Ham too salty?
Not enough chocolate?
Bucks victory too close for comfort?
The weather? Well, there was that.
But what made me kinda sad? I went to church.
You read correctly.
Yes, I attended my lifetime church, St. Anthony’s on Milwaukee’s near south side, just as I do every week.
Best church choir in the entire city. Arguably the city’s most beautiful church, second only to St. Josaphat’s Basilica that I concede begrudgingly.
So what gave me the Easter blues, albeit temporarily?
Have you seen this meme?
That used to be true at my beloved St. Anthony’s. This year there was no difference between the picture of the half empty church and what St. Anthony’s looked like on the day of the Resurrection.
I’ve been a weekly Sunday Mass usher since I was in grade school in 1970. Do the math. That’s plenty of Easter Sundays.
Standing room only Easter crowds were common with churchgoers spilling out into the vestibule. If you didn’t arrive exactly when the bell rang to start Mass you didn’t get a seat.
Here’s another way to explain the overflowing attendance. Here’s a picture of St. Anthony’s. In the old Easter days the ushers would come down that center aisle for the collection that was so heavy it weighed down the baskets. Before the ushers got halfway down the aisle another usher had to come to their aid with a basket so the donations could be dumped and the volunteers could continue.
Not so anymore.
Our attendance has been dropping gradually over the past several years but really plummeted during COVID.
Fewer fannies in the pew became quite noticeable when our parish implemented very strict restrictions. And then the unthinkable happened. People arrived one Sunday to find the doors locked. No Mass would take place. And the lockdown would occur for four straight weeks before the 10:00 weekly Mass would be open to parishioners again.
Masses weren’t postponed because of any deep sincere concern for the health and welfare of attendees. Seems the pastor (young and inexperienced as a church manager) didn’t feel enough worshippers were following the mask rules. He’s from Columbia. Most of the 10:00 crowd is white and English-speaking. So his non-Christian reaction was to punish.
The result was even more people said forget it; we’ll take our fannies and church envelopes somewhere else. St. Anthony’s has yet to recover. Even on Easter.
As I looked at the far too empty scene from the back of church on Sunday I was, indeed, saddened. I’d invite the disgruntled to return because the liturgy is so wonderful at the corner of 9th and Mitchell. But I’m afraid it wouldn’t work. The damage has been done.