A change in meal etiquette
I remember the first time I felt anger towards social media. Our small community of priests hosted a woman and her 16-year-old daughter for our evening meal. The daughter ignored us throughout, constantly texting on her phone. I wasn’t sure who I was angrier with – her or her mother. To me, it was an eye-opener as to how rapidly meal etiquette is changing.
Meals as a mark of belonging
In 2000 Robert Putnam produced a remarkable study of social patterns in the USA. Using public records spanning fifty years he illustrated how voluntary groups such as sports clubs, service organisations and churches had declined. He examined a variety of social and economic factors but finally concluded that the leading cause was…television. Why? Because of its passive and low-energy nature and the fact that many family members could watch their favourite programmes in their own rooms.
Families sitting together at the dining table has become one of the victims of this trend. Rushed meals, stand-up meals, and eating in front of a screen are now the norm in many households.
Sunday worship as a meal is now declining
Inevitably churches have also been impacted by this trend. It’s one of the reasons that fewer people attend Sunday services. It also erodes the very meaning of the gathering itself. In the Catholic tradition Sunday eucharist is very much a shared meal. The values of community, common worship, hospitality and social outreach were built around and reinforced in the re-presentation of the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. This symbolism becomes more and more eroded as younger generations drop out. They find the services boring; it’s not where their friends are, and there’s great fear of being seen as different.
The challenge of eating together
Sunday eucharist can be a counter-cultural sign in our increasingly fragmented societies. It still remains one place where food, celebration and openness to all who enter can shine forth as a sign of hope in a common human belonging.
Father Neil Vaney
This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 6, ‘The Mass’ referencing page 4. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 6’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.