With depreciating numbers at many Sunday liturgies, proposing daily Mass may seem ludicrous to some people. Enter certain churches late on Sunday or a holy day and you'll easily find a seat. If Sunday attendance is so dismal, why advocate daily Mass?
It's not silly at all, said Brant Pitre, professor of Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.
"Because the Church is the living body of Christ, when something happens to one part of the body, it affects the entire body. This means that anytime you have growth in holiness in one part of the body, the whole body is strengthened."
Furthermore, he added, weekday Massgoers become witnesses to others, especially Catholics who might need inspiration to attend Sunday liturgy.
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"The witness of the daily communicant can bring to attention as to why anyone would go to Mass at all. It raises the question, 'What's so special about Mass that someone would want to go everyday?'"
"The Eucharist is the most significant prayer the Church participates in. To extend that into daily life is an extra grace," Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hying of Milwaukee told Our Sunday Visitor.
Along with building up the Church, daily Mass benefits the participants, said Pitre. Participants experience an "increased intimacy with Christ" and a "sanctification of the workweek."
"Daily Mass helps us to remember that all our time is a gift from God. Daily Mass helps you live your Sunday faith all week long."
A daily ritual
Conchita Barber, a lifelong Catholic and daily Massgoer, derives great solace from this ritual. Since her retirement in 1991, she's been a regular at her parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Ramona, Calif.
"I feel more serene," she said. "It's the perfect way to start the day. When you're having a problem, it consoles you. To receive the body and blood of Jesus, it makes the biggest difference in the world. It helps you to become a better person."
Laypeople are not the only ones who benefit from daily Mass. The celebration of weekday Mass allows Father Jim Schuerman, a priest for 25 years, more flexibility, creativity and growth in his own spiritual life.
"Daily Mass reminds me that we're a Eucharistic people. It helps me in my own Eucharistic spirituality," said Father Schuerman, who pastors two parishes in Wisconsin.
"For weekend Mass I have to be super prepared, whereas on a weekday, the preparation is different. I read the Scripture and meditate, not for a homily, but as a daily prayer. When the homily comes I have to be ready to do theology on my feet. Sometimes fresh ideas come from that," he added.
He may also select the music, and if there are no specific requirements for the day, such as a feast day, he may choose any of the Mass prayers. Father Schuerman is also encouraged by the faithful weekday communicants.
"I always find those who come to daily Mass to be like the elders of the church; those who understand the need for sustained prayer, those ready to serve at a moment's notice."
Father Schuerman admits that most of the devotees are older, but he's enthusiastic when children participate in daily Mass.
"It's one of the healthiest things we can do for kids. It's not just something we do on Sunday. It gives them a sense of the holy throughout the week, so they're not separating what happens on Sunday with the rest of their week.
The history of daily Mass
The tradition of weekday Mass began in the second century, according to Father Michael Witczak, S.L.D., assistant professor of liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
"The Christian community of Smyrna (now modern Turkey) gathered on the anniversary of St. Polycarp's martyrdom (around the year 160) to celebrate his memory and his fidelity to Christ," he said. "As the years wore on, some saints came to be celebrated in more and more communities. For example, St. Peter and St. Paul, even though they were martyred in Rome, came to be celebrated in almost every Christian community."
As that tradition grew, Christians, as early as the 200s, began ending their Wednesday and Friday fast days with Mass. By the seventh and eighth century, Mass was said every day in Lent.
Another practice developed with the advent of votive Masses. These were Masses that often expressed a priest's own spirituality; a Mass honoring the Blessed Mother, for example.
By the Middle Ages, people paid stipends for priests to celebrate a Mass for a particular intention, such as for a deceased loved one, or a Mass of thanksgiving for a good crop. By the year 1000, daily Mass was as common as Sunday Mass.
Despite its early roots, the weekday Mass borrowed from the previous Sunday's prayers and readings. It wasn't until the Second Vatican Council that a daily Mass lectionary was established.
"With the reform of the liturgy, one of the things they decided to do was to create a cycle of readings," said Father Witczak. "That's a major change with the Church's approach to daily Mass.
"If you go to daily Mass, you basically hear all four Gospels, 80 percent of the New Testament and 30 to 40 percent of the Old Testament read during the two-year cycle. What a gift from the Church to everybody."
"I feel like those readings are given to us as an anchor to our faith. And they're the same readings read (all over the world). We're connected to the universal Church," said Father Schuerman.
A spiritual discipline
There is some concern that weekday Massgoers may develop apathy for Sunday liturgy. If they attend Mass every day, what's so special about it? Pitre says Scripture proves otherwise.
"The Mass is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. In John, Chapter 6, Jesus uses the manna of the Exodus from Egypt as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. The reason that's significant for us is that the manna was eaten everyday. It was a gift from God for everyday, not just the Sabbath," said Pitre.
"Therefore, the Church sees it fitting for us to celebrate Mass everyday. The Church does not require us to do this, but if God wants to give this, it is fitting."
Priests are not required by canon law to say Mass every day. "But, if a priest is a servant of the Eucharist, it should be a priority. Obviously, it's very strongly encouraged," said Bishop Hying, who added that weekday Mass never trumps Sunday's obligation. "Sunday always takes priority over daily Mass. Sunday is the Lord's Day."
In areas with priests' shortages, many parishes opt to have Communion services. Both the Mass and Communion service are similar because both have readings and Communion. In the Communion service, however, the offertory and Liturgy of the Eucharist are omitted, said Father Witczak.
"In the celebration of the Mass, offertory is not only the offering of the bread and wine, but it's an expression of offering myself. Receiving Communion at a Communion service, you are receiving Communion from a different Mass. But when you receive Communion at Mass, you are receiving Communion from that Mass. Mass is the fullness of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. You're receiving the fruits of that Mass."
The numbers of weekday Massgoers may never swell, but the regulars aren't relinquishing this spiritual discipline. They have found that daily Mass bolsters their faith while nurturing friendships.
"They're just like your family. It's a good feeling to me to be among people close to God," Barber said.
Carol L. Paur writes from Wisconsin.