“Ugh, this isn’t another one of those ‘figure out what’s wrong with millenials’ pieces is it?” my friend scoffed. I had asked why she often goes to brunch instead of Mass. “You’re not going to try to rope me into going to Mass, are you?” I assured her it was not that kind of piece and (jokingly) said her soul was too far gone, anyway.
Several weeks ago when I was chatting with my mom, she asked why so many of her colleagues around my age (late-twenties) went to brunch or what was so special about it. Why don’t they go to church? Her questions got me wondering not just about the actual choice of crepes vs. communion, but also about the confluences and divergences between brunch and Mass. It boiled down to two questions: What so special about each? And what’s not being fulfilled?
I got to better know brunch when I was completing part of my Jesuit studies in New York. Friends – grad students, Jesuit volunteers, young professionals – would stay out late on a Saturday, then meander to a favorite brunch spot some time on Sunday. I occasionally joined them, delving into the world of overpriced beer and bacon.
At first, I despised brunch. Perhaps it was my Midwestern distaste for anything coastal (it’s pretty ferocious), but brunch seemed like preening and self-indulgence. However, friends began sharing with me the deep meaning they found in brunch. For many of my theme, brunching qualities were often missing from the rest of their lives.
So what’s brunch offering that church doesn’t?
Brunch provides community in a way that church often doesn’t. Whether because of sexual orientation, race, or otherwise, many of my friends don’t feel welcome stepping into a church. While we might sing “All are welcome” at Mass, 26% of 18-29 year olds cite feeling unwelcome for why they don’t regularly attend church. For those otherwise isolated, brunch is a Sunday liturgy.
While some critique millennials for their love of brunch, many young adults find it their only time to truly sit and enjoy a meal together. They consume grab-and-go meals at a far higher rate, with 62% of professionals eating meals at their desk. Meals themselves, especially those with common food, create a psychological and social bond. Brunch provides a vital avenue for social eating and all of its accompanying benefits.
Amidst the community and meal is a sense of ritual, a sense of regular belonging emerges. Brunch carries a greater feeling of ritual and tradition because those who participate are the ones who assigned it meaning. It is more immediate and recognizable. Far more than Mass sometimes, brunch offers a sense of regular community and companionship, a dependable weekly ritual.
Many of the things friends found in brunch, I found in Mass. Both Mass and brunch are opportunities for friendship, affirmation of worth, and sustenance. Brunch is Eucharistic. It brings us together over a meal rooted in companionship and love of another.
But while the love of Christ and Sunday mimosas are both bottomless, Mass provides in ways that brunch cannot. Of the people who go to church at least once a month, only 19% say to do so for social reasons. Mass, however, fosters a relationship with Christ. We certainly get to know Christ through other people, so brunch might provide a lens. But before churches attempt to imitate and substitute other social networks, they need to realize that over 75% of Millennials attend church to be closer to God.
Both brunch and the Eucharist are meals, but quite different ones. The spiritual nourishment brought on by the Eucharist is incredible. Yet I’m also spoiled – there’s nothing quite like processing to Eucharist with 70 young Jesuits singing “What Wondrous Love is This.” Many Catholics learned about the Eucharist at eight-years old and have had nothing since. Perhaps one of the greatest things a parish can do is offer programming aimed at recognizing that spiritual nourishment.
Finally, Millennials and other young Catholics long for a sense of routine, ritual, and identity. Last week as I walked into Mass, I overheard a young woman say to her friend, “Look! A baptism today! I love this tradition! Infant baptisms just bring me such joy!” But that recognition and love of ritual isn’t exactly consistent. According to the Pew study, only 64% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass regularly sense a connection to long-standing tradition.
Frankly, many Baby Boomer and older Catholics I know fear ritual and constantly want to change liturgy, while younger Catholics frequently beg for tradition. In many ways, it is like Hansen’s law on immigration: what the child wishes to forget, the grandchild will try to reclaim. Whatever the case, Mass offers a beautiful ritual and tradition that must recognize and foster.
All that said, there are clear and separate reasons to attend both Mass and brunch. They are not the same thing, nor do I believe we should try to turn the Eucharist into brunch or compete with it. But what should we try to learn from brunch? What should we learn from Mass?
For many at church, the invitation is missing. I go to brunch because friends ask me to go. Michael Bayer wonderfully states, “…young people want the church to approach them with gentleness, acceptance and a belief that those under 30 themselves have something to teach the church…” In order to foster community, the church must offer invitations not only to join in, but commit to listening.
Regarding Eucharist, Pope Francis states, “In life, we constantly need to be fed: nourished not only with food, but also with plans and affection, hopes and desires. We hunger to be loved. But the most pleasing compliments, the finest gifts and the most advanced technologies are not enough; they never completely satisfy us. The Eucharist is simple food, like bread, yet it is the only food that satisfies, for there is no greater love.” Alongside all of the other activities and programs a parish might offer, Millennials want good, reverent, engaging liturgy. We can only be satisfied in the Eucharist.
Ultimately, the popularity of brunch shows us we can still attract and maintain young Catholics, and that the spiritual hunger is there. We just have to be willing to serve.