Liturgy as a Door to Faith

The Archbishop’s pastoral letter “Open Wide the Door to Christ” is being read at all Masses this Sunday (September 1) to highlight key aspects of the Year of Faith and as a prelude to a series of seminars and workshops about the New Evangelisation being held across the Archdiocese. It seems appropriate then to look at the connection between liturgy and evangelisation.

One of the aims of the reform of the liturgy called for by the Second Vatican Council is spelt out clearly in the opening paragraph of its ‘Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy’: “to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of humanity into the household of the Church”. The reform of the liturgy was intended to help the Church reach out to the world.

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 attend Mass regularly 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. It is important for parishes to develop some workable strategies to address their needs.

A good place to start would be to review and revitalise the sacrament of penance, which is the sacramental process for reconciling those who are estranged, and the catechumenate (RCIA), which plays a vital role in helping people learn about the Catholic faith.

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 welcome people into the life and worship of the community. A strong presence in the neighbourhood and an inviting entrance help 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. What can we as individuals and as parish communities do to share this life-giving message with others?

PS Best Wishes to all Fathers reading this column on Sunday 1st September!

Elizabeth Harrington