Keeping Count?

A few days ago, Reuters reported of a priest in Poland installing a finger-print reader in church, ostensibly to keep count of confirmation students’ attendance at the Eucharist.

Two thoughts jumped immediately to mind — the first, I won’t repeat as some people think that our reporting here plays to mass-hysteria (pun intended) enough as-is. A little creative thought will lead you where my mind went.

The second, though, I will repeat: what the report indicates is that the priest is keeping track of mass attendance. What I wonder is what if these youngsters were to attend, say, Solemn Vespers, or a Baptism celebrated outside the Eucharistic liturgy, or the Stations of the Way of the Cross? In other words, do these liturgical and para-liturgical services “count”? Do they matter to the developmental life of faith, and the adult practice of spirituality? Or does keeping mass-count only reinforce the idea that it’s the only liturgical service that really matters?

I’ve seen remarks in the comments boxes on the New Liturgical Movement blog to the effect that God’s people have been “massed-to-death.” Even from the Episcopal perspective, where the centrality of the Sunday Eucharist was a hard-won victory in the latter-half of the 20th century, non-eucharistic liturgies like Evensong are becoming a rare breed.

On the one hand, the Eucharist and its liturgy are of inestimable value. On the other hand, perhaps we’ve over-valued the Mass. Tracking attendance has been an important component in catechesis and preparation for confirmation — but what message does it send?

5 comments

  1. I hadn’t heard of that episode until I read your comment. Sure it isn’t April Fools? What a completely stupid way for a Pastor to operate, especially because of this:

    “if they attend 200 masses they will be freed from the obligation of having to pass an exam prior to their confirmation…

    Whether we attend Mass or not is a matter for our conscience. If we do attend Mass, we ought to do it to fulfill our religious obligations towards God and grow in holiness. We should not do it to get a mark in Father’s book or avoid an exam. Conversely, if we do not attend Mass even though we are obliged to do so we should be saddened because it is a sin, not because Father will force us to take an exam.

  2. I comment here as a long time advocate of Evening Prayer in my (RC) parish and diocese. Of course, there is good and beauty in attending many forms of prayer, (we are doing this currently with our RCIA class) but I think there is another reason for having confirmation and 1st Eucharist candidates “sign in” to prove attendance.
    It is the case in our parish, where many of the children who come for the sacraments have not developed a habit of coming to church. Church has not figured at all, in some cases, in the family activities, but parents want the children to make these “landmark” sacraments. Church is not part of their routine as individuals or as a family. So the “signing in” is an attempt to develop a habit of mass attendance and participation.
    It has been our experience that if the family does not even attend Mass ( their obligation as Catholics) they are far less likely to attend any other para-liturgy. If they do not even attend mass, they regard the Church as another consumer entity that should give them what they want when they want it.
    So, while it seems like Mass attendance is all that is important, in many cases it is the starting point of (hopefully) a journey back to regular church attendance and participation in all the liturgies and para-liturgies the parish has to offer.
    That having been said, I think the finger printing is a bit of over kill -!!

  3. Interesting idea, though it won’t take them long to figure out that they can swing by church, scan their fingerprint, then dash out to the waiting car to make soccer practice on time.

    My parish just celebrated 7th and 8th grade confirmations last week. The pastor estimates that 2/3 of the confirmands rarely or never attend Mass. At least they used to come to Mass until they were confirmed and then fall away! Something is wrong, and something should be done.

    I propose that we do away with “class” sacraments. If we are going to handle Confirmation as a rite of passage into adulthood (which is theologically suspect anyway) let’s leave it to each young person to come forward when he or she is ready and voluntarily enter a period of formation. Those who choose to attend Mass, attend catechetical sessions, and undergo some sort of spiritual direction could be confirmed at the Easter Vigil. Just say no to the sacrament mill!

  4. There are really two extremes at work here. The first is that we place so many barriers to someone receiving any sacraments that people say it is not worth it. I don’t mean Mass attendance (required of all Catholics, of course) but 17 parent meetings and 345 service hours and 2 banners. The other extreme is no requirements; just show up. I would like to hear what places are doing to hit the middle ground, so to speak.

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