Friday, December 06, 2013

They’re back! For one night only! (Opinion)

A golden opportunity will present itself to every parish in Ireland in just a few weeks’ time.

The ‘missing generation’, about whom we spend so much time fretting, will pour through the doors for Christmas Mass.

After evading every outreach attempt and evangelisation effort known to man, they will surrender themselves voluntarily and fill every church in the land. 

Nothing will keep them out.

Here they are - for one night only - pew upon pew of non-practising Catholics.

Yes, some will be there under duress – their body language will make that clear. 

Others won’t be all that bothered. They’ll sit quietly and chew gum. And some will behave and dress like Britain’s royal family attending Christmas service at Balmoral.

But they’re here. They’re back. 

So, what will they hear? Will the homily confirm Tommy Tiernan’s observation that you couldn’t hang your hat, yet alone your soul, on the content of an Irish sermon?

Will it be a moment of catechesis? What will the people learn? Will the homily in any way account for the reality that many in the congregation are well-educated young professionals home for Christmas?


Will the sermon gently challenge the prevailing syncretism that all religions are the same, just different paths leading up the same mountain to God, by pointing out that our religion is very different? 

In our religion, God comes down the mountain to meet us; that Nancy Griffith had it all wrong when she sang “God is watching us from a distance”. 

Our God came as a helpless infant in a humble manger in Bethlehem and comes to us daily in the Eucharist and in our brothers and sisters in need. And what about our bold assertion that, “man shall live forever more because of Christmas Day”? What does that mean?

And what will they see on the altar? Will it be a parade of middle class respectability? Will there be any young faces and voices? Will anyone feel challenged or will it be an orgy of self-congratulations and cosy affirmation? Will it resemble, in any way, Pope Francis’ Church for the poor?

And what sort of literature will be available at the back of the church? Will there be even one item for the curious? 

Rather than an army of collectors fanning out around the church with baskets, could we not pass around something that would invite people back, encourage them to be involved, teach them to pray, spur them to think and learn more about their faith?

We hear about the need to move from a Church of maintenance to a Church of mission. 

In practical terms this means looking at the Christmas moment of return in a new way.

In the words of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem we should, “Ring the bells that still can ring”.


This is not about overburdening one day with the unrealistic expectation that it will lead to a return of the masses. 

But it is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect meaningfully with those who have only a weak connection with the Church.

Someone’s life could be changed by what they hear or see in our churches in just a few weeks’ time. We should be making the most of the opportunity.

Dwindling numbers 

No one should assume that Christmas in our parishes will always be marked by huge attendances. 

It is estimated that only about 10% of the 25 million baptised Anglicans in England and Wales attend a service on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. About 6% attend on Easter Sunday with weekly attendance running at about 4%.

There’s no guarantee that Christmas attendances here won’t start thinning out too so we should be making the most of this opportunity to connect while we still have it.

Plenty to do in 2015 

Last week I wrote about the Year of Faith and a possible weariness with these projects. Well it’s time to start planning for another ‘Year’! 

Pope Francis has announced that 2015 will be dedicated to the promotion of consecrated life.

The year will be an opportunity to highlight the role of religious life in the Church. 

Rather than focus on what religious do, it would be interesting to focus on who they are and why this way of life is still both relevant and radical. Plenty to do in 2015!

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