Why Do Catholics Leave Mass Early?

Have you ever wondered why Catholics are more likely than Protestants to leave Sunday worship before it is finished – typically, right after receiving Communion?

According to a crude caricature, Catholics have a real priesthood, a real sacrifice, a real presence of Christ, but Protestants don’t. That’s not quite accurate, but let’s go with it for now. Given their high theology of sacramental worship, why would Catholics feel free to saunter out at leisure?

This isn’t a post about judging people. This isn’t even a post about admonishing people to do better.

This is a post about analyzing as accurately as possible the deep structures of liturgical piety, the deeply entrenched thought patterns we have inherited from liturgical history, and the formidable challenges that await us in fully implementing the vision of the Second Vatican Council.

I see four distortions we’ve inherited from our venerable forebears: what I’ll call thingism, quantityism, dispenserism, and obligationism.

 Thingism. This is the misunderstanding of transubstantiation that sees Eucharist at Mass as, above all, the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine. While orthodox, I suppose, in what it affirms about the transformation of the species, thingism misses the whole point of Eucharist. Thingism obsesses about a means (transformed elements) rather than the end (the unity of believers as the Body of Christ). See David Turnbloom on this. Countering thingism is exceedingly challenging, for it masquerades as deeps faith in the Eucharist and misreads any challenge to it as a denial of the real presence. But countered it must be, for it isn’t quite the fullness of orthodox Catholic faith. As Joseph Ratzinger once put it (see his Collected Works: Theology of the Liturgy), “Jesus is not there like a piece of meat.”

Quantityism. This is the distortion that thinks it useful to measure the grace given by sacraments, as if grace could be quantified. When one is skeptical of priestly concelebration, for example, because we’d get “more” grace if each priest said a private Mass, this is quantityism. (Never mind the sign value of the rites or the type of unity they are meant to actuate.) As a general rule, any time one speaks of a quantity of “more” or “less” grace in connection with sacraments, something has gone off the rails.

Dispenserism. This is the distortion of the indispensable role of the ordained priest, and indeed of the entire sacramental system of the Church, that sees the liturgy as a means to get something by way of it. While there is a vague realization that God is the source of all grace, and that grace is a gift that reconciles us to God and one another, this gets lost in the focus on what one can get from the sacramental/liturgical dispenser. When the word mediator makes one think first of the ordained priest rather than Jesus Christ, dispenserism is lurking. When one speaks of the priest’s “power” to bring down Christ on the altar as if he had Christ at his disposal, something has gone amiss.

Obligationism. This is a way of speaking about obligations, such as the obligation to attend Sunday Mass (which I believe in, by the way), as a calculation which inevitably asks what the minimum is. Turns out that if you’re present for the offertory, consecration, and communion of the priest, you’ve fulfilled the obligation. Where there is obligationism, minimalism is not far behind. What gets lost is the Christian life as a loving response to God’s good (and undeserved) gifts.

Put all these together, and the sacramental system of the Church becomes one big vending machine. How many (or few) coins do I need to put in to get my grace back from the Church?

No one would put more coins in the machine than the minimum which is the posted price. No one would think about ones relationship to the machine, or to the strangers in line to use the same machine. No one would hang around to be with the machine after the goods come out.

Be it noted: leaving after Communion is entirely compatible with a deeply “traditional” Catholic piety and understanding of priesthood, sacrifice, and real presence. Leaving Communion fits quite well with a “sacred” and “reverent” liturgy conducted in Latin. Centuries of history suggests that there is even a sort of inevitability about the liturgical culture and the resulting lay practice. There is a reason why the liturgical reform happened, and there is a reason why the magisterium (Pope Francis) considers it “irreversible.”

And a half century of liturgical renewal since Vatican II shows that thingism, quantityism, dispenserism, and obligationism have amazing and distressing staying power, even as the form of the liturgy is now more communal, scriptural, and imbued with the paschal mystery.

The task before us is to be formed more deeply by the spirituality inherent in the reformed liturgy, to discover better ways to celebrate the reformed rites so that they engage us as they’re meant to, and to unpack the theology of the reformed rites to inform our understanding of what worship is. Then the issue of people leaving early will take care of itself.

Pope Francis has stated that it takes a century for an ecumenical council to be implemented, that we’re only half-way there after 50 years, and that we must now implement the other half of Vatican II. That sounds right. We have our work cut out for us.



  1. I agree a great deal with what Fr. Anthony has posted. But I think there is a fifth factor of “low expectations”. Maybe it could be termed “showingup-ism”. For a very long time, attendance at Mass was the key focus. This led to many persons deciding how much attendance was really obligatory. Perhaps I can come in a little late, at least in time for the Gospel. And if I’m not going to communion today, surely I can leave when everyone gets up for the communion procession–no one will notice. Or even if I’m going to communion, I can just duck out afterwards and avoid the congestion in the parking lot that might make me late for the cafeteria. Showingup-ism may well be related to a distorted understanding of purgatory. “I’m really far from perfect, but if I can just get into the lower realms of purgatory I have a real shot–especially if my survivors offer a lot of Masses for the repose of my soul.” Some people even leave significant sums of money for the offering of such Masses just in case the family doesn’t come through. All of these possible explanations for the practice of leaving Mass early make not a lot of sense to those seeking to become intentional and missionary disciples. But such expectations, along with the call to become Saints, have only been introduced or stressed in relatively recent times. So what ought we expect of those who were born again to become a priestly, prophetic, and holy people? Of those empowered to offer the sacrifice of praise for themselves and those who are dear to them? Well, Anthony and I have laid a lot of questions on the table. Anyone got some solutions?

