December 14, 2018 (Edward J. Barr – Contributor) – The season of Advent is a glorious time as the Church prepares for the Birth of our Savior at Christmas. Pastors prepare the flock for the arrival of the Christ child as churches come alive in color and decorations for the glorious day. An even greater awareness of the Eucharist is fostered as we contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation, when God’s love was manifest in His son taking on a human nature.
Yet just as the Christ child had unexpected visitors in the Magi, Catholic parishes will be populated with unexpected visitors on Christmas day. These visitors will be the non-practicing Catholics that the Spirit moves to pay homage to Christ on major solemnities, visitors or even former Catholics who see the Mass as a cultural expression of their heritage. They will be coming to the joyous celebration in a season where many people are dealing with loneliness and depression. While there is some dispute about the level of increase in depression during the holidays, there is no doubt that suicide in the US has been rising at an alarming rate (see NCHS Data Brief No. 241, April 2016). Fortunately, Christ has provided the Church with the perfect antidote, the Eucharist.
As US suicide rates increase, the traditional gap between men and women has been closing. According to the above referenced study, the suicide rate for middle-aged women (45 to 64 years old) climbed by 63% from 1999 to 2014; rates for males in the same age group grew by 43%. Those who followed St. John Paull II’s teachings on the “Culture of Death” should not be surprised. As the culture has embraced beliefs inimical to the health of the soul, the consequences have been unleashed on society.
Studies have generally found that attending Church services tends to less depression and lower suicide rates. This makes sense to Christians since anyone seeking God has been given grace by our Lord. Even those in other religious traditions can benefit since when they are seeking the “truth,” they are actually seeking Christ, who is the Truth, whether they are aware of it or not. One of the more recent studies on church attendance comes from Canada. The University of Saskatchewan tracked more than 12,000 Canadians over a period of 14 years. Their findings indicated that clinical depression was 22 percent lower among individuals that attended religious services for at least once a month, as compared to those who never attended. This is good, but when investigations focus on Catholics, the results are even better.
As reported in the August 2016 edition of JAMA Psychiatry, a massive study was conducted whereby the authors evaluated “associations between religious service attendance and suicide from 1996 through June 2010 in a large, long-term prospective cohort, the Nurses’ Health Study, in an analysis that included 89,708 women.” As reported in the LA Times (June 29, 2016), this study showed the differences between Catholics and Protestants; though Protestant women that attend services had lower rates than the general population, they were still 7 times more likely to commit suicide than devout Catholic women.
Faithful Catholics know the benefits of the Eucharist, yet it is impressive when the secular media unknowingly champions Christ’s cause. The LA Times further reported that “Among especially devout Catholic women — those in the pews more than once a week — suicides were a vanishing phenomenon. Among the 6,999 Catholic women who said they attended mass more than once a week, there was not a single suicide. The suicide-prevention effect of religion was clearly not a simple matter of group identity: Self-identified Catholics who never attended mass committed suicide nearly as often as did women of any religion who were not active worshipers.” So, what is the difference? The Eucharist!
The study clearly shows that attending Mass (as opposed to “religious services”) provides an overwhelming protection against suicide. This makes perfect sense. Partaking of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord increases our union with Christ. We come to better understand the miracle of the Incarnation and sense that just as Christ participated in our humanity, we can participate in His divinity. As the Catechism states,… “Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace and a pledge of future glory is given.” (CCC 1323).
Let us keep in mind the gift of the Eucharist when our pews become more crowded on Christmas. The holidays can be challenging for many of our neighbors, yet by witnessing the miraculous truths of our faith we can help Christ save lives, both spiritually and physically. The Eucharist is truly the gift of Christ himself, and nothing can be more healing than that! Merry Christmas!
Edward J Barr is a Marine, an attorney, an intelligence officer, and a university faculty member. Mr. Barr is a contributing writer for Roma Locuta Est blog (www.RomaLocutaEst.com).