April 18 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Confessions of a part-time Mass-goer

It’s the time of year when the experience of Jesus is most profound and vivid, even for non-regular Mass attenders, says KEVIN McKENNA

My name is Kevin McKenna and I don’t go to Mass every week. If there was a self-help group for Catholic back-sliders like me I’d probably be getting the hugs and back-rubbing treatment right now. “Amen brother, just let it out,” someone would say, gently. “We’ve all been there,” another would whisper. There could be tears. Afterwards someone might quote Luke 15:7. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” It is one of the favourite Biblical verses of recusants everywhere. Along with ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ and ‘judge ye not, lest ye be judged.’ All three of these verses, taken together, offer a wee exegesis of redemption for those of us who have become, ahem, somewhat neglectful of our Catholic duties.

I can’t quite recall when the rot first set in. And it certainly wasn’t due to any theological or philosophical quarrel I had with Rome, or the teachings of Holy Mother Church. I might be a haphazard Catholic but I still believe in the whole package, even those bits of it that I cheerfully choose to ignore in the trade winds of everyday secular life. I remain within the ambit of the magisterium, as they say. Nor is it because of the recent waves of scandal that have broken on our shores. I may have been vociferous in my criticism of our leadership over some of these issues but, in the midst of it all, I acknowledge that these are only mere human beings and as prone to error as the rest of us.

The Faith is eternal, sacred and divine… and unshakeable—except on some Sundays where I’ve lamentably found other things to do.


Nor am I comforted by Pope Francis reaching out to atheists and agnostics and assuring them that they can still get to Heaven. There am I being detained at Heaven’s Border Control for persistent Eucharist-avoidance while some of my unrepentant and Godless pals skip gaily in just because they were kind to children and animals and led otherwise blameless lives. That would be a real kick in the teeth.

When I was young I was brought up to believe that missing Mass was a mortal sin and this, at the time, seemed fair enough. There are 168 hours in the week and being asked to set aside only one of them to worship and thank our maker, provider and Saviour is not exactly onerous. And then you become older and more worldly and you begin to compare and contrast. If dodging Mass and the Sacraments is a mortal sin then what about theft, deception, infidelity, violence, greed… any of the Cardinal sins as a matter of fact? I don’t see Mass-dodging on that list. So, I suppose the rot began at this time after I’d rationalised away the need every week to head for the chapel. Even though, in doing so, I’d failed to consult so much as a priest or the Second Vatican Council. (Actually I did once try to find the relevant section in the Vatican II documents but only succeeded in being intimidated by all the other areas where radical improvement is required in my personal and spiritual conduct).

So is it still a mortal sin? Was it ever? Or was it another ‘cheap and bourgeois bribe’ by the Church establishment to keep the pews filled and the collection plate brimming? (Did I not tell you about my persistent bouts of Marxism?)

Sunday football didn’t exactly help, especially 12.30 kick-offs, while Sky’s increasingly common Super Sundays have been a massive obstacle. Yes I know that that’s what the Saturday vigil is for and the 9pm Mass at St Aloysius. But they’re just a few more obstacles to achieving a 100 per cent record. Indeed just a 50 per cent strike rate in my case would be a result. Small steps and all that…

Because I work at irregular times and have an aversion to anything that smacks of routine or predictability I often find myself at a different church from one week to the next (okay, one month to the next). It’s good to chat after Mass with friends and relatives or sometimes go for a coffee in a church hall with nice flowery curtains, home-made baking and cheery ladies serving tea from silver urns. But I’m never around often enough or regularly enough to get to know people. One week it would be the 9.30am crowd, another week it would be the 11am crew and yet another, the vigil team.


At this point I could go on about the way in which some priests try to send you to sleep by delivering their homilies in the same manner as they might read the small print in a household energy bill. But that wouldn’t be fair. I’ve done a fair bit of public speaking recently and time for those in my audience must have passed very slowly indeed, if not actually stood still. Listening to my low Glaswegian growl is no bowl of cherries for anyone. And I’ve yet to meet a priest who doesn’t work his socks off the other six days of the week. So I’m not going down that route.

But at this time of the year when Holy Week is upon us, a whole host of happy childhood memories come flooding back; of Easter Holidays and the Kissing of the Cross and the empty tabernacle and the gradual unwrapping of the paschal candle in a darkened church illuminated by a hundred hand-held candles. It’s the time of year when the experience of Jesus is most profound and vivid. And so, it is the best time for me and my kind to come back into the light and try all over again to be true to our calling. So if you see me sitting furtively at the back somewhere trying to negotiate the new Liturgical moves, then peace be with you.



— Kevin McKenna a columnist for the Sunday Observer


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