There’s ‘having’ to go to church, and there’s ‘wanting’ to
“Mass? On Thanksgiving?” the man-child’s voice asked with not a little incredulity. “We don’t have to go to Mass on Thanksgiving.”
No, the voice of reason and rationality answered.
You don’t have to go to Mass on Thanksgiving, I said. I just thought you might want to go to thank God for all the gifts you’ve received during the past year.
I might as well have been talking to the deceased turkey on the counter that was having its cavity stuffed at the moment.
That conversation happened 20 years ago.
I remember writing a column about it at the time — yes, in the old Catholic Bulletin — because a debate was going on at the time about holy days of obligation. Very few Catholics were attending those “obligatory” feast day Masses, and although it took several years, the “obligation” was removed. Now, as we know, in the United States we observe several former obligatory attendance feasts on the nearest weekend. (Immaculate Conception — Dec. 8; Assumption — Aug. 15; Ascension Thursday).
But back to Thanksgiving 1991.
The assigned lector was unable to make it, and as I walked into church, the pastor grabbed me to fill in in the emergency.
That’s where an insight came into the difference between “having to” and “wanting to” go to Mass.
When you lector at weekend Masses, you can see all the folks who duck out at Communion, all the folks who rush out to their cars at the first note of the recessional hymn, all the folks who are in the parking lot before the priest even makes it halfway down the aisle to the back of church.
On that Thanksgiving Day, when the only people who were at Mass were the folks who didn’t feel “obliged” to be there but “wanted” to be there, guess how many people left Mass early?
Not a single one.