Daily Mass during Lent at the parish I grew up in happened at 7, 9, 12:05, and sometime in the evening (I can't remember when). For those of us who were altar boys and who attended Sacred Heart School, it was the Seven. Admittedly, as time passes, my memories of events of the past seem to grow grander than perhaps they actually were. While there's something in me that wants to say that there were sometimes ten of us serving the Seven every morning during Lent (not assigned, just showing up), there were at least five of us every morning. Were we there because we were particularly holy? I'm no so sure about that. It was more of a competition to see who could make it the most times and there was also probably a desire to impress the nuns who taught us in school. (If they were impressed, they hid it very well).
Thirty years later (gulp), I encourage my people to attend daily Mass during Lent. Even if they cannot go every day, perhaps they can pick one or two days a week. Before Lent begins each year, I go through the same battle in my brain: "Should I add an evening Mass this year for Lent?" My justification for not wanting to add it is that it only has an attendance of somewhere between 20-35 persons. The reason I ultimately add it every year is because those 20-35 persons get to come to Mass. It's a quiet Mass at the end of the day.
And of course, there's the Seven. When I first came to this parish, the Seven probably had about 60 or so people each morning. That number has decreased by a few over the years--mostly because some of its attendees have moved on toward heaven. The number also fluctuates according to weather. When winter arrives, several of the folks move away to warmth. I wish I had that option! But, when summer returns, the numbers increase. I'd say the number hovers between 40-60 depending upon the season. But, with the arrival of Lent, another 20 or so compliment our numbers. I'm always encouraging more folks to come to daily Mass.
There's something special about the daily Mass crowd. They all sit in the same seats, have particular habits that either endear them to one another or drive one another crazy, and they live by routine. You know what time each individual arrives for Mass, who they wave to when they come in, and what little tasks they have each assigned themselves. Some open a particular door, turn on a particular light, fix the bulletins on the shelf, straighten out the food donations etc. Morning Mass is remarkable for how unremarkable it is. It is pure routine. Except when it isn't.
Into this routine--fairly routinely--arrive newcomers. Sometimes, they come for a few days in a row and then disappear. Sometimes, they come on a particular day every week or every month. Sometimes, they come and settle in. As much as I love the routine, I also love these newcomers. (And as far as the daily Mass goes, you are probably considered a newcomer for at least three or four years!) And others love the newcomers as well. There's one lady who sits in the back row and always has a warm smile and wave for the new folks.
Sometimes, the newcomer is somebody who is struggling with some particular problem. It is written all over their face. They come because they are begging God for help. As I offer Mass, I pray a lot for those folks. I know there's a good chance that their presence among us will be short-lived; kind of like a visit to the Emergency Room. When things get resolved one way or another, they'll no longer be part of the routine. That's quite okay.
Sometimes, the newcomer isn't Catholic. That's happened a few times over the past few years. They come, find a seat, and become part of the routine. Some have eventually become Catholic. Others, we'll have to wait and see what happens. But, we love when these visitors arrive and stay with us.
What's really made me happy during the past few years is the arrival of younger people at the daily Mass. There's a young newly married couple. There's a college kid who comes off and on. There's the mother and son who come before school. There's a couple of young guys every morning.
And, of course, there's been the young men who showed up for daily Mass and are now in the seminary. During the past two years, there's been a couple of those. When I see a young man at daily Mass, I always pray for him. I pray that if God is calling him to be a priest that he says, "Yes." I'm delighted for them because I remember what it was to sit at daily Mass and think to myself, "Could this really be true? Is God really calling me to be a priest?" No matter what, the presence of a young person at daily Mass is always a sign that God is dong something beautiful in his or her life.
An interesting thing about the daily Mass is that there are no frills that would attract somebody there. It's early, often dark, we will win no Grammy Awards for our singing, and there's not a lot of socializing. Most people come, pray, and leave. But, it has been like a magnet drawing people in to itself and benefiting the whole Church in nourishing converts and vocations. While for some it provides a necessary spiritual Emergency Room, for most who insert themselves into the daily Mass, it becomes a daily, irresistible, and irreplaceable encounter with the Beloved.