It’s a very subtle sin; a barely noticeable vice. It is systemic, and like so many other vices, hides under the veil of good intentions.
Every parish, every minister, and the whole Church has been guilty of this systemic vice; the unnecessary multiplication of Masses and Sacraments.
Once upon a time, when the Church was green and young there was one communal liturgy, one common gathering; the Sunday celebration, that either occurred Saturday evening or Sunday morning. They gathered together, confessed their sinfulness, ate a meal together, gave thanks, commemorated the Lord’s supper, offered each other signs of peace, and went home bringing with them the Eucharist to be shared with those who could not make it. There were no daily Masses, no funeral masses, no wedding masses, no special retreat masses, and so on…
There was one celebration, and they had a great time worshiping God.
Then daily Masses came along; and it has been a time honored tradition, and the Church has gleaned much spiritual fruit from that pious practice.
Then this was followed with a directive that every priest had to have their individual Mass every day, and so side altars were put in every church. This was soon followed by the ideal that every wedding had to have their own Mass, every funeral had to have their own Mass, every Quinceanero had to have their own Mass, and so on… It was all wholesome, and to a degree manageable, but a trend was being created.
The Church tried different measures to mitigate this vice. They stipulated that a priest should only celebrate one Mass a day and two only if strictly necessary; three on Sunday (if it’s really necessary). However, pastoral practices keep pushing against that limit.
Before Vatican II Sunday Mass and daily Mass could only be celebrated in the morning; with one common language (Latin) for everyone. With Vatican II, space was created for Mass at almost any time, which, while a wonderful opportunity for creativity with Mass times, also opened us up to our terrible addiction to more Mass times.
And it kept multiplying. We began to have Masses for the Spanish community, Latin Extraordinary Form community, the early morning no music community, the evening “I slept in on Sunday” community, the special retreat event Mass, and so on. . .
It kept increasing, and priests and communities run themselves ragged accommodating different groups for their favorite liturgies. Often times some Masses will only have 20, 30, or 100 people who could have gone to one of the other Masses. Special accommodations that sucks up money, ground maintenance, volunteer personnel, time, and so on.
Even more, there are parking lot issues and group management. Masses have to be 1 hour long or less in order to clear out the parking lot for the next Mass. The whole schedule gets squashed together in a ripple effect that often hurts the quality of the liturgy for the whole Sunday.
In an even bigger picture, parishioners sometimes crowd into their favorite parish instead of thinking, “You know, that parish down the road has plenty of availability, why am I stuffed into this parish at this Mass like a sardine?” Or, the opposite, small town Church communities never think, “you know, there’s only a handful of us here, why don’t we close this Church and attend Mass at that larger Church down the road?”
And then you have the weddings, funerals, baptisms, and quinceaneras with their own private Masses or ceremony. What makes it even worse is the fact that all these people are there for this private Mass but very few of them even know how to participate at Mass or appreciate the ceremony. So, the priest and the community is working hard to accommodate this private Mass for them, but they have little appreciation for it. However, the truth is that none of these celebrations should ever be private. They should always be celebrated with as many parishioners as possible present at regularly scheduled Masses.
However, God forbid that the priest should insist that all marriages, funerals, quinceaneras, and Baptisms be celebrated during already scheduled Mass times in the parish; whether on Sunday or weekdays. God forbid that we should cancel that Mass time that is poorly attended.
The main concern here is not about efficiency, not even about the priests being over worked. It’s about doing less so that we can do them better. Imagine a wedding on a Sunday when the whole community gathered to wish the couple well, a funeral with a full church and the whole parish present to pay their respects, Baptisms that were witnessed by everyone with parties afterwards. With fewer Mass times we could have space for longer, informative homilies and richer celebrations; where volunteers could go home and enjoy their Sundays instead of serving at 2 or three Masses. But more importantly, the need for every individually to think communally, globally; an examination of conscience where every individual asks themselves “how attached am I to this Mass time, to this liturgy, to this parish, to this priest, to this type of music, etc. . . and am I willing to give it up for the sake of the whole?” The more you multiply Masses the more you fragment the community. The ideal would be for there to be one Mass on Sunday for the whole parish in a common celebrations. That has to be our starting point and principle. Yes you can have more than one Mass, but for real pastoral reasons, not for the purpose of accommodating this or that private request.