Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes,
In this age when so many Catholics are drifting away from the church and there are so many others who are genuinely interested in the Catholic faith, I wish we had some form of non-Eucharistic worship where we could evangelize and catechize effectively. This would also provide a way for Catholics who, for whatever reason, cannot receive communion to belong to the church and worship God while they are working out how they can be full members of the church. These forms of worship would also get around the clericalism in the church because they could be conducted by laypeople–both men and women.
It would be pretty radical, but what if once a month we actually put in place a simple, dignified act of worship which was not a Mass?
Absolutely! There’s a vital need for this because Mass is inherently and distinctly not a seeker-service. Mass is designed for those who have experienced encounter with Jesus Christ and conversion, for those initiated into the fullness of Christian life. While this doesn’t mean we completely ignore the reality that in our culture, seekers and those in need of pre-evangelization and evangelization are present at Mass, it does mean that we take seriously the need of “outsiders” of those who are not already a part of our parish life when it comes to their inherent desire to worship.
St. Paul recognized this desire in humankind to celebrate, praise, and worship in his own ministry, for example among non-Christians in Athens (Acts 17:20-22). He understood the cause of this to be the “invisible attributes of [God’s] eternal power and divinity” present in the created world that all experience (Romans 1:20).
And the same is true today. Men and women of all ages and cultures have the desire to experience silence and awe in close connection with the Creator and ultimate spiritual force in the world (even if they do not yet name or “know” this Creator personally, as we do). Many studies have shown the positive value of cultivating gratitude and mindfulness toward the world and people around us. The act of worship encompasses all this and more in giving glory to God.
As Fr. Longenecker suggested, setting a goal of offering a monthly service pre-evangelistic and/or evangelistic in character is a great start. The General Instructions for the Liturgy of the Hours offer a wide range of options and flexibility that makes Liturgy of the Hours ripe for customization.
Other ideas include:
- Taizé-inspired prayer services.
- Modeling a service after the XLT (pronounced “Exalt”) nights popular with teenagers and young adults. XLTs “combine quality music and a dynamic teaching with worship of the Eucharist in an energetic and reverent setting. In other words, you are sure to hear a fun and relevant talk, some of the best new worship music, and experience the intimacy of spending time with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration”
- Reviving the Cathedral Vigil services (or other adaptations of the Liturgy of the Hours) popular in the Patristic era. A version of this is currently popular among young adults in Colorado.
- Making use of services that do not include reception of the Eucharist, since receiving the Eucharist is often not applicable for someone in need of initial proclamation and allows for wider use of the baptized faithful as preachers of the Word or Liturgy of the Hours as a venue for evangelistic preaching (i.e. Liturgy of the Hours, Liturgy of the Word). [from “Why Do We Have to Preach For Evangelization in a Catholic Parish?]
Opportunities for preaching and worship together are what’s key for cultivating that pre-evangelistic desire to worship, creating space to encounter Jesus, and offering a chance for those present to hear the message of salvation through preaching.
Marketing is a key part of inviting others to attend, and for many, the name of a church or a location on a church campus can be a barrier. Parishes can consider off-site locations, as well as “internal spin offs” through a “specifically themed/marketed sub-ministry within a parish (see: Christ the King in Ann Arbor’s Upper Room as an example of this), etc. These aren’t merely programs, but initiatives that create a new organizational identity within the parish” (from “Catholic Takeaways from ‘Increasing Young Adult Participation in Churches and Other Faith Communities Today'”).
If a monthly commitment is too much, consider offering non-Mass worship around a religious or civic holiday that motivates many non-church-attenders to consider attending, i.e. Christmas, Ash Wednesday, or in the United States, civic holidays such as Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day.
Saint Benedict Parish in Halifax, Canada specifically offers “Christmas Unplugged”–a Christmas Eve service designed for people who aren’t regular churchgoers. As Saint Benedict’s explains:
Why have Christmas Unplugged? Christmas is a time where many people, eventhose who aren’t religious, feel a tug on their hearts calling them back to church. But for someone who hasn’t been to church in awhile, a long and crowded Christmas Eve Mass can be difficult and not very engaging – especially for children. Christmas Unplugged is a family-friendly, welcoming alternative for anyone who wants to reconnect with their faith around Christmastime. (“Bene Dictus,” Dec 2017)