I know a non-denominational church that goes all out at Easter. That is to say, their otherwise rich pastoral teaching and simple worship music goes all out the window. It’s replaced with what the church elders think would be more palatable for the unchurched masses—that would be more seeker sensitive.
It happens every year. Our churches, on an Easter Sunday, are filled up with churchgoers who only appear every Easter Sunday or at Christmastime. And we try in vain to accommodate.
We Catholics, too, are tempted and often guilty of watering things down for those that attend Mass just once, or twice, a year.
The Easter and Christmas Catholics.
Our well-meaning priests and parish teams replace otherwise robust and catechetical homilies will an Oprah-esque aspirational talk about how we’re all in the same boat, or same tomb, as it were. How we’re all rolling away the same stone. How Christ’s death, heaven forbid, was good enough to get us into heaven as long as we’re good enough.
You know the kind of talks I mean.
A talk, most often, aimed at those Catholics whose attendance at Mass is few-and-far-between from a priest who sees it as their once-a-year opportunity to shovel a meaningful spiritual message into the wagons of these wayward parishioners before they wheel off again—until Christmas.
The impulse, of course, is a noble one.
If we have just one, or two, opportunities to reach the relatively unchurched Catholics in our culture then we need to seize upon it, but perhaps our ideas for how to church the unchurched is exactly the opposite of what’s really needed. What if it’s the watering down that’s really keeping these lapse Catholics from a closer relationship with their parish, a more regular attendance at Mass, and a truly fruitful relationship with Christ.
If Mr. and Mrs. Cheesemaker only visit their parish church twice a year, at Christmas and Easter and hear, from father, a sleepy admonition to “live in light of the risen Lord!” and “be an Easter person all year ’round!” they’re going to assume that all of father’s homilies are equally as sleepy, as watered down, as limp on arrival. If the motions of the Mass are too simple, too scaled back, for fear of intimidating once-in-a-while Catholics, Mr. and Mrs. Cheesemaker may very well assume that the Mass is always so very dry and uninteresting.
If we water things down, all we’re getting is a watered down liturgy—and everyone loses.
But what if the opposite approach is exactly what Mr. and Mrs. Cheesemaker, in their twice a year church attendance, need to draw them back into the beauty and mystery of the faith?
What if father delivers a barn-burning homily—a rich exegesis of the Easter texts with a difficult, nail-biting challenge to the members of the parish? Something with meat on the bones.
What if we go nuts with the candles, with flowers, with beautiful Latin chant? What if we smoke out the place with incense and encourage parishioners to kneel while they receive the Host? (Imagine the line-ups!)
What if when Mr. and Mrs. Cheesemaker walk into their sleepy parish church on Easter Sunday and find that everything they thought they knew about their faith—and didn’t really care for—has been replaced with the genuine passion, power, and mystery that is at the heart of the Catholic faith.
What if instead of lulling them to sleep, we knock their socks off?
What if we don’t try to scale back and water down our experience of the Mass but what if we do it to the full extent of the form—what if we celebrate like it’s Easter, and then see what happens.
Let’s not disparage the Easter and Christmas Catholics when they crowd us out of our normal pew on Easter Sunday. We’re glad that they’ve come—or at least we should be. But let’s not do them a disservice either. No one, mark my words, is served by watering down our faith. That is not what is supernaturally attractive about Catholicism, not at all.
Instead, let’s worship like Christ, Lord of the Universe, is really risen from the dead, and for us, the dying.
And let’s see what those once or twice a year Catholics make of it all, shall we?