Why do we go to Mass?

Emmett Fitzpatrick

Christmas is less than three weeks away, which means many Christians will be making their semi-annual trip to their local churches to celebrate the birth of Santa Claus. The next trip to church won’t come again until April, when we celebrate Tupac’s resurrection on the holy holiday of Easter. Jokes aside, Catholics across the country are not going to Mass on a regular basis, if at all, leading priests and other religious leaders to ask, “Why don’t we go to church?” Perhaps the better question is, “Why do we go to church?”

In the interest of full disclaimer, I should admit that I have been going to church once a week for as long as I can remember. With the exception of a few Sundays here and there throughout the years, I’ve been the Cal Ripken Jr. of Catholics, compiling an impressive streak of attendance. Lately I’ve wondered if the hours I’ve spent in churches across the world are something to be proud of or are simply a colossal waste of time.

Most Catholics would probably call it a waste of time more than anything else. After all, most Catholics don’t go to church on a weekly basis, and fewer young men are entering the priesthood. When I went to Mass in Ireland, I was expecting to see the church filled, but in actuality it looked just like an American church: empty.

Why do we go to church, then? I asked some regular church-goers on campus to try to find out.

Senior Steven Ishak said that he goes to church to “clear [his] mind and relieve some stress.”

Sophomore Matt Zmuda told me, “It’s an hour when I can just think about life, relax and hopefully listen to a good sermon.”

Senior Joe Pecora was initially dumbfounded by my question, saying that he had never had to put into words why going to church was important to him. He went on to say, “Going to church reinforces your belief in God.”

Most of the answers I received made sense, but they each shared the basic belief that going to church is above all an opportunity to have time to one’s self. My rebuttal question, however, is, “Why do you need to go to church for that?” After all, the respondents didn’t say that they went to Mass to listen to the Biblical stories or say the prayers that they are supposed to recite, which is what the majority of the hour-long service entails.

My limited survey was certainly not scientific and should not be taken as anything more than an interesting sample of why Villanovans go to Mass. The responses, however, hinted at why people are not choosing to spend their Sundays in church pews when they could get the same value out of personal reflection by simply spending some time alone.

I share many of these sentiments, and I’m not positive why I continue to go to Mass on a weekly basis. I actually enjoy going to Mass here at Villanova because it’s a positive experience in my week, and I share Zmuda’s enjoyment in a good sermon. You won’t find any better sermons than the ones given by our priests here.

I can understand why people have given up going to church, though. All we hear about is how so many priests have been molesting little kids for years, while other priests in positions of power have looked the other way and, in some ways, promoted these criminals within the corrupt hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Why would we want to listen to these men talk about the implications of the Bible, which is supposed to be the backbone of the essence of our morality, when we can’t be sure what they do behind closed doors?

In my freshman theology class, one of my classmates said that he was an atheist and that he read the Bible the same way that he read “The Lord of the Rings” or any other fantasy tale. This could have stemmed from his obsession with Elijah Wood’s performance as Frodo in those movies, but that’s beside the point. Still, my initial knee-jerk reaction to his comment was that he was nothing more than a heretic on his way to hell. Three years later, however, I’m not sure how wrong he really is.

We look at the beliefs of other religions like Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam as interesting but ultimately untrue stories of where we came from and why we are here. If I were born into a Hindu family in India instead of a Catholic family in Illinois however, I would most likely view the story of Jesus Christ as nothing more than an interesting story that some anti-Semite named Mel Gibson made into a film.

Ziggy Marley solved the problem of religion, which has been questioned and fought over for thousands of years, with one simple line in his catchy single, “Love is my religion.” We all know that the Beatles believed that “all you need is love.” I’ve never doubted John Lennon or Bob Marley (or in this case, Ziggy) before, so why start now? Count me in on the belief that we don’t need to go to church for any other reason than that we want to.

The funny thing is, if you do decide to go, you just might be surprised what you get out of it.