Bold priest w/ sense of humor!
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|Mon, 04-19-2010 - 9:10pm|
by Robert Delaney of The Michigan Catholic
Published January 15, 2010
Fr. Michael Cooney stands under one of the signs reading "Judas left early too" at St. Peter Church in Mount Clemens.
MOUNT CLEMENS – Some people still take off right after Communion at St. Peter Church, but not as many now that they have to walk under signs that read "Judas left early too."
Fr. Cooney says putting the signs up at each of the three exits was "a bit of Irish diplomacy" aimed at addressing a long-standing source of frustration for many Catholic priests: people who leave Mass early, rather than staying for the dismissal.
Perhaps one of the reasons the signs had a positive effect is that he introduced them with humor, rather than scolding the congregation, he believes.
"Like all Catholic churches, immediately after Communion we experienced a great leaving, of people heading right out the door. So, about a year ago, I was preaching about what I called the phenomenon of Catholic CEOs – those who come to Mass at Christmas and Easter only, and that got people laughing," Fr. Cooney recalls.
"Then, I told them I also wanted to talk about another problem, and showed them one of the signs," he says.
While regular Mass-goers knew they weren't among the CEO Catholics, many no doubt realized the "Judas left early too" sign applied to them.
"It did have an effect. And I think seeing it makes people stop and think," Fr. Cooney says.
He says he first learned of the signs from parishioner Brendan Wagner. "He had seen it in a catalogue, and ordered it just to bring it in as a joke. So, he started to leave with it, and I said, 'Where are you going with that?' He said, 'You wouldn't dare put that up, would you?' 'Not only will I, but I want you to order two more,'" Fr. Cooney recalls.
Fr. Ronald Babich, pastor of Our Lady Queen of All Saints Parish in Fraser, says he began addressing the problem of people leaving right after Communion not long after he came to the parish 16 years ago, and has used a banner bearing the "Judas left early too" message "off and on for about 14 years now during Lent." But in Fr. Babich's view, it hasn't just been the banner that has reduced the problem to only a handful of people at the Fraser parish, but constant education from the pulpit – not just about not leaving early, but about respect for the Blessed Sacrament in general.
"I think the priest has to be consistent," he says, adding that he believes in supplementing preaching on the subject with monthly holy hours and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
And his parishioners know his feelings on the subject well enough that, if they have a good excuse for leaving before the dismissal – such as a nurse called in to work an extra shift at a hospital – they'll tell him so he won't think they are simply skipping out early, Fr. Babich continues.
Now, he says he just wishes there wasn't such a "stampede" of people leaving as soon as the recessional hymn begins.
Still, what really annoys Fr. Babich is parishioners missing Mass altogether. "The ones I get upset about are the ones who are not coming," he says. Dan McAfee, director of the archdiocesan Office of Christian Worship and an expert in liturgical law, says, "The expectation is there that you're there for the whole service – until the dismissal."
McAfee notes that the Latin word for Mass — missa — is the root for both "dismissal" and "missioning."
"When the priest says, 'The Mass is ended, go in peace …' that's a missioning to go out into the world," he says.
McAfee says the habit of many people leaving right after Communion dates to pre-Vatican II hair-splitting: "In the old days, there was a lot of concern about what was the minimum required to constitute valid Mass attendance. And the rule was that, as long as you were there before the priest removed the veil from the chalice and until the priest received Communion, that fulfilled your obligation."
But he says that approach to the issue is "almost like, what is the minimum I can get away with? – that's not a very full understanding of what we're doing."
Not only is there now a greater appreciation that the Liturgy of the Word is an integral part of the Mass, so it is important not to arrive late, but leaving right after Communion is bad manners, in McAfee's view: "You don't eat and run at a meal – that's rude."
While the old legalism about the minimum for valid Mass attendance may have fallen by the wayside with the Second Vatican Council, the concern that Catholic lay people not be mere idle spectators at Mass goes back at least several decades earlier, McAfee says.
"Most people associate the goal of 'full, conscious and active participation' at Mass with the council, but it was there in the writings of Pius XI in the 1920s and even earlier with Pius X," he says. People leaving right after Communion rarely occurs at St. Cecilia Church in Detroit. "It is not a big problem, it really isn't," says Fr. Theodore Parker, the westside parish's pastor.
"If the announcements run on very long, one or two will leave, and it's the same ones every time. But for the most part, people actually stay for the recessional," he says.
Fr. Parker, however, has a different frustration, stemming from how some parishioners who stay to the very end behave after Mass. "I'd like to see something done about the level of noise in Catholic churches," he says.
"Back in the old days, when everything was in Latin, there was a very hushed atmosphere. While I do think it's fine for people to feel free to greet each other, to say hello in the church before or after Mass, I don't feel they should be talking about everything they did that week or how their dog or cat is doing," Fr. Parker says.
He says parishioners are welcome to talk as much as they want after Mass at the post-Mass social hour in the parish's activities building or outside the church, "but I do think there needs to be a sense of respect for the Blessed Sacrament and for people who come early or stay to pray."