We need to ‘reclaim’ Sunday for God and family

    You made a national stir recently with your initiative to “reclaim” Sunday as a day for worship and family time together by asking schools and other Catholic entities to avoid holding athletic practices and other events on Sunday. What kind of reaction have you gotten?
    It was not my intention to cause a stir. I was just trying to put God and family first. I have to say I’ve been amazed by the positive reaction we’ve received from all across the country. The reaction I’ve gotten is that many people think we are right in trying to reclaim Sunday as a day for God and family.
    When you first returned to New Orleans in 2009, this seemed to be a very important point of emphasis with you.
    I’m very much aware of the fast-paced life that we’ve embraced in the United States. If we embrace that kind of pace, some things become neglected – not intentionally – and I think one of those is the family. Some surveys show that families actually may not share more than one to three meals together in a week. It concerns me that the family is supposed to be the foundational unit of our society and our church. If there’s not an opportunity to spend time together, will that not make it more difficult to respect and love one another and also to form our young people in the ways of faith? Another major aspect of this is stressing the importance of attending Mass together as a family. We’ve always said in the Catholic Church that being able to pray together as a family is a priority. The Ten Commandments themselves tell us to keep holy the Lord’s day. I think we have lost a sense of that.
    What have you heard from priests on this?
    I’ve talked to priests and other people in ministry, and they’re concerned that Sunday has become just another day – another day for shopping, school activities and athletic practices. I’ve given a lot of prayerful thought to this and consulted a lot of people, and it seems to me if we as church are truly going to be a prophetic voice in our society, we must try to reclaim Sunday. Now, listen, I’m not naive enough to think we’re going to change our culture overnight, but we can be a voice that can influence the culture and lay a groundwork for change in the future. I’m not naive enough to think that drug stores, supermarkets and shopping malls are going to close on Sunday. We all know that businesses that do close on Sunday make national news! But if we as Catholics prioritize ourselves that on Sunday, it’s God and family first and the other responsibilities second and third, then we have an opportunity not only to keep holy the Lord’s day and give attention to our families but also to influence the culture.
    Every October you ask parishes to chart their Mass attendance. Are you concerned about Mass attendance?
    We know for a fact that because of the fast pace of life and many other reasons, on a given Sunday within any parish community – and this is true not only for Catholics but for all Christian denominations and most other religions – that we can expect to see no more than about 30 to 35 percent of our people. Some people go every week, some once a month, some twice a month, some every four months, some twice a year. But on any given Sunday, we can expect to see maybe 30 to 35 percent of our people. What does that say about our priorities? I would hope that our movement in this direction is seen as a positive thing – that we’re calling people to give worship to God as a family and to spend time together as a family. Those two things really are the foundation of who we are as disciples of Jesus.
    I know you sometimes attend Saints games on Sunday. What about that?
    In many cases, those kinds of activities are family gatherings, so people can still go to Mass together and then go to those kinds of events together as a family. The same can be said about a parish fair. A parish provides Mass and then offers a family gathering afterward where people can enjoy each other’s company as a community of faith. What we’re also trying to do in the parishes is provide Sunday as an opportunity to offer religious education, confirmation classes and also afternoons and evenings for youth and young adults in the parish community to gather so it becomes a day of worship, family and faith. Some parishes now offer occasional Sunday night gatherings of prayer, fun and Christian formation for the entire family. Intergenerational activities! What a great idea!
    What impact do you think the Vigil Mass has had on Sunday Mass attendance?
    I think with all of the good that the Vigil Mass has done in providing us with some opportunities and flexibility in schedules, it has taken away from the sacredness of Sunday. That is regretful, but I think that’s been the case.
    How have you gotten out the word about your initiative?
    We are transitioning into this. We are asking all Catholic schools to adapt their schedules as much as possible this year by not holding things on Sunday. By next year, we’re asking them to free up all Sundays throughout the year. One of the school presidents told me the other day that his students are involved in a regional competition that takes place on a Sunday. The competition is not sponsored by the church but by a state organization. We have no control over those kinds of things, but I did suggest that the president go back and ask the organization what was it doing to provide an opportunity for all the students, regardless of their religious tradition, to attend worship on Sunday. We need to start with the things we can control, and perhaps that message of the importance of God and family will spread.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond can be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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