Today I sat in the pew with my family. Normally we attend the noon Mass and Middle Sister and I are in the choir. But today at noon, my fellow Franciscans and I (and the kids) will be working to prepare for the Greccio celebration at 1 PM. Noon Mass was out of the question today.
Much as I love singing in the choir (and I know my husband loves that Middle Sister and I do this), it's a rare gift to sit all together. I like watching Little Brother clumsily genuflect, and hearing him say all the responses just a little too late, and being able to share the sign of peace with my family.
I could also see what was happening in the Mass a good bit better than I can from my usual seat in the choir area. I could see our only priest. He is a brilliant, devoted man who is obviously on fire with his faith. He's also beginning to show his age. I imagine that the schedule he must keep, as the only priest in the parish, is exhausting.
He laid it on the line after Communion that when Christmas is on a Monday, he's got 9 Masses to celebrate in a 48-hour period--and that he just can't do it. So next Sunday, there will be no noon Mass.
More and more, we will be seeing this happen as there are fewer priests to go around. More and more, we will see situations like Catholic Mom and Catholic Pillow Fight are discussing right now: the pros and cons of requiring tickets for Christmas and Easter Masses.
Churches in my diocese are closing; they're looking at my local deanery now. Once all that takes place, our Christmas and Easter Masses are going to be even more packed than they are right now.
I will say that it is very hard to be generous to the "C&E" Catholics; it is easy to complain that because of them there is no parking, there are no seats and no hymnals to be had, that we need three Communion songs to handle the procession. It is hard to remember that it's WONDERFUL that there are so many people in church that there is no parking, no seats, no hymnals, and a long Communion line. It's a gift to us all that so many are in church.
And those of us who regularly go to church need to keep our complaints to ourselves. We need to extend our best hospitality to our twice-a-year guests. We in the pews need to put our best face forward. Our parish needs to see to it that these Masses are the best of the best. Get the best lectors, the best cantors. Prepare the best homily. Make the "C&E" Catholics want to come back.
I believe that this would be a wonderful gift that we could give to Baby Jesus this Christmas: our hospitality to all our fellow Catholics, no matter how often or seldom they attend Mass. Shouldn't our goal be to follow the example of the early Christians: "See how they love one another!"