Big crowds at Christmas Masses an opportunity to evangelize

| December 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

Masses at Christmas tend to draw more Catholics than Masses on typical weekends, making them prime opportunities for parish hospitality to be especially accommodating, for pastors to be inviting, and even to evangelize.

“We welcome the challenge of less-than-regular Massgoers at Christmas,” said Father Daniel Bodin, pastor of St. Peter in Forest Lake.

To accommodate the larger than normal crowds, St. Peter offers two late afternoon Masses on Christmas Eve, one in the main worship space and the other in the parish social hall to allow seating for an additional 300 guests.

Rather than specifically address those who aren’t regularly at Mass at St. Peter, Father Bodin said, “I might say something like, ‘It’s great to see all of the college students home for Christmas. Some of the young people who got married here and have moved away are home again visiting family — some of them have their own little children now!’’’

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bloomington handles the crowd at its early Christmas Eve Mass by setting up a screen in its gathering space for a video feed of the Mass that’s celebrated in its main worship space, said its pastor, Father Dennis Zehren.

“I might welcome people who are in town or visiting for Christmas, but generally I don’t say too much,” Father Zehren said. “Some people might feel uncomfortable enough being there, and I don’t want to draw undue or unwelcome attention to them.”

Gentle video approach

Holy Name of Jesus in Medina has gone high tech in the past few years, welcoming all at its Christmas Masses with a video that’s played before the start of the liturgy, said Nate Reinhardt, director of liturgy.

The four-minute video from 2012, for example, included several parishioners reading the first verse of John’s Gospel and a brief message from Father Stephen Ulrick, Holy Name’s pastor.

In the video Father Ulrick says, “I want to especially welcome those who are visiting and those who haven’t been able to be with us for awhile,” and he shares a bit of Catholic teaching about the gift of Jesus that is aimed at all in the assembly — “the pious and the unpious” — noting, “Christmas is a great time to rediscover that gift.”

The following year, a three-minute video stressed the need to have a relationship with Jesus, most importantly through the Eucharist.

It closed by asking a number of questions, such as, what does Jesus mean for a person’s children, life, marriage, Christmas and dreams?

Open door to mercy

Jeff Cavins, director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, suggested ways parishes might pastorally invite those who  aren’t regular Massgoers to consider deepening their role in the Catholic community.

One ideas is to set up a day or evening after the New Year and invite a targeted audience to attend.

“The key is that it shouldn’t have the appearance of a program, but targeting the audience, saying something like ‘Christmas is a time when people come home, and if your life is out of sync, if you find yourself asking how did I end up this way, you’re not alone. We’d like to help you. We have a special night. . . .”

Christmas Mass is an opportunity to evangelize that should not be missed, Cavins said. “It might be the only chance you have to invite some people to come back to the Church.”

Cavins said that there is a reason some people aren’t at Mass regularly. In inviting them to reconsider, he suggests zeroing in on their pain, anger, complacency or angst.

“You have to grab their attention at their point of pain,” he said.

Pastors might say something like, “We have a lot of people here today, a lot of visitors, visiting relatives, but maybe people who have been searching, who have experienced a loss in your life, illness, disappointment in family, financial problems. God wants to speak to you in the midst of that.”

People’s reason for coming to Mass only at Christmas may center on disappointment with the Church, Cavins said, and he said it is important to say, “We’re sorry, and we’re going to address that, and we hope that you’d consider attending the special Sunday afternoon event we’re planning in a few weeks.”

The Year of Mercy that opened earlier this month is something to take advantage of as well, Cavins said. He suggested that the image of the open door can be very meaningful to invite people to the Church.

“You might say, ‘We’re going to have a special evening where we’re going to soak in the mercy of God. The Church is going to open the door, and today we’re telling you we will be there to greet you with God’s mercy. If you think you aren’t worthy of God’s mercy, you’re wrong. The door remains open; don’t walk by.’”

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Category: Local News