  2. As a thought exercise, however, it would be helpful for those trying to define the problem to also consider valid/good reasons actual people might leave Mass “early”. Also, how might choices of the ministers contribute to the behavior (in other words, if you assume that the problem is all with PIPs “leaving early”, that assumption merits probing)? Otherwise, your problem definition is subject to severe selection/confirmation bias.

    Another dimension that is often elided in a discussion of this sort: whether the complained-of behavior, but of actual people, is acute or chronic across many different contexts. A movie may offer more context than a photo in that sense.

    1. Yes, Karl, we all know there are valid reasons. That is so obvious I didn’t bother to write it. Nor did I include the rather obvious observation that ministers’ today may contribute. But you misread me if you think I’m blaming people. I’m attempting, rather, to name thought patterns influencing people – and of course the clergy contributed mightily to the development of those thought patterns.

      I’m sure the acuteness and severity of the problem varies widely. I’d gently suggest, however, that you probably don’t have access to the “movie” context, nor does anyone else, which would give you the pretext for dismissing other’s views as a mere “photo.”


      1. Points well taken. Actually, I do not think a discussion of this sort should omit to mention the obvious: the obvious may be in front of our nose, but it doesn’t reduce its relevance to context.

        I do harp with intention on the movie, not to dismiss, but to enlarge perspective. Too many things liturgical are either evaluated abstractly or in the moment, but not as frequently as intersecting arcs of motion and repose over time.

      2. Now, to the intended substance of this post:

        I believe that what you call thingism, quantityism, and dispenserism are possibly even more deeply rutted (rooted would be too organic a verb) in our popular civil culture (at least as Americans) than they were perhaps 50 years ago. So, even if we should hope that reformed liturgy would counter them, the’ve become a more powerful headwind than we might have thought decades ago. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s actual residue and what is just Catholic drag for a broader cultural reality. American culture prizes consuming, doing, and transacting. Not so much emptying, being and beholding. Maybe part of a shift in our perspective is dialing down the former triad and getting out of the way to reveal the latter triad?

  3. I found this article interesting. Thank you for tolerating some comments from a non-professional.

    All four -isms in the post point to ways in which a parishioner might fail to appreciate the richness of Mass. My gut feeling was that the fourth (“obligationism”) was perhaps the most likely of the four to be a cause of leaving mass early.

    Here are a couple of other reasons I would hypothesize:
    •”Individualism”? A person with a strong sense of membership in a community wants to do what the other members are doing (fulfilling the common expectations), would perhaps fear offending others by doing otherwise, and might want to stay and visit with folks at the end of the service.
    •Just “bad liturgy”? Good liturgy (well-chosen music with active congregational participation; unity; a prayerful spirit; a celebrant with a wise and open heart) is simply enjoyable. Why would one be in a hurry to leave?
    •Impatience/competitiveness? I grew up in a parish where people didn’t leave after communion, but a lot of folks would want to walk out as soon as the priest had processed past their pew, while the hymn was still being sung. (The final song was perhaps not perceived as being “part of mass”—obligationism at work?) But there was a related secular phenomenon. This was in suburban Chicago, and there were a lot of people on the commuter trains who would walk through the cars ahead of their stop, in order to be able to be able to exit through the head car and beat everyone out through the pedestrian exit and parking lot. Sometimes the end of Mass felt the same–“first one out is the winner.” (I recall a priest saying that sometimes he could sense parishioners on his heels during the recessional, and was tempted to step aside to let them pass.)

  4. View from the pew
    Regarding: “This is a post about analyzing as accurately as possible the deep structures of liturgical piety, the deeply entrenched thought patterns we have inherited from liturgical history, and the formidable challenges that await us in fully implementing the vision of the Second Vatican Council.”
    – This is a very good article.
    – In part it seems that there is still a ripple effect from how the laity understood and acted out religious practice and liturgical participation from what they were taught from Trent to Vatican II.
    – However while the behaviour appears to be the same, the context of the behaviour might best be seen an understanding of what Vatican II now teaches about the Eucharist and the Domestic Church.
    – Eucharist, the faithful assembled as the body of Christ to offer themselves as the sacrifice that is the Eucharist are not limited to the nave, or to what falls between the Penitential rite and the concluding rite. Rather, the Eucharist and the baptized as the Body of Christ always are and continues in the domestic churches, and thus to the secular world. This is so even if one leaves after or during communion.
    – From the vantage threshold of the domestic church a person departing before the final blessing is not leaving early when the leaving has a purpose that supports the Domestic Church, and one way or another brings the Eucharist, the body of Christ to the world.

