Comedian George Carlin famously said that old people going to mass are akin to students cramming for finals; they don’t have much time left, so they’re desperate to curry favour. It wasn’t actually said by George Carlin, but it’s widely attributed to him so whatevs.
However, I was dragged to Mass again last night to be the entertainment (I got a lot of compliments on my voice, which was nice. Also a goody bag. They’re getting really desperate to attract people to church.) I was bored there while I wasn’t singing, so I came up with some other reasons old people go to mass all the time. They’re not quite so wryly humorous, I’m afraid.
1) To Feel Like They’re Part of Something
It struck me last night that there is an awful lot of participation during mass. Whether it’s singing the hymns with your scratching granny voice (I’m KIDDING), mumbling along to the prayers, giving out the Communion bread, doing the Readings or collecting money for the … collections, it’s easy to feel useful and like you’re an important part of the mass.
You can actually hear yourself adding to the volume in a socially acceptable setting. It’s like attention-seeking for shy people. Old people can be very lonely, especially around Christmas, and here they feel important.
It’s fairly well-known in Ireland that many people go to mass for the gossip. It’s a great place to pretend you’re holier-than-thou, even if you certainly don’t act virtuously.
You can keep an eye on who did and didn’t attend Mass this week, on who’s trying to butter up to the priest, on what that mother over there is wearing and Jesus Christ Lord Almighty would that baby ever stop crying? We have a children’s room for a reason.
Plus, it’s a central place for the community/parish to congregate, so you can catch up on any goss you missed.
There’s probably evidence for this somewhere, but I’m pretty sure old people value consistency and routine more than young people do. It does bring to mind the stereotype of the cranky grandpa brandishing his stick at that cursed new-fangled technology, but there must be some truth to it.
Let’s be honest, mass is incredibly consistent. I’m fairly out of practice, but I can still roughly remember it: greeting, first reading, alleluia, prayers of the faithful, maybe homily, whatever comes before communion, communion, various prayers, goodbye. You only have to attend mass a few times to get used to the various responses they want from you, and you always know what to expect.
The world was a more religious place when our grandparents were kids. Not many people dared to be openly atheist, and becoming a nun or priest wasn't as laughable. In fact, the last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996. The Magdalene Laundries were awful, awful places, but they just go to show how entrenched religion (and especially Roman Catholicism) was in Ireland. At least now we’re a bit more free, though education is still usually Catholic and our abortion laws are quite archaic.
That said, I don’t think “They’re set in their ways” is an excuse for racism/sexism/homophobia etc from old people. They can change those geriatric ways.
However, the main reason for old people’s love of mass, in my opinion – and this is an amalgamation of points one and two – is the sense of community.
No matter its faults (and there are many), the Catholic Church’s deep spread across Ireland at least ensures somewhere for old people to belong.