Welcome the stranger at Mass

Friday, December 14, 2018 - Updated: 2:51 pm

QUESTION: Soon we will once again be with our “once a year Catholic” neighbor at Christmas. I find it annoying to see them at church. They are never around to support the rest of us all year long, yet there they are for Christmas. What is our expected approach?


ANSWER: Our approach might begin with acknowledging our feelings, but realizing that they are likely fallible. All the “extra” people at Christmas Masses are not necessarily “once a year Catholics.” Some might be visitors. Often people tell me that they are visiting our church, but really belong to a parish they proudly name. Yes, there are unfamiliar faces at Christmas Masses, but we need not generalize that they are all once a year Catholics.

I appreciate that a yearly influx of those attending Christmas Masses might be annoying to some who attend Mass regularly. But the phenomenon of once a year Catholics is not new to the life of the church. Some priests over the years have utilized the Christmas homily to berate those whom they assume are there only once a year. They attempt to frighten them into better attendance with phrases such as “those flames are really hot.” To the best of my knowledge, that method has never worked well.

It seems that we are just going to have to admit that there are active Catholics and there are less active Catholics. It may be similar to a family where some take a more active part in the home while others seem to live on the fringe. Despite their conduct, however, we still understand them to be “our flesh and blood.” Despite our temptations, we do not “throw them out” for lack of greater involvement.

Restraint is recommended for many reasons. Among them is the scriptural image of Christ going after the lost sheep and the joy that follows over the finding of the lost “more than the 99 who were never lost.”

The church of Christ must always be a community guided by the Good Shepherd. It is a very serious matter to cut off a member from communion with us. It is equally serious for a member to separate himself or herself from active communion with the church.

The significant question is how a local parish community attracts those once a year Catholics to a fuller participation. Scolding or haranguing won’t accomplish that. If it is ever to occur it will probably emerge from consistent, patient and energetic outreach. These people need to feel the warmth of the Eucharistic community. They need to realize how much they have missed by their absence and how much they have been missed in the process.

It seems to me that after Christmas Mass those who attend infrequently will either be filled with remorse that they attended so seldom or filled with satisfaction that they have not “wasted their time” more often. The quality of the entire celebration of Christmas (including our welcome) can make the difference in people’s lives. We have always welcomed the stranger. This question is really a practical matter of attracting more people with the honey of welcome than the vinegar of rebuke.


Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.

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