Liturgy and Evangelisation

The term “new evangelisation” was popularised by Pope John Paul II. It refers to efforts to reawaken the faith in traditionally Christian parts of the world, particularly Europe, which were first evangelised, or converted to Christianity, many centuries ago, but are now in need of a “new evangelisation”. Pope Benedict XVI announced the establishment of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation on 28 June 2010.

The liturgy should be a major tool for evangelising people, but it seems we are not using it well.  If we have something which is so special, why is it that others are not flocking to join us at Sunday Mass?

The reform of the liturgy was intended to help the Church reach out to the world.  Unfortunately this is not always a priority of parish liturgy teams.

The liturgy offers many opportunities for evangelisation.  The baptism of infants is often a family occasion when “outsiders” are present at a Catholic liturgy.  It should also be a taste of the Church at worship and a stimulus for people to reflect on the meaning of belonging to God’s family.

Marriages and funerals in a church will often bring to the liturgy those who have no experience of the Christian faith or only distant childhood memories of the gospel.  A warm welcome and a meaningful celebration will touch their hearts.

Many people who do not regularly attend Mass make the effort to mark the holy days of Easter and Christmas by coming to church.  While these are important days for regular worshippers, special account should be made of people who are present only once or twice a year.  Likewise, the way in which the Church responds liturgically to national events or at times of crisis or disaster can have a powerful effect on those who do not normally have much contact with the Church.

There are certain groups of people who need special attention in our efforts to evangelise through the liturgy.  Some Catholics feel marginalised by Church teaching and discipline or alienated by Church structures.

In order to take up the opportunities for evangelisation offered by the liturgy and to address the needs of the marginalised, parishes need to develop some workable strategies.

The sacrament of penance needs to be looked at as a sacramental process for reconciling those who are estranged.  The catechumenate which plays a vital role in helping people learn about the Catholic faith should be regularly reviewed and revitalised.

It is important for parishes to develop a liturgical ministry of hospitality to welcome visitors to the liturgy, whether Sunday Mass or a sacramental rite.  Everyone has a role to play in including strangers and making them feel at ease.

We need to review our liturgical style and to consider what impact our music, proclamation of readings, preaching and presiding has on the “outsider”.

Finally we need to reflect upon what our church building communicates to passers-by and how our entry space works to draw people into the life and worship of the community.  A strong presence in the neighbourhood and an inviting entrance helps to create an image of the church that draws people to Christ.

Week after week in our Sunday liturgy, we touch the saving mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He has the words of everlasting life.  How can we let others in on this great secret?

Elizabeth Harrington