Theology and Pragmatism: Mass is not a “Seeker Service” — But, Seekers are Present

A reality every Catholic parish faces is this: Mass is, neither inherently nor constitutively, a “Seeker Service.” [See a quick, but not exhaustive description of seeker service characteristics here]. Mass is not designed for the unbeliever to come to faith for the first time. It’s not the place of pre-evangelization or initial proclamation–all critical stages in our robust Catholic understanding of Evangelization as a whole.

In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” we hear:

The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before men can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion: “How then are they to call upon him in whom they have not yet believed? But how are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preaches? And how are men to preach unless they be sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15). (Sacrosanctum Concilium [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy], no. 9)

In Josef Pieper’s In Search of the Sacred (1988), we are reminded that in the early Church, “barriers…excluded those who did not ‘belong’ from participating in the sacred mysteries [of the Mass], even those who prepared for baptism, the catechumens.” Although as a pastoral practice this is, “for us latter-day Christians, used as we are to taking the television broadcast of Mass for granted… difficult to comprehend,” the reality remains that Mass is not the most suitable liturgical act for the unbaptized (p. 34).

But in our culture, Sunday morning worship is often the first place an adult, family, or couple seeking a new church community goes. It’s the critical first impression. The initial handshake. We may think that all who are seated in the pews of Catholic parishes on any given day are catechized believers, having already heard the initial proclamation of the Gospel–but this is not the case. In Forming Intentional Disciples (2012), Sherry Weddell points out that even among those in the U.S. who consider themselves “religious,” but not affiliated with any particular church/group/denomination, a whopping 30% are registered members of religious congregations and 11% attend religious services weekly.
Bottom line? There’s a good chance that a “seeker”–someone who has not heard and believed the initial proclamation of the Gospel is in the pews at every Sunday Mass. How are we responding?
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