Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Everyone wants to belong to a dynamic parish.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Even people who never go to Mass still want to belong to a dynamic parish. Of course, if you stop and ask most people what it means to be a dynamic parish, they don’t really have many specific ideas. It’s like they aren’t sure what a dynamic parish looks like, but they’ll know it when they see it.

On the other hand, specific complaints about parishes aren’t difficult to find.

The music is lifeless. The homilies are boring. The people are mean. There isn’t enough parking. The donuts after Mass are stale. There isn’t enough programming for old people. There isn’t enough programming for young people. There are too many programs. You get the picture.

But there is a question that isn’t being asked nearly enough:

What are you doing to make your parish thrive?

I mean, it’s a natural question, right? You’re going to belong to a parish, and you’re going to want to belong to a dynamic parish, so what will your contribution be?

Maybe you’ve never thought about your contribution before. That’s OK. How do you contribute to your parish? Are you helping your parish thrive? Consider this for a moment: If every member at your parish contributed at the same level as you are, what would your parish be like?

One of the main ways you contribute to your parish is through your presence. Your presence at Mass is a huge contribution. But what do you bring to the Mass? Do you bring your attention, your enthusiasm and your expectation? Do you anticipate God’s voice and respond with your whole heart? Or do you go out of obligation, simply going through the motions?

If you feel like perhaps your contribution at Mass could be a little better, remember: Our lives change when our habits change.

Consider your habits around the Mass. What rituals do you have when it comes to attending Mass?

How do you dress? What time do you arrive? Where do you sit? Do you respond out loud, just move your lips, respond in your mind, or zone out? What do you do before Mass? What do you do after Mass?

Now is a great time to sit down and consider your rituals surrounding the Mass.

A few years back, my wife and I decided we needed to improve our rituals surrounding the Mass. We were having more kids and they were getting older, so Mass was just plain getting difficult for our family.

So we decided to change a few things.

First, we began reading the Gospel readings in the car on the way to Mass. My wife would read, and the kids would quietly listen in the back. This would help them get focused for what was to come.

Second, we began sitting in the first few pews of the church. This isn’t for everyone, but for us it made a huge difference. The kids could actually see what was going on and paid more attention.

Third, we began getting donuts after church. We wanted to create a sense of excitement around Sunday morning and the Mass. Now, the kids know that every Sunday we are going to go to Mass and get donuts as a special treat for the family. We don’t use this as a reward for good behavior or a punishment for bad behavior. It’s just part of the routine.

Fourth, we ask the kids every Sunday morning at the donut shop, what God said to them during the Mass. Over time, the kids began to expect God to say something to them at Mass. They listened and paid attention. After Mass, at the donut shop, they wanted to share what they had heard that week. And we write it down in our Mass journal each week so we can look back at it later.

These four rituals surrounding our Sunday Mass experience have changed everything for our family.

Like everything else in life, things are going to change over time. As the seasons of our lives change, the rituals should change, too. The rituals I just described are great for my current season of life. They are very different than our rituals five years ago, and I’m sure our rituals five years from now will be very different too. And that’s OK. It’s not about doing a certain thing at Mass. It’s about being able to contribute everything you’ve got.

Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.

Dominick Albano is writer and speaker for Dynamic Catholic Institute.