  5. I wonder if any studies have looked at the phenomenon of people coming late and leaving early generationally. Prior to Vatican II, Mass attendance in the US was particularly high – I’ve seen figures reaching in the 70-80% range. It would seem with such high numbers that a sizable portion of those people would have been going because they were expected to by both their peers and society as a whole. In contrast, I know virtually no people my age or younger who attend Mass primarily out of obligation or cultural expectation. Aside for pressure from older family members to stay tenuously connected to the Church, there is virtually no expectation to be religious or to attend Mass, so I imagine that most people in their 30s and younger who go regularly do so because they want to.

    At the EF Mass I usually attend, virtually no one comes late and practically everyone stays until the recessional hymn has ended – even if the priest is long gone by then. This is at a Mass that is typically fifteen to thirty minutes longer than a typical OF Mass. I’m under no delusion that this is because the EF inherently inspires all people to act this way* – it is obviously because the typical EF community is very intentional. Those who attend do so because they want to, and this makes it a very different experience than what those who lived prior to Vatican II would have had. Conversely, the people at a typical OF today aren’t usually as intentional of a community as those who attend the EF now, but they are still a far more intentional group than the typical pre-Vatican II congregation would have been. If there has been any improvement in terms of people coming late or leaving early, it likely has less to do with the liturgical reform and more to do with far fewer Catholics feeling obligated to go at all.

    I should mention that I’m not really that bothered by people coming late or leaving early. I tend to assume they have some reason for doing so.

    *I do know people who returned to the Church or who decided to practice their faith more seriously because of their experience of the EF, so obviously it does inspire some people to act this way.

    1. Dear Jack,
      Thanks for your comments – I appreciate them because they help me see why some people are drawn to the pre-Vatican II rite even though (imho) it is not really compatible with the ecclesiology or sacramental theology the Church believes and put forth at Vatican II. People are drawn to the extraordinary form for a reason, and it has to do with very real life experiences. It would be dangerous for us to avoid that fact.
      You got me thinking about typical practice today at EF, compared to OF today. I actually think that the causal connections are upside down, and the practice at each paradoxically feeds off the other. Let me try to explain.
      1. The OF practice is still dragged down by centuries of Tridentine-rite piety that is still with us. I think I laid this one out in my post.
      2. But the EF piety can only exist (as its name suggests) as a counter-movement to the OF. It can only be a minority, and it needs the majority (OF) as the foil against which it rebels. One confrere calls it “axe to grind” Catholicism – not speaking about the EF specifically, but about traditionalist movements in general in the Catholic Church today. So it makes perfect sense to me that such a small counter-movement would have strong identity and untypical high-level practices such as coming on time and staying till the end. But if the EF were to be the mainstream (which I don’t think it can, because of what the Church teaches and believes), it would be exceedingly difficult to maintain this high-level practice. There is something in the rite, in its theology, in its strongly suggested piety, which works against this.
      I don’t blame people for having good experiences at the EF. I blame church authorities for allowing and promoting it. And above all, I blame people (like me) for not fully achieving the aims of the V2 liturgy. If we did a better job, the new rite would attract everyone by its power and there would be no need for the EF. It’s on us.

      1. What Jack wrote struck me from a different vantage point: the intentional community and going to Mass *by choice*. I’d really like to see a breakdown of “early leavers” by urban/rural/suburban parishes and by age and ethnicity.

        Discounting the parking lot wars and good tee time departures, I’d argue, from my experience, that the more urban the parish (and thus more church-shopping is a phenomenon), the less early departures there are. The more rural the parish, the more early departures there are. (And the comments here seem to back that up!)

        But especially I think I’d look at this through a generational lens, and again, it speaks to self-sorting. I don’t remember any students leaving and college or grad school Mass early. I don’t see it with 20-something and 30-something parishioners at my parish nowadays. I think I see it most with those over age 50. And without any data behind it, I’d say it’s less to do with V2 liturgy failing/not failing (because for the most part it’s a great success), but I think a remnant of pre-V2 theology that old generations still have in their head.

        Then let’s throw into it an ethnic divide. Our Vietnamese, Korean, African American and African parishes “suffer” from the opposite problem: it’s tough to move one Mass assembly out, in order to get ready for the next Mass assembly in!

        Forgive all of the generalizations here. But I’d hate for rural white graying Minnesota to be the paradigm for the vast majority of the US that doesn’t look anything like rural Minnesota.

      2. Chuck, your point is well taken and I appreciate your comments.
        But I must say, in the little, rural parish in which I grew up, NO ON left early because you stood outside to visit after Mass! This would often enough take longer than the Mass itself.

      3. I agree with some of your observations, though I think you go too far in painting the EF as mostly being about “an axe to grind” or being reactionary to the OF. There certainly is that sentiment amongst some traditionalists* – particularly older ones – though that comes mostly from bad experiences of the liturgical reform and from the EF being harshly limited for so long. I also know a lot of people who attend the EF simply because they find it has a lot to offer. Perhaps it is as you say, that the EF is only appealing because the aims of the V2 liturgy have not been fully achieved, but I’m more inclined to think the 1962 Missal stands on its own as an appealing “powerful” rite. If you can’t see why someone would be drawn to it, then maybe you should ask yourself why you think someone might be drawn to the Eastern Rites/Orthodoxy. I have noticed that the EF – particularly High Mass – is much more similar in “ethos” and spirituality to the Eastern Rites than the OF is, and I know I’m not alone in this observation.

