On any given Sunday, millions of Americans sit down with family and friends to watch a spectacle take place. It’s either Mass or football — often both. It took some time after the NFL overtook Sunday worship services in attendance before they made their move on Mondays, then Thursdays. Sunday’s first NFL game kicks off at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, sparing the late risers on the East Coast that attend noon mass.
The Church’s primetime challenger is a powerful one. Football has competition, fanfare and snacks. In a last-ditch effort to win over many of the attendees lost to NFL Redzone, the Catholic Church replaced “and also with you” with “and with your spirit.”
In most competitive industries, the lagging competitor takes cues from the front runner, and in many ways, the Church can model aspects of their services after the American football experience. Much like a professional football stadium, Catholic Mass isn’t dry (at least in terms of beverages). Rather than 16-ounce Miller Lites, they serve one – long pour – glass of red wine. Is it a merlot? Cabernet? Perhaps a red blend? Some parishes allow their congregation to take a sip, but the pandemic has led most priests to stomach the whole chalice themselves. Church-goers are already asked to open their hearts and their wallets. Perhaps we should repay them with complimentary beer and wine — for those of age, of course.
Little innovation has gone into the concessions. Although the snack break is perfectly timed for about 75% of the way through the service, the flaky Communion wafers nourish the soul rather than the stomach. I suggest they either up the serving size, swap the unleavened bread with a Nilla wafer or open up concessions in the narthex. Meanwhile, football fans at home are elbow deep into a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and stadium-goers munch on overpriced popcorn and underwhelming hotdogs.
Even sportsbooks have an opening in the mass. Is the homily going for 15 minutes? Yup, I figured you’d take the over. Don’t be too confident — Vegas already knows that Father Bortz is wordy.
Perhaps the starkest contrast between the spectators and parishioners is crowd noise. Whether you are parked in front of a 80-inch flat screen TV or in the nosebleeds of Soldier Field, football invites jeers, cheers and occasionally tears. I’ve struggled personally with maintaining composure during mass, so why not bring fandom to church? Where’s the color commentary? Forget sports broadcasters — set up the press box at the cry room and two gossipy moms will size up the people in the pews.
Neither institution should monopolize Sundays, but until the Church can negotiate a holy handoff from mass to kick off, they should consider taking cues from their biggest competitor