People occasionally inquire about the “return” of the 7:30PM Sunday mass, so I would like to provide an update about it. Last fall I had announced that the Parish Support Team (staff and lay volunteers) were considering the matter, and I expected we would come to a resolution soon. However, those intentions were derailed by the unforeseen rise of the Omicron variant and the understandable choice of many parishioners to stay safe by refraining from in-person attendance at Sunday mass. With lower attendance evident throughout the pandemic, one Sunday liturgy has been sufficient.
But numbers aren’t the whole story. Yes, the pandemic has challenged us by suppressing Sunday mass attendance, but it also opened us up to go deeper into the Jesuit Parish Examen that happened to coincide with it. The Examen was initiated by our Jesuit Provincial Superior; it asks every Jesuit parish to conduct an Ignatian Examen-style self-assessment of its mission and Jesuit characteristics, in five broad areas of parish life. This spiritual exercise led us to reflect on all our masses and liturgies, and to continue to assess the surprisingly complex set of factors pertaining to the Sunday evening mass, such as the following.
Our records show that Sunday evening attendance is very seasonal, with a low in the winter months. The increased attendance in the summer months includes some parishioners, but is mainly comprised of visitors who don’t see themselves as contributing members of the parish and don’t want to get involved. Thus even before the pandemic, despite the generous engagement of our parishioners who attended, it had often been a struggle to fill the most basic lay ministries at the mass. Nevertheless, attendance was high in the warm months, sometimes surpassing the 11AM in July and August. Although some felt the starting time was too late, in particular for those with young children, the evening mass was attractive to many, especially our single young adult parishioners.
Where do things stand now? Most of the parishioners who were regulars at the 7:30 have shifted to the 11:00 AM. We have made phone calls to all those we know who attended the 7:30 to solicit their opinions, and we have listened carefully to the desires of those who responded.
In addition to considering all the above factors, we also need to keep our focus on the values and goals that have surfaced in parish strategic planning discussions and the Jesuit Province Parish Examen. While the evening mass can address goals in the area of evangelization – bringing Good News to those who might not otherwise hear it – other strategic goals to be kept in view include using our limited resources in a discerning, mission-focused way; strengthening the parish community; deepening parishioner engagement; and bridging what had been the nearly separate worlds of the 11AM and 7:30PM masses.
Will the Sunday evening mass return as it was before? Or in a different form? Or not at all? It’s still too soon to know. The Parish Council, the Parish Support Team, and I will continue to review prayerfully all the options, but I don’t expect any decisions until after the pandemic has diminished further and people feel safer coming to public settings like church. We are thankful for the feedback you’ve provided and ask all parishioners now to pray for this discernment as we sift through the many factors and mission-priorities that bear upon the Sunday evening mass.
— Fr. Gary