        *When I talk about traditionalists, it is always those who attend “SP” Masses. I have no real personal experience of the SSPX or other groups. I should mention that I’ve been to a rather wide variety of EF Masses. About the only kinds I have never experienced are the Pontifical Solemn High Mass and the legendary rushed/mumbled Low Mass. I’ve experienced the EF in a living room, silent Low Masses, dialogue Low Masses with hymns, Low Mass where everything after the preface is chanted for some reason, Orchestral High Mass, Solemn High Masses with “Liber” propers, High Mass with Rossini propers, and even High Mass with no propers at all.

        Also, I’ll echo Fr Anthony’s sentiment about rural parishes. When I was kid and we briefly lived in a very small town, practically everyone stayed until the end of Mass and went to have coffee and donuts afterward in the parish hall. People would also notice if you weren’t at Mass.

      4. Our experience in our urban parish is that people stay behind for coffee and to socialise. As we all get older its an important time to check up on each others well-being, and its the time when parish activities are organised – all building up the Body.
        Maybe it says something about the health of the parish when numbers of people leave early …. it certainly says something about its spiritual formation.

      5. Could we say that the EF is a papally-approved form of the mass and this is what the Church teaches and believesz

      6. “Could we say that the EF is a papally-approved form of the mass and this is what the Church teaches and believesz”

        Not quite. It is papally approved, even though it’s not what the church taught at Vatican II and what the Church believes as expressed in the dozens upon dozens of official liturgical documents issued by the magisterium since Vatican II. It is a concession, not a norm of faith.

        It’s significant that Pope Benedict did not say at any point that the pre-Vatican II Mass is better, is the norm, is the ideal, is the goal toward which the Church should or will return. Rather, Benedict accepted Vatican II and the reformed liturgy, and believed as a prudential judgment (which can be discussed and debated) that the presence of the un-reformed liturgy would help the church better celebrate the reformed liturgy and implement Vatican II. It is, in a sense, ordered toward the reformed liturgy which remains the church’s “ordinary” way of celebrating.


      7. Father Anthony,

        If what you say concerning the pre-Vatican II liturgy, then why was this never stated explicitly? Why all the assurances that the substance of the post-vatican ii liturgy agrees with the substance with the pre-vatican ii liturgy from Paul VI? (How can two things contradict one another and yet remain the same in substance?).
        Can you produce even one magisterial statement that states that the pre-Vatican II contains errors concerning ecclesiology?

      8. Dear Alex,

        Maybe this image helps: are the Michaelangelo paintings in the Sistine Chapel the same substance, though they removed centuries of dirt and dust? I think so.

        Here’s another image: is a drug addict or alcoholic the same “substance” of person after they have a major turn-around and are converted to living clean and sober? I think so.

        Those are images, not exact definitions, so they work to a certain extent and then start to limp.

        I know “paradigm shift” is a dangerous word for some, but if Vatican II on liturgy is not a paradigm shift, I don’t know what is. The preconciliar Order of Mass did not mention the congregation once. The postconciliar Mass emphasizes in a deep, fundamental way that liturgy is an act of the entire congregation under leadership of the ordained, and active participation is essential.

        Vatican II did not issue condemnations (as past councils did). It is a “re-reading of the Gospel” (so Pope Francis) which is a deepening, an advancement. It’s not helpful to talk about whether past Councils were in error. They represent where we were at in an earlier point. Let’s accept that, and be grateful for the deepening given us.

        It’s a shame that Trent did not advocate vernacular, congregational involvement, and the like. They were too afraid and defensive to achieve what Vatican II did. It’s a failing, I suppose, but let’s not judge or talk of error, just be grateful for where we are (and open to what’s next).

        I don’t know if this helps. It is a bit of how I try to think about accepting Vatican II inwardly, in mind and spirit, understanding what it implicitly and explicitly said, and dealing with the contradictions that simply are part of our tradition as it develops.


      9. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond, Father Anthony.
        I find the term “paradigm shift” to be problematic since, at least in Kuhn’s usage of the term, it suggests a change in worldview that is never necessary and is motivated chiefly by the interests of those who make them. Whereas the examples that you provide (a fresco being cleared up, a drug addict recovering) are cases of something conforming to a standard of wellness, that is, becoming more fully what they are meant to be. Those cases are certainly not paradigm shifts, at least not in any way that Kuhn and his followers would recognize since they eschewed any talk of teleology.

        In the past you have stated that the 1962 missal contains error concerning ecclesiology and that it is incompatible with the teaching of the Catholic Church. Are you saying that you reject those statements now?

      10. Hi Alex,
        I’m not tied to the term “paradigm shift.” Becoming more fully what we’re meant to be is a good way of looking at it. It then leaves to our consideration how much or how little we do or don’t change to becoming what we’re meant to be. Whatever we call it, I think the underlying reality and process is still there.

      11. Why stop at what the Church believes in only one council in its history? How can I say that what the Church believes in the post-conciliar liturgy its not the same as before?

