There are many reasons why Catholics say that they have given up going to Mass. The two most consistent seem to be that ‘the Mass is boring’ and ‘the Mass is irrelevant to my life and its problems’.

If this is people’s felt experience, it is understandable that they fail to see the Mass as a priority, given the pressures, demands and pace of modem life. It means, though, that they are not having the experiences the Risen Lord seeks to give all believers through the Eucharist for if they were, they would participate on the Lord’s Day.

Our Synod recommendations

Reviewing how the Eucharist is celebrated in the Diocese was one of the priority recommendations of our Diocesan Synod. Another was helping practising Catholics to share their faith effectively with others. This included Mass-goers.

Despite delays in implementing synodal recommendations due to Covid and diocesan resource problems, work to implement recommendations has been underway. Two major recommendations will be implemented in stages in the last half of 2023. These concern the new diocesan statutes for the renewal of celebrations of the Eucharist in the Diocese, and the statutes for the renewal of Parish Pastoral Councils. This Pastoral Letter relates to the first of these.

The changes of the Second Vatican Council

Pope St John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council to renew the Church in the light of the challenges of the modem world and the post World Wars I and II unprecedented decline in religious practice.

The first session of the Council rejected prepared draft documents. In essence, it resolved that the Church needed renewal to become more as Jesus intended.

The Renewal of the Mass

Around one hundred years before the Council, there were renewed studies of the writings of the earliest Christian teachers who succeeded the Apostles, called the “Church Fathers”.

These showed that celebrations of the Mass no longer fully fulfilled the intentions of the Lord.

How the Eucharist came to be celebrated at that time was the result of efforts by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to protect its meaning in the light of doctrinal attacks, particularly during the Reformation. The Council developed the Tridentine Mass to protect Catholic beliefs, though the Reformation frustrated its wish to return its celebration to the language of the people. 1 Though Latin had been the language of the Roman Empire, Jesus still chose to use the language of the people when instituting the Mass during the Last Supper.

The Mass of the Council of Trent sought to protect Jesus’ teachings on the Eucharist in the Reformation era. The Second Vatican Council sought this, but also to renew participation in the Mass as Jesus intended and practiced by the early Christians.

What does the Risen Jesus offer through the Mass?

The Mass is a ‘memorial’ in the sense that this word is understood by many non-western cultures. Indigenous Australians speak of the ‘Dreamtime’, for example, in the sense of a beginning of the creation of people and the world by the spirits that continues today. It is a continuum of the past, present and future.

The Mass similarly makes present the Risen Jesus who continues to offer himself in sacrifice to God the Father as he did on the Cross. The victim is the same; only the manner of offering is different. 2

Christ, the Priest and Mediator between God and humanity is Risen and so his self-sacrifice is permanent and forever. And because he is present in the Mass, he offers the blessings of his sacrifice to all who unite themselves with him by offering their own lives in the Mass.

The experiences of these blessings are what we call the Paschal Mystery.

They are the blessings of salvation because of his death and resurrection. Redemption refers to freedom from sin; salvation refers to the divine life the Risen Jesus shares with us through Baptism. 3

Through the Eucharist, the Risen Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, offers both greater intimacy with himself and prayers for needs answered in ways God knows are best. 4 He offers too enlightenment and guidance for life; healing, consolation, and divine power for other such needs; forgiveness of venial sins; strengthening against temptations; commitment to the poor and those in need; and a desire for unity with all the baptised. 5

In the gospels, there were those who sought and received Jesus’ power through miracles, and those who watched but did not experience his power as they did not seek it. To experience the blessings of the Paschal Mystery through the Eucharist, it is necessary to prepare for Mass as miracle seekers. To do this, those participating need to know the blessings being offered.

All need to be able to offer their lives to God.

The Mass is the thanksgiving sacrifice of the Risen Jesus to God, his Father and ours, for the Salvation of humanity. To participate in the Mass means to unite ourselves with him by offering our lives also. Every celebration of the Eucharist needs to aim to help all present to do this.

The Council taught that this includes all aspects of our daily lives. The ‘lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering’. 6 It includes ‘all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even their hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’. 7

The problem

Study of the earliest Christian teachers established that the Mass needed to be celebrated in ways which the Second Vatican Council sought to implement in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Its celebration needs to help all to ‘come to it with proper dispositions, their minds being attuned to their voices and to cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain’. Pastors must recognise that more than observing rubrics is needed for ‘it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part, fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by its effects’ (or the spiritual gifts the Risen Jesus seeks to share). 8

To fulfil this responsibility, pastors ‘must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation, both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life and standard of religious culture’. 9 Clearly a ‘one size fits all’ liturgy, as developed by Trent, cannot provide for these considerations.

