Attendance at Mass Strong Despite Call, Says Church

By Kitty Holland
Irish Times
September 27, 2010

Parishioners at 11am Mass in St Marys Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street, Dublin, yesterday.

NUMBERS ATTENDING Mass held steady yesterday, and in some places were up on recent weeks, despite a campaign to boycott weekend services, according to the Catholic Communications Office.

There was evidence, however, of sporadic support for the plea by Cork pensioner Jennifer Sleeman (81), from Clonakilty, Co Cork, for women to stay away from Mass in protest at their treatment by the church.

Ms Sleeman said people who did not want to miss Mass could still protest against women's status as "second-class citizens" in the church by wearing green armbands, of which there were some sightings across the country.

Early yesterday, the Catholic Communications Office issued a statement encouraging people not to absent themselves from Mass, no matter what their views.

"The celebration of the Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is essential to the practice of the Catholic faith as the Sunday Eucharist is a pivotal aspect of the spiritual lives of Catholics."

The statement added: "Lay women and men contribute actively to all aspects of church life and this involvement has increased significantly in recent years."

The office's director Martin Long said yesterday evening the feedback he had ben getting indicated "if anything there was an increase in numbers at Mass".

"That could be due to a number of factors. It could be the pleasant weather, it could be the fact that it's September and people are back from summer holidays or it could too be that people are making a point and saying Mass is just far too important to be using it to make a point."

Soline Humbert, founder of the organisation Brothers and Sisters In Christ, which argues for the ordination of women priests, said she attended a celebration of the Eucharist in south Co Dublin yesterday, where the celebrant was a woman. There were others who were boycotting their Mass there, she said, including two religious sisters and several women members of a church choir.

She hoped the call to boycott might serve as a wake-up call to encourage people to see the "sexism" in the church, which she said was anathema to the teachings of Christ and the spirit of the Eucharist.

"We are so used to the sexism in the church we don't see it. We are excluding one section of the community. If the church said they would not ordain black people would we still go to Mass? It is separating justice from the Eucharist. The Eucharist is about oneness and love. Sexism is about exclusion. It is not the message of Christ."

Another woman who absented herself from Mass was Nuala Kernan, a regular Mass-goer in Limerick. She said she made the decision "not lightly".

"We have been trying, women in Ireland, to be heard a long time. It's 40 years since Vatican II and one way or another we have been using every possible opportunity to [be heard].

"We wish to contribute; some women ache to contribute, in meaningful ways," she told RTÉ Radio.

Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford, said he had heard no discussion of the boycott during the week or yesterday.

"There was no talk of it and I don't think it had any impact. There numbers at Mass were the same as usual."

Rev Edward McGee, of St Patrick's Church, Lisburn in the Diocese of Down and Connor, said there "was no discernible impact" on Mass numbers.

Msgr Sean Killeen in the Diocese of Killala, said he saw no change to numbers. "If anything the numbers at Mass were even better than usual. There wasn't a word about the boycott."

Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.