Today I visited Prince of Peace Parish in West Bloomfield, MI (part of the Archdiocese of Detroit) for a 9:00 am daily Mass.
Weekday Mass is a different thing than Sunday Mass, so I walk in as a “mystery visitor” with different expectations–i.e. I don’t expect greeters/ushers, or an information table, etc. It’s a more do-it-yourself introduction to a parish. One of the first impressions for any visitor to Prince of Peace Parish is the large stained glass window overlooking the narthex/lobby area. It’s striking. It sends a visual image of Jesus Christ right away. (A good thing!) Even better, this parish included on the plaque noting the donor the Scripture verses (from the Book of Revelation) that the image depicts. This is a great thing to do since a) a negative (and incorrect) stereotype of Catholicism is that it’s not Scripture-based, and this would send the opposite (and correct) message that we do love and venerate Scripture, and b) it might motivate a Christian less familiar with the Book of Revelation to go look up the passage and see what this glorious stained glass window is all about!
Please Do Not Enter?
The second thing I noticed was NOT so very welcoming. A sign on the glass doors heading into the sanctuary stating: PLEASE DO NOT ENTER DURING THE READING OF SCRIPTURE, HOMILY, OR CONSECRATION. (Capitalization from sign itself 😉 ).
As a scholar, I’m a liturgical theologian at heart. I place great importance on the liturgy, no doubt. However, I think that sign was not well planned. First off, I can’t think of any part of the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) or the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), that would lead one to set apart the reading of Scripture, homily, and consecration as three elevated parts of Mass that one should not enter a sanctuary during (say if one was late, had to leave to attend to a small child, go to the bathroom, etc.–these things all happen!).
Secondly, I think that sign sends the wrong message to any non-Catholic visitors, as it seems to suggest that the potential disturbance of someone entering (which would be very minimal, as these were relatively quiet, modern doors) is of greater concern than their ability to join the assembly for Mass. It seems to suggest a rules over worship prioritization. Granted, one can worship from outside the sanctuary, but for a visitor or newer Christian, that might not be so apparent and feeling cut off from the assembly could be very damaging (or even make them turn around and head back out to the parking lot!).
From a practical perspective, if I was a visitor to a Catholic parish (non-evangelized, non-catechized, away from the Church for years, etc.), I’m pretty sure I’d have no idea how to determine what the consecration consists of, and for many, identifying the “reading of Scripture” and “homily” might not be so clear. I’m sure the hospitable people of Prince of Peace would in no way embarrass someone who “violated” the sign and entered, however the mere presence of the sign could create fear of potential embarrassment for a visitor.
What to do then?
Well, I think if a parish has a firm desire to prevent people from entering the sanctuary during the reading of Scripture, homily, and consecration (which is a fairly sizable portion of the Mass to begin with–and probably should be re-examined) they ought to use hospitality volunteers, greeters, or ushers for the task–rather than a sign. A person can use good pastoral discretion in dealing with an individual based on specific circumstances, rather than an cold, impersonal sign!
For example, say a woman with a small child who is talking rather loudly enters the narthex/lobby and is moving towards the sanctuary…instead of seeing the sign and thinking “this church doesn’t want me here, even though I dealt with a temper tantrum trying to get my toddler here on time!”–she could instead be greeted by a person, thanking her for coming, putting her at ease for her lateness (maybe with a joke or comforting remark that they once had small children and have “been there too” for those rough mornings), and showing her the cry room with a basket of children’s Bibles.
Or, if a couple entered the building during the Old Testament reading and had the “scanning” look of visitors, the usher/greeter could approach them, welcome them, guide them over to the glass doors to the sanctuary, help them visually pick out a seat, and talk to them until the music of the Psalm (a great time to guide them to their seats). This way the interaction is all about yes–we’re glad you’re here, this is a good time to slip into seats, etc., rather than a no of “please do not enter…”
The celebrant did an outstanding job clearly articulating every word of the intro to the Kyrie, collect prayer, and the Eucharistic prayers. At a weekday Mass, this is especially appreciated as the shorter timeframe than a Sunday Mass allows one to enter very deeply into these spoken prayers of the presider.
The weekday Eucharistic homily takes on many variations. This one was really great. The priest took the time to link both the OT and Gospel readings, in a convicting, compelling way. Crafting any sermon always includes a good analysis of the hearers. With a Weekay Mass, I think the assumption can be made that there are a higher percentage of disciple-Catholics than on a Sunday, and sermons can be a bit more challenging. This sermon was–as the priest elaborated on how when we make idols of God (as in the OT reading) we are creating small gods that are much smaller and more limited than the God Martha identifies in the Gospel. These “small gods” created as idols in our own minds allow us to believe that “gays are bad,” “we need more capitol punishment,” and other so-called “religious” beliefs of our own creation. Sometimes weekday sermons can be a bit “lite”–this one was not and it set the conditions for the Holy Spirit to truly move me towards the Eucharistic table. The priest preached for about 10 minutes, standing a few steps down off the altar, using no written notes or aids. While the sermon’s focus did wander at times, the inflection, genuine concern, and repetition of key phrases kept me engaged and eager to hear each of his points.
I noticed on my way out that coffee had been made during Mass and many were gathering to talk and share a cup of coffee before heading out for the day. How lovely! A great sign of friendship and fellowship developing within a parish. While many parishes (not enough in my opinion!) offer coffee on Sundays, this simple step on a weekday likely enabled many parishioners to get to know each other in a smaller setting.
Find out more about this parish: http://www.popcc.catholicweb.com/
Background on the “Mystery Visitor” Series — As a Catholic who has moved around quite a bit in the U.S. and travelled often in the past for business, I’ve seen the incredible amount of variety present in churches throughout this country. Although I don’t travel as much anymore, when I do visit churches I try to place myself (as best as able) in the role of a true visitor–a seeker, maybe someone returning to the Catholic Church, or someone looking for a congregation for the first time. I focus mostly on Catholic parishes, but will also include other Christian churches I happen to visit through travels, family, and friends in this series. The purpose of “Mystery Visitor” write-ups is intended to be entirely constructive–trying to see what our “ordinary” routines might look like to an outsider and pondering how first impressions of a parish can be more “evangelization-friendly.” Although Mass is not primarily intended to be a specific event of the initial proclamation of “evangelization,” it is a cultural reality that many visitors and seekers will first come to a worship service to “feel out” a new community. Because of this practical reality, I consider evangelization within the context of worship to be a necessary area of reflection.