An opportunity to explore new ways?

Clare Condon SGS

Clare Condon SGS

If Sunday is no longer the day of rest and religious observance, why not explore new ways for living the Christian call to full and active participation in the Church’s liturgical life, asks Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS*

“Just another manic Sunday” was the headline of an article in a recent weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. In that article, Anna Patty commented on the Australian Productivity Commission’s (APC) proposed workplace reforms, and in particular, the recommendation to reduce penalty rates for workers on a Sunday to bring them into line with Saturday penalty rates.

The APC’s rationale for its recommendation is that Sunday, for many people, is now just like a Saturday. As Anna Patty wrote: “The notion of difference between Sunday and Saturday has changed over time. Saturday was once a normal workday for many and Sunday a day of rest and religious reflection. For many, Sunday is now a shopping day”.

Similarly, Jessica Irvine, also writing in the Fairfax press, said: “No longer do we gather in churches to worship. Bunnings and Coles are our new places of Sunday congregation. While Saturday remains our biggest shopping day, retail trading on a Sunday now outstrips some weekdays”.

Various statistics confirm that Sunday is no longer a day of rest or of religious reflection. This is particularly so for the Catholic Church in Australia. The last census of church attendance in 2011 continued to show a declining number of church attendees on a typical Sunday. Across Australia only about 12 per cent of Catholics attend Sunday Eucharist on a regular weekly basis. This is a drop of 1.6 per cent since 2006. Further, the percentage of those under 50 years of age is well below 10 per cent. (For more details see Mass Attendance in Australia: A Critical Moment, a report from the ACBC Pastoral Office.)

On these figures, there is a crisis for the Church, which regards Sunday Eucharist as an essential part of religious observance and of being Catholic.

There are many reasons posed for this decline in religious practice: some argue that it is the Church’s hardline teaching on sexual morality; others stopped practice because of sexual abuse by clergy and religious; others are simply caught up in consumerist shopping sprees and weekend sporting activities; while some simply don’t believe anymore. Probably all of these have some considerable part to play.

However, as a committed Catholic and a member of a religious order of sisters, I think there is another reason for declining church attendance on a Sunday – namely, the quality of the liturgical celebration of Eucharist held in many parish churches and cathedrals on any given Sunday. It’s an issue which the hierarchy of the Church fails to consider adequately, which should be added to the above list of reasons, and which should be seriously examined within the Church.

In my role I have the opportunity to participate in liturgy across many communities in Australia – and I have experienced some vibrant Eucharistic celebrations – but I must admit they are the exception rather than the rule.

The Second Vatican Council some 50 years ago wrote about the Eucharist in this way:

“In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work”. (Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, December 4, 1963, No.14)

Full and active participation by all the people seems to be a goal abandoned and long gone from the early encouraging post-Vatican II days. Many Sunday liturgies today lack a vibrant and engaging participation by all those present. Some have even reverted to a pre-Vatican II emphasis on the separation of the priest and the people. Often it feels like I am an observer at Father’s Mass. He is somewhere up there hidden from the congregation by a growing number of tall candles across the front of the altar.

It seems to me we need a revival in understanding and in action to emphasise what full participation might look like in reality. All parts of the ceremony need to be recognised as moments of Christ’s presence. Christ is present in the gathered community, in the Word of God read and reflected on in the homily, in the Eucharistic prayer, in the reception of communion together with the gathered community.

Perhaps the Church, in recognising the demands made by a consumerist and secular society on its people, could be creative and offer alternative times and ways of engaging its young faithful in dynamic and active participation. If Sunday is no longer the day of rest and religious observance, does the Church lie down as defeated and revert to pre-Vatican II practices? On the contrary, is it not an opportunity to explore new ways to engage everyone in full and active participation in the liturgy which the Church regards as the summit of the Christian life?

Let creative minds and hearts find new ways for living the Christian call to full and active participation in the Church’s liturgical life.

* Sister Clare Condon is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.

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The Good Oil, August 18, 2015. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

11 Responses to “An opportunity to explore new ways?”

  1. Penny Carroll says:

    Thank you Clare for again offering us a thought provoking reflection. Like Marie Casamento, having relocated to a new city in a new state at the beginning of this year I went in search of a community that was vibrantly engaged in good liturgy. And I finally found a rare gem, well worth experiencing if you travel to Perth. Committed, engaged uni student population balanced by committed older adults who want to be there, beautiful music, good liturgy, an inclusive community, led by a welcoming priest who models welcome and inclusion, remembers names, preaches succinctly and relevantly and invites community feedback and invites participation. A rare find indeed experiencing Christ’s presence in all parts of the Mass, as you suggest Clare, in this uiversity college chapel.

