When I served as a parish pastor, a consistent challenge I brought to the parish staff and parishioner leadership was how to make sure that Sunday Mass was truly the “source and summit” of everything we were about as a community. Often the most difficult part of making Sunday Mass the center of parish life was regulating and prioritizing all the extras that inevitably were added to our Sunday celebrations – a special blessing for youth leaving on a mission trip, the 8th grader from the school selling doughnuts after Mass to raise money for their class trip to Chicago, blessings of prayer blankets for the parish health ministry, a second collection for a mission appeal, an invitation to participate in an upcoming retreat, selling tickets for a raffle being held by a local Catholic organization, and on and on – sometimes all of these things on the same weekend! It seemed that there were always these extras being added on to Mass – and don’t get me wrong, these were good things, supporting ministries that were an important part of parish and community life. But sometimes I would wonder if we would ever have a Sunday when there would be just Mass – no extras – just the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, without the Liturgy of Parish Ministries that – while important – can easily distract our attention from the presence of Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament.
With this background in mind, one of the most intriguing parts for me of the recent book Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish (by Michael White and Tom Corcoran) was the discussion of the centrality of the Sunday celebration – in their words, parish life should be “all about the weekend.” In their parish community in Timonium, Maryland, they came to realize that the focus of parishioners – and the work of many members of the parish staff – was on things other than the Sunday liturgy. And so, over a period of time, they rethought how the priorities of the parish could be structured so that the Sunday liturgy was the focus of everything they were doing. In the process, they identified several ways that the Sunday experience could be enhanced – in their case, by focusing on the music for liturgy, various forms of hospitality and welcome (from parking lot ministers to an information table in the lobby), a coherent and planned-out message in the homilies, and Sunday programs for children. On the one hand, they were simply advocating and working for good liturgy – a welcoming atmosphere, uplifting music, inspiring and challenging homilies. But on the other hand, they were trying to change the parish culture so that the Sunday liturgy was the most important thing happening at the parish, and that all other parish ministries – from small groups to local and international mission outreach to educational ministries – flowed from the Sunday liturgy.
It sounds great – and I’d bet that most parishes would agree that this focus on the Sunday liturgy makes sense, and many parishes probably think they already do this. But my experience is otherwise. Take parish staff meetings, for example. In my experience, parish staff meetings are centered on programs, ministries, and practicalities of just about everything except the Sunday Mass – it’s the Liturgy Committee’s job to plan and coordinate Sunday Mass, not the parish staff. But in taking an idea from Rebuilt, I wonder what would happen if a weekly parish staff meeting were centered on the parish celebration of the Sunday Mass. The Liturgy Committee would still have a significant role in planning and evaluating liturgical seasons and training liturgical ministers. But what would happen if the paid or volunteer staff who coordinate music, faith formation, RCIA, and youth ministry had weekly conversation with the priests or deacons preaching at Sunday Masses about the lectionary readings and the focus of the homily? What would happen if the people who write the General Intercessions at Mass did so after periods of prayer and conversation with other people invested in the both the planning of the liturgy and the lives of the people in the community? What would happen if the decision of what extras to include during or surrounding the Sunday Mass were made knowing what is the overall goal and purpose of that particular Sunday? What would happen if every conversation at parish meetings and ministries included a connection to a Sunday celebration of Mass that is great liturgy, with great preaching, great music, great hospitality, and great community? It would take an intentional effort – and some rethinking of how typical parishes, committees, and meetings are structured – but it would be well worth it, because the Sunday Mass is the most important thing that any Catholic parish does, the summit of all life and ministries and the source of outreach and discipleship.
What do you think? Is your parish life “all about the weekend?” What adjustments could be made so that the Sunday Mass truly is the source and summit of parish life? And how could pastors and parish leaders help transform parish culture for this to happen?