Prepared by the Life Committee of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council -
Rita Kattner, Executive Director, Office for Councils
The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC) recently held a discussion with Cardinal George on the first of four issues the Cardinal suggested they focus on this year. This discussion centered on the question: “What are specific things parishes can do to help people recognize that attending Sunday Mass will make a difference in their lives?” This issue was prompted by the upcoming Year of the Sunday Mass (beginning July 1, 2012), which is a part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Strategic Pastoral Plan. Fifty delegates to the APC, representing parishes across the entire Archdiocese, participated in this discussion with the Cardinal.
Based on feedback collected from parishes across the Archdiocese, three recommended areas of priority emerged from APC delegates’ presentations to the Cardinal. These included: increased activities to welcome people to participate in Sunday Mass; efforts to teach and catechize participants about this occasion of worship; and the use of testimonies to encourage participation in Sunday Mass but also to ensure that homilies are relevant and impactful for Mass attendees.
Many specific examples were offered. Ideas regarding welcoming included greater formal and personal invitations by clergy and Parish Pastoral Council members to encourage community members to attend the Sunday Mass; inviting area parishes to celebrate Masses together at different times of the year; ensuring that greeters and ushers welcome all (old, young, teens) people to church, including the use of handouts and brochures; and viewing special occasions, such as special Masses, Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals, as opportunities to encourage regular Sunday Mass attendance.
Several areas of teaching and catechesis were recommended that would help build Sunday Mass participation. These included efforts to recover a sense of reverence and habit; silent times at the beginning and end of Mass to allow attendees to reflect on how they will connect their worship experience to their daily lives; and teaching young people both the sense of obligation and spirit of celebration of the Sunday Mass. Feedback also indicated an interest in presiders taking time to explain the Mass parts so that attendees gain a better understanding of the Sunday Mass.
Feedback indicated interest in the use of testimonies on the part of people of faith as methods to explain to others the ways in which the Sunday Mass has personal impact. These witnesses might be powerful models for worshippers, and the Archdiocese might consider how to facilitate face-to-face sharing of life stories. Additionally, as homilies are such a potentially meaningful element of the Sunday Mass, they should reflect on current affairs and be relevant to the lives of worshippers. One specific suggestion was that priests and deacons reach out to members of the parish in small groups to obtain ideas or feedback on homilies. Another suggestion was for parishes with multiple presiders to have one presider preach all homilies each weekend to ensure that proper focus on preparation occurs and to facilitate the consistency of the message delivered to attendees at all weekend Masses.
In his remarks, the Cardinal talked about the importance of Sunday Mass and the necessity of holding in tension both the desire for a great celebration and the necessity of going to Mass, no matter what we feel. He said that the relationship with God withers if we do not worship and suggested that there was a danger that God might abandon us if we abandon Him. The Cardinal acknowledged that this is hard to get across in a secularized culture. However, our lives as Catholics depend on entering into Jesus’ self-sacrifice in the Eucharist, so that we might sacrifice for others in the world. In the long run, this worship makes a difference.