Leaving Early

One hour.

Can we not sit for one hour?

We go to restaurants and sit longer than one hour.

We go to concerts, plays, movies, lectures, even a coffee shop with our laptops...and we can sit for an hour, easy. We flop on the couch and watch TV for an hour with no problem.

But Mass? Forget it. Too long. Too boring. We've got things to do, places to be, people to see, a dinner or brunch reservation.  Wrap it up, Padre.

Lately I've been attending a parish where this is not done. People do not bolt right after Holy Communion. If they do for important reasons, such as a sick child, or a crying baby, or perhaps they're not feeling well themselves, it is done quietly, reverently. They hate to do it, but it's necessary, so they sit in the back and creep out.  We've all done it in cases like this. We understand that there are times when we have to do this. No one is judging these people. But when it happened last night at my parish, I wasn't prepared for the "mass exodus" that occurred. I had gotten used to people actually staying until the priest gave his final blessing and walked down the aisle.

But at last night's vigil Mass, the people bolted—bolted!—after Holy Communion. When I got back to our pew afterward, entire pews had been emptied. I could not believe how many people had left. It was such a stark difference from ten minutes before. Not every one of these people had a serious reason to leave. Some of them, perhaps...and I am trying to be charitable here. But not all of them, all at the same time. I think it was one of the saddest things I have ever experienced at Holy Mass.  After looking at the empty pews, I unfortunately became distracted, wondering where these people had to be so urgently at 5:55 on a Saturday evening. Dinner?  The movies? Entire families were gone—poof!—in the blink of an eye.

How rude.

The greatest event in humankind had just been recreated and the people could not be bothered to wait until the end. God had just been created on the altar, and people were rushing out to make it to the Outback Steakhouse before the lines got too long.

I remember as a child being squirmy at Mass, like every other boy and girl. We had come back from Holy Communion and I was ready to hit the road.

"Mom," I whispered. "Let's goooo."

My mom leaned over to me and whispered back, "Nancy, we don't leave until after the priest has passed us."

What?! That would take about one more minute for him to walk down the aisle! I couldn't wait that long!

"But whyyyyy?"

"Because," she said simply. "It's not nice. It's not polite. It's rude."

"Mommmmmm," I whined, but it was no use. My mom, dad, my brother, and I weren't going anywhere until after Father had passed us.  Anything else, barring an emergency situation, was just rude. It was rude to Father, it was rude to everyone else, and most of all, it was rude to Jesus.

To leave when the Blessed Sacrament is still exposed, and to leave when we have just been unified with our Lord, is to rip apart His embrace, right in the middle of it. Imagine yourself hugging a loved one, and he or she pulls away abruptly, leaving to do something else. How would you feel? We should consider staying longer after Mass, to pray in Thanksgiving for what we have just received, instead of chomping at the bit to get out of church. We've gotten it all backwards.

Look, we've all been there, myself included. This is why I can write all of this; I've been there! If you're feeling ill, or your child won't stop fussing, of course you have to do what you have to do. However, I can't believe that hordes of people were in this situation at the same exact time last night.  Some years ago, I remember being in the parking lot walking to my car while still consuming the Host. I did it rarely, but when I did, I always felt this strange sensation that it wasn't right. How I could even pray like I was supposed to after receiving Holy Communion when I was busy getting my keys out of my purse and unlocking my car door is beyond me. The Holy Spirit was telling me I wasn't finished being with Jesus. I had rushed our embrace, I had literally shoved Him away from me so I could get out of the parking lot quicker, on to other things.

Now, Deo gratias, I see things differently.

See, in this give-it-to-me-now society, we can't wait. We want things NOW. We cringe when we see the little hourglass or spinning arrow on our computer while we wait for something to load. "This is ridiculous," we complain.   We stand in lines with more than two people ahead of us and turn our heads, looking for another checkout line, sighing heavily. "This is going to take forever! I just wanted to be in and out of here!"

May I suggest that this is sadly the thought process of many on Sunday (and Saturday evening) at Holy Mass? We just wanted to be in and out of here! Check off the box; we've fulfilled our duty for the week. And if that homily goes over, or the watch is telling us that it's been too long, or we're hungry, then we bolt. We have other, more important things to do. Our time is precious. This is such a sacrifice to sit here!

Nothing is too much for us to sacrifice to show our love and appreciation for the Ultimate Sacrifice.

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