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Catholic Church Is Losing Young People
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Shouldn’t We Have Masses Aimed at Different Groups?
‘Is It Morally Right to File a Wrongful-death Lawsuit?’
What If Someone Becomes Sick During Mass?
‘Did I Commit a Mortal Sin?’

Q: In your November 2008 column, you responded to someone who asked about the many young people who have left the Catholic Church to attend other, livelier religious services that foster a more inviting community spirit and greater parishioner involvement.

I was blessed to have parents strong in their Catholic faith. Before her death in 1992, my wife and I raised seven children as Catholics. Although I am still an active Catholic, two of my children go to another church because it has a more inviting program for their children. One daughter who is divorced and cannot be a full participant in her parish sees that her youngest child attends Catholic catechism classes regularly.

When I recently attended worship at a Lutheran congregation, I learned they have a traditional service at 8 a.m. and a more contemporary service at 10:30 a.m. Although the second service is designed for younger people, people say that more and more seniors are attending it.

I live close to a large state university and know that the Catholic campus-ministry program there has well-attended Masses. Couldn’t Catholic parishes designate Masses for different groups, inviting young people to serve as lectors, eucharistic ministers, choir members, ushers, etc.?

Perhaps this could be followed by discussions of the day’s readings and other current Catholic concerns. Maybe even coffee and doughnuts!

Granted this would take lots of planning, work and qualified leaders to put together an effective program, but wouldn’t this be time well spent? Such work is paying off for other churches!

A: Yes, this can be done. In fact, some Catholic parishes are already doing this, with varying degrees of formal planning and publicity. In my observation, the earliest Sunday morning Mass at many parishes, for example, is probably the one most likely to use more traditional music.

My only caution about aiming Masses at particular age groups is that we need to remember that Jesus suffered, died and rose from the dead for the sake of all of us. We need to guard against turning worship into another consumer “object” or “good” that we evaluate primarily on the basis of who else is there (age, race, economic status, etc.), what kind of music is used at Mass, who is preaching or similar criteria. The Eucharist exists to praise God and to support our faith journey as disciples.

Even though all Christians share a common Baptism into Christ as priest, prophet and king, a little more than 20 years after Jesus’ death, a problem arose in Corinth. St. Paul had to reprimand its Christians who were allowing economic and social differences to dictate how they celebrated the Eucharist. In this case, they were highlighting who was well-off and who was not (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). The Letter of James also cautions against any economic discrimination during worship (see 2:1-4).

Masses at World Youth Day and similar events show that young people can proclaim readings at Mass, distribute Holy Communion and support those present through song and music. Yes, Mass with the pope is special, but it is the same Christ celebrated at all Masses.

Most parish priests whom I know would welcome more active participation of those present at every Mass. Have you shared your concerns with your local pastor?

Q: My father died in the hospital last year. On the morning of his bypass surgery, nurses told us that he had sustained a head injury from a fall in the shower. Even so, they reassured us that he would be fine for surgery. He never regained consciousness after the operation and was on a ventilator for three months.

Hospital staff members repeatedly told us conflicting stories about his condition and never actually explained what went wrong.

Our family buried our father with many unanswered questions that continue to eat at us each day. We feel that we were never properly informed about the whole event and we struggle with the what-ifs.

Some family members have mentioned the possibility of initiating a wrongful-death lawsuit against the doctors and hospital involved. This may provide some answers and, if they were negligent, some monetary compensation.

Is it morally right to file a wrongful-death lawsuit under these circumstances? Our intention is not to capitalize on an unfortunate situation but to hold the doctors and hospital accountable for the unnecessary suffering and loss of our father.

A: Please accept my condolences on your father’s death. It sounds as though you have every right to investigate filing a wrongful-death lawsuit. Your lawyer will advise you about what is involved. You need, however, to be ready to accept an acquittal of the hospital, doctors and staff if that is what the judge or jury decides.

A lawsuit will probably surface more facts and resolve some doubts. It cannot, however, guarantee greater peace of mind for those who initiate the lawsuit, no matter what the verdict is. You and your family members will need to work out that greater peace of mind for yourselves.

Q: Is there a Church policy when a medical emergency occurs at Mass? Twice I have been present when someone collapsed during Mass and the 911 squad had to be called.

Should the priest have stopped Mass and blessed or prayed over the person? Should he have anointed the person who had collapsed? Offered Holy Communion to that person?

A: There is no official policy of which I am aware. Celebrants need to make a prudential judgment in each case.

I was once reading the Gospel when the emergency medical squad came to take someone from the back of church. About five or six rows of people were aware of what had happened. I judged that it was best to continue with the Mass, which I did.

I was not present, but I know a friar to whom something more drastic happened. During Mass a man collapsed and died at the front of church. The friar-celebrant chose to lead the congregation in the Rosary while waiting for the emergency medical team to arrive. They evaluated the situation and took the man to the hospital.

This friar then continued the Mass. His decision to lead the Rosary kept people focused on prayer—with a new urgency! He also avoided the possibility that people might be coming up for Holy Communion while the medical team needed to do their work. The Mass could not be continued until that medical emergency was resolved.

Stopping to administer Holy Communion or even to anoint a person could possibly jeopardize his or her medical condition. I think that celebrants should err on the side of caution under such rare circumstances.

To use a personal example of a non-medical situation, I was once proclaiming the eucharistic prayer when the fire alarm went off. The ushers soon signaled that this was a false alarm. I judged that it was best to remain at the altar and not evacuate the church. No one chose to leave. I resumed the Mass once the situation had been clarified.

Q: While I was recently walking my puppy, a woman came along while jogging. Even though she had all the room in the world, she made a nasty comment that I needed to control my dog. In fact, it was on a leash. Her comment made me very angry. Because I felt that she was being petty, I told her to grow up and go to hell. Did I commit a mortal sin by doing this?

A: It does not sound as though the “full knowledge” and “full consent” necessary for a mortal sin were present in this instance. Even so, you may want to ask yourself, “Why did I allow myself to become so angry in response to her comment? Why did I allow myself to become ‘hooked’ by her remark?”

Could you have calmly stated that you were already controlling your puppy? Did you become so angry because it was a woman who made this remark? Because it was someone who was exercising who said it? Could there have been some other reason?

You can confess this sin, receive absolution, do your penance and try to forget about the whole incident. If you do that, however, I suspect that you might soon find yourself in another situation where your anger flares up for reasons that are unclear. If that happens, you may be strongly tempted to label this situation as simply the other person’s fault—without asking why your anger is so frequently near the boiling point.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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