How can a celebration for regular Mass-goers also reflect ‘the standard of religious culture’ of many who come to Mass only at Christmas or Easter; First Holy Communion or Confirmation; or funerals and special occasions?’ How can a celebration for older Catholics provide also for children and teenagers?’ How can a celebration also include those who do not know the ‘effects’ or gifts the Lord offers, so that they ‘can cooperate with grace lest they receive it in vain?’

The reality today is that many who no longer come to regular Masses are not always considered in the preparation of Masses for occasions when they do come. They need to be.

The solution

To guide celebrations of the Mass for the inclusion of all, the Church has mandated various options to be considered. The most important of these are found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and in the Roman Missal itself. Those for children are included in the Directory for Masses with Children.

These include ten Eucharistic Prayers as well as other options, such as the different forms of the Penitential Act. Many are unaware that there are three options for Masses with Children, two for Masses of Reconciliation.

Then there are the ‘Eucharistic Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions’. These really are one Prayer with four optional strands: the Church on the Way to Unity; the Church on the Way of Salvation; Jesus, the Way to the Father; and Jesus the Compassion of God.

The new diocesan statutes

The new diocesan statutes seek for all Masses in the Diocese to help all present to participate actively by planning celebrations which promote the ‘proper dispositions’, ‘minds attuned to their voices’ and which help them too to ‘cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain’ regardless of ‘their age and condition, their way of life and standard of religious culture’.

These statutes will be implemented gradually over the coming months. In practice, they will emphasise three elements.

The four sacred silences

There should be four sacred silences in every Mass. 10 Each should be long enough for all present, including the priest, to fulfil its purpose in their heaiis.

What makes a silence ‘sacred’ is that it is a moment to focus personally on the Risen Jesus and to share our hearts with him. This cannot be achieved if silences are too brief.

In each of the sacred silences, we are called to share aspects of our daily lives with God. Where people say the Mass is ‘irrelevant to their lives’, usually they have not been sharing their lives with the Lord – perhaps because they do not know how to, or the celebrant has not allowed sufficient time for them to do so.

The first sacred silence is in the Penitential Act when we call to mind our sins. 11 This begins the Mass normally because Jesus taught that our prayer is as strong as our relationship with himself, as reflected by whether we keep his commandments. 12

The second sacred silence is between when the celebrant invites: ‘Let us pray’ and the staii of the Collect Prayer of behalf of all. We focus on God’s presence again and ‘formulate (our) petitions in (our) hearts and minds. 13

The third sacred silence is after the homily when we reflect upon the Word as it relates to our lives so that ‘at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Word may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared.’ 14

The bridge between the Word and our lives is the homily, which briefly explains in the light of the readings or other text from the ordinary or the proper of the Mass ‘the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life during the course of each liturgical year’.15

The fourth sacred silence is after the reception of Holy Communion. 16 Its purpose is for us to express thanks and praise, and to share our hearts in prayer with the Lord. We can share deepest secrets we may not feel able to share with another human being, no matter how close they might be to us.

The focus of this silence between the Communion procession and optional reflection hymns is upon the Lord within. People should never be distracted by the reading of notices or pious thoughts.

The Liturgy of the Word

This liturgy needs to be celebrated in ways which recognise that, through it, ‘God speaks to his people, opening them to the mystery of redemption and salvation and offering them spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present in the midst of his people through his word’. 17

To ‘hear God speak to his people’, the ‘sacred silence’ after the homily is essential. To cooperate with the intention of the Lord, therefore, this liturgy needs ‘to promote meditation, and so any semi of haste that hinders recollection must clearly be avoided’. 18

Ideally, there will be also brief ‘periods of silence before the Liturgy of the Word begins, and after the First and Second Readings’. 19 Continuous words without a break through the readings and responsorial psalm does not help all present ‘to hear God speak to his people’.


This word has different meanings in different contexts. Here we are using it in its original pedagogical sense as an ‘apprenticeship’ or training. 20

In this sense, catechesis continues to promote the ‘echo’ of a faith response from within the hea1i of the hearer.

