|ROME, 21 JULY 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Unfortunately some in the parish have developed the poor habit of
leaving Mass immediately after Communion. I estimate around 30%, or
approximately 225 people, leave early. Our church holds 750, so the
disappearance is definitely noticeable. Could you provide a theological
discourse on why this is not appropriate behavior?
D.S., Port Charlotte, Florida
A: This is a perennial problem, but one which must be faced with
patience, insisting, as St. Paul would say, "Opportune et inopportune"
(in season and out of season), until the message reaches home.
This question reminded me of the story of a saintly priest who had
the same problem with one of his devout parishioners who attended daily
Mass but left immediately after Communion. He solved the problem by
ordering two altar boys with lighted tapers to walk on either side of
him as soon as he started to leave the church and accompany him all the
way to his carriage.
When, after three days repeating this action, the somewhat flustered
and embarrassed gentleman asked the priest for an explanation, he was
told that since Christ was still present in him as he left the church,
his presence had to be honored by lighted candles. Needless to say, he
never left early again.
This anecdote could serve as a starting point for the priest to
reflect with the people on the importance of giving thanks for the gift
of Mass, of being spiritually nurtured by God's word, of participating
in his unique sacrifice, and by receiving Communion.
This also requires that there is effectively a period of silence
after the Communion song and that the priest, deacon and other ministers
lead by example, dedicating two or three minutes to silent reflection at
On occasion the priest may assist the people by directing a brief
meditative prayer of thanksgiving. This is especially effective at
so-called children's Masses for, while the prayer is ostensibly directed
toward the children, it often serves adults just as much.
Another point to be emphasized is the importance of assisting at the
entire Mass. There are many plastic images to illustrate this, but most
can grasp that if their boss, or the local mayor, summons them to a
meeting, they would not dare leave before their host has formally
brought it to a close. Even more is this true when a beloved parent,
sibling or lifelong friend invites us to spend time with them.
If we behave thus before mere human authority and relationships, then
how much more should it be true when our host is the Father who created
us, the Son who died and rose for us, and the Spirit who gives us life.
Let us leave courtesy aside for a moment and return to thanksgiving.
The Mass is something we celebrate together as Church and as a
worshipping assembly united to Christ through the priest. It is not just
something we do as individual Christians.
In the same manner, our thanksgiving for Mass cannot be reduced to
the individual sphere and must be carried out as Church. This collective
thanksgiving is done through the priest at the closing prayer to which
all respond "Amen."
Finally, the Mass is intimately united to Christian life and mission.
The final blessing and dismissal send us forth to transmit what we have
received to our brothers and sisters. If we leave directly after
Communion, then we lose this important component of our spiritual life.
From a very material standpoint one could also see if there is some
tangible motivation that leads so many of the faithful to leave early.
Is there a bottleneck in the parking lot? Are Mass schedules too close
together? If there are real practical inconveniences involved, then
theology alone will be ineffective in changing people's habits until
these are resolved.
* * *
Follow-up: Leaving Right
After Communion [8-19-2008]
Our July 21 column dealt with people who leave Mass early. Several
readers asked about those who arrive late for Mass. We addressed this
question in several columns, principally on Nov. 4 and Nov. 18, 2003,
and on Oct. 23 and Nov. 6, 2007.
At the risk of appearing presumptuous, I hazard a little publicity
directed toward newer subscribers to ZENITís services. It is quite
possible that your question has already been touched upon in previous
articles, and I recommend searching the liturgy section on the ZENIT Web