        The Tridentine Missal does mention the congregation in several parts:
        – Confiteor
        – Orate Fratres
        – Memento of the living: “et ómnium circumstántium.. pro quibus tibi offérimus: vel qui tibi ófferunt hoc sacrifícium laudis”.

      12. Hello Alex,

        I don’t want to get into endless haggling about whether it’s error or deficiency or heresy or inadequacy or whatever. I want to focus on the main point: Vatican II really said everything it did about ecclesiology and about liturgical reform, and it tied the two together in saying that the liturgy reflects the nature of the church. I do not honestly see how the liturgy of the Council of Trent reflects the renewed ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council.

        I have the impression sometimes that behind this haggling and “gotcha” there is not a fundamental desire to sentire cum ecclesia and embrace Vatican II, but to resist it and minimize it.

        I think there is much room to discuss, under the leadership of the magisterium, what Vatican II means and how best to keep on receiving it and implementing it. Maybe I’m misreading some comments because they sometimes give the impression that they’re not coming from that goal.


      13. “Why stop at what the Church believes in only one council in its history? How can I say that what the Church believes in the post-conciliar liturgy its not the same as before?” AWR: Because Vatican II happened. It’s not the same because there is development. Let’s look at the texts, compare them honestly with earlier texts, and arrive at our best judgment of what is the same and what is a development. Vatican II incorporates the earlier councils (and cites them), so by taking Vatican II you’re getting its way of receiving and re-reading everything that went before. (Analogy: if my workers get $10 / hr and I give them a $1 raise for 5 years to put them at $15, but then I give them a big raise of $5, they retain the earlier raises and get $20. We don’t say that the $5 raise has to be interpreted in context, and average it down to an increase of $1.67 ($10 raise in 6 years) and, in the name of continuity, set their pay at $16.67/hr). We don’t use earlier Councils to somehow reduce what Vatican II actually said.

        “The Tridentine Missal does mention the congregation in several parts:
        – Confiteor
        – Orate Fratres
        – Memento of the living: ‘et ómnium circumstántium.. pro quibus tibi offérimus: vel qui tibi ófferunt hoc sacrifícium laudis’.”
        AWR: I don’t see congregation mentioned – the confiteor mentions the minister. The introduction to the Lord’s Prayer says “we,” and the canon refers to all/others, but there and in all parallel cases it is the priest speaking on behalf of them, not the congregation acting as liturgical agent.

        But you’re leading us in the right direction: let’s look at the texts (1570 and the revised Order of Mass), and let’s come to our best judgment of whether there is a shift at all in role of the congregation. Let the texts be our standard in this examination.

        It’d be interested to do a word cloud of everything about liturgy in Trent and in Vatican II. It would give us – in an impressionistic rather than exacting way – a sense of whether there is real change or not.


      14. I can see the turnaround without really accepting that the Tridentine Missal did mention the congregation and how SC of Vatican II that affirms: “new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing”. Which, I believe come from the Tridentine Missal.[I can now see the new comment]

        I do feel a certain mindset that mentioning whatever came before Vatican II, and using it to better implement its documents, is somehow something that goes contrary to the body of the Church. This is contrary to the faith of the Church that never breaks from the past but continually grows.

        There’s no way to implement soemthing while being used imperfectly, when we get to the point of implementing everything the Vatican II left us, that is where we can grow.

      15. Father Anthony,

        I’m not trying to haggle you, or to get a “gotcha” moment, I am genuinely trying to understand your position which has perplexed me for some time. I do not think it’s helpful to frequently imply that the ’62 missal expresses a false ecclesiology something that no post-conciliar document or pope (even Francis) has ever stated. Look for example at the language that Francis used in his address to liturgists last summer. He uses terms such as blooming, developing, maturation, ripening of fruit. All of this implies teleology. If the Paul VI missal is the same in substance as the ’62 missal then that means that the developments of the Paul VI missal was already present potentially in 1962. You make it sound as though its been made clear that one missal negates the other something no one has ever authoritatively claimed.

        Full disclosure: I do believe that the reformed liturgy is superior to the pre-Vatican II liturgy, and am very glad that the reform happened.

      16. “Because Vatican II happened.” – I’m going to ignore that and look something more solid.

        “We don’t use earlier Councils to somehow reduce what Vatican II actually said.” – But I didn’t say that, did I? In no way I have used earlier Councils to reduce VII, if you read the New Testament without taking the OT in context, you’re not getting the whole picture as Dei Verbum rightly affirms… but if you do, are you reducing the NT?

        What Vatican II actually said, is not what is actually being done. As you can truly see with our liturgies.

        “but there and in all parallel cases it is the priest speaking on behalf of them” – Yes, as it should be: “Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and of all present.” – SC

        “liturgical agent” – Define liturgical agent, I cannot find anything about that in the VII documents. What I can see is that the _actio_ of the liturgy is being done primarily by Christ and then his body, the Church. So it would be natural that the head would act and speak on behalf of the body.

      17. Francisco Duran,

        OK, you have a different reading of Vatican II than I do. I have nothing to add to that. Thank you for your comments.


      18. That’s fine, glad to add something to this blog.

        It’s not what my reading or yours is though, but what it actually says and how it is interpreted as such by the competent Church authorities.

