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Christmas Mass Go ers
There has been much discussion in recent months about the outcome of the National Church Life Survey of 2001 which indicates that there has been a marked fall in the number of Catholics who regularly attend Sunday Mass since the last survey was taken in 1996. A variety of strategies aimed at arresting the decline and encouraging people to return to weekly communal worship have been suggested.
Christmas is one time of the year when church attendance is high, largely because it is socially acceptable and even expected. There are various factors that motivate people to come to church at Christmas. Some genuinely want to celebrate their faith. Others want their children to experience the religious aspect of Christmas. Still others come to keep peace in the family, or to try to recapture happy childhood memories.
It is not unknown for regular worshippers to grumble about these ‘hardy annuals’ who take up all the spaces in the carpark and sit in ‘their’ seat in church! Celebrants occasionally use the occasion to criticise these visitors for not fulfilling their Sunday obligation, for not being part of the parish community, even for not contributing to parish fiances.
I hardly imagine that this sort of treatment would encourage people to return in a hurry. Making contact with those who have fallen away from the regular practice of their faith is extremely difficult. Christmas and Easter services are key times for finding infrequent attenders in church. Parishes need to make the most of the opportunity this provides to offer a good experience of worship and to issue invitations to other parish activities.
Additional hospitality ministers need to be rostered for Christmas Masses to ensure that everyone who enters the building is greeted with a cheery ‘Happy Christmas’. The parish bulletin at this time of year should be full of useful information, including the names and contact details of pastoral staff and the address of the parish website, as well as news items about interesting parish activities in which people are invited to participate.
It is important for parishes to be clear about just what it is that we are doing when celebrating Christmas Mass. It is NOT a performance where adults sit back and watch a children’s nativity play, nor is it a Christmas carols concert. At Christmas we celebrate the amazing truth that God became one of us. People need and deserve to hear the real message of Christmas – that Jesus did not remain a helpless infant, that he grew up, lived and died and rose again, and, most importantly, that he is still Emmanuel, ‘God with us’, here and now, amongst the trials and tribulations of our everyday lives. Every liturgical minister, indeed every parishioner, at Christmas Masses can seize this once-a-year chance to evangelise simply through their joyful celebration of Christmas.
As my Christmas wish, I quote the refrain from Shirley Murray’s moving Christmas song, Star Child.
“This year, this year let the day arrive
when Christmas comes for everyone, everyone alive.”