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Is your normal pew taken? Could be a Mass mob

The AP's Carolyn Thompson reports on "Mass mobs," conceived and organized by some folks in Buffalo, NY, as a way for local Catholics to experience and support some of the city's beautiful and struggling parish churches.

It works this way: On a given Sunday, participants attend Mass en masse at a church they've picked in an online vote and promoted through Facebook and Twitter. Visitors experience the architecture, heritage and spirit of the aging houses of worship and the churches once again see the numbers they were built for, along with a helpful bump in donations when the collection baskets are passed.

There are other potential benefits, such as fostering a sense of connectedness across the diocese -- the priest whose parish hosted the last "mob" told Thompson, "It just shows that we are not just one parish, that it's the whole family of the diocese. We take care of each other." Whether the scheme could make a long-term difference in the fate of Buffalo's underattended parishes is an open question. But I love visiting new churches, both historic and ordinary, and I love a well-attended Sunday Mass, so I love this idea.

Apparently people in other cities have been inspired to start up Mass mobs of their own. Could it work where you live? Would you go?

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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is that a flash Mass? Or does the pubic pre-planning disqualify it from the designation?

For every church that has a sudden influx of Catholics with money for the collection, there must be several churches whose pastors are looking at diminished returns. I wonder, too, just who is the star of one of these shows? Or am I just being churlish?

To answer your implied question, I don't think this scheme, however well intended, will make a long-term difference in the fate of the city's underattended churches.  Thanks to JPII and B16, the church has a bastardized liturgical translation that, according to reports, already bothers a good number of *regular* churchgoers and clergy alike.  Unless and until people decide to live *in town* and not in the suburbs, the proverbial "doughnut hole" will prevail, thereby leaving these parishes with insufficient funds to remain financially viable. I would not be surprised if the local bishop is already contemplating the next round of parish closures that would include some of these old churches.

Afterthought:  Good liturgy, preaching, and music might enable one old parish in an area to survive, but there are only so many prospective attendees to go around.

pubic pre-planning

This well-intentioned idea is only likely to work if (1) the mobbers invite other Catholics, who have not been attending Mass regularly, to go with them, or if they themselves go to more than one Mass on a Sunday; and (2) everybody puts a little extra in the baskets. Otherwise, it's zero-sum. What one parish gains on any Sunday, others lose.

It may also be a distraction from the hard questions: Why has the support of ordinary Catholics fallen off so precipitously in the last fifty years? And is there any effective way to turn that decline around? I suspect that many Catholics would rather mob a parish on Mars than have that depressing discussion.

If there were flash masses in NYC I would go. And re: contributions, I don't think it would hurt the home parish.  I always miss a few Masses at home during the year through vacation, work travel;  my year end total donations always seem to be about the same. And when I'm  visiting another church that seems to be struggling, I always write a bigger check for  the collection than I would normally.

To keep my annual parish contributions stable, I just signed up for Parish Pay; the parish automatically gets my regular offertory every month, whether I'm physically there or not. (Commonweal also gets a little contribution automatically each  month, though not through Parish Pay).  

I think we could do a lot more than we do with online fundraising.

When they visit these parishes, I hope they don't exhibit that Catholic behaviour of plunking down at the ends of pews, making people step over them to get to a seat. At my parish, there's a parking area with long parallel lines so that you are supposed to park sequentially in parallel lines. Danged if they don't park at the beginning and end of the line, blocking 60% of the parking. How would Jesus park?

Joseph J. --

Do not despair of the donut hole in the old city.  Already here in New Orleans there seems to be a regentrifying process going on.  There used to be a Whole Foods store near me, but it moved to a suburb.  Yesterday, however, a new Whole Foods opened in a poor neighborhood nearby that is showing improvement.  It seems that the cost of fuel is starting to be noticed by the folks in the burbs, and they're rediscovering the good old housing stock that their parents left behind.  The old houses take some work, but lots of people think they're worth it.

So maybe those old parishes will see some new life.  I've already seen two of my old parishes closed down, one with  a beautiful old church.  The good news is that the beautiful one isn't far from the new Whole Foods.  We'll see :-)

Unfortunately, this isn't the best news for the people in the regentrifying areas, except that the value of their houses is going up.  Maybe that will give them a bit of a headstart when they sell.  Complexity, complexity.

Ann, there may be a similar trend in Louisville.  Local govt is encouraging developers to rehab old buildings that do not merit demolition.  Loft apartments, condos.  Mixed housng.  (But no groceries downtown, so far as I know.)  Time will tell. 

Stanley: a year after I moved to the US, my son had an assignment in catechism: "What is my favorite thing about my parish?", and he answered: "The parking lot, because it's designed in such a way that you can park many cars during Mass. It is really efficient."

He's the kind of person who takes questions at face value and answers them truthfully according to their actual wording, instead of asking himself what the question indicates about what people want to hear, and diplomatically feeding them back the answer they wish to get.

I was very amused, but the staff must have been disapointed to get that insulting answer to their efforts in music, activities, liturgy, preaching, ushering, catechism and what not. 

I love this idea. Especially the sense of connectedness and one family throughout the diocese. More events should be planned to connect the parishes. Richer parishes should help poorer ones also. On the other hand there are a number of Catholics who prefer the so called elitist churches and would not be caught dead in a poor parish. 

I'd like to know the demographic profile of the mobsters. Are they Xers and Millenials?  A church full of them would be something that a lot of us would find pretty inspiring.  Or does this provide further evidence that your grandmother uses Facebook and the young hipsters have moved on to the Next Big Social Media Thing?

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