The weekend experience has to be one that inspires, comforts, strengthens and enriches the lives of those who attend. That they encounter the Risen Lord through it all!!
Sometime in late March, I invited Fr. Pedro, Mary Catherine, Deacon Dennis and Deacon Mark for an evening meeting to discuss our celebration of the weekend Masses. My concern was that things were not flowing as smoothly as possible and that I saw some areas that we could “tighten up” so that people had a moving and powerful experience while also being more efficient with our time.
In order to have a powerful experience, all the components of the “weekend experience” needs to be in top form. This includes hospitality, a clean and organized environment, good music, readings proclaimed with conviction, a touching homily (not necessarily short) and a welcoming atmosphere where people feel loved, inspired, comforted and strengthened to be faithful disciples for another week. This is no easy task, but I must say, after our conversation, I think we have made some great progress in making our celebrations more powerful. Hopefully over the last few months you have noticed some of the adjustments we have made.
1. STARTING MASS ON TIME
In order that we start on time, the choir or musicians stop playing preludes five minutes before Mass. At three minutes before Mass time, the commentator welcomes the assembly, makes the announcements and invites everyone to find a prayer partner. By the time the commentator announces the opening hymn, we have arrived to the exact time Mass is supposed to begin. Starting on time offers hope that that rest of the Mass goes smoothly!!
2. INTENTIONAL HOMILIES
We spent a lot of time discussing our homilies. We chatted about the preaching schedule, how long we preach for and the content of the message. We came to the conclusion that all four clergy members needed to be more intentional making the connections from the readings to the parish and then to our practical daily lives. Doing this while also being “efficient” in the words used would likely be best. Have you noticed any changes?
3. BALANCING THE WEEKEND
St. George Parish is very busy with many wonderful activities, programs and outreach. We also celebrate baptisms, First Communions, wedding anniversaries and so much more. We are making an extra effort and planning better balancing the events that take place during the Masses. This includes limiting any extra announcements and the number of baptisms at each Mass to two children. We are now offering a Sunday afternoon Baptismal Celebration with music, scripture and a homily each month to handle the overflow from the weekend liturgies. This change means we don’t have to feel rushed at Mass and at the same time allow people to still witness and support baptismal families, married couples and be invited to participant in some of the special events during the year that take place during Mass. (Memorial Mass weekend, Remembrance Day, Development & Peace Campaign and others)
4. CHOIR & COMMUNION
Just last weekend we made the final change we discussed at our meeting in March. Now, while the Eucharistic ministers receive communion, the choir will receive as well. This is an example of an efficient use of time which allows the choir to transition from a Communion hymn we all sing to a reflection hymn for us to ponder on the gift of Jesus that we have received. The gathered faithful will no longer have to wait for the choir to receive after everyone else has. This allows us to conclude our time of reflection after the altar has been cleared and as we prepare for the final prayer and blessing.
There will no longer be any other extra announcements at the end of Mass repeating what you see on the screens before Mass, what is in the bulletin that you take home (or receive online) and what the commentator announced at the beginning of Mass. We simply invite people to follow the parish via social media and the website and if appropriate, congratulate anyone who was celebrating something special at the Mass (Baptism/First Communion/Marriage blessing). This eliminates duplication and inspires all of us to go and spread the Good News!!
6. MASS LENGTH
So what does this all mean? Ultimately our goal is to be more predictable and efficient so that our Masses are truly an encounter, a powerful celebration, a chance to see Christ in every moment of our “weekend experience”. We strive to have our Mass take no more than one hour on a regular weekend with the exception of Masses with baptisms that we hope would be no longer than 70 minutes. Over the last few months this has definitely been the case.
I think all of these changes and adjustments are subtle ways to improve our celebrations so that they are uplifting, joyful and engaging. We still have more work to do but I think we are on the right road. I pray that our weekend celebrations always touch your hearts. Thank you for your faithfulness!!