Whether you’re a regular Mass-goer, or you attend Church once a year at Christmas, chances are high that you have come across a liturgy that either had a boring homily or painful music. If not these, then perhaps you have witnessed a priest introduce liturgical ‘innovations’ to make the Mass more ‘interesting’.
This article is the second of a two-part series that suggests ways to make Christmas at your parish vibrant and appealing, while staying worshipful. The first post in this series dealt with ways to revitalize hospitality at your parish. This article suggests ideas that could make the liturgy at your parish more dynamic this Christmas.
Remember the question at hand: If someone new shows up at your church this Christmas– what would make them want to come back?
All the experts of parish renewal strongly emphasize the need to elevate the celebration of the Sunday liturgy. This applies even more so at Christmas, as a Christmas liturgy could be the only exposure to anything truly Christian and sacred that some people will see for a long time after, perhaps ever again.
Here are some ideas to raise the quality of the liturgies at your parish this Christmas:
> Only the best: Pick your best ushers, lectors, choir members, altar-servers, etc. Anyone who plays a role in the liturgy needs to be an A-game starting lineup player. There is always the temptation to let good ol’Joe, who has done a particular job for 35 years, to do it again. However, perhaps good ol’Joe may need to sit things out this year, especially if he has been losing his touch in recent years.
> Good music please!: This one may seem obvious, yet it’s a point that seems to continue to be overlooked. Again, look for good musicians and singers, so that the music adds to the liturgy and allows people to join in and participate. If need be, rent a quality sound-system for the occasion. There are also different styles of music that could be adopted within the rich variety of traditions that exist in our Church. There is a way to be reverent and relevant. Find it!
> How’s Father’s preaching?: This one can be a bit awkward to address, but we have to keep the goal in mind. Pastors are usually very busy, but given that the Christmas Mass homily is a key factor that could help have people return – or not. Pastors need to be challenged to really pray about what the Lord wants them to preach at the different Christmas liturgies. It’s not necessarily about having a short homily (though a long one that drags on could be disastrous). The point is to make the reason for the season the essence of the homily. This isn’t the time to pontificate about one’s pet agenda nor should the message be diluted so that it is a merely feel-good homily about the holidays. Let the Gospel message of love and conversion shine forth!
> Have a worship aid: Non-Catholics and infrequent Mass-goers will benefit greatly from having either a printed resource or having the different Mass parts projected onto a screen.
> Christmas is already special, you can’t add much more to it: For whatever reason, some parishes choose Christmas to do something extra-special, liturgically speaking, which they believe will augment the celebration of the Mass. Perhaps doing these things does add a certain value. But also remember that they can confuse or alienate people. Think carefully before choosing Christmas to be the occasion to try a different liturgical practice.
Let the beauty and holiness of the Mass speak for itself. Draw people into it! Let them see that God is present among them! In the presence of God, even the hardest of hearts will recognize the love, goodness and mercy of the God who came down to earth for them.
> Engage youth and children: Only on the rarest of occasions have I seen priests address children or youth in their homilies. They may think that their message is all-inclusive, and perhaps it is, but when a priest takes even a few minutes to speak directly to children and youth at some point during the Mass, they will appreciate that gesture, as will their parents and grandparents. Similarly, by including children and youth in roles of service, you will also give them a sense of belonging. Who knows, something as simple as this could sow seeds that may bear fruit in the future.
> Don’t ask for more money: Asking for money beyond the regular collection could be viewed very poorly. So, whether a second collection is raised to be given as a Christmas gift to the pastors or for help with buying flowers for the parish for Christmas, consider doing these additional collections some other time, or not doing them at all.
> Skip the secular/shallow parish traditions: Singing ‘Deck the Halls’ or ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ during the Mass is a ‘no’, just in case there was any doubt about that (I’ve heard these, and still worse, at some parishes). I even know some parishes that have little kids performing a happy-clappy song right after communion. All these ideas have a feel-good sense about them, but they can sometimes be shallow. Instead of adding to the liturgy, these things can distract from it and take away some of its sacredness and solemnity.
There is a huge gap between the number of people who regularly attend Mass on Sundays and those who come to Church only for major occasions like Christmas. It goes without saying that we should do our bit to narrow that gap. Something has to be done to make people want to return. And there are ways to make a liturgical celebration both reverent and engaging, without compromising on the essentials of the Mass nor the norms laid down by the Church.
Obviously, the Mass isn’t meant to be a performance. Some may argue that we shouldn’t pander to the perceived demands of the people to make the Mass more ‘entertaining’ or ‘relevant’. Nevertheless, when even devout Catholics sometimes switch parishes looking for more dynamic liturgical celebrations, it is worth asking why that happens.
If someone goes to Church, they haven’t come for a show. They would have gone elsewhere for that. For the most part, they are within the walls of your church building for a spiritual reason, whether that’s motivated by a fear of God, a sense of obligation, or perhaps piety as they understand it. No matter which way you look at it, these people have come for a spiritual experience, and our roles of service at our parishes should facilitate that. Give them the spiritual experience they want, but also give them what they need: an encounter with Jesus, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (a message that is particularly significant at Christmas).
To repeat a point I highlighted in my first post, and this holds particularly true for the liturgy – there are certain things that objectively occur at the celebration of any Eucharist. But the fact that God plays his part in any liturgy doesn’t mean that our role is diminished. Our roles of service during a Mass, whether as a reader, choir member or even as the celebrant, have to be carried out with enthusiasm, devotion, joy, love, and a genuine desire to reach out to those who usually stay away from the Church.
Dare to be different this Christmas at your parish! Remind people visiting your Church to think about where they are and why they’re there. Don’t give them reasons to stay away, but draw them into the life, love and sacredness of the liturgical celebrations at your parish. If people can be brought to a place of realization that what happens at Church, does not happen anywhere else, that will awaken a need in their hearts – and they will be back for more.
If you’re looking for more ideas, check out the Radically Mission-Oriented Christmas Playbook, published by the Archdiocese of Detroit, as part of its Unleash the Gospel movement that seeks to transform the Church of Detroit into an outward mission-focused Church.
Why Liturgy Matters