begin being diagnosed as one and proper education provided to your children’s children will prevent their unneeded suffering. Even though you seem to feel that currently you need to teach them incorrect and unfounded ideas as being truth. Why not ask yourself, before teaching your children something, why you know it is true and provide the child with that evidence so that later in life they don’t hold your false beliefs against you.

  47. catholicmidwest says:

    I’m not so down on Protestants. I used to be one myself and my grandfather was a minister. I first learned the Gospel from him and I’ll be eternally grateful for that. He was a good man, but poor and from the south, and he was never exposed to the things that I’ve been exposed to, so he never thought much about the Church in the ways that I have. I’m Catholic now which is the completion of what my grandfather started.

    From my observations, being raised Catholic is no more guarantee that you will come to real Catholicism in your adulthood than being raised in a decent evangelical household. Many many young Catholics leave, and contrary to popular Catholic lore, many never return. And not only do they never return, but they often are inoculated against returning by their misunderstandings and bad catechesis.

  48. catholicmidwest says:

    The problem is that children are placed in the context of practice without explanations and without any experience of what happens if you don’t have the church. So they never understand why they do what they do in a way that makes sense to them; they never come to an understanding of what the church is about or how it originated; they never actually do any in-depth study of details (scripture and so on) in the modern “catechesis” that they receive. They are only told “God loves you, ” stand up, sit down, kneel, stand up, watch your mouth. And many of them misbehave like crazy in school mass when their parents aren’t watching.

    I used to teach in a Catholic school, which was fascinating, not very lucrative (at all), and ultimately frustrating enough that I went somewhere else to work. But I’m glad I did it. It gave me a lot of insight into catholics, which has been useful, since I am a convert.

  49. catholicmidwest says:

    PS, Catholics are not puritanical. By that I mean that they lack the moral sensibilities that protestants and ex-protestants (and many members of the general population!!) have about certain subjects. It’s interesting. Y’all scare and repel us ex-protestants sometimes.

    I taught in public school also (both high school grades) and I’ll tell you, the problems teachers face are different between Catholic & public high schools. The catholic schools are much, much less violent, but the catholic schools have interesting things going on in the halls between..um…kids. Young Catholics tend to split hairs (like the rest of y’all) and engage in different kinds of “moral experiments” than the general population.

  50. CJC says:

    Fr. Z, I want to subscribe to Fr. Finigan’s xml feed through Google Reader (how I keep up with yours) but I can’t find it on his website.

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