“Watching Mass” With Your Family. Futile or Fulfilling? What Makes the Difference.

This article is part of a series on domestic church life.  To learn more about creating a dynamic domestic church,  join the conversation on our Facebook discussion group CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

A friend made me aware of this article in The Catholic Thing about the frustration the author, Randall Smith, felt about watching mass online.

Photo via Shutterstock.com Used with permission

He writes…

The danger for me is that I get spiritually numb.  It’s easy to get busy with work and just skip it without a thought.  There’s something good about having to get up and walk over to the chapel.  You must commit to something, physically.  There’s not the same movement either of the body or the spirit if I just click a link and then sit there and watch Mass, as if I were watching the video of an online lecture….I’m not always wrapped into a state of ecstatic contemplation at a regular Mass either, but watching Mass online is like listening to someone narrate the events of their vacation trip while they slowly scroll through the pictures on their phone.  “And here’s Gladys and me with the waiter at a great sea food restaurant in Galveston.”  And you think, “I could be doing something useful now.  But I’m not.”  

I certainly appreciate the author’s view.  But something about it made me a little sad.  That feeling grew as I read the comments on my friend’s Facebook page in response to the article. One, in particular, stood out.

…my husband is not Catholic, and I am not always in charge of what the house is doing while we are home. [Watching Mass] just becomes another boring TV show the younger kids want nothing to do with, and after my first attempt, I’m sure the teens are not “into it” either. It is so much easier to pack everyone up and go to church, and I can’t even believe I’m saying that!

I want to be clear. Nothing I write here is an attempt to deny the experience of these good and faithful people.  We are not obliged to watch Mass online.  We are free to feel whatever we feel about it.  There isn’t a “right” answer.

At the same time–spiritually, as in life–I often find it helpful to try to cultivate a spirit of openness.  I find that–at least in response to more important things–it isn’t enough for me to say, “Meh, this isn’t my thing.”  If someone I care about believes that there is something good, true, or beautiful about something–especially if I don’t–I find it useful to try to ask what I might be missing.  How do they approach that thing in a way that’s different from me?  What about their approach allows them to experience it differently than I do?  And would it be useful for me to change my approach so that, maybe, I could get something out of it too?

As I reflected on my own, surprisingly, positive experience of watching mass online with my family, and reading a few comments of those who also found it to be a positive experience, it occurred to me that those who appreciated it did so for exactly the reasons the author of the article found it uncomfortable.  It challenges us to be more intentional about mass.

My family has made a point of actively watching.  We literally behaved as if we were at church. We stood, knelt, sat, sang, and said all the responses out loud.  We even got dressed up for Easter Mass. And it’s been kind of wonderful.  Why?   Because we were forced to be intentional about everything.

In some ways, I agree with the person who’s comment I posted above. It is actually a lot easier to just pack everyone off and go to church.  When I’m at church, everybody is doing the same thing.  I don’t have to think about it. And I don’t have to work that hard to get my kids to go along with it.  Sure, they can get squirmy, but in general, they aren’t going to draw attention to themselves by defiantly standing when others are kneeling, or sitting with others are standing.  Herd mentality takes over and we all go through the motions.

But doing church in my family room was…weird.  We had to think about it.  Why are we doing this?  Isn’t this a little… crazy? Yes!  It is!  And that’s the point. Even though it’s weird, it was important enough to all of us to be weird and keep doing it.  The question, “Why, exactly, is this so important that we would put ourselves out this way?” was in the back of our minds the whole time, which led to some really good conversations about what our faith means to us and what we would be willing to do to proclaim that with our lives.

But My Family Isn’t Faithful.

But what if your family doesn’t share your faith?  Is it still worth doing?  Could you still get something out of participating in an online mass?  Of course everyone has to decide that for themselves.  It’s a question to take to prayer.  But I would suggest that it is a question worth considering.

Imagine the witness it would be for a mom (or dad) to value their faith so much that they insisted that for this hour–whether anyone cared to join them or not, and whether anyone approved or not–they were going to commandeer the family room to watch Mass.  And what if, while they watched, they actually attended.  Imagine that they stood, and sat, and knelt, and sang and said all the responses out loud. Imagine that they were willing to deal with the snarky comments, and eye-rolls, and, afterward,  have the discussions, and, ultimately demand the respect that they deserve as a son or daughter of God?

What if not one other family member joined this parent?  And what it, afterward, their spouse and kids mockingly said, “So, how was Mass?”  What if they answered truthfully. “Honestly, guys, it was kind of hard and kind of lonely.  I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but the fact is, it’s sometimes hard being part of a family that doesn’t love or respect me enough to even try to see what’s good about things that are important to me.  But the thing is, I am grateful that, each time I go to Mass, God gives me the strength to hang in the and hope that maybe things can get better.  So, I’m going to keep doing it even if you make fun of me. OK, then.  What would you all like for breakfast?”

Just imagine the conversations that would get started.  And just imagine the what it would say the next week when that faithful spouse/parent did it all over again.

Spiritual Eyes Wide Open

I would respectfully suggest that whether one’s family is faithful or not, participating in mass at home is an exercise in being more conscious and intentional about attending mass.  There is nothing about it that allows you to just go through the motions, check the boxes, and pat yourself on the back because “at least we showed up.”  Participating in mass at home is a commitment that I truly believe will make me and mine more mindful of why we’re participating at mass when we finally get to go back to our parish church.

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