By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor
Sunday morning has long been the traditional time for Mass attendance, with the addition of Saturday vigil Masses allowed to fulfill the Sunday obligation following the Second Vatican Council. However, the latest trend is growing in popularity – Sunday evening Masses.
“The [evening Mass] is a blessing for people because of work schedules,” said Maria Arvonio, who has been a parishioner of St. John Neumann, Mount Laurel, for 24 years. “Being Catholic is being able to receive the Eucharist – we need more Eucharist and more Masses in the Church than ever before.”
What appears to be a response to a work- and family-based need is becoming more prevalent in the Diocese of Trenton, as well as dioceses across the nation. Many faithful have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to attend Mass without jeopardizing employment or other obligations.
St. John Neumann offers a 5:30 p.m. Mass, which Arvonio said is popular with the youth and their families. In prior years, when the Mass was offered at 6 p.m., Arvonio would play guitar for the liturgy.
“It’s a great time and still allows people to get back home in time for family,” she said.
Merry Marcellino, coordinator of ministries for Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, said that the parish began a 7 p.m. Sunday Mass to accommodate hospital workers, many of whom aren’t parishioners.
“We wanted them to be able to worship, and not have to worry about taking time off from work to do that, or feel that they have to miss Mass,” she explained, acknowledging that the Mass was also popular with families, because of their busy schedules.
In St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, the Life Teen program has been the driving force behind the Sunday evening Mass, although it’s is open to all who desire to attend. Gez Ford, parish youth and music minister, said that the number of youth in the 16-year program from eighth through 12th grades averages 30 to 40.
“Our Sunday night schedule begins with the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Raphael’s Church, where teens are fully immersed in the liturgy as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, lectors, greeters, ushers and band members,” Ford said. “The Life Teen Mass has a particularly youthful style, whilst being completely faithful to the fact that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.”
Arvonio, a nurse who works evening shifts, also used to attend the 5 p.m. daily Mass offered in the chapel of the Cistercian monks, located on the parish grounds. When the Cistercians left, the daily evening Mass was discontinued – which Arvonio said she and other parishioners really miss.
For some parishes, adding an evening Mass could be a difficult accommodation, particularly if that parish has only one priest. According to canon law, a priest can only celebrate two Masses on a given day, unless there is a special need for more.
There might also be a need to determine if the Mass time is sustainable. Seasons, weather and other factors can lower Mass attendance in the evening – for instance, fewer people may attend in winter if they are uncomfortable with driving home in the dark. Priests may also be less inclined to offer an extra evening Mass after working the entire weekend.
Marcellino said it was important for Sacred Heart Parish to offer the Sunday evening Mass because “we want everyone to be able to attend Mass no matter what their schedule is … Our reason for being here is to serve God’s people, and if we can help them by having an evening Mass so they can still worship, then we are happy we are able to make this happen.”
Emily Benson, Catholic News Service, contributed to this story.