        Keep me in your prayers.

        Francisco Duran

  6. I prefer to look at the sins of the liturgist. In part it’s leadership. Poor example. Priests always leave early. Most parishes have announcements, usually meaningless. A lack of silent prayer time. Poor English in the post-Communion prayers, and as for a blessing–they’ve just received Communion.

    Consider that the religion that has eclipsed Christianity–sport–rewards those leaving early: a head start to get out of the way.

    There are good reasons for leaving early: people have jobs, lunch breaks, fidgety kids. I can’t get worked up over it. In my parish, I don’t program postludes or throwaway music. But some people will stay longer than the clergy. It’s worked for me for a few decades now. I don’t bat 1.000, but it gets better.

  7. ‘A half century of liturgical renewal since Vatican II …’ That sentence in the article seems to hit the nail on the head. The kind of ‘renewal’ we have had, you might call it a ‘command economy’ can only be shallow. Older habits of thought and action always prevail.

    An ecclesiastical (clerical) culture fixated upon ‘obedience’ thought that by merely saying ‘let there be renewal’ would do the trick. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t.

    A survey I did in a large Parish Church in my diocese (Portsmouth, UK) some years back revealed that of the congregation at a Saturday evening Mass, those who either arrived between the opening hymn and the Gospel or left between the end of the Canon and the final blessing constituted approximately one third of the total gathering.


  8. “a lot of folks would want to walk out as soon as the priest had processed past their pew”
    That’s how it used to be in my former parish. My understanding was that we all processed out together behind the priest, singing on our way out as we were being sent out to the world. I thought the recessional hymn was for everyone to sing as we are leaving, and it is natural to me. I do not understand the reasoning that underlays our staying and singing well after the priests, altar servers etc have all left, and then not sing any more when we leave ourselves.

    1. Claire,

      I note your French name. In France, I believe, it is common practice for the assembly to follow the priest out of the church. As you suggest, it has a certain symbolism.

  9. I think part of the issue is that the prayer after communion and the final blessing seem to be an afterthought with not much significance of their own. If you add announcements to the mix and that signals that the time for praying has ended. Perhaps the Magnificat, the Beatitudes or Nunc Dimittis could be added. And the solemn blessing always used even in Ordinary Time. Perhaps a return of the Last Gospel? Instead of asking why people leave, perhaps the better question is why should they stay?

  10. Following somewhat on Devin’s comment: as I recall, Justin Martyr’s account of one form of early Roman liturgy seems to have the whole thing end with communion (that’s at least how the description runs; he might be leaving some things out). Maybe those who leave right after communion are showing sound liturgical instinct. I certainly can understand why some might wish to avoid the interminable announcements that follow communion at some parishes.

    More seriously, I am not entirely sure that I agree with analysis given above. Maybe students in the Midwest are different than students in the Mid-Atlantic, but the students I teach seem to think Mass is more about hearing the sermon than about receiving Christ—body and blood, soul and divinity—in the Eucharist. In other words, I don’t see much evidence of “thingism.” Nor do I see much evidence of “obligationism.” If there were a strong sense of fulfilling an obligation, then you could just tell them that they are obliged to stay until the end of the final hymn. As it is, they think that you should only go to church “if you get something out of it.” I might call that “what’s-in-it-for-meism.”

    I do have to say that the problem of leaving Mass early is not something I encounter much on a typical Sunday, and if I did it might bother me more. Our people arrive late, but tend to stick around until the end of the hymn (it helps that the ministers don’t process out until the final verse).

    1. Fritz,

      What you write answers many questions, well beyond leaving Mass early. People have lost a sense of the Eucharist as the bread of life and are there for a good sermon. When they do not hear it over a time, they become easy converts to the local evangelical whose whole service is the sermon. I never could understand how people gave up a sacramental structure for one which is not. Perhaps it goes back to the what’s in it for me mentality so prevalent in today’s society.

    2. I think that Fritz makes some very important points here–and the sensibility he discusses does characterize a good number of my students–but, aside from St. Justin, they address a different question from the one Fr. Anthony is trying to answer.

      Those who leave mass early are not our students. They are more inclined to be there enthusiastically or not at all. They don’t want to be half-in or, worse, hypocritical. It’s this same dynamic that drives some of them to more evangelical congregations and others to EF groups. When it comes to religion or “spirituality” they may be seduced by self-help models or navel-gazing, but they certainly aren’t interested in simply checking boxes!

      It is not really an issue at my current parish (announcements are before Mass!), but in my limited experience, those who leave Mass early tend to be older, 40s at the very least, and the dynamics that Anthony mentions are indeed in play. Could you tell the “obligationists” that they are obliged to stay until the end of the final hymn? Sure. But obligations are about more than what is told to me now by those in power. You would need to unwind years of formation to make that stick. And, of course, as Anthony points out, it would still tend, by nature, toward minimalism. Not to mention the fact that for a variety of reasons, we’re reticent to tell people that.

      I do think that cultural dynamics are very important to acknowledge in both cases. Just briefly: in consumer culture, thingism (fetishism?) and what’s-in-it-for-meism go together neatly.

