CATHOLIC PewPOINT:

No Masses for the masses unless the masses mass for Mass?

     We're not even to Lent yet and today we're going to speak about Pentecost Sunday. Talk about getting ahead of ourselves! Actually, we need to in order to hope there is groundswell support for Bishop James Kendrick Williams, ordinary of Lexington, Kentucky to abandon his plans to cancel all Masses in his diocese on Pentecost Sunday this year. You heard right. Bishop Williams, a native Kentuckian and graduate of St. Mary's College, who also served as auxiliary bishop under the liberal Bishop William A. Hughes in Covington, Kentucky before being appointed to head the Lexington Diocese ten years ago, made the drastic Pentecost Sunday announcement on January 28th.

     His motives are to have one singular Mass at the University of Kentucky's famed Rupp Arena on Pentecost Sunday to emphasize "the oneness of us all." That is commendable that he wants to use the Wildcats' hardwood to stage a convention-like Mass on this day. However, he fails to grasp the consequences of his edict. First of all, Rupp Arena will only hold 23,000 people. The diocese numbers over 42,000 Catholics spaced out over 67 parishes and missions that span 50 counties in the central and eastern regions of the bluegrass state. What he is asking is unfair to Catholics and could be a sign of things to come: Mass-less Sundays. He is allowing the Saturday vigil Masses to be celebrated in each Church on May 30th, but come May 31st, which is not only Pentecost Sunday but also the normal feast in the liturgy of the Visitation of Mary, the churches will be locked tight. Think of it, no visits to Mary's Divine Son on a day when the Church celebrates the birthday of the Church and the emphasis on visiting through the example of the Visitation.

     The bishop rationalizes that, "it is an opportunity for us to celebrate our faith. If we are going to make a statement of faith, I thought there's only one way to do that." His idea of staging a Mass at Rupp arena is understandable, but please, Bishop Williams, don't close down the rest of the churches for the sake of one! Do the Marian Conferences demand all the churches close down when they hold Mass at the conventions? Of course not. Yet they are most often well-attended. But to force everyone who can't make Mass on Saturday night to go to Rupp Arena on Sunday seems a tremendous inconvenience. Consider the importance of the individual parishes as focal points of the Church. On further examination of Bishop Williams' intent, it would seem he's more interested in turning out the numbers when he states, "I wake up at night saying. 'Why am I doing this?' Suppose we only have 5,000 people there? But I'm very optimistic. I think it would be wonderful if we had to consider some closed-circuit TV to take care of the crowds." Whoa, now the faithful are "crowds?" Isn't he forgetting that a televised Mass does not complete the obligation of Holy Mass but is only for edification and devotion. The beautiful, reverent Masses on EWTN are truly edifying and fulfilling, but they do not fulfill the obligation of being there physically in order to receive the full graces of the celebration of the Eucharist. If Rupp Arena would overflow as the bishop hopes for, then he would have to hold another Mass or open up a church or two. Why not keep them all open and ask people to voluntarily come to Rupp Arena. Better yet, hold the Mass in the afternoon and allow people to go to Mass twice on Pentecost Sunday. It's been done before and that would be a far more newsworthy and stunning victory for Catholics in the Lexington Diocese and reflect well on their shepherd.

     Lost in the shuffle of this announcement is that this is supposed to coincide with the establishment of the Lexington Diocese which will be ten years old this year. But the actual date of the anniversary is not May 31, but rather March 2nd. Why not do it then? It will be the first Monday of Lent and not an obligatory day for Catholics, yet those who truly want to can attend Mass at a large facility. If you close the churches on one day, other than Sunday, it wouldn't be as bad. Many are closed during the week anyway; many priests have an "off day" during the week. Why they can't say Mass even on their day off is still beyond us. We remember Father Ken Roberts and Father Svetozar Kraljevic, OFM personally telling us that the day they don't say Mass would be a sad day. Anyway, be that as it may, what would be the problem with staging the celebration on the exact anniversary? Oh the bishop most probably wouldn't get Rupp Arena; conflicting schedules with classes, basketball practice and other venues would prevent this. But surely, the bishop could celebrate it in a large church, auditorium, or something of that nature. But, please, Bishop Williams, for the sake of the faithful of Lexington, don't close the churches to the parishioners on the Lord's Day.

     Statistics reveal that only 50% of the 42,000 Catholics attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis. That means 21,000 don't. Even those numbers wouldn't fill Rupp Arena. Therefore, in all due respect, Bishop Williams, we offer an alternative. To help bring those other 21,000 lost sheep back, celebrate Mass in each different parish each week. Promotion and publicity can generate from both the diocesan and parish level and bring them back. There you can make it a year-long celebration in accord with the Jubilee celebrations established by Rome. There you can be more personal and touch them in their own familiar, cozy surroundings rather than a cavernous arena where the only words they hear are echoed to the far regions of section 44 in "nosebleed heaven." In other words, the impersonality of Rupp Arena - with no disrespect to its namesake the venerable old coach Adolph Rupp - is hardly the kind of atmosphere to rekindle the flame of faith on Pentecost Sunday. Please, Bishop Williams, rethink your idea of this as a "statement of faith" for a better statement of faith would be to counsel your priests to teach and preach the true teachings of Holy Mother Church and the necessity of loyalty to the Holy Father, to impress upon them the importance of the Sacraments - especially the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. Too many priests in too many parishes in too many dioceses only hear confession for a half hour or hour at most weekly. Yet on Sundays the whole Church floods up to the altar in rote manner to receive Holy Communion. Do they truly know Who they are receiving and the state their souls must be in to worthily receive Him? Help your priests to educate the people on what the Church teaches about the Sacraments and the need to receive them often and worthily. Encourage eucharistic adoration and the Rosary as worthy and very important devotions, for truly they are. If you, and many of your other most reverend colleagues across the land, do this - a little at a time - then, Bishop Williams, you will truly see an increase in Catholics returning to Mass regularly. It's already been proven in college towns like yours such as Lincoln, Nebraska with Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Peoria, Illinois with Bishop John Myers and in Rapid City, South Dakota where Archbishop Charles Chaput was before taking the helm of the Archdiocese of Denver. That would be a much better alternative than following through on your edict for Pentecost of no Masses for the masses unless the masses mass for Mass!

Michael Cain, editor


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Daily CATHOLIC          February 19, 1998