Weekday Mass is still very much a popular Lenten devotion, and Fathers Frank Lioi, Patrick Connor and Robert Schrader have the numbers to prove it.
Father Lioi, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Auburn, noted that his church’s 7 a.m. Mass normally attracts 40 to 60 worshipers, but during the weekdays of Lent "our number would vary between 80 to 100." Father Connor and Father Schrader also reported that Lenten attendance tends to double among their parishioners.
"They take it seriously. It is very heartening to see their fervor," said Father Connor, pastor of central Steuben County’s St. Catherine of Siena, Addison; St. Stanislaus, Bradford; and St. Joseph, Campbell.
Father Schrader, pastor of Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, termed weekday Mass participation "an excellent spiritual exercise" for people who strive to "consider prayerfully where they are and where they hope to be with regard to their relationship with the Lord and one another" as Easter approaches.
This desire to receive the Eucharist goes right to the heart of what Lent is all about, according to Father William Spilly.
"It is what identifies us as Catholics more than anything else. And in Lent we are asked in a particular way to become more like the Christ who is the Eucharist," said Father Spilly, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hamlin.
Father William Coffas added that while fasting and abstinence are staples of Lent as well, attendance at daily Mass fits right into the Lenten objective of growing closer to Jesus.
"As the Second Vatican Council told us, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith," said Father Coffas, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva.
Father Kevin McKenna, pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral, observed that attending weekday liturgies can foster a deeper appreciation of such scriptural themes as baptism and Christ’s suffering and death.
"If you reflect on these readings privately and meditate upon them, it can lead to good insights into the spiritual life, coupled with the homiletic reflection provided by the celebrant," Father McKenna said, adding that another benefit of daily Mass is its community-building aspect. Meanwhile, Father Lioi listed daily Mass as one of several parish-based Lenten options along with Stations of the Cross, retreats, Bible study, adult education and social-ministry projects.
Father Connor contended that attending these liturgies is well worth the sacrifice of time involved.
"Even though going to Mass in Lent is referred to as a penance, it is something very positive, and not meant as a torture. Getting there may be hard, but once you are there, and after you leave, you feel much better. You are glad that you went," he said, adding that those unable to attend Mass might wish to consider reading the daily Mass Scriptures.
Father Coffas agreed that daily Mass should be viewed less as a burden and more as "picking up good habits. What better habit than for making more time for God’s word and receiving Eucharist?"
Father Connor said this practice might well evolve into going to at least one daily Mass per week all year long. Father Spilly, as well, said attendance certainly need not be limited to Lent.
"In general I always encourage people to celebrate daily Mass as a way to develop one’s spirituality," he said.
Despite all these potential benefits, options for daily Mass are becoming more limited due to the decline in priests. For instance, Father Lioi pointed out that St. Mary in Auburn once held three daily Masses and "even if a parish had only one daily Mass ordinarily, they might have added an extra daily Mass during Lent. This is rarely done today."
Fathers Lioi and Spilly added that daily Mass is mostly attended by older parishioners, noting that younger generations haven’t had the same exposure to this practice during Lent or other times of the year. On the other hand, Father Lioi noted that "there are other programs that are being offered during Lent these days that perhaps were not offered in the past — Bible study, adult education, social-service projects and specialized retreats, to name a few."