  11. I just think that it is a symptom that people don’t feel that they’re engaged in the ritual. Because not seeing a ritual through to its completion (or joining partway through it) is to break the integrity of the ritual.

    It would be like tossing your cap into the air, and then leaving, right after you’ve received your diploma, when 1/4 of the class is still marching up to the dais. Or singing half of “Happy Birthday” and then cutting oneself a wedge of cake while everyone else is still singing. Or walking your date 3/4 of the way home and then hopping in a taxi and going somewhere else.

  12. I find the article interesting and the thread of discussion very energizing. I am in a parish in central Florida where most retirees reside. Most of them lived, worked, and raised their family in the northern states of America. People leaving early is a perennial problem. The 4 PM Mass on Saturday, the most popular Mass for the retirees, would end with almost a third of the pews vacant after communion. It is scandalous, to say the least.

    It is strikingly different, however, when I am assigned to celebrate Mass in Spanish at our mission church. It is a refreshing scene to see the faithful staying and singing the final song till the end. Culturally, families mill around the church chatting and visiting while enjoying pastries on sale for a cause. I am a Filipino priest, and yet I feel so much part of a community of people who chose and decided to “waste time” for God and one another on Sundays.

    Is this comparing oranges to apples?

  13. I’m not sure whether this is a “photo” or a “movie” point but I do think that the overall setting has a lot to do with peoples’ behaviour. At masses in our central London parish I rarely see people leaving before the final procession, and this is true at the English family mass (with hymns) and at the solemn Latin Novus Ordo, which ends with the ite, missa est, a chanted prayer for the Queen, and then the retiring procession with organ postlude. People leave as the procession passes them, but generally not before.

    We have no car park, and many people arrive on foot or by public transport, so there is no rush to get cars to the exit. And, we have a coffee hour that is openly promoted in the announcements.

    In Boston, at a similar urban parish, without a car park, there is a lovely coffee hour but it seems to be something of a secret: it’s not announced in the bulletin, or by the ministers. I’m sure there is a reason for this, but I don’t know what it is. More people leave before the end of Mass.

    I also observe that, at this parish, people chatter away during the postlude, even though the organ playing is very skilled. This seems to be more the case in the US.

    My point is that it’s not only a matter of the various “isms” that Anthony refers to, but to the whole setting, including the fit of the Mass into the timing of peoples’ days.

    On the “isms”: I recognise all of them from the echo chamber of Internet Catholic Traditionalism but wonder to what extent these are widely held by ordinary parishioners, taught in RCIA or catechism or similar classes, preached by a variety of bishops. It’s easy to read Internet Trad Fr A (IFA) who quotes IFB who quotes IFC, who in turn refers to IFA, and conclude that the various “isms” are widely held. But the voice of the blogs is hardly the voice of the Church.

    1. We had more people leaving early before we lengthened the time between the noon (formerly 12:15) Mass and the 1:30 p.m. Mass. I suspect parking lot management may be a bigger factor than pastors (who don’t park on the lot) realize in early departures.

      What I don’t understand is coming late. I’m still talking about a noon Mass. We’ve been counting the attendance, and the rule of thumb is double the number of people inside the church at the opening procession to get the total on hand by the end of the homily. Works four Sundays out of five. And “end of the homily” is the regular arrival time for several families.

  14. I think Fr. Anthony is right on about box checking. In my mind, there are a few critical theological questions that get at what we’re discussing, as well as some sociological considerations.

    1) Is this the most important part of our week, or not?
    2) If so, what about it is important?

    To my (admittedly Anglican, but studiously pro-Catholic) eyes, focusing on the mechanical consumption of the elements borders on Receptionism, which denies the Real Presence but argues that the recipients receive grace when they receive the sacrament in faith. I doubt people who bolt after communion consciously deny the Real Presence, but Christ is still there on the altar in a particular way, there in the tabernacle if it is present, there in our midst. An attitude of “Well, I’ve got mine! Time to go!” doesn’t properly consider the full implications of Christ really and truly present. Our Lord is /here/. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it’s almost an affront to His dignity to bail early without due cause.

    Some of this tendency to flee after communion is probably also sociological. I’m largely accustomed to parishes where once Mass ends and the recessional hymn is sung, the entire congregation kneels, prays, and will not budge until the six candles on the altar are put out. That approach can be cultivated, but it takes very intentional priestcraft and careful development of parishioners who model the behavior.

    1. “I’m largely accustomed to parishes where once Mass ends and the recessional hymn is sung, the entire congregation kneels, prays, and will not budge until the six candles on the altar are put out. That approach can be cultivated, but it takes very intentional priestcraft and careful development of parishioners who model the behavior.”

      This is the custom at my parish, and no doubt started in the aughts of the last century when solemn high Mass became the principal service, but since my parish was Oxford Movement from the start in 1854, it may have been earlier. It’s held on and visitors and new people to the parish generally follow it, regardless of their churchmanship.

  15. ” . . . but Christ is still there on the altar in a particular way, there in the tabernacle if it is present, there in our midst.”

    Except that Christ remains there regardless of whether one leaves early or not. Which may indicate to people that it doesn’t matter when they leave if they are not in fact staying for the rest of their lives.

