Many have heard the recent statistic, mainly that only 36% of the Catholic fold attends regularly at the Sunday Mass. As it has been reported in various local media portals such a drop in Sunday Mass surely has hit hard the believing community throughout Malta. The stastic has sent some messages that it is all the more worth it to give heed to.
However, even if such a statistic has been aptly described, according to some news commentators, as “shocking”, the situation certainly calls into the remit of a duc in altum! approach. Yes! Indeed! Such a pastoral approach is direly needed and urgently called for. A duc in altum! approach invites the Church to courageously leaves the shore and goes “into deep water”, “without hesitation” to meet the people where they are at and minister to them where they are found.
Last year, the present auxiliary bishop, Mgr. Joseph Galea-Curmi, offered some interesting and forward looking points as to how the Church should go about to attract more and more people to Sunday Mass. He befittingly recommended that there should be made serious efforts in order that the Mass celebration “will truly be a meaningful celebration that helps people in their encounter with the Risen Christ. Efforts are already in place in several parishes, where we find many examples of good practice with the participation of several lay people. These efforts must be more widely known, appreciated and encouraged”. In his insightful contribution Mgr. Galea-Curmi emphasized that more heart must be put so that people feel welcomed. Obviously, as he rightly indicated, “going to Mass [is not] something tedious and boring”. The Mass is and remains “a source of energy and life”. In that regard, as he implied, we need to ask seriously, how the way we are celebrating the Eucharist is deeply connecting with the believers’ daily life?
Another point underscored by Bishop Joe Galea-Curmi is that the Church “must work hard to see that young Maltese Catholics recognise the duty, the necessity and the value of the weekly Sunday Mass. A great deal depends on how strong this conviction is from a very young age”. And, for that matter, Mgr. Galea-Curmi reiterated that “it is the Christian family that has to sow the seed of conviction in the young ones.” Writing a year and a half before the Synod of the Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, that was convened at the Vatican during the month of October 2018, Bishop Galea-Curmi spelled out in his writing piece the Synod’s concern, mainly that “we are witnessing a certain abandonment of the sacraments and of the Sunday Eucharist, perceived more as a moral precept than as a joyful encounter with the Risen Lord and the community” (no. 51).
The third pertinent observation made by Bishop Galea-Curmi in his article was that the Church needs to “strive to reach out to those who have severed all contact” with her. As he rightly said,
“it emerges very clearly from the study that there are a number of Maltese people who profess to be Catholic but do not come to church”. This question that stems from his pastoral reflections is obvious: in her pastoral work how the Church can widen her evangelizing work by not being “only content with those who show up, but … also include in [her] hearts and prayers those that never do, those who are in the periphery, and reach out to them”?
Recently there have been very illuminating suggestions around as to how the Church can attract more people. It is beautiful when one hears people saying that we should have communities that foster a community spirit. Communities filled with expectation, commitment and a great sense of commitment. That these communities create real fraternal spirit where each member can shares his and her life with others. It is encouraging hearing that well-prepared homilies inculcate and cement God’s Word and make it relevant to people’s lives. And, that the hidden treasures of God’s Word are made available to the children thanks to children’s ministry. It is healing to hear that the Sunday Mass equips its attendees with the Gospel spirit of serving others through the living of the commandment of love. Modern technology, like big screens, that portray the positive message coming from God’s Word, shown day and night, surely help. But, what can we do more?
If we want that, as a Church, transmit the freshness of Christ’s life and teachings, if we want that, when we go to Mass on Sunday, reconnect with ourselves and return to our homes and convents rejuvenated with that inner peace and harmony so characteristic of the Holy Spirit, let us address the heart! Let us go back to the Holy Spirit! And let him yes re-invent the Church and our religious communities! Not according to our reasoning and expectation but solely according to His style and his timing too! Let us mix with people and share with them the joy of the Risen Christ!
May we let the Holy Spirit take us back to the people and make, once more, the Church, a real family of Christ! If the present statistic of Sunday Mass attendance orient us in this evangelical direction then it is really a motivating statistic indeed!