Christian Reformed “slackers” – church only once on Sunday

Grand Rapids Press reports that worship attendance is down at the Sunday evening service among the Christian Reformed – from 56% to 24% in the last 15 years. Not good news – but still, they’re getting more on Sunday evening than some get on Sunday morning. The Christian Reformed Sunday morning attendance? Only 91%. Up from 15 years ago when it was 90%.

Worship on Sunday evening (as well as the morning) was once a regular part of Christian piety. The history of my abbey reports that in the 19th century, the German parishioners in the area filled the church on Sunday afternoon for Vespers – chanted in Latin, women on one side, men on the other. Hats off to the CRC folks – that a quarter of them are still maintaining Sunday evening worship.



  1. +JMJ+

    “Worship on Sunday evening (as well as the morning) was once a regular part of Christian piety. The history of my abbey reports that in the 19th century, the German parishioners in the area filled the church on Sunday afternoon for Vespers…”

    How seriously was SC 100 taken in the years following Vatican II? I know of very few churches that regularly pray Vespers in common on Sunday evenings. My former parish only did it a couple times throughout the year, and that was more of an “Evensong” (that is what it was called) than actual Vespers.

    100. Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.

    1. We’re working on it in my parish :). I understand that clergy are spread rather thin, and especially if there is an evening Mass, it would be difficult to get people back. This might be where laity who have been praying the Hours on their own can take the lead.

      Right now, we have a group meeting in the chapel to learn to sing Vespers according to the tones in the Mundelein Psalter. Once we’ve mastered what we have, we’ll invite our clergy to join us. Then, we will seek to bring it to the whole parish for Sunday evenings (an hour before the 6:00 Mass, so those who attend that Mass can just “come early.” I think we want to have about a month behind us before we move on to our next stage.

      I would think that in cities, one Sunday Vespers per city (particularly at the cathedral, if there is one) should be doable.

      I would moderately critique your description of Evensong as not being an “actual” Vespers, at least if it is according to a traditional Anglican form. While I agree that those in an average Roman Rite parish ought to use the version in the LOTH, the Anglican Use uses its own Evensong as its Vespers. Further, Vespers, either according to an Anglican or Catholic model, would be very appropriate for an ecumenical gathering (for the former case, see the example of the recent papal visit to England).

    2. Jeffrey – for what it’s worth, there have been heroic efforts to re-introduce Sunday Vespers around here. You get a fair amount to come for Advent or Lent, but then it drops off for Easter season unfortunately. It’s not a huge crowd that comes either, despite some really excellent and extensive planning by liturgists and musicians. I don’t think it’s just a lack of faith or poor priorities – some of that too, I suppose. The whole pace and schedule of life, stores open 24/7, etc., is working against us. I try to convince myself that the times aren’t just plain evil. No, they’re not. Really. (Trying to believe that…)

      1. Fr. Anthony, what have your numbers been (and how big does the dropoff get)? Could you also speak to what is sung, and what recited during these efforts? Has Vespers been standing on its own, or has it been combined with a longer period of Adoration?

        We among the amateurs would be happy to learn from the pros.

        In Tallahassee, we have a large student population, including a large number who show up for daily Mass. I know that work schedules can often limit when people are able to attend, however. My wife works retail, so we attend Mass on Sundays anywhere between 10:00, 11:45, 6:00, or 7:00 (in another parish). If someone isn’t super-committed to attending under such circumstances, I imagine they would drop off. Convincing parents with young children to come back a second time might also be problematic.

  2. Indeed, hats off to them. My wife told me that similarly there was a large turnout for Sunday evening services in her church when she was growing up (Baptist) who had also gone to the morning service. I’m sure that we have the capacity to do the same.

  3. We celebrate Evening Prayer each Wednesday followed by a parish dinner and then a Bible class for adults and programs for children. We average about 100 for the meal, about 25 for evening prayer. In our diocese up until Vatican II, many parishes did have vespers on Sunday evening filled to capacity, but this dropped by the wayside for many of the reasons Fr. Anthony highlights above.

  4. I’ve been wondering for a while if Pew or some organization has done any sort of study of religious practice in US homes (I’ve looked, but haven’t found any such survey; but I’m really inept at these searches). I would be inclined to guess that there’s a drop in US households ordering their day with religious/spiritual practice, save perhaps grace at a household meal, if there is actually such an event anymore. For US Roman Catholics, we must also take into account the post-conciliar (and this is chronology, not causality) rise of “monoeucharistitis” – thinking the Mass is the only way that we have to pray together and/or making the Mass bear the weight of everything from devotions to the parish budget report.

  5. In a parish like mine with a Sunday night Mass, the possibility of Sunday Vespers is squeezed out.

    I’ve implemented Liturgy of the Hours in just about every parish I’ve served. I’d echo Fr Anthony–Advent and Lent are a foot in the door, but I have yet to see a knee or even an ankle. Turnout ranges from one to two dozen. Few of my successors have seen fit to continue the tradition. Last week I had my second priest show up. In 25 years.

    It’s just not a spiritual priority for many Catholics, clergy included.

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