    Then again, at least reading etiquette/advice columns, I am quite aware that former American social norms regarding arriving and departing social events have eroded severely in recent decades: one not infrequent bracket of questions come from hosts wondering how to get their guests to arrive – and depart – in a timely way (hint: them them a time window and time of meal service, not just arrival time, so that they have a sense of when arrival would be too late and also when hosts can begin to thank people for coming as they indicate where they can collect their things before departure). I will put aside conflicts between cultures of monochronicity and polychronicity….

  16. A practical point: I have been told that it is becoming common in some parishes in Germany to have actually less Masses on some feast days so that the entire parish can come together – Mass takes then particularly long (approaching or going beyond 90 minutes) because there are so many important persons who need to be involved.

    There are people (especially, but not only the elderly) who for all kinds of reasons simply cannot stay for so long, and I also have heard of persons coming on purpose late or leaving on purpose early because they have plainly better things to do than to listen to a litany of words of welcome from different important persons at the start, or endless thank-yous at the end (and hope that those in charge will realise this ‘vote with the feet’).

    Having an early-morning Low Mass for those who want it quick (and there is nothing wrong with this) followed by a solemn Mass later may be the pastorally more sensitive option.

  17. Now that you have addressed this question, maybe you could answer some others that come to mind.

    Why do people leave movie theaters before the film’s copyright notice has run?
    Why do people leave some football games before they are finished?
    Why can’t the people leave in Bunuel’s classic The Exterminating Angel? (I’m not sure it is relevant here, but I’ve always wanted to know)

    Most importantly, why should someone not leave early? What is the point of sticking around? What are they, or we, missing by their absence?

  18. It’s very simple. They leave because once communion is over they’ve fulfilled the requirement to attend.

    They’ve covered their butts until the next time the church says they have to go to mass. Believe it or not, a lot of people go to mass because the church says they’ll go to Hell if they don’t, and they’re scared. That’s a sad way to force people to go to mass, but it’s true.

  19. I’ve found that a mad dash to the car is mitigated in parishes where the priest and deacon, as well as other ministers such as other parish priests, remain after Mass to answer questions, bless articles, etc. Their interaction with parishioners is more than a line-up of people shaking the priest’s hand with a brief salutation on the way out of Mass. It’s sustained conversation with the parish’s ministers. In this way parishioners genuinely get to know and understand their clergy and perhaps resist the temptation to leave early.

  20. Some of these comments assume that there is a final hymn after the dismissal, but that is optional. The Mass is over with the dismissal, although it is polite to wait to leave until the procession has passed. We don’t do a final hymn, but instead have a song of praise after communion. I play the postlude after dismissal, and people are free to leave or stay to listen as they please.

  21. Why do people leave mass before the end? Good question, but why do people , men in particular, keep their hands in their pockets while attending mass?

    There are other things like why do people come with shorts to mass? Why do people come with children who cry? Why do people talk with each other and disturb others by doing so?

    I believe that the priests are so far removed from the life of the average parishioner so that most of us who are sensitive see that, feel that, are frustrated by that, and know that complaining or asking the pastor to discuss that would be futile, yes totally futile.

    Must the church die before it can become new and relevant in our lives?

    Elizabeth Averill
    [Private Information deleted by PTB Staff]

  22. “The Mass is over with the dismissal”
    Not so. The Mass is over when the rubric in the Missal that follows the dismissal dialog is fulfilled. That rubric reads: “145. Then the priest venerates the altar as usual with a kiss, as at the beginning. After making a profound bow with the ministers, he withdraws.”

    1. To be precise – “… he withdraws with them”.
      And the Latin recedit echos the verb at the Entrance, although that is plural procedunt, it may not require an accompanying chant but it is a formal action..

  23. Since the triennial occasion of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is on our doorstep, it occurs to me to repeat myself (again) on the most memorable homily of my life, a single sentence. It perhaps kept my butt in church more than any other homily.

    My recollection is this homily occurred in the early 1970s, and 1971 would be a candidate given the cycles. The celebrant closed the gospel book after reading said parable, and paused at length in silence. Then he said one sentence, the following effect:

    *I wonder how many of us are thanking God we are not like that Pharisee.*

    (Then the celebrant let that bomb detonate prolonged subsequent silence.)

    * * *

    That homily is related to the thought that C.S. Lewis expressed thusly:

    “The Devil always sends errors into the world in pairs — pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.”

    * * *

    That, my friends, is what *relevance* sounds like. Not about topicality in news terms. But about our most ordinary habits of heart and mind, the ones that that we often don’t see because they are right in front of our noses. I never cease to find occasions to apply that single sentence homily. I give thanks for that witness by that priest that day. (To my best recollection, his name was one Fr Askin, but I could be misremembering that. Priests came and went every couple of years, and I just out of single digits in age. He was a priest on the back side of middle age at that time. Whoever he was, I pray that gift was weighed greatly in his favor at his passing from this plane to the next.)

    Any readers who are graced to preach this weekend are welcome to repeat something like that sentence if you cannot better it. (It works best without any commentary and prefacing whatsoever, and with generous silence – not only of mouth but of being (that is, don’t be itchy, as it were) – on either side.)

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