Welcoming New and Occasional Catholics


Easter Masses are one of the key times for connecting with those who attend church infrequently. It is important to make the most of the opportunity such occasions provide to offer a good experience of liturgy and to encourage people to participate in worship more frequently.
Additional hospitality ministers or ‘greeters’ may be needed to offer a warm welcome at the church door and give information to visitors. Orders of service with hymn words and the people’s responses make it easier for those who are not familiar with the Mass and with finding their way around a hymnbook to participate in the celebration.
The parish newsletter should be especially attractive. Instead of being filled up with a lot of ‘in-house’ news, meeting times for parish committees and ‘churchy’ language, it could contain information of interest to those not closely connected with the parish, such as play groups session times and social justice advocacy work and stories about the parish outreach to the wider community.
But a parish is more than the anonymous ‘they’ who look after things like newsletters. It is you and me! Having people rostered as greeters at the church door is not a ‘cop-out’ for the rest of us. Everyone at Mass has a ministry of welcome to the community and is called to ‘be present’ to others as fellow members of the Body of Christ.
We need to go out of our way to reach out to those people at Easter Mass who are strangers to us. They may be visitors from other parishes, people who come to church rarely, or even fellow parishioners who attend one of the other parish Masses. It is important not to pass judgements, or to show resentment that somebody has intruded into ‘our’ pew or express disapproval at perceived ignorance of proper church behaviour.
Smile at strangers, say Hello, share a hymnbook or order of service, pass the collection plate, offer a warm greeting at the sign of peace, and wish them a Happy Easter as they leave. When we reach out to strangers or to people with whom we are less comfortable it shows that we recognise Christ in them and treat them accordingly.
Many parishes will initiate new members into the Church at the Easter ceremonies. It is the role of every member of the parish, not just the RCIA committee, to support and encourage these new members and to help incorporate them more fully into the community.
The newly initiated, or neophytes, can be included in a special way in the celebration of the liturgy on the Sundays of the Easter season. Arranging for them sit in the front rows of the church with their godparents, families and other supporters demonstrates the community’s delight in these new members. Naming them in the homily and the Prayer of the Faithful on each of the seven Sundays up to and including Pentecost verbalises the support of their fellow parishioners.
Inviting some of the newly initiated to give a brief reflection on the journey of faith that they have been travelling, either personally after communion at Mass or printed in the parish bulletin, makes it clear that their story has become part of the bigger story of faith and brings hope and joy to the whole community .


Elizabeth Harrington