  2. Bob Dixon says:

    This is an excellent article, Clare, on an issue that does require urgent attention and action. You have referred to one of our publications, our 2013 report on Mass attendance in Australia. You also suggest that attendance might have declined because ‘some simply don’t believe any more’. The issue of what Mass attenders believe is addressed in another of our reports which your readers might find of interest. It’s called “What do Mass attenders believe? Contemporary cultural change and the acceptance of key Catholic beliefs and moral teachings by Australian Mass attenders” and it can be found at

  3. Thanks Clare for bringing these concerns into the public arena. Marie

  4. Marie Casamento says:

    Excellent reflection Clare. I have visited a number of churches in my local area in search of nourishing reflection on the word. Unfortunately two unspoken foci appear to dominate one a general subconscious malaise and depression and two an urgency in some preachers to become defensive and overly correct the sinfulness of the congregation. Recently I was in one parish where the priest gave a heart felt apology to the people for wrongs done to them. This came over as genuine and their was life in this parish. Marie

  5. Brian Mathews says:

    A great article and one that I will continue to ponder over. Living in Coober Pedy the parish is small but has its moments of vibrant participation by people. The liturgy can be rewarding and prayerful for people even when we don’t have any music or fancy decorations for celebrations, or even just a few flowers because it is too hot, but simply by all those present, including the priest, putting all they have into the celebration. I look forward with enjoyment at what our liturgy will look like in the future. Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Rose says:

    Maybe the young don’t have any Mass-affirming, Church-affirming adults in their lives – in schools or in their homes as in previous decades, and they rely on the television media and social media/internet sites in forming their views. Do teachers talk about Mass with their students? If their teachers don’t attend Mass, then teachers should bring those more experienced and committed to their faith into their classrooms to talk about Mass. Let’s not leave kids forevermore daft in their knowledge of Mass and going to Church. Think it is sad we are blaming quality of liturgical celebration.
    Usually find the young in the back pews.

  7. Venetta says:

    Thanks Clare, I often think about the issues you have discussed in your article. Although there have been and still are lots of times that I neglect my active involvement, the church is home for me. I love that I can walk through the doors any where in the world and get that feeling. For me the pattern of the liturgical year and the telling of the bible stories is really comforting and confirming, maybe because I grew up on them.
    Like most of their friends, my children don’t go to church although they will go with me on occasion. In fact on Sundays they are usually working in casual jobs, part of the 7 day, 24 hour consumer culture! On the other hand I think they do put their faith into practice in the way they live their lives. I wonder what the church will look and feel like when they have their own families?
    It was stunning to experience the church in the U.S. when my daughter was there on exchange. Sooo many young people at Mass. They were eager and really happy, they seemed to have that sense that it was their place.
    The time my kids (well, two out of three) do love coming to church is for midnight mass at Christmas. These days they usually meet me in the city, often with their friends (some of whom have never even heard of mass) and we have a great time. There’s young people and old people, some in their party dresses, homeless people, dignitaries, people on holiday. I see the magic and joy and Peace of Christmas descend on everyone present and it sustains me.
    Hi Robyn who commented from Palm Island. I lived in Townsville for many years.
    I feel for your dilemma. Its hard enough in suburban Melbourne distilling relevance from most of the liturgy, homilies etc. Although the active involvement of parishioners can help alleviate the problems this can be hard when priests come from background where the expectation is still that the priest is the authority and focus of religious life.

  8. Guy Fitzsimmons says:

    Great article – this has been my experience too

  9. Pam Faulkner says:

    A few months ago, Ian & I were in Santa Monica Beach, California, & went to Sunday night Mass at St. Monica’s Church. The Church was over-flowing & we were made to feel so welcome by everyone. They have a vibrant group of musicians & choir & the Cantor was wonderful. The whole church literally “rocked” with enthusiasm & joy. The priest came down during the homily & really engaged with the people & to top it off, all of the Eucharistic Ministers smiled as they shared the Eucharisic meal. We came away feeling so nourished, blessed & enlivened. The Mass is live-streamed on the Internet so we can “drop” in anytime & participate in their life-giving masses

  10. Marie McAlister says:

    An excellent article. Thank you Clare.

  11. Margaret Speechley says:

    Thanks for this insightful article – all of what you have said is my experience of the reality. We must be proactive and not be fearful of speaking out – just as you have done.
    I’ve downloaded your article and we will be using it here at our Ministry Formation Program .

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