At this time of year, parishes are “buzzing” with activity as Christmas preparations get into full swing. For those involved in planning the Christmas Masses, significant thought will be going into the music, the rosters, the logistics for seating, carparking and collections – the list goes on!
We might do well to reflect on “why”, and without sounding too corporate, “what” are we hoping to achieve by making a special effort with our Christmas liturgies?
When it comes to the “why”, we should be clear that every celebration of the Eucharist (the Mass) is special. Whether or not we have singing, a full church, or a homily that connects with every individual – Jesus is still truly present to us in the Word, in the Body and Blood of Jesus received in Holy Communion, in the priest and in the community as we go out into the world to live what we have received. So, why all the fuss at Christmas?
One reason for the extra effort is the significance of the feast we are celebrating – the divine God becoming human and dwelling among us. The importance of this can sometimes get lost, even though we are reminded of this reality every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed:
“I believe… in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
[and] born of the Virgin Mary.”
Another reason is that at Christmas – and Easter – more people attend Mass. While these increased numbers require extra planning, it’s worth remembering how our parishes are so much richer when all the members of the community gather in prayer and worship, are nourished and build bonds of friendship.
“What” we hope to achieve, then, is for every person who comes to our Christmas liturgies to experience a rich encounter with the person of Jesus – through God’s Word, through the Eucharist, through our pastoral and liturgical ministries and through each one of us.
Therefore, to help with planning, we offer some practical ideas for your parish’s consideration:
- Your website is up-to-date with details of Christmas Masses, including other helpful information such as parking arrangements.
- Mass details and locations are shared with parish schools, Catholic families with children at public schools, nursing homes, your diocesan office, the local newspaper, community bulletin boards, social media community groups, etc.
- Signs outside the church indicate Christmas Mass details.
- Community rooms/parish centres have Christmas Mass details displayed.
- The parish’s phone message and automatic email responses provide Christmas Mass details.
Welcome and hospitality
- Having welcomers at all Christmas Masses, ensuring they have a charism of hospitality and will make people feel truly welcome. Ushers are also helpful when large crowds are expected.
- Parking arrangements, ensuring there is ample parking for the elderly, disabled and those with prams. Regular Mass attendees might be encouraged to park further away, as this will make parking easier for non-regular attendees. Good signage and even a parking attendant would be helpful as well.
- The maintenance of the physical environment of the church, for example, ensuring toilets are clean and stocked with essentials, lawns mowed, gardens trimmed and free of weeds, church and foyer clean and uncluttered. Provide a suitable place for parents to change nappies and feed babies.
- Serving tea/coffee after Christmas Masses. While this can be tricky to manage as many families are keen to get home, consider the context of your parish. Are there people on their own who might be lonely and would appreciate lingering a little longer after Mass for some company? A cuppa and some Christmas cake is an easy thing to organise. At a minimum, fresh water and cups should always be available, especially in hot climates.
- The provision of first aid and a risk assessment should be explored in case of emergencies or if people fall ill.
- Having a commentator who provides a warm welcome and covers all directions about Holy Communion, collections, etc, before Mass commences, so that such instructions do not interrupt the liturgy.
- Music is vitally important, so ensure there are well-chosen hymns, songsheets or overhead projection of the words to encourage participation, and a choir that values all the voices of the community rather than putting on a “performance”.
- Ensure the homily considers the local context, provides hope, seeks to transform hearts and is welcoming to those who might not attend Mass regularly.
What should Christmas Mass attendees know about your parish?
- It’s helpful for infrequent Mass attendees to know about all the great things happening in your parish throughout the year. This can be done through the parish newsletter, maybe as a special Christmas insert. Think also about putting together an information pack about your parish – and ensure it can be easily found at the Christmas Masses. You could include a small prayer book or some rosary beads to encourage prayer.
- Think also about non-Catholics who attend Christmas Mass with their families. How could they be invited into your RCIA process or to have an informal conversation about the faith with someone who might accompany them on their faith journey?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways your parish could evangelise this Christmas. However, we do hope the ideas are useful and serve as an impetus to joyfully engage in sharing the Good News with all who come through your doors.
Words: Sharon Brewer