As we think of the need for the Mass to be celebrated in ways which empower all present to participate internally and externally, regardless of ‘their age and condition, their way of life and standard of religious culture’, we remember that the faith journey is through stages. To provide for different stages, the Apostles spoke of the ‘message’, the ‘milk’ and the ‘solid food’ of the Gospel. 21

These terms referred to the capacity of a person’s faith to ‘digest’ the Gospel content – not to their intellectual capacity. 22 In this context, Jesus told his Apostles during the Last Supper ‘I still have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now.’ 23 The level of catechesis needed during the Mass will depend upon the faith maturity of those present.

The ‘great catechetical value contained in the celebration of the Mass’ has always been recognised, though the Council of Trent ‘was unable to bring out all its consequences in regard to actual practice’.24 The Second Vatican Council taught that ‘ceremonies however beautiful will be of little value if they are not directed toward the education of men and women to Christian maturity. 25

It is for celebrants, therefore, ‘to offer certain explanations that are foreseen in the rite itself’.

26 These are to be succinct or very brief.

They can be introductions to ‘the Mass of the day (after the initial Greeting and before the Act of Penitence’); to the Liturgy of the Word (before the readings); and to the Eucharistic Prayer before the Preface, though never during the Eucharistic Prayer itself; he may also make concluding comments to the entire sacred action before the Dismissal’. 27

The brief catecheses here are to ‘train or to remind’ those present in how to respond during the Act of Penitence, and before the Collect, the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Prayer. These need to be included in Mass booklets for all occasions.

The response sought before the Eucharistic Prayer is for all present to identify exactly what they are giving thanks to God for in the Eucharistic Prayer. Otherwise, this Prayer can seem to be no more than words and unrelated to their lives.

The resources to be released over the coming months.

The following resources include those suggested by Synod delegates:

  • a booklet on how to participate in the Mass;
  • an instrument a priest and a group of parishioners can use to review periodically how effectively parishioners are being helped to participate with proper dispositions and ‘to cooperate with grace lest they receive it in vain’ 28
  • an instrument for priests and Catholic school staff to plan Masses for students;
  • a temporary renewal programme for the formation of acolytes, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, and Lectors (the Vatican will publish new programmes in due course)
  • a home-based family catechesis (or training) programme for parents and This hopefully will catechise all through practice

These resources will be released gradually with explanations to all so as not to go at a faster pace than our congregations can understand fully.

The ‘Directory for Masses with Children’

The purpose of this Directory is to help introduce children to participation in the Eucharist.

It seeks to initiate them gradually into parish celebrations of the Mass.

Building upon the natural ways young people learn, the Directory guides the use of these to catechise or train children in the meaning and practice of the parts of the ritual of the Mass in ways they can understand.

The Directory highlights the spiritual harm done if children are exposed only to adult Masses. This is confirmed by decades of experience in the Diocese.

Every parent knows the reactions of children when parents engage in conversations with other adults that children do not really understand. In the same way, children become bored, restless and ‘turned off’ during the Mass. The discipline of enforced silence without understanding or guidance as to what to do creates passive resistance.

In some parishes, it may not be possible to have daily Masses of devotion because the priest needs to celebrate Masses in primary and high schools. Their primary responsibility is the initiation and introduction of children and teenagers in the Mass.


Few Catholics would not agree with the Diocesan Synod’s recommendation that celebrations of the Eucharist be renewed in the Diocese.

Let us pray that the new Diocesan Statutes and implementation resources lead to greater experiences of the Risen Jesus through inclusive celebrations which promote ‘liturgical instruction’ where needed, and ‘active participation internally and externally’ so that Masses in this Diocese are planned, ‘taking into account their age and condition, their way of life and standard of religious culture.’

Gerard J Holohan Bishop of Bunbury


1 General Instruction on the Risen Missal 11

2 Catechism of the Catholic Church 1367

3 eg Catechism of the Catholic Church 654

4 eg Matthew 7: 7-11

5 eg Catechism of the Catholic Church 1366, 1391-1398

6 Catechism of the Catholic Church 1368

7 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church 34

8 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 11

9 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 19


II GIRM 45, 51

12 John 15:7; 14:15, 21, 23-24

13 GIRM 45, 54

14 GIRM 65

15 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 52; General Instruction on the Roman Missal 65

16 GIRM 45, 88

17 GIRM 45, 66

18 GIRM 55

19 GIRM 55

20 eg Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church 14; General Directory for Catechesis 67.

21 eg 1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12

22 Hebrews 5:13-14

23 John 16:12

24 General Instruction of the Roman Missal 11

25 Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests 6#